Thursday, November 18, 2010

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Preparing Your Dog For The New Baby

Bringing a new baby into the home can be stressful.  You’re losing sleep, the baby won’t stop crying, and your poor dog is left wondering what on Earth happened to his nice, calm home.  Your dog wants to be a part of everything, but is just a little too active.  Plus, you do not know how he’s going to act.  So what do you do?  You prepare him for the changes!  When can you start preparing?  Now!  Do not wait until you’re pregnant, or until the baby comes home.  Start preparing him now.

1)      Train your dog.
Obedience training can definitely be an asset when bringing a new baby into the home.  Imagine taking your dog on a walk.  Now imagine it with a stroller and diaper bag.  Scary thought, huh?  Teaching your dog basic commands such as down, off, stay, and heel will make life much easier once the baby’s in the home.

2)      Keep your dog off furniture.
At the very least, teach your dog to ask permission (sit, down, etc.) before jumping up.  This is important if your child is on your bed.  Your dog could jump up and not even realize the child is there, causing at the least a scratch and the worst serious damage.

3)      Consider Crate Training
Crate training is less for the baby’s safety and more for the dog’s.  The crate provides a quiet, secure, area where your dog can sleep or relax undisturbed.  It is also important to teach your children (and their friends) that the crate is your dog’s quiet area…like a meditation room.

4)      Start Socializing.
Get your dog used to children.  Children cry and scream and run around.  They smell funny and make funny noises.  They don’t pet, they smack.  They often pull on ears and tails, climb on, and chase.  They stick their fingers in eyes and ears and food bowls.  They come along with very odd accessories like diapers and strollers and cribs.  They get cool “dog” toys that the dog can’t have.  Oh, and they get all of Mom’s and Dad’s attention.  Get your dog used to all of these.  Try walking him with a stroller.  Hold a baby doll.  Any sort of baby-item that uses batteries or electricity should be turned on at some point.  Take your dog to play grounds (the younger the dog the better).  Record the sound of a baby crying and play it on a nightly basis for your dog (you might get used to it too).  Oh, and don’t forget that your dog’s schedule will change.  Prepare your dog for early-morning feedings.  Throw off his eating and walking schedule.  Basically, let your dog know that all the changes are not necessarily due to the new baby.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Five Steps to Playing Fetch.

Step 1: Find a toy your dog is extremely interested in.  This may differ with each dog.  Some dogs love Frisbees, other love balls.  I’ve even known a dog to love an old water bottle.  If your dog is not big on any toys, try this trick:
Take a tennis ball and make a small slit in it.  Put a few treats in the ball.  Let your dog smell the    ball, and possibly even drop a few treats from the ball.  This should get his interest.
If your dog is easily distracted, refer to the guide “Give Your Dog Toys He Will Love.”

Step 2:  Make sure your dog is ready and willing to play.  A tired dog will not necessarily want to fetch.  Try playing a few games with the dog and the toy first.  Tug of war is a good game to start with.

Step 3: Start with small distances.  Not all dogs can or will run the length of the yard for a toy.  You have to let them know that it’s really fun to do, so we start small.  Practice in one room, with few distractions.  Throw the toy a few feet from you.  Your dog should go over to it.

Step 4: Praise, praise, praise.  Praise your dog as he picks up the toy.  Really praise him as he brings it towards you.  Clap your hands, jump up in down, call out, “Here Fido!  Good boy, Fido!  Who’s a good puppy?”  Make him want to come to you.  Really praise him when he gets to you.  If you used the stuffed tennis ball, give him a treat at this point.

Step 5: Rinse and repeat.  Keep your dog interested in the toy.  Play with him when he returns it.  Do NOT let him become distracted with something (or someone) else.  Really help him think that the toy you have is the best in the world.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Give Your Dog Toys He Will Love

How often have you seen it?  You have a bucket full of toys for your dog, but he still wants to chew on your hairbrush.  Or, you have a bucket full of toys for your dog, and he has to pull out every single toy and arrange them in some order on the floor.

As you spend money on new hairbrushes (or shoes, or furniture), and as you constantly pick up your dogs toys, only to have him remove them again, you start to wonder, “Why can’t my dog just play with one toy?  Why can’t he be happy with what he has?”  You’ve spent hundreds of dollars on the most expensive toys, but he just wants your shoes.  So what do you do?

