Thursday, October 29, 2009

Why Does My Dog Dig?

This is one question that nearly every single one of my clients has asked me.  Digging, for people, seems pointless.  Not only is it dirty, it leaves an unsightly mess of the yard.  After our dogs are done digging, of course, they're filthy and so is the house if you allow them inside.  For dogs, however, digging is great fun. Not only is it dirty, it leaves an unsightly mess of the yard. :)

Yes, it may seem your dog is digging simply to annoy you and because making a mess is fun.  The truth, however can be much more complicated.  So what does cause your dog to dig?

Avoiding Climate Conditions
Especially if you live in a particularly warm climate, or if your dog is prone to overheating, this could very well be the cause.  As your dog digs deeper the ground gets cooler.  A lot of times you will find these holes under decks, under bushes, or in flower beds.  It's not only cooler there, it's also a shelter from the sun! 

Chasing All Those Pesky Rodents
This is usually true of dogs that were bred to hunt.  I've seen this behavior a lot in labs and hounds, but it's certainly not limited to certain breeds.  All dogs have a prey drive (the instinct to chase, catch and kill).  If your dog is digging trenches through the yard, he/she is probably searching for prey.

Mom!  I'm Bored!  Do You Want to Play??
Just like when you used to make mud pies as a child, your dog just wants to have a little fun.  This commonly happens when your dog is particularly bored or wants your attention.  Throwing dirt around can be extremely fun.

The problem with digging, however, is that you're rarely there to stop it.  If your dog is bored, he's going to come to you for play time before he goes to dig.  If there's something to chase, you're probably more interesting, and if he's hot, he'll ask to come inside.  So what can you do when you're not even there?  Lots!

First, review the major causes of digging and try to figure out what is motivating your dog.

Avoiding Climate Conditions

This is the easiest fix.  Help your dog to cool off!  Provide plenty of shade and a cool place to rest.  Investing in a small doggy pool is not a bad idea either!

Chasing All Those Pesky Rodents
This one is going to take a little time.  The best thing to do first is to try to eliminate the rodents.  I know.  That is much easier said than done (especially if you life in the country).  That's where keeping your dog interested in something else may be easier.  (See below for more information.)

Mom!  I'm Bored! Do You Want to Play??

The best thing here is to make sure your dog is NOT bored.  A method that may help both boredom and prey-driven dogs is to actually give your dog an area to dig.  I know, it seems counter -intuitive but it works.  I often recommend getting a sandbox for your dog (filling it with sand will help distinguish the difference between ok digging and not ok digging).  Bury a few extremely fun treats in the sand.  You can hide toys or food, just make sure it's something your dog wants.  Then, spend a little time encouraging your dog to dig there.  Show him it is ok by digging there yourself.  If you do catch him digging in the sand on his own, praise him.  Let him know that digging where YOU deem appropriate is super-duper fun, but digging anywhere else is kind of a drag. 

The Importance of Exercise
If your dog is bored or has energy to chase things, he/she is most likely not getting enough exercise.  I highly recommend taking your dog on daily walks (30 minutes minimum) and spending plenty of time playing with your dog.  Keep in mind that if you are exercising your dog then your dog is not the only one reaping health benefits.  Remember, a tired dog is a happy dog and a tired, happy dog won't dig! 

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Potty Training Your Puppy

Housetraining is not only possible; it is also easy because of the natural instinct of dogs to relieve themselves away from their living quarters. The use of a pet crate makes the whole process go more smoothly. A pet crate has the additional advantage of protecting your home from the potential destructive behavior of a curious puppy, as well as minimizing chances of the puppy injuring himself.

Feed your puppy 3-4 meals of high quality commercial pet food daily.

Consistency in feeding times makes the times of elimination more predictable. Make the last feeding no later than 6 p.m. Removing water at 8 p.m. may be helpful for the first month or two.

Confine the puppy in a crate all the time it is not under your direct supervision:

The crate should be large enough for the puppy to stand up and turn around, but not so big as to have extra room in which elimination can occur. If you choose to buy a larger crate, place something in the back part of the crate to make it smaller while the puppy is smaller. A key point: Do not give it an opportunity to have an accident. Do not show the puppy any attention while in the crate. Talking to the puppy, sticking your finger in the crate door, or even yelling at the puppy trains the puppy to whine, bark, etc. to get that attention. Totally avoiding the pup’s actions in the crate will soon lead to the puppy learning to be quiet.

