Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Tricks! They Are Not Just For Kids!

All kidding aside, training your companion animals to do tricks is not a waste of time. On the contrary, trick training is fun, reinforcing, and often better received than more standard forms of behavior training.  Particularly for young animals, the variety and challenge of trick training can be quite appealing.  However, even for senior pets, trick training can present just the right level of brain challenge to keep their minds active and engaged.  And, yes, I did say companion animals as trick training is fun for dogs AND cats.

So why trick training?  People tend to be more relaxed when teaching tricks, and thus their pets are less anxious as well.  When I observe people teaching a trick to their animal, I notice more smiling, laughing, and rewards for the animal who is trying to figure out just what it is that you want them to do.  Teaching something new can be frustrating, but frequent short sessions not only help your pet understand what you want, it provides them with mental stimulation through out the day.

Recently, I helped a young client teach her dog a couple of basic tricks at the end of our session.  The dog was tired, but he was focused, so a good time to work on something different and fun.  When her mother saw what we were doing, she commented on how learning tricks wasn't important to them.  At this point, I had to explain to her why trick training is so amazing and how it will help them get what they want; a well-behaved, family dog.  Given that actions speak louder than words, I demonstrated what I meant.  I called the dog over.  Had the dog bow and shake my hand, then sent him into his crate for a treat and his nap.  He did this all without argument which is not how this usually goes. He is usually reluctant to crate when they are home, wanting to be with them all the time which is exhausting for him and for them.  To see him readily and happily enter his crate and settle in for a nap after executing two new tricks he had just learned, was quite satisfying all the way around.

So, whether you are teaching your cat to wave or your dog to say his prayers, remember that you are doing something so much bigger and more important.  You are spending time with your pets, having fun,, and teaching them that learning new behaviors isn't boring and it definitely isn't a waste of time.

What tricks do your pets know?

Ozzie doing a bow for the camera as requested!

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Is My Dog Senile?

Shadow was the border collie mix that got me through graduate school before we moved to southern California, where we visited the beach daily, perfected my dog cookie recipe, and rescued a kitten.  She was there through thick and thin.  By the time I was pregnant with me daughter, she was getting a bit odd.  She would frantically run into a room and then stand there staring at the wall.  She couldn't seem to get comfortable on her bed.  She paced the house at odd hours.  She would go outside to go potty and then panic when I approached her to coax her back indoors.  She bit me more than once; she didn't seem to know who I was, then would recall who I was later and be glued to my side. By the time Jessica was born, Shadow was no longer herself.  Although her body functioned quite well for an almost 16 year old dog, her mind was fractured.  She suffered from Canine Cognitive Disorder (CCD), the dog version of Alzheimer's Disease.

We know so much more about CCD now than we did back then.  At that time, there was only one drug available, still in the testing phase, by Pfizer. I was able to get Shadow into the trial study where she ended up being the oldest surviving dog. Anipryl, the drug from Pfizer, gave Shadow (and us!) some relief from her symptoms for about 9 months.  After that, the drug didn't seem to be effective any longer and her quality of life, and ours, was suffering.

In a study conducted by the U.C. Davis Behavior Clinic, researchers found that 28% of dogs aged 11-12 years and 68% of dogs 15-16 years old, showed one or more signs of impaired cognition. The more signs that are seen, or an increase in the frequency of those signs indicates a more serious problem.  And there isn't really a progression in signs or an order in which they occur. Some dogs may experience all of the signs while others only experience a couple. There is an acronym, DISHA, which many veterinarians use to try to determine which signs an elderly pet patient is experiencing. D is for disorientation; I is for (altered) interactions with family or other pets, S is for sleep/wake cycle changes, H is for house soiling, and A is for activity level changes.

Now if a client tells me that they are seeing the first signs of aging in their pets, I tell them that it doesn't have to be a painful, downhill progression any more. After I recommend a full exam and blood work with their vet to rule out any medical issues, I then suggest things they can do to improve their aging pet's quality of life. First, is to make sure they are still getting enough mental and physical exercise.  Achy joints still need to move and aging brains still need challenges.  The walks may be shorter, but they still need to sniff and relieve themselves appropriately.  Likewise, puzzle toys, slow feeder bowls, and snuffle mats can be used to keep those elderly brains engaged.  A change in diet can make a big difference as senior diets are antioxidant-rich, easily digestible, and have adjusted calories for pets who aren't getting as much exercise. If your pet is having trouble sleeping at night, you can try melatonin.  If they are stiff, try glucosamine with chondroitin.  If they seem a bit disoriented and lacking joy for the things that really used to please them, consider a supplement called cholodin.  They even have cholodin with glucosamine and chondroitin added in to deal with arthritic changes at the same time.  Once those paths have been exhausted, you can talk to your vet about Anipryl, the same drug that Shadow tested all those years ago.

We can't stop our pets from aging, but we can make them more comfortable mentally and physically as they age.  In the infamous words of George Burns, "You can't help getting older, but you don't have to get old."

An aging Shadow, and a much younger me.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

The Importance of Schedules & Routines

I've had two calls and three emails this week about how to keep a dog away from a Christmas tree.  One person was convinced there must be something that she could spray on her tree to repel her dog and cat.  This really got me to thinking about how the holidays must stress our pets out.