1)       It’s not necessarily about how awesome you think the toy is.  That spinning, moving, light-up toy that you just spent twenty dollars on isn’t as cool to your dog as it is to you.  Your shoe, however, well, it smells like you.  Doesn’t that make the best toy?  When you pick out a toy for your dog, think of what your dog likes.  Does he like bouncy balls or squeaky stuffed animals?  Does he prefer something chewy that he can gnaw on, or does he really like the sound of a good crunch?  Find out what he likes best.
2)       Do NOT display all the toys at once.  Just like a child with too many toys, your dog will get bored with the toys he has.  He wants something new!  Something exciting!  So, hide the majority of your dog’s toys.  Keep one or two out for him to play with and hide the others.  After a few days, put those two toys out and bring out two more.  Do this every few days.  If you rotate the toys, your dog will stay more interested in them.  The thought process will no longer be, “Oh, that’s just my squeak toy…boring!”  Instead, it will be, “Oh wow!  I thought I’d lost that toy.  I’m so happy I found it.  I forgot how cool it was.”
3)       Play with your dog’s toys.  How do you expect your dog to enjoy the toys if you’re not enjoying the toys?  Interact with your dog.  Play tug or fetch.  A fun game on rainy days is hide and seek (you hide the toy, your dog finds it).  Make your dog see the toy as a really fun object.
4)       Give toys that offer a reward.  Puzzle toys (like the Kong or Squirrel Dude) aren’t only fun to chew on, they offer a tasty treat.  You can change the treat (peanut butter, cheese, sausage, etc.) without changing the entire toy.
5)       Put up the distractions.  No matter how awesome your dog’s toys are, your shoe still smells really good (and so does the garbage).  So, put it away.  If you don’t trust your dog at all, crate him.  Put a toy in his crate with him (preferably a puzzle toy), so he learns it’s ok to chew on that.  Otherwise, just keep him away from the “forbidden” objects.

Otherwise, have fun with your dog and his toys.  Keep in mind that you do not have to spend hundreds of dollars on toys.  Just find toys your dog will love, and keep him interested.  Good luck!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Eight Steps For Finding a Breeder

As a trainer, I am asked time and time again, "How do I find a good breeder?"  The answer is fairly easy, but it does require a bit of investigation.  So, I thought I'd make up a little check list.

1) Where do the puppies stay the majority of the time?
A good breeder will have them a clean, safe environment with shelter and access to the outside.  A great breeder will have them in her home, as part of the family.

2) How much time is spent with the puppies?
Some breeders let the mom do all the work.  They might be handled a bit as they get older, but really they only know each other.  A good breeder will pet them and handle them from day one.  A great breeder does more.  Not only will she get them used to being held, she'll also make sure they are familiar with all the things needed in grooming or a vet visit.  She'll touch their paws, check their ears, and open their mouths.  These puppies won't mind being touched in any way.

3) Are the puppies potty trained?
Most people think an 8 week old puppy is too young to potty train, but such is not the case.  Sure, that pup may only be able to hold his bladder for an hour, but in that hour he certainly won't mess his kennel.  He'll make sure he goes outside...making your job much easier when you get home.

4) How many people have they met?
A good breeder will visit the kennel as often as possible.  The puppies will meet her, her husband, and possibly a few friends.  A great breeder will throw puppy-meeting parties.  She'll want the puppies to meet as many people as possible as often as possible. (Note: This breeder also makes sure that safety precautions are kept so as to avoid the puppies getting sick).

5) Where have the puppies been?
I am not suggesting that breeders take their pups into the big, wide world.  Rather, I'm suggesting they put their puppies on as many surfaces as possible.  A good breeder has pups that are OKwith grass, carpet, and cement.  A great breeder has pups that are OK with everything from linoleum to asphalt to grass to hard wood.  Those pups may even be used to the sounds of cars (like in a parking lot) or to other loud noises.

6) Will they let you meet both parents?
Some breeders use stud dogs, and while this doesn't necessarily mean they are a bad breeder, it is not a breeder  I would use.  I want to know that my breeder knows everything about the parents from what they like to eat to when they like to nap.  Also, keep in mind that the pups will take after their parents.  Don't you want to know what their parents are like?

7) Will they let you see the facilities?
If not, run, don't walk away.  Some breeders may not let you into the room where the puppies are born, or into areas where very young puppies are kept, and that's OK.  However, other breeders don't even let you see a puppy or the area where they are kept until you've put money down.  This is a bad sign.

8) What do other people say?
Find someone who has purchased a puppy from this breeder before.  What is that person's dog like?  Are they happy with the results?  Do they have regrets or anything they'd change?  Honestly, this will probably be your biggest tip off.  If a previous adopter isn't happy then there is probably something wrong (Note: Some people are never happy.  It's often best to call more than one person).