When you take the puppy out of the crate, immediately take it outside:

If it refuses to “do its business” after 5 minutes outside, put it back in the crate for 5 minutes and repeat the procedure. The puppy soon learns that its reward for “doing its business” is to stay out of the crate.

Select one toilet area for your puppy:

Take your puppy to the area at times it is most likely to need to eliminate: right after sleeping, soon after eating, etc. In the beginning, it is advisable to take the puppy out every 2 hours if possible. Always provide the puppy the opportunity to go outside to eliminate just before being put back in the crate. Always take the puppy outside immediately after returning home before the excitement causes an accident. When you get to the area and your puppy begins to sniff around for the right spot, use a phrase such as “hurry up,” or “go potty.” Soon that phrase will result in elimination.

Praise your puppy immediately:

Praise your puppy after he has eliminated in the right area. Even if you are doing everything right, accidents will happen. If you catch your puppy in the act, clap your hands to startle him and say, “NO!” Immediately take him to the area you have designated as a toilet area. If he then eliminates in the toilet area, praise him for doing a good job. If you find an accident, do not raise your voice, spank your puppy, or rub his nose in it. While you will certainly make him afraid, it won’t be because of the accident, but he will be afraid of you.

Use products that neutralize urine odor when cleaning up accidents:

Avoid products with ammonia, as it is a natural component found in urine and the smell may actually attract the puppy to urinate in that location.

Remember, BE PATIENT. Housetraining should be complete by 4-6 months of age. But it is still advisable to keep the pet in the crate for several months when you are away from home to prevent possible destruction behaviors.

Remember: Your puppy needs plenty of play and exercise when out of the crate.

Points to Remember:
- A dog can only understand scolding and praise if it occurs within a half second of the even you are trying to control. Catching a puppy “in the act” is the best time to scold or praise. After the event has occurred, it is too late to scold or praise because the puppy will associate your feedback with whatever he is doing at the time, not ten minutes before. Rubbing his nose in his mistakes is a worthless technique and only confuses the dog.
- Dogs need to relieve themselves after eating, sleeping, and playing
- Feed your puppy at the same time every day. This will help keep the dog’s digestive system regular and it will be easier to predict when he needs to go out.
- Start housetraining on a weekend when everyone will be home and able to help. If mistakes happen, clean it up well and spray an odor neutralizer on the wet spot.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Crate Training Your Puppy

Crate Size:
A crate should always be large enough to permit the dog to stretch out flat on his side without being cramped and to sit up without hitting his head on top. It is always better to use a crate a little too large rather than one a little too small. Measure the dog from the tip of the nose to the base (not tip) of the tail. Allow for growth by adding about 12 inches. A crate too large can be made smaller by adding a partition of wire, wood or masonite. Remember, a crate too large for a young puppy defeats its purpose of providing security and promoting bowel control.

Since one of the main reasons for using a crate is to confine a dog without making him feel isolated or banished, it should be placed in, or as close to, a “people” area—kitchen, family room, etc. To provide even a greater sense of security and privacy, it should be put back in a corner. Admittedly, a crate is not a “thing of beauty,” but it can be forgiven for not being a welcome addition to the household d├ęcor as it proves how much it can help the dog to remain a welcome addition to the household.

Crating a Puppy:
A young puppy (8-16 weeks) should normally have no problem accepting a crate as his “own place.” Any complaining he might do at first is not caused by the crate, but by his learning to accept the controls of his new environment. Actually the crate will help him to adapt more easily and quickly to his new world.

Place the crate in a people area and, if possible, in a spot free from drafts and not too near a direct heat source. For bedding, use an old towel or piece of blanket that can be easily washed. You may also want to include some freshly worn, unlaundered clothing such as a tee shirt, old shirt, etc. Avoid putting newspaper in or under the crate, since its odor may encourage elimination. A puppy should not be fed in the crate and will only spill a bowl of water.