Our pets all like their regular routines.  They know when they are supposed to be fed, when it is time to go for a walk, and when their owners are leaving for work or supposed to be home.  During the holidays, our routines become more chaotic and this causes stress for our pets.  Don't get me wrong. I know that the holidays are a stressful time for people too.  However, we understand the holiday parties, festive food, and fragile decorations while our pets do not.  They are curious and excited about that tree brought in the house.  Why can't they urinate on it? Or climb it? And those bright boxes with ribbon.  The paper is just asking to be shredded and torn.  And did you really just hang a sparkly, glittery ball on that tree?! Plus, holiday food looks and smells amazing to us, so you can imagine how enticing it is for our pets.  No wonder everyone is stressed out!

If you have a Christmas tree and your puppy or dog is taking too much interest in it, block it off.  Either make that room off limits with a gate or put an exercise pen around the tree to block your dog from approaching it, or the gifts underneath.  If you have the time to work with your dog, put him on leash and take some treats with you.  Sit near the tree and reward your dog for staying a safe distance away from the tree,decorations,and gifts.  Reward your dog for NOT looking at them.  This doesn't mean you can just let your dog go in there unsupervised. It means that when you are with them, you can help them to understand that NOT touching those things will earn them rewards.

If you are hosting a holiday party, prepare your dogs in advance.  Make sure they are wearing their collars and the tags are current, just in case the door is left open and they bolt.  If your dog hates new people or large groups, put him away in another room with something fun to do.  If he's crate trained, crate him with a yummy bone to chew on.  Turn on a fan or use a white noise machine to block out the party noise for him.  If your dog loves a good party, you may still want to crate him when there is food at his level. Or maybe you want to keep him on leash with you so you can reward not surfing the counter and tables, not jumping up on people, and not begging.

Most importantly, keep to your usual routine and schedule as much as you possibly can.  Feed your pets at their regular meal times, don't neglect their exercise, both physical and mental, and don't forget their down time with you.  Those walks are good for you both, rain or shine, and snuggling with you on the couch at the end of the day is comforting and anxiety reducing for you both.

Happy Holidays everyone!

Desi is the master of ignoring the tree and decorations in favor of small snacks!

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

The Importance of Handling Your Dogs

I met with a client recently who needed help getting her dog to cooperate.  Even with yummy treats, she couldn't brush his body, or even consider brushing his teeth.  And clipping his nails? No way, she said.  She even thought he might bite her if she tried.  Given that she had gotten this dog as an 8 week old puppy, I had to figure out what went wrong.  After speaking with her at length, one thing became very clear.  She had rarely handled him as a puppy other than petting him and putting on and taking off his leash. She sent him to a groomer, so she didn't really think about brushing him at home.  She hadn't done any puppy classes, so she missed out on the kind of handling exercises routinely taught and done there.  We had a lot of work to do!

If you have a puppy, or are getting one this holiday season, don't neglect to handle them daily and A LOT.  Puppies should be picked up, turned over, and examined thoroughly every single day.  Look in their mouths, ears, around their tails, and between their toes. Don't forget to check their armpits and groin area too.  Pull on their ears, feet, and tails.  This isn't mean; someone is sure to pull their body parts at some point in time and you need them to know that it's no cause for concern.  Clean around your puppy's eyes too.  Surely there will be a time when you have to clean sleep out of those eyes, or maybe even put eye medication in there.  Same with the ears.  And everyone should be able to clip their puppy's nails or dremmel them.  Puppy nails grow fast and starting the trimming early and routinely decreases their sensitivity to having it done.  Even if you intend to send your dog to the groomer, you should be able to do their nails and brush their bodies.  Start brushing your puppy's teeth early too. Even though they will lose those baby teeth, if you teach them that teeth brushing is fun, you will have no problem keeping their adult teeth (and gums) healthy.

It isn't just your veterinarian and groomer that will thank you for doing these handling exercises daily.  You will thank yourself when your dog steps on something that hurts and you have to remove it, or has a mat you need to comb out, or you need to treat their eyes or ears with medication!

For my client's now adult dog, we started out very slow, using pieces of steak, and very gentle handling.  We will work up to more invasive handling over time.  If we reach a point where we just can't handle her dog as we'd like, I will discuss muzzle training with the owner.  Muzzles aren't bad things.  They are training tools like leashes, collars, harnesses, etc.  Used properly, that is taking the time to teach a dog that wearing a muzzle is fun and rewarding, a muzzle can be the saving grace for a dog who might behave aggressively if they feel provoked.

As always, if you have questions or need my help, you know where to find me.

I've been doing handling exercises with Freddie since he was 8 weeks old.  Goldendoodle hair mats easily, so he has had his hair pulled and tugged.  He revels in body exams, smiles for teeth brushing, and tries to avoid nail trims, but does them!

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

But Why Does My Dog Eat Poop?!

Clients are often mortified to even discuss this issue with me.  Their dogs eat poop.  Their own poop. The other dog's poop. Cat poop. Any poop they can find on a walk.  It seems so gross!  Why in the world would they ever do such a thing?! 