When I found Cody, I had no idea what I was doing, and I just happened to luck out.  My breeder had actually taught Cody to sit in her lap, put his head and paw on her desk, and fall asleep.  We still use this trick with some lower counter tops.  Cody also potty trained very quickly, and I credit my breeder for part of that.  Not everyone is so lucky, though.  It's best to do your research.  Definitely avoid pet stores where you have no idea where the dog is from, and keep rescue shelters in mind.  You may not have a pure bred, and your dog may have other issues, but at least you know you're saving a life.  Otherwise,  GOOD LUCK!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Friday, August 20, 2010

Staying Fit With Your Dog

I was thrilled when I saw the issue of SELF on the newstands this month.  What did I see on the front cover?  A fit young lady and five puppies!  Obviously, this must have something to do with staying fit with your dog.  Sure enough, it did.  Not only did it give tips and ideas for you and your pet, SELF also included 6 cards with 6 different moves for you to do with your pet.

Why does this excite me so much?  Well, there are a variety of reasons.  First of all, did you know that approximately 51% of all dogs and cats in the U.S. are obese (Association for Pet Obesity Prevention)?  If you figure that at least 1/3 of all human adults in the U.S. are also obese, you can see that there's a very serious epidemic on our hands.  Also, at least 75% of the issues I see in dogs are caused by boredome.  Just think what a little bit of exercise would do for both us and our dogs!

Exercises I Like Best

I'm first to admit that I haven't tried even half of the exercises that are out there.  I don't do any serious mountain climbing, I don't ski (often), or surf.  However, I feel this will most likely benefit you, my reader, because most of you probably don't do all of those things either.  So what do I do?

I love going for little bike rides with my dog, Cody.  Sometimes we'll go through a quiet town, and other times we'll go through a park.  Either way, it's super fun.  However, it is only fun if you take the right precautions.

1) Never attach the leash to you or to your bike.  This could be a recipe for serious injury.  I actually invested in a bike leash ($25 on  It attaches to your bike underneath the seat and makes it pretty much impossible for your dog to pull you over.  Plus, it makes it harder for your dog to run in front of you.  Double Bonus!

2) Keep an eye on your dog.  Biking keeps him moving at a faster pace, and if you're on pavement it could wear the pads of his feet down.  If he's not used to that much exercise, keep him at a slower pace and shorter distance at first.  You can gradually increase each as your dog becomes more conditioned.  And, of course, always make sure he has enough water.

3) Know your route.  Make sure the roads are safe for both you and your dog.  Narrow roads with lots of traffic are probably a bad idea.  Some park trails are narrow or have plants in the middle.  You could have serious problems if your dog tries to go around a bush one way while you go the other.

Of course, these are just a few precautions.  As always, you have to do what's best for you and your dog.  If your dog isn't designed for heat/cold/running/lots of exertion/etc, then maybe it's best if you do something else, or customize it to your needs.

My favorite thing with biking is you can do it pretty much anywhere.  Technically, you don't need any special equipment (although good running shoes are a fantastic idea).  All you really need is you, your dog, and a leash.  Head out in a safe environment and take off.  Again, of course, it's best to slowly build your dog up to higher speeds and long distances.  Plus, if you are going for longer distances, you should take plenty of water for you and your dog.  When I go out with my dogs, I usually only go about 2-3 miles, and I go out in the morning before it gets warm.  If you plan your runs perfectly, you can even use sprinkler systems to help cool your dogs down.  My best suggestion is to have some semblance of a plan.

This is one I have not tried yet, but I really want to.  It's basically yoga with your dog.  From what I can tell, it's more for smaller dogs, but there are defintely some good moves for larger dogs too.  To learn more, check out Doga Dog.

The simplest of all the exercises, walks don't require much.  Of course, make sure you're not going out when it's too hot or too cold, but otherwise have a blast.  If your dog is a little higher energy than you are, try having your dog carry a backpack.  Just remember, your dog should only carry half of his own weight (maximum).  Also, gradually get your dog used to the extra weight.  Again, though, have fun!

There are lots of other things you can do with your dog (like skiing, surfing, or even skate boarding).  For dog-specific events you can get into things like agility or canine freestyle.  The important thing is that you have fun with your dog.  Get outside, get your dog outside, and have a blast!!

For more ideas, check out the August issue of Style Magazine. 

Friday, June 18, 2010

Take Your Dog To Work Day 2010

It's coming.  It's almost here.  Yes, June 25, 2010 is officially Take Your Dog to Work Day (TYDWDay)!