Make it clear to all family members that the crate is not a playhouse. It is meant to be a “special room” for the puppy, whose rights should be recognized and respected. You should, however, accustom the puppy from the start to letting you reach into the crate at any time, lest he become overprotective of it.

Establish a “crate routine” immediately, closing the puppy in it at regular intervals during the day (his own chosen nap times can guide you) and whenever he must be left alone for up to 3-4 hours. Give him a chew toy for distraction and be sure to remove collar and tags which could get caught in an opening.

The puppy should be shown no attention while in the crate. Dogs tend to be much better psychologists than their owners—often training the owner, rather than the owner training the puppy. Any attention shown to the puppy will simply cause the puppy to believe that whining, crying, etc., is all that is needed for him to get more attention.

The puppy should be taken outside last thing every night before being put into the crate. Once he goes into the crate, he should stay there until first thing in the morning. IMMEDIATELY when the puppy is removed from the crate, he should be taken to the chosen area for his bowel eliminations.

Always feed the puppy early enough to allow ample time for bowel elimination after eating before placing the puppy in the crate. This can be up to one hour, depending on the dog. Simply clock the time after eating until the bowel movement occurs to determine this time interval for your particular puppy.

After the puppy is fully housetrained (usually 8-12 weeks of cage use), you simply can leave the door open (or take it off) and allow the puppy to come and go as he chooses. If the puppy becomes destructive during his growing phases, it is a simple matter again of confining him in the crate when he is not under your supervision.

Even if things do not go too smoothly at first- DON’T WEAKEN and DON’T WORRY! Be consistent, firm, and be very aware that you are doing your pet a real favor by preventing him from getting into trouble.

Friday, October 16, 2009


Many of the serious diseases of dogs can be prevented by vaccination. With over 50 million pet dogs in the United States alone, your pet is bound to come in contact with an infectious disease at some time. Even if you always keep your pet indoors, your dog can be exposed to viruses carried in the air, in dust, or on clothing. Vaccination is inexpensive protections against costly treatment, or even premature death of your dog.

The 5 following vaccinations are often given in one shot known as DHLPP (or a 5-way).

Distemper is one of the two most important diseases of dogs. It is very widespread, and nearly every dog will be exposed to distemper within the first year of life in our area. Signs include coughing, vomiting, diarrhea and loss of appetite, fever, and discharges from the eyes and/or nose. “Squinting” of the eyes is often the first sign observed. Once the virus enters the nervous system, convulsions, twitches, or partial paralysis become evident. It is spread through all body secretions and is highly contagious. It is usually fatal.

Canine hepatitis affects the dog’s liver. Spread through and infected dog’s urine, exposure can mean anything from a mild infection to death. Puppies are at most risk with this disease. Vaccination has controlled this disease for several years, making it rarely seen by the veterinarian today.

“Lepto” is a bacterial infection that affects the dog’s kidneys. It can reside as a low-level infection for months or years, infecting other dogs while weakening your pet. Lepto is contracted through rodent urine, and many dogs contract this disease by drinking water that a squirrel or other rodent has run through. The scariest thing about Lepto, however, is that it is a zoonotic disease (it can be transferred to humans). While leptospirosis was rarely seen due to vaccinations, an increase in cases in the past few years has caused vets to encourage this vaccine.

Parainfluenza is caused by a virus which produces a mild respiratory tract infection. It is often associated with other respiratory tract viruses. In combination these viruses are usually transmitted by contact with the nasal secretions of infected dogs. This virus is not dissimilar to the human flu.

Since its devastating worldwide appearance in 1978, most dog owners have heard of parvo. It is transmitted through direct contact with an infected dog’s feces. Ad dog that recovers from the disease remains a “carrier” spreading the virus in its bowel movements for 1-3 months. Signs include vomiting, fever, depression, and diarrhea, which often will contain large amounts of blood. Three is another form where the virus attacks the heart muscle causing a heart attack and death. The younger the pet, the GREATER the chance of death. The death rate is very high in dogs under 4-6 months of age.

Dogs remain susceptible to Parvovirus infection until two weeks after the last injection in the vaccination series. This is the MOST SERIOUS and FATAL disease we see today.