The technical term for this behavior is coprophagia. While it is most often a behavioral problem, owners must rule out medical causes first. If there is some reason that a puppy or dog is not absorbing the nutrients properly from their food or they are experiencing nutritional deficits such as missing vitamins or minerals, parasites, or they simply are not being fed enough, can all result in coprophagia.  If your veterinarian has examined your dog's diet, run a stool sample for parasites, etc. then you can definitively say your dog has a behavior problem and you can seek out a solution with that in mind.

Coprophagia is quite common in puppies and may simply be a byproduct of them being left unsupervised long enough to explore and consume feces. There is definitely observational learning that goes on with this behavior, meaning if you have another dog who does it, it is likely that your new puppy will do it too, just from seeing the adult dog engage in the behavior. I've even seen owners use the old fashioned correction technique with their puppies where they take them to fecal accidents in the house and shove the pup's nose toward it.  This can certainly make a puppy want to eat the feces to make it go away since you've drawn so much attention to it!  And finally, some adult dogs who have groomed and cared for puppies, just inherently want to clean up feces when they find it. Feces from other species of animals, including the family cat, are attractive to dogs because they smell different and are often texturally different as well.

Treatment for coprophagia requires vigilance and no one method works for every dog.  First and foremost, owners must be vigilant about keeping their yards free of feces.  Cleaning up immediately after defecation is key.  Keep the dog on leash so that as soon as they go, you can lead them away, give them a treat, and then go pick it up.  On walks, keep your dog away from areas where other animals toilet regularly, particularly if you live in an area where your neighbors aren't picking up behind their dogs.  Clean the cat box regularly and place the box in an area easily accessed by your cat, but not by the dog.  

There are a couple of products (CoproBan and For-Bid) you can buy through your veterinarian that when sprinkled on your dog's food will not change the taste of the food, but will change the taste of their poop!  Likewise, canned pumpkin, some pineapple juice or canned pineapple, or even a meat tenderizer such as Accent can be put on their food and change the way their feces tastes.  Just be careful if using canned pineapple as you don't want to use too much as the sugar can give your dog diarrhea. Many dogs, however, are not deterred by any of these food additives and will continue to eat feces.  

The bottom line is this:  Try it all, but know that the best treatment involves avoidance.  Keep your yard spotless. Keep your puppy or dog on leash.  Call or pull them away after defecation and give them a high value treat for moving away from the poop. Over time, many puppies grow out of the behavior, but for adult dogs it may persist.  They won't do it at home where you keep everything clean, but they will go looking for feces on walks.  Keep to the sidewalks, always keep them on leash, and teach the "drop it" or "leave it"command so you can reward them for dropping the feces they find or walking away from it.

As always, if you need my help, let me know!

Laverne, the Labrador puppy, keeping busy so she doesn't eat poop!

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

On Being Thankful

I am thankful for so many things, but wanted to touch briefly upon just a few.

I am thankful for my neighbors.  Paul with his Labrador, Stella, who is always cheerful when we see him.  He calls out to the collies, makes Stella share her treats with them (hard work for a Labrador!), and encourages his grandson to go visit "those fluffy collies." And there is Dorothy.  She is 92 years young, legally blind, but still walks out neighborhood daily with the aid of only a walker.  She is upbeat, loves to stop and visit, and always has time to scratch collie butts.  She says she looks forward to "seeing" them, and then laughs.  Really, she says, she looks forward to touching their luxurious coats. We also love seeing Carol.  She lost her husband earlier this year and has been thinking about getting a dog.  She's in her early 70's and would love to have a dog of her own. In the meantime, she spoils the collies, which they do so enjoy.  And I can't forget my next door neighbor, Elaine.  She lives alone and says the collies barking at our shared fence makes her feel safe. LOL.  Those collies are happy to oblige when it comes to barking.

I am thankful always for my friends near and far.  I love having friends that I see every week, those that I see every month, and my Facebook and Instagram friends that I see daily in my newsfeeds. I know that some people complain that the internet has created distance between people since folks don't have to leave their houses any more to "socialize." I really don't feel that way.  Social media has expanded my world, introduced me to people around the globe that I never would have had the pleasure of meeting otherwise. For this, I am grateful.

Finally, I am thankful most of all for my family. They are always there to support me, to bolster me up when needed, to roll their eyes when I need to just get it together, and hug me on the daily. Even at almost 17, my son has time for me.  We take in a movie or play miniature golf.  He likes to tease me about how ridiculous I am with the dogs.  And yet, he is just like me. While I miss my girls now that they are away at college, I appreciate that they check in.  Love the texts, memes, ted talk links, music clips, and conversations when they have the time.  I love that Jessica sent me my first "mom care package" this year as well.  Somewhere in heaven, her grandmother and great-grandmother, the queen and queen mother of care packages, are smiling.

And I am grateful to all of you for reading this post. I just needed to say what was in my heart. Feel free to share what you are thankful for in the comments as well. Happy Thanksgiving everybody!

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Is Your Dog a Little OCD?

While some might joke about a dog "obsessively chasing its tail" or "snapping at imaginary bugs," I take those comments very seriously.  One thing I know about dogs...some chase their tails (and bugs) for fun or because they are bored, while others do it because they feel compelled and just can't stop.