Take Your Dog to Work Day was created in 1999 as a way to promote the humane treatment of our furry friends, and to promote dog (and cat) adoption.  This event has been celebrated every year since, and has become a way for dog-lovers to celebrate that special human-canine bond.  When this event started in 1999, only 300 companies participated.  By 2005, that number had increased to 5,000!  It just goes to show that dogs are popular. 

However, even though this is for a great cause, many employers will still say, "No."  Below are some very convincing arguments to sway your boss.

According to a recent survey conducted by The American Pet Products Manufacturers Association (APPMA), nearly one in five companies in the United States allow pets in the workplace.
The survey, which polled working Americans 18 years of age and over, showed some strikingly positive opinions towards pets in the workplace:
According to the survey:
  • 55 million Americans believe having pets in the workplace leads to a more creative environment
  • 53 million believe having pets in the workplace decreases absenteeism
  • 50 million believe having pets in the workplace helps co-workers get along better
  • 38 million believe having pets in the workplace creates a more productive work environment
  • 32 million believe having pets in the workplace decreases smoking in the workplace
  • 37 million believe having pets in the workplace helps improve the relationship between managers and their employees
  • And, 46 million people who bring their pets to the workplace work longer hours
Source: APPMA 2006 Survey

Oh, and don't forget to mention that having a dog in the office could be great publicity!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Have Some Fun in the Sun

As we are now reaching the end of spring, hot summer air is on its way.  While we may be enjoying time off, going on vacations, and catching some rays by the pool, our best friends may be miserable with their winter coats.  Not only that, but summer brings bugs, parties, fireworks, and food.  Follow these simple guidelines to keep your pet happy and healthy all summer long.

1) Water, Water, Water!  Always leave water out for your dog, no matter how long you plan on being gone.  If your dog tends to drink water too fast, feel free to fill a bowl with ice instead.  Ice will keep your dog hydrated without allowing him to drink to the point of getting sick.

2) Provide Shelter. Ideally your dog will be indoors and in air-conditioning during the heat of the day.  That's the best way to keep her cool.  Either way, though, she should have some shade to seek some relief under.

3) Check your lawn products. As we fertilize and till, many of us put down products that may not be so great for our furry friends.  After walking on the lawn, these fertilizers cling to our pets' feet, and if they lick their paws they end up ingesting these products.  Of course, this can be quite dangerous for your dog or cat.  Other products such as certain kinds of mulch and bug repellents can be just as dangerous.  Try to choose pet-friendly products for your yard, and if necessary keep your pooch on the porch for a few days.

4) Protect against fleas, ticks, and other bugs.  Yes, warm weather brings about the creepy-crawlies.  Find a product that is safe for your pet and treat him every month.  Personally, I use Frontline for fleas and ticks, and Heartguard to protect against heartworms, but those aren't the best choices for everyone or every dog.  Search around and find what's best for you.  Avoid bug repellents made for people (such as OFF!).  These are NOT safe for your pet. Note: Protecting against bugs and heartworms should actually be a year-long practice, not just for the summer.

5) Practice fire safety.  Keep your pet away from tiki torches, citronella candles, and fireworks.  Needless to say, ingesting these items is probably not a great idea.  Oh, and when you light those fireworks, try to keep your pet inside.  Many pets get lost after running away from the sound of the fireworks.  Avoid that stress, and keep your pet safe.

6) Learn to swim.  While we may love a good romp in the pool, it's often harder for our dogs to swim.  While I am by no means saying your dog shouldn't get in the water, I am saying to be safe about it.  Always supervise your dog when in the pool, and consider putting on a life vest if needed (especially in rougher waters like the beach or river).  Our trips to the river always include a life vest as a just in case.

7) Avoid a feeding frenzy.  With so many parties during the summer, a lot of dogs (and cats) are fed random scraps of food from the various guests.  Not only can this cause stomach upset, but it can also lead to an inadvertent poisoning.  Make sure to keep your pet away from harmful foods such as grapes and raisins, onions, and avocados.

8) Be aware of others.  Having so many people (and dogs) in one location can be a somewhat stressful situation for your pet.  An agitated or stressed dog can quickly become an aggressive dog.  Or an overly-excited dog can cause unintentional injury to guests (especially small children).  Be aware of how your pet reacts to all the new sights and sounds.  Does she seem stressed or anxious?  What about over-excited and uncontrollable?  In these situations, it may be best to put your pet up or keep her on leash.