The following vaccinations are given as separate shots. These vaccines often require a series of injections to develop a high level of immunity.

Otherwise known as “kennel cough,” dogs with this disease develop an upper respiratory infection not unlike the common cold. While typically not fatal, if left untreated this can develop into pneumonia which is fatal. Bordatella is transmitted much the same way as the common cold, and most dogs will acquire it at some point in their lives. Signs include a mucus discharge in the eyes and nose, and a dry, hacking cough. In more severe cases, these symptoms may be accompanied with lack of appetite and depression.

Rabies is a FATAL INFECTION of the nervous system that attacks all warm-blooded animals, including humans. Rabies has become synonymous with the image of a vicious dog. Rabies is a public health hazard and a personal risk to all pet owners. Many states require vaccination against rabies, and most veterinarians recommend vaccination for all dogs and cats, regardless of state law. Rabies can be transmitted through the bite of an infected animal. Even dogs kept indoors can come in contact with a rabies carrier in a basement, garage, or attic. Because there is NO CURE for rabies, vaccination is your pet’s only protection

How to Puppy Proof Your House

The Christmas season is only a few months away, and I'm sure that more than a few of you are considering getting a puppy. Of course, this is not a decision to be taken lightly, but for those of you who are dead set, the next few blogs are for you! The first few blogs on this post will be dedicated to your puppy. We'll cover everything from potty training to vaccinations. This first post is dedicated to puppy-proofing your house, and making it a fun, worry-free place for all who live there.

That’s Shocking- Young animals love to chew when they’re teething. Keep electrical wires out of reach or use a pet-repellent spray.

They’d die for some chocolate- Chocolate can be dangerous. It contains theobromine, a powerful stimulant that is toxic to pets. Sweets, cakes, and cookies can also upset a young animal’s G.I. tract and can lead to diarrhea and vomiting, which can be serious.

But it’s healthy for us- Some things that are great for people can be deadly to your pet. Keep your puppy away from raisins, grapes, garlic, raw onions, and raw peppers. Feel free, however, to see what else your dog might like. Carrots can be nutritious chew toys and apples and green beans can be a healthy snack.

Treats can be threats- Never give turkey, chicken, or rib bones as a treat. They can splinter and cause serious injury.

Common Household Killers- Cleaning agents, bleach, ammonia, disinfectants, drain cleaner, oven cleaner, paint, gasoline, rat poison. Keep them locked up.

Check the antifreeze- Pets are attracted to the odor and sweet taste of antifreeze. Store it high and tightly sealed, wiping up any spills on the garage floor. Window-washing solution and many floor cleaners also contain antifreeze.

Killer house plants- Poisonous plants include lilies, philodendron, dieffenbachia, elephant ear, eucalyptus, spider plants, azalea, ivy, amaryllis, pyracantha, oleander, boxwood, Jerusalem Cherry, and plant bulbs.

Keep off the grass- If you treat your lawn with chemicals, keep pets away. Even some mulches contain similar ingredients to chocolate. Read and follow label directions carefully.

It fit yesterday- Puppies grow rapidly. Collars and harnesses can be rapidly outgrown, leading to serious wounds.

Take care of personal care items and medications- Cosmetics, shampoos, skin creams, hair “perm” solutions, depilatories, suntan lotions, sleeping pills, antihistamines, aspirin, and acetaminophen can all be lethal to pets.

It’s not a toy- Don’t leave plastic bags out. Inquisitive young animals can suffocate.

A dip tip- Keep covers on hot tubs and swimming pools. Young puppies can fall in and not be able to get out.

‘Tis the Season- Keep holly, mistletoe and especially Christmas tree tinsel out of reach.

Cozy up- Always use a fireplace screen. Not only could stray embers pop out and hurt your puppy, but kindling can seem awfully enticing to a teething pup.

Do you eat with that mouth?- Rule of thumb: If any or all of something will fit in a mouth, it’s dangerous. Watch out for cigarette butts, rubber bands, balloons, sewing needles, thread, string, ribbons, and, yes, even pantyhose. What goes in must come out, often via surgery.