More than once I've seen a dog with a raw spot on a foot or leg. It's obviously a spot that the dog has licked/chewed/rubbed constantly until it was raw and sore. While many dogs will do this as a result of an allergy of some sort, there are some who purposefully chew these spots, usually on the paws or limbs, until they are raw.  They are compulsive lickers creating something called lick granulomas on their bodies. Treating these self-inflicted sores with ointments doesn't solve the problem. Nor does putting the "cone of shame" on the dog to block them from chewing.  Once the sore heals and you remove the cone, they will go right back to chewing on that spot. They simply can't help it. They don't have a skin issue. They have a brain issue. Believe it or not, chewing themselves raw fulfills a need.  It is the dog's way of dealing with underlying stress and anxiety.  Much like some people chew their nails all the way down until they bleed. Grooming is a natural/normal behavior. Grooming until you create a sore is not.

Let's talk about those other dogs too. The ones who obsessively chase lights on the ceiling, shadows on the wall, and snap at bugs that aren't there. Or chase their tails round and round until they exhaust themselves. Dogs are predatory, so chasing prey is something that they are wired to do.  However, chasing lights, imaginary bugs, or your tail is predatory behavior gone wrong. Finally, there are dogs that suck on blankets and bedding or eat rocks or other inedible objects.  These dogs are filling themselves up, just not with appropriate things. 

Being well-groomed, able to chase down prey, and then fill up on what you've captured are all evolutionarily selected behaviors that insured the survival of dogs as a species.  However, when it gets to the point where they are engaging in these behaviors until exhaustion or until sores develop, then this is a problem and that problem is canine compulsive behavior or even obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Given that doing these behaviors lessens the dog's anxiety, treatment must focus on the underlying anxiety, not on simply treating the sores on the skin or missing hair on the tail. For these dogs, doing these self-destructive behaviors relieves their anxiety because the pain is predictable. 

Treatment of compulsive behavior requires a combination of behavioral modification and drug therapy.  These dogs must have their environments altered to relieve stress:  they like predictable schedules; need more mental and physical exercise; and  often a change to their diet.  Treating a dog (or any animal) who suffers from OCD is a coordinated effort between the pet owner, their vet, and the behavior specialist.  If you feel that your pet is suffering from OCD, please let me know. I understand how frustrating and upsetting it is and I can help.

A dog with a lick granuloma on its leg

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Is Your Dog a Picky Eater?

I hear this a lot. Clients telling me their dogs are picky eaters.  While it is certainly the case that dogs with anxiety may be a bit more finicky about their food than the average dog, it is also the case that some anxious dogs (like some anxious people) actually overeat rather than walk away from their food. So what makes some dogs picky eaters while other dogs will eat anything and everything?

A veterinarian once told me the best food to buy for your dog is the one that fits in your budget and that your dog likes. Period.  He didn't say anything about protein sources, grain free, or fat content.  So, your first conversation if you have a picky eater should be with your veterinarian. You need to make sure that your dog is healthy, doesn't have issues with their teeth or gums, etc.  If your dog is overweight, you should expect your vet to suggest more carefully measuring out meals and limiting snacks, or even a special diet designed to help dogs lose weight in a healthy manner.

If you have ruled out medical reasons for your picky eater, it's time to look at the way you feed your dog.  Puppies should be fed 3-5 times a day; these are small meals, spread out to help them better digest and utilize their nutrients.  Adult dogs should be fed twice daily.  While it is true that you can certainly feed a dog once a day, most dogs are happier and healthier with their daily caloric intake divided into two meals so they feel satiated.  Food should not be left down for a dog to free feed.  Free feeding makes it very difficult to house train a puppy since you can't know when food is going into your puppy and therefore know when they will need to toilet!  Adult dogs shouldn't be free fed because giving them the option to eat whenever they want actually can create picky eaters.  If instead a dog is fed twice a day, and said meal is offered to them for 10-15 minutes and then any food left is picked up, you end up with dogs who look forward to meal time, eat what they are hungry for, and then walk away. If you feel that 10-15 minutes isn't enough time for your dog, you can certainly extend that time to 20-30 minutes.  However, most dogs will eat what they want in those first 15 minutes anyway, so why the extra time?  If you feed your dog at well-defined, predictable meal times, you will find that that's when they are hungry.

Most of us like variety in our meals, and many people feel bad about feeding their dogs the same food all of the time.  Keep in mind that dogs who are constantly having their food changed up end up with digestive issues and are often those dogs who are described as picky eaters.  Pick one kind of food and stick with it. If your dog is hungry, he will eat.  That doesn't mean you can't spice up their food a bit if you are so inclined. I know people who add a little canned food to the kibble, put a dollop of canned pumpkin or veggies on top, or crumble in some chicken breast.

I know not everyone will agree with me, but I feel that puppies, just like young children, should be exposed to lots of different healthy food options (in small quantities) so that they will seek out and choose those healthy options later.  This also means that if you've exposed your puppies to carrots, squash, pumpkin, green beans, apples, bananas, berries, etc., then you can give them these things in small quantities as a treat or to supplement their kibble, thus spicing up their routine.  However, there are other ways to spice it up rather than adding in more calories.  Putting your dog's kibble into an interactive feeding toy is a great way for your dog to forage for their meals and exercise their brain at the same time.  Many dogs actually prefer to eat kibble they've had to work for versus kibble just handed to them in a bowl.