Following these simple rules can easily lead to a fun, safe summer.  There is one, last rule, though.  HAVE FUN! 

Friday, April 30, 2010

USPS Stamps to the Rescue

So, I'm not sure if y'all have heard or not, but the USPS is doing something really cool.  Starting today they're selling stamps that feature five different cats and five different dogs.  The goal in mind is to encourage people to adopt a shelter pet.  Not only that, but they've paired up with Halo to provide 1 million meals to animals in shelters.  That seems like a pretty good cause to me.  Since I was out of stamps anyway, I made sure to swing by the post office and pic some up.  They're pretty cute!  To see the adorable pets and to learn more about their story visit  Feel free to wander the site and and learn even more about the offer.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Canine Hypothyroidism

One of the dogs I'm fostering has more things wrong with him than I can count on one hand.  He has allergies and ear infections, he gains weight easily, he's extremely slow to learn, he has anxiety issues as well as aggression issues, and he's just all around weird.  From time to time he'd display other issues, but evenutally I just quit counting.  Being a trainer, I always have to cinsider the possibility that the behaviors are medically driven, but I couldn't seem to find one condition that matched all of his behaviors.  Heck, I couldn't even find just two.  And, honestly, I don't think any dog is that unlucky.

Initially, I overlooked hypothyroidism.  Obviously, I knew it could cause all of the above syptoms, but it generally also presents with hair loss, skin discoloration, and bacterial skin infections.  That's when I started looking at borderline hypothyroidism.

What is canine hypothyroidism?
Canine hypothyroidism  is a disorder of the thyroid gland.  This affects the dog's metabolism and the regulation of the dog's metabolic rate.

Can my dog have hypothyroidism?
 While it is possible for any dog to suffer from hypothyroidism, it is more common in medium to large dogs.  There is often a genetic factor to the disease, so it is more common in the following breeds:
  • Golden retrievers
  • Doberman pinschers
  • Greyhounds
  • Irish setters
  • Dachshunds
  • Cocker spaniels
  • Airedale terriers 
Males and females are typically affected equally, although spayed females tend to be affected more than unspayed females.  As far as age is concerned, hypothyroidism typically affects dogs between 4 and 10 years old.

What are the symptoms?
There are quite a few symptoms, and your dog may have one or many.  They include, but are not limited to:
  • Lethargic behavior such as a lack of interest in play, frequent napping, tiring out on long walks
  • Weight gain, sometimes without an apparent gain in appetite
  • Bacterial infections of the skin
  • Dry skin
  • Hair loss, especially on the trunk or tail (“rat’s tail”)
  • Discoloration or thickening of the skin where hair loss has occurred
  • Cold intolerance/seeking out warm places to lie down
  • Slow heart rate
  • Chronic ear infections
  • Severe behavioral changes such as unprovoked aggression, head tilt, seizures, anxiety and/or compulsivity
  • Depression 
How do I know if my dog has hypothyroidism?
The best way is to have your vet run a thyroid panel (a simple blood test).  Many vets, however, have not yet recognized border hypothyroidism as an issue.  Luckily, my vet did.  I was told that technically normal levels fall between .9 and 4.0, but that it's best to see somewhere over 2.0.  It is generally accepted that the higher side of normal is preferred.  So, consult your vet, but if your dogs levels are below 2.0 it might be best to try a low dose treatment.

How do I treat hypothyroidism?
There is no cure for hypothyroidism, but it is treatable.   Most often, veterinarians will prescribe a synthetic hormone replacement called thyroxine, but regular blood tests will be required to test the effectiveness and to make sure the dosage is correct.  Also, dogs with proper treatment tend to lead normal, long lives.

Is the medication dangerous?
Just as with any medication, some dogs can have reactions.  However, side affects with thyroxine tend to be low, and with proper monitoring it is consider to be quite safe.  Also, thyroxine is fairly inexpensive, so it's also safe for the budget!

So, all in all, if you think your dog may have thyroid issues talking to your vet certainly won't hurt anything.  And, certainly, don't be afraid to consider that his behavior issues are actually thyroid-related.  You could end up helping your dog in more ways than one.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Why I Became A Trainer

Yesterday was a good day.  For those of you who have seen me recently, you know that I just closed on my first house this week.  Instead of supervising movers yesterday, though, I went with my clients and friends, Jean and CJ, to support them as they took their CGC (Canine Good Citizen) and TDI (Therapy Dog International) tests.

When I first met Jean and her husband (and as I worked with them) I was told, "We really do believe that CJ was meant to be a therapy dog.  He was meant to help people."  So, we had our goals, and we were off!  Jean was wonderful with CJ.  I enjoyed watching her become more confident with her CJ, and I especially enjoyed watching CJ start to respond to her.  They were really developing a special bond.

Admittedly, CJ and Jean had tried for the CGC once before.  CJ was fantastic and did great on 9 out of 10 steps, but on the 10th (reaction towards other dogs) he just became too excited.  He's definitely a dog who loves to play!  It was hard to watch Jean's reaction to the news.  Of course, she loves her dog, but she was obviously disappointed.  She was disappointed in herself, in her dog, and whether she's willing to admit it, I'm sure she was a little disappointed in me.  To be honest, I was a little disappointed in me too!

Luckily, though, she's not a quitter.  We reevaluated what was going on and got right back to work.  Obviously he'd be a great therapy dog.  He loves being loved and he loves other dogs (even the dogs who don't love him).  He just needed to learn how to control his excitement.  We took CJ to the dog park, and we brought dogs to him.  We worked on techniques to keep his attention focused on Jean, and we worked with Jean to ensure she knew how to handle any situation that came her way.  By yesterday, I was confident he'd pass with flying colors.

I was confident, but that doesn't mean I wasn't nervous.  I didn't know if I could handle that sort of disappointment again.  After 45 minutes of testing, however, Jean and CJ were given the news they'd done wonderfully and had passed.  YAY!!!  I took pictures as Jean did a happy dance and CJ, realizing that work was over, tried to find a dog to play with him.  I was happy for them.

It wasn't until we got back to their house, however, that I realized how wonderful the situation was.  I watched Jean interact with CJ.  Of course she was thrilled, and CJ just soaked up all the love and affection she could give him.  I watched Jean give CJ kisses, walk away, and then walk back just to give him more kisses (multiple times).  I watched as she hugged CJ and told him what a wonderful, fantastic boy he was.  I watched CJ as he wagged his tail and gave kisses back.  I watched until I couldn't watch any more and had to join in the fun.

The entire time I was watching, though, I was thinking, "This is why I'm a trainer.  I love seeing this!"  I became a trainer to help people build and develop that special bond with their dogs.  I want to see them reach their full potential and not just get along with their dogs, but really enjoy them too.

Congratulations Jean and CJ!  You deserve it.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


Vaccines are Making Our Dogs Sick

The above link talks about the hazards of over vaccinating.  It says that, yes, dogs do need vaccinations but they don't necessarily need them every single year, and that such a schedule only benefits drug companies and veterinarians, but may harm our dogs (and cats).

I wasn't completely convinced by the article, but I thought I should ask my vet anyway.  Here's what Dr. Lori Pasternak from Richmond, VA has to say about the issue:

I do have my own opinion about vaccines, although it's not black/white. I see many dogs still die of parvo and less often distemper. I've seen a few cases of leptospirosis in the past 3 years and kennel cough is very common (I think of it as the equivalent of doggie flu). So yes, vaccines are very important. The big question for me lies in, how often? And that is where the veterinarian needs to talk with the owner to determine an individual pet's risk for these diseases. Not every animal needs every vaccine out there. A pet's lifestyle, where they live and go should determine what diseases they are at risk for. I do think all puppies should be vaccinated and boostered until they are 16 weeks, after that, it should be determined by a conversation between client and vet as to what the pet needs. Just like with my kids, I educated myself about the diseases my kids were to be vaccinated for and made an educated decision about what vaccines were right for them. Pet owners should do the same. I must admit, I do not vaccinate my pets annually but they are very low risk as they are old and never leave my property anymore.  Drawing blood for titers is an option, but it is costly. The vaccines are labeled my the manufacturer to only be effective for 1 year, but I'm sure in some/ most animals they may last longer. The only way to know from animal to animal is to run titers.  Once I did run a titer on a dog after 1 year post vaccine and that dog had a strong titer for distemper,  but no titer for parvo. Interesting, but really confuses the issue. I hope this makes sense. Not very cut and dry, but nothing about vaccines is.

So there you have it.  The vaccination issue isn't completely cut and dry.  It may not be in your best interest to vaccinate every year, but seven years may be too long.  One thing you should keep in mind, though, is that the yearly vaccinations also allow your vet to do a general health check, checking on eyes, ears, and general overall well-being.  If you do decide to vaccinate less, I still encourage you to keep regular vet appointments.  It is important to keep the conversation open with your veterinarian.  Talk to your vet and together the two of you can come to an agreement on what may be best for both you and your beloved friend. 