And then, of course, there is the question of hand feeding your dog.  Some dogs prefer to have their people sit with them and hand feed them their kibble. Frankly, I'd be surprised if a dog didn't enjoy this kind of curb service!  If your dog doesn't have a specific issue that requires them to be hand fed, I suggest staying away from this option.  If your dog will only eat when hand fed by you, this will make it difficult for you to ever leave your dog in the care of someone else for any length of time. And it goes without saying that if you are feeding your dog from a bowl, that bowl should be clean and free of odors that might deter your dog.  Feeding your dog in a well-lit area of your home, preferably in an area where people frequent so eating feels sociable, is also important.

There is a diet out there that is perfect for every dog.  You just need to find that diet and stick with it.  Your dog doesn't have to eat every bite at every meal to be happy and healthy.  Dogs like predictability so too much change in what you feed them can create picky eaters.  Save the changes and surprises for their special treats.  Those treats that they get outside of set mealtimes are a great place to experiment with variety in texture, protein source, etc.

As always, if you have questions, please let me know!

Ozzie enjoying some canned pumpkin AND cooked chicken breast with his kibble!

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

The Truth About Dog Bites

Last week, I met with a lovely woman who was very worried about the 8 month old dog that her family had rescued 3 weeks ago.  They had been encouraged to adopt this 45 lb, mixed breed dog from a local rescue who stated the dog would be great with kids.  These folks have had dogs before and were specifically looking for a family dog.  Again, they were told this was the dog for them.  Within hours of taking the dog home, the dog was leaping at faces and snapping.  The dog was lunging at her children and grabbing them through their clothing.  The dog never made a sound, just darted and grabbed.  When they contacted the rescue, they were told by their "animal behaviorist" that the dog needed time to adjust and they just needed to be firm with the dog, set boundaries, make sure she got enough exercise, and nap time. They did all of this and the dog bit each of them and then a worker on their property. They didn't want to be quitters, but knew this just didn't seem right.  When they took the dog to the vet, the dog was perfectly calm and quiet in the exam room.  When the vet walked in, the dog glanced her way and then jumped up and leaped for her face/neck snapping, no warning, no sounds at all.  That's when I entered the picture.

We talked about all of this and then I asked the owner to open her laundry room door and let the dog out so I could meet her.  The dog took one look and ran at me, jumped up and snapped at my face, managing to grab my vest.  I blocked the dog and tried to defuse the situation, but the dog wasn't having any of that. She charged me again, grabbing my pants leg.  I shook her off and again tried to redirect her.  She ran at me one more time, this time getting my leg through my jeans.  This all happened in about a minute an a half. I had the owner coax the dog back into the laundry room and we were done.  Wow.  This dog was scary.  No warnings.  No hesitation.  She just went right for the bite.

Needless to say, I told the owner this dog needed to go back to the rescue immediately before one of her children or one of their friends was injured.  If this is how this dog is behaving during the honeymoon period of adoption, I can only imagine what will happen once that period is over. Not surprisingly, the rescue tried to lay blame on the owners, but I had coached them on how to respond to that kind of nonsense.  I had them use the legal term scienter with respect to them having knowledge that they owned an aggressive animal.  I had them mention liability and future bite risk.  Any dog who has bitten has a better than 90% chance of biting again.  This dog is 100% going to bite again.  The rescue has a copy of my report and all the details from the owners laid out in a letter.  Nonetheless, they asked the owners to state on the return form that the dog "just didn't work out for them/had adjustment issues."  This really upset me because that's a cop out.  If they place this dog again, she will bite again and as far as I'm concerned, the rescue is to blame when that happens.  They have all the info they need to make the right choice. The humane choice.  The safe choice.  This dog needs to be euthanized.

I am most certainly not an advocate of euthanasia as a solution for behavior problems, but dogs that bite people are dangerous, particularly in homes with young children. It will take some time for this family to move past this less than favorable experience and begin the process of finding their next dog. We've already talked about what to look for and I am happy to help them find just the right family dog. In the meantime, it's going to be a while before I forget the look on that dog's face as she charged me.  No fear.  No hesitation.  Just a lot of focus, confidence, and control.  The bruise on my leg still hurts, but the teeth marks are fading and changing color.  These outward marks will be gone in a few days, but the impression of this dog will last me a lot longer and will be difficult to forget.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Help! My Dog Pulls on the Leash!

Last Saturday, I started a new round of classes for older puppies.  The number one complaint among the participants was pulling on leash.  These puppies have all just completed their vaccines and been given the okay by their veterinarians to begin walking out in the real world.  That, actually, is part of the problem.  By waiting until their puppies were fully vaccinated to begin working on leash walking is a big mistake.  Learning to walk nicely on leash should begin the moment you bring your new puppy home.  You see, puppies don't have to be walked on leash out in public.  They benefit from being walked inside your house, in your yard, on your porch, in your garage, wherever and whenever you have time to safely work with them on polite leash walking.  Maybe an example will help.