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Bad Weather

In case you're not from Virginia and don't watch the weather, the east coast is getting slammed with a major snow storm.  Actually, we're on our third snow storm of the season, which is virtually unheard of in this part of VA.  Unfortunately, this means that we as dog owners aren't necessarily prepared for the circumstances, and our dogs are the ones to suffer.  It's a lot harder to jog when the sidewalks and roads aren't plowed.  Who wants to go to the park when it just means that the dog will come home covered in mud and we'll be freezing?  This is fine when you just have to worry about a day, but what happens after a week?  What does your dog do then?  More importantly, what do you do when your dog is so bored he starting to chew on furniture, shoes, or even your carpet?

Play Inside
Move furniture around, secure all breakables, and have a romping good time!  The kids will really love this one too.  Just be forewarned, things will get a bit crazy and loud.  If you live in an apartment, your neighbors might not appreciate it.  Also, keep in mind that this play time needs to last longer than 5 minutes.  Can you handle the dogs going crazy for 30 minutes or more?  No?  Then this probably isn't the best idea for you.

Work on Obedience or Teach New Tricks
One of the things I tell every single one of my clients is that dogs need more than simple physical stimulation.  They need mental stimulation as well.  This can mean changing your walk routine, teaching your dog agility (or any other dog sport) or working on obedience.

  If your dog knows agility, try practicing some at home.  Use a broom handle as a jump and a hoola hoop as a tire.  Use your stairs to practice two paws on, two paws off (a handy trick for the a-frame and teeter).

If your dog doesn't know agility, try to just practice your basic obedience.  Dogs who are new to sits and stays may find this a bit more difficult, so the mental exercises will be good for them.

Some dogs, however, are bored with obedience but don't know any other sports.  Take this time to teach them something fun and new.  You can invest in any trick-training book at your local bookstore or you can make up your own.  I used a day like this to teach Cody to sit pretty (beg) and to bow.  You may want to work on teaching your dog how to open and close cabinets or how to fetch.  I've even had a client teach her dogs to run to the bathroom and jump in the tub on the cue "Tornado," a handy tool to have in a stressful weather situation.  Have fun coming up with new ideas for your dog.  Keep in mind, however, that training doesn't need to be long.  Keep it to 15-20 minutes max or else you and dog will both get bored or frustrated (or both).

Play Games
Have fun with games like Hide and Seek.  You can do this a few ways.  One of my favorites involves hiding a toy stuffed with treats while your dog waits in another room.  Once the toy is hidden, encourage your dog to find it.  Note: It's helpful if your dog already has a cue to grab a toy.  "Find your frisbee" is Cody's favorite.   Another, two-person, method is to have one person hide with treats while the other person waits with the dogs.  Once the person is hidden, the dogs can be released.  When they find the person, they'll get a treat.

Head Outside
Just because you can't go for your normal walk or jog, doesn't mean you can't have fun in the snow.  Try to tap into your inner child and head on out into the cold.  Some dogs love this, but others just think it's an icky mess.  See how your dog reacts.  I love having snowball "fights" with Cody, but I have to keep an eye on his coat.  The longer hair means cold snowballs attach.  Sometimes, my husband and I will even play hide and seek in the snow.  He'll cover himself with snow and I'll send Cody to find him.  Of course, that's only a game to play if you can handle the wet cold.  I can't, which is why my husband is the one who hides.

Try the "Joring" Sports
"Joring" is a Norwegian word that means "driving."  The most common form of "joring" is dog sledding, but you may also try your hand at skijoring.  Skijoring, in the simplest of terms, is cross-country skiing with your dogs.  Or dog sledding on skis.  Of course, it's best if your dogs have some experience in this or else you may find you're being dragged out of control.  That being said, I have some great memories as a child of trying to "mush" my dogs.  If your dogs are really big pullers in the snow, try attaching yourself to a harness (collars aren't safe for this) and see if they'll pull you around on a toboggan.  Make sure you're strong enough to stop your dog if necessary, and, most importantly, NEVER try this on a hill.  Traveling downhill without the proper equipment could be extremely dangerous for both you and your dog.   Lastly, I'll note that my dogs growing up never were big pullers, so when I yelled "MUSH!" (a command they'd never heard) they merely turned around and gave me kisses.  I was ok with that.

I hope, no matter what you decide to do, you have fun with your dog.  Keep your dog safe in the weather and make sure you both get plenty of water.  Check your dog's paws to make sure they aren't to cold, and make sure you don't stay outside for too long.  Lastly, if you have any other ideas, let me know!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Angry Owner

"Lady! Lady! Lady, be quiet! Lady, it's ok. Be quiet! LADY! LAAAAAAADY!"