I remember the first time I walked in high heeled shoes with the intent of wearing them out in public.  I walked in those shoes every day for a week inside the house. On carpet, on tile, on linoleum, on the cement patio. Then, I practiced dancing in those shoes.  I practiced walking and dancing in those shoes so I wouldn't fall on my face out in public at the middle school dance!  The same is true for teaching a puppy to walk on leash.  It's a new accessory for them.  You need to hook the leash on and let them get used to it first.  Start by walking them around, luring them with a treat, letting them drag that leash.  Once they can do that, pick up the leash, hold it loosely, and again lure them with your voice and a treat.  Don't yank the leash.  Lure the puppy.  Do frequent short sessions inside different areas of your house until your puppy is happily walking along with you there.  Once they can do that, you've graduated to a new setting. Maybe your porch, yard, or garage is next.  You do the same thing, keeping the leash loose and luring your puppy along.  By the time your puppy is old enough to be walked out in public, you will have practiced loose leashing walking so many times, that your puppy will already have an idea of what to do in spite of their excitement about being outside in a new place.  Walks should be kept short, the leash should be loose, you should have yummy treats to lure them along, and by all means, let them sniff!  Sniffing is the whole reason dogs are out there walking in the first place.  They aren't really in it for the cardio; they are along for the walk because they want to sniff and explore.  You can certainly put sniffing on command.  As your dog drops their head to sniff, say "go sniff!" in an upbeat tone of voice.  When they stop sniffing, or you are ready to move on, say "Let's go" or "that's enough" again in an upbeat voice. Sniffing is a way for them to learn about their world AND get rid of tension and anxiety. By all means, let them sniff!

Even if you do all of this, some puppies will still pull relentlessly on leash.  The pull to get to see new people or they pull to meet other dogs. Or they pull to chase squirrels.  Or all of the above.  Some dog breeds pull more than others because they are genetically wired to do so.  However, even dogs genetically wired for pulling like Huskies or Samoyeds, can learn to walk nicely on a leash.  It's all about practice, short sessions, big rewards, and setting appropriate expectations. Ultimately, you may need to use a different kind of leash, a different type of collar, or some sort of harness, but first you need to teach the basics of loose leash walking.

As always, if you are having trouble with this, let me know. I am here to help!

Ozzie as a pup learning to loose leash walk on the sidewalk in front of our house!

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

ADHD in Dogs is a Real Thing!

While I do try to discourage clients from anthropomorphizing with respect to their pets or using labels that do more harm than good, it is important to remember that we are both mammals and as mammals we can and do suffer from similar problems. Case in point, ADHD, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. While many a client has described their dog to me as "having ADD," "hyperactive," "unfocused," and "out of control," only a very few had dogs with true ADHD.  Most people whose dogs appear to have trouble focusing, behave in an out of control manner, etc. aren't suffering from ADHD, but rather are suffering from a lack of physical exercise, lack of mental stimulation, the wrong diet, or all three!  However, for those dogs (and dog owners) who are truly suffering from ADHD, relief is available.

While most of the research on ADHD has been done on human children, there is some research out there on dogs, most notably by Dr. Nicholas Dodman. His research indicates that while ADHD isn't a common problem in dogs, it does exist, and seems to be more prevalent among working dog breeds like German Shepherds, for example. And while many of us might jokingly say that all terriers suffer from ADHD to a certain extent, the truth of the matter is that some dog breeds are just more active, busy, and in need of stimulation than others. Oftentimes a definitive diagnosis of ADHD comes only after one has ruled out all other causes for a dog's lack of focus, agitation, inability to learn, hyperactivity, etc. Meaning, the dog is getting appropriate exercise both mental and physical, has been through training classes, and the dog's diet and overall health have been evaluated by a veterinarian.  At this point, many dog owners are at their wit's end and ask their veterinarians for drug therapy for their dogs.  Unfortunately, many veterinarians default to giving something like Prozac or Trazodone which not only don't help the dog, but can make the dog's symptoms worse, creating more agitation and even aggression.  Instead, the drug to try is Ritalin.  Yes, that Ritalin.  Ritalin is a stimulant and if you give it to a dog who doesn't have ADHD, they will have rapid respiration, rapid heart rate, etc. However, if you give it to a dog with ADHD, they calm down, their respiration decreases as does their heart rate.  Dogs with ADHD who take Ritalin twice daily can settle down and learn appropriate behavioral responses.

Recently, I saw a client who had rescued an older puppy this Spring.  His previous owners had gotten fed up with his relentless barking and activity so they gave him up to breed rescue.  My client is an experienced dog owner.  She immediately started classes with this young dog in order to bond with him and establish good habits.  When he couldn't focus in class, she figured she just needed to work harder at home, which she did, establishing boundaries, setting up scheduled exercise, etc.  When that didn't work, she sent her dog to a "boot camp" where the instructors told her that she was doing everything right, but this dog needed medication.  Unfortunately, the meds that they started this dog on didn't help and actually ended up making him worse. By the time I saw him, he literally couldn't sit still for more than 5 seconds.  He quite literally bounced off of the walls (and people), grabbing anything he could get his mouth on.  The only time he seemed somewhat calm was when he was sniffing on a walk, but even then he couldn't seem to sniff long enough to release tension.  His behavior was creating immense stress for the humans who couldn't get any sleep with this dog in the house.  I suggested starting Ritalin and within 2 days of being taken off of the previous meds and starting Ritalin, the dog calmed down. He could focus and learn.  His owner was heaving a huge sigh of relief as now she knows that she can teach him what he needs to know to be happy and well-adjusted.  Problem solved by seeing our similarities to dogs, rather than our differences.  And not by being anthropomorphic, but by being a good observer and seeking help without labeling the dog. I am really looking forward to this owner's next progress report!

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Pet Health Insurance

Earlier this week, my friend and favorite dog trainer, Trish Wamsat, posted a piece on Facebook about pet health insurance. It seems that some of the pet insurance companies are FINALLY willing to recognize behavior problems and their treatment as something they will cover in their health plans.  This is something new and, frankly, quite amazing!

Back in the early 90's when pet health insurance first became a thing, the primary company out there made a presentation at the veterinary hospital where I was working as a practice manager. As a behaviorist, one of my first questions was, "do you cover the treatment of behavior problems?"  The company rep looked at me with what I can only describe as derision. "Of course not," he said. "Our health plans cover real medical and health concerns."  That did it for me. He was basically devaluing what I do AND telling me that my clients whose pets had behavior problems that they were on their own.  Consequently, I've never been a big fan of pet health insurance plans.

Now, I see that the marketplace has changed quite a bit. First of all, there are several different companies out there offering pet health care plans with a wide variety of coverage, some even including the diagnosis and treatment of behavior problems.  Unlike the catastrophic health care that previous pet health plans offered, these new plans seem to offer assistance with preventative care, much like health plans for humans do.  This seems like a really good thing and a step in the right direction for pet owners.

I have had a couple of clients over the years ask me to complete paperwork and sign forms to submit to their pet health insurance carriers for reimbursement, and I am always happy to do so.  Still was a little frustrated, however, when one carrier told my client that they couldn't be reimbursed for my services because I wasn't a "real behavior specialist."  The implication being, of course, that one needs to be a veterinarian to be a behavior specialist. Needless to say, I contacted the health insurance company and read them the riot act, even faxing them a copy of my diploma for good measure. I was the behavior specialist that my client's veterinarian had sent them to, therefore insurance should recognize the service.  They did.  And they apologized for their ignorance.

The bottom line is that while none of us wants to think our pets will have any major medical issues, and no one anticipates having behavior problems, they do still occur.  Pet health insurance most likely won't cover your rounds of training classes, but some will cover at least a portion of your cost if you need to enlist the services of a behavior specialist like myself for something bigger like separation anxiety, panic attacks, phobias, ADHD, aggression, etc.  You will definitely want to do your homework, however, when choosing a pet insurance company.  Some have breed restrictions. Some don't cover preventative care.  Some cover dental expenses while many do not.  As with any health plan, including the one for the humans in your family, you need to do your homework before you decide.

And if you do have pet health insurance and your pet does have a behavior problem, don't hesitate to reach out to the company for details on what they might cover in terms of treatment.  I am happy to work with your veterinarian to devise a plan that will help your pet and help you soften the blow to your pocketbook if your pet's health plan takes behavior problems seriously.

These three amigos are happy to report that 
they don't have any issues, behavioral or otherwise!

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Afraid of Everything

I met with a new client this week who recently rescued a dog from a hoarding situation.  This is a senior dog who has lived her entire life with other dogs and little human input or stimulation.  Not surprisingly, this dog is incredibly fearful.  She is afraid to go outside, afraid of the leash and harness, afraid to be picked up, afraid to touch toys, and terrified to ride in the car.  New people scare her so much that she hides.  Unfamiliar noises cause her to startle and tremble.  All of this was the state of affairs for this little dog last week.

This week, however, she's already showing improvements.  She's starting to sniff a bit outside and has figured out how to lay on her owner's lap.  Noises aren't as big of a deal now, and she's showing some curiosity. Best of all, she actually wagged her tail this week and happily put her mouth on her owner's hand in greeting.  Dogs really are amazingly resilient creatures.  While this dog still has generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), she is already improving.  With time, patience, and positive training methods, she will continue to improve, slowly building her confidence and resilience in the face of life's challenges.  Her owners are committed to her which makes this all the better.

We've put this little dog onto a schedule so that she can better predict her world.  Her anxiety is being ignored and we are rewarding all calm behavior.  Her daily exercise is being gradually increased as she builds stamina.  Luckily, she is food motivated, so a few easy interactive toys for feeding will stimulate her brain and introduce her to the joys of play. We will be adding in some type of thunder shirt/anxiety wrap as I think the gentle pressure they provide will be comforting to this little dog and she can certainly benefit from the endorphin release.

Introducing friendly new people and learning to accept car rides are next on the agenda.  At some point, we may need to add in drug therapy, but for now we remain hopeful that she will continue to make progress with attention, love, and a predictable home environment.