Does this sound like an exchange between you and your dog?  Unfortunately, for too many people, this is exactly how they talk to their dogs.  Of course, it's not always because the dog is barking.  I've often heard, "Sit.  Sit.  Sit, sit sit!  SIT!" while I watch the dog stare on in utter confusion, and it makes me wonder why people try to communicate they way they do.

Dogs do not speak English.  They also don't speak French, Spanish, Italian, or Czech (my husband might argue that all dogs speak German, but I can assure you they don't speak that either).  Dogs speak dog.  Period.  Unfortunately for dogs, most owners only speak primate.  Most owners think the best way to communicate is by repetition and volume.  The problem is, if your dog didn't understand "sit" before, she's not going to understand it simply because you said it louder. 

When training a dog, it's important that we as owners and trainers realize that we're really teaching our dogs ESL (English as a Second Language).  That, however, requires us to speak dog.  Think of it this way, if you were trying to learn Spanish, and had never heard the language before, what good would it do for your Spanish teacher to walk in and say, "Buenas dia, clase.  Sientase por favor."   You'd sit there a bit baffled.  Would it help if your Spanish teacher repeated the command?  "Sientase."  How about if he said it louder?  "SIENTASE!"  What about a clarifier?  "Yo dijo, 'SIENTASE!'"  Do you understand the command yet?  No?  Oh, in that case, "Sit!"  Great, now we're on the same page. 

Unfortunately, this is what our dogs go through every day.  Sit.  Sit!  SIT!  I said, SIT!  Instead of then actually trying to translate for our dog we just become frustrated and angry.  (Note: If you're reading this and can't seem to figure out what the best thing to do in this situation would be, I beg you, please call a trainer or some other animal specialist.  Take the time to learn how to speak to your dog.)

So, how do dogs communicate?  Before I answer that question, let me ask you another.  When you come home from work, what does your dog do?  Does she walk up to you calmly and say, "Oh, hi Mom!  I missed you today.  I'm happy you're home."  No?  Ok, so what does she do?  Does she instead run up to you, tail wagging, face smiling, sometimes jumping all over and giving you kisses?  Yes?  Fantastic.  She's talking.  Dogs communicate with their bodies.  They wag their tales, they raise their fur, they stretch.  They don't need words, their bodies say it all.  Not only that, but their body language is completely different from our own.  Let me give you an example, first from a person's point of view and next from a dog:

Maria was looking for a new dog, so she went to her local shelter.  As she walked through the kennels, she looked to the right and there he was.  Drew was perfect.  Maria walked straight through the door and patted Drew on the head.  She smiled when he backed away and said, "It's ok.  Don't worry."  After a while of petting Maria was in love.  She scooped Drew up, held him close and said, "Ok, I'll take you home."  That's when Drew bit her

Now from Drew's perspective:

Today, I was sitting in my kennel.  It's a soft kennel, a clean kennel.  No one really bugs me.  But today, this weird, two-legged creature came by.  I don't know what I did wrong, but she passed by all my friends, turned right to me and came forward.  I was pretty scared by her challenge (I'm not really an alpha dog) so I backed away a bit.  She really must not have been happy, though, because she kept coming forward and even swiped at me and hit me on the head.  When I tried to back away again, she barred her teeth and whined which was kind of confusing, so I just decided to stand still.  All I could think was, "Please don't hurt me!"    Then, all of a sudden, she lunged!  She grabbed me and was pulling me towards her.  I'm a pretty gentle guy, but I can only take so much.  I had to protect myself.  I bit her.  Thank goodness that worked!

Drew isn't necessarily a mean dog, he just doesn't understand.  While some dogs, especially those raised in a house from puppy-hood, can learn to understand people talk (just like a baby can learn to speak multiple languages spoken in a home) many dogs just haven't had the proper exposure.  Instead of labeling Drew as vicious, aggressive, or even cranky, maybe we should label him as non-fluent...just like he labeled Maria.

Then, instead of condemning this dog to a kennel (or worse), we can try to "speak" to him on his terms so we may both come to a basic understanding.  Once we've learned his language, we can try to teach him some of ours.  That way, when someone else tries to "hug" Drew, we have a way of letting him know it's o.k.

Again, for those of you who just aren't sure what to do, don't be afraid to seek guidance.  Read books, ask a trainer, even talk to your vet.  Just, please, don't write your dog off.