For this little dog, fear will not be debilitating.  Rather, it will be something she experienced in the past.  And the rest of her life will be warm, safe, friendly, and enriching.  I love a happy ending.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Little Dogs

Someone asked me yesterday if I like little dogs. I thought this was so funny.  I mean, why wouldn't I like little dogs?  The person asking said that they always see pictures of me with my collies, so they figured that I must be a "big dog person." At this point I decided to quote my late mother, saying "It's not that I don't like (little) dogs, it's that I like well-behaved (little) dogs." For me, it isn't the size of the dog that is important to whether they melt my heart or not. It's their behavior.  Well-behaved dogs always make me swoon, regardless of size.  I will say, however, that there are many benefits to loving little dogs.  They fit better on your lap and don't make your legs and feet fall asleep when they lay there.  They only take up one seat in the car.  They can be scooped up and carried in a shoulder bag when they get tired of walking. They can be bathed in a sink.  These are just a few benefits that come to mind.  My collies are happy to sit on your lap, but your feet will tingle if you sit there too long.  And don't get me started on the amount of space they take up in a car.  I think Desi truly wishes I would carry him when he gets tired on walks.  Baths at home? Not happening with my collies.

I think the bigger issue is that some little-dog-owners don't feel the need to make their pint-sized pets behave.  They allow them to jump on people, lunge and bark on leash, and snap at passersby from their handbags.  None of that is okay, regardless of the size of the dog.  However, a large dog jumping up, lunging, barking, or snapping at people walking by is going to get noticed a lot faster and receive a lot more negative commentary from the public around them.  It's just a fact.  We really shouldn't make excuses for inappropriate behavior in any dog.  As dog owners, we need to just own up to the fact that our dogs jump up, sniff crotches, or whatever it is that they do.  And know that these problems can and should be fixed in any sized dog. Need help? Just ask!

So, yes, I do like little dogs. In fact, there are some little dogs who simply turn me to mush with their overwhelming cuteness. And I am sure the day will come when I see a smaller dog as a better option for me, that day just isn't today.  In the meantime, I do enjoy other people's small dogs.  When they are well-behaved, that is.

Me snuggling with my little dog friend, Posey. She'll steal your heart.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Old School

Recently, I had a wonderful visit with a new puppy owner.  They have had a puppy before, but it's been almost 15 years, so they wanted to meet to get a better understanding of the puppy they have now.  It is such a privilege to be asked to guide a new puppy owner, whether it's their first puppy or their fifth or more!

As I was reviewing house training, the subject came up of taking the puppy over to any accidents and putting his nose in it to teach him not to toilet in the house there again.  It took me a second to realize that this was still a thing that someone might do!  I honestly thought this "technique" went the way of the dodo bird.  Same thing with grabbing a puppy's mouth and closing it tightly to discourage barking or biting.  Is this even still a thing? At this point I realized that while I may have thought that these techniques were archaic and outdated, some people are still doing them.  I know it's hard to break old habits, particularly if you felt they were (somewhat) successful.  However, with all that we know about dog behavior, the benefits of positive reinforcement, etc. I feel like it is time to put these old school methods away and embrace the new.

So, if your puppy has an accident in the house, roll up that newspaper and smack yourself with it. You must not have been watching them closely enough.  Establish regular feeding times, tether your puppy to you so you know where they are (or put them in their crate), and get them outside every 30-45 minutes.  If you do find they've toileted in the house, put them in their crate or pen and go back and clean it up using an enzymatic-based product.  They don't need to see the mistake, nor do they need to be with you when you clean it up. And if you have a puppy who is biting you relentlessly, ask yourself what your puppy is missing. Is he sleep deprived?  Puppies need a lot of sleep and if they don't get it, they are nuts. Are you providing a variety of chewing options for your puppy and rotating those options daily to maintain their interest?  Finally, if your puppy is barking, don't try to hold his mouth closed.  Put something in it!  Redirect him to a toy or a game. If that doesn't work, maybe it's time for a bathroom break/change of scenery and then a nap.

While some old school methods did and probably do still work for some puppies/dogs, the bottom line is that we now know that many of those methods worked simply because it made our dogs afraid to cross us.  These methods often created dogs who did what they were told out of fear, not joy.  And they created a generation of dogs who rarely came when they were called because when they did, something icky happened.

As always, if you have a new puppy, and you'd like some help, don't hesitate to let me know. Puppy 101 is, by far, one of my favorite in-home visits to do!

Here is my buddy, Freddie, who is learning about his world "new school" style. 
He is the picture of confidence and wanting to please!

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Random Vacation Thoughts

We just got back from a short trip up the California coast.  I could spend all day every day at the beach.  Watching the waves, hiking on the cliffs, watching the birds.  Heaven for me.  Some of the beaches we walked on allowed dogs, others did not.  Everything was clearly posted, so that made it easy for dog owners to know where they could be and where they couldn't.  We even stayed at a lovely inn where dogs were allowed.  Funniest thing about all of this? We made this trip without our dogs.  That's right.  A real vacation without dogs! While we do enjoy traveling with our dogs (they did a week long trip this summer to Oregon and had a ball), it is often nice to leave them home where they can stay in their normal routine.  Plus, leaving them behind means being able to observe other people and their dogs. Another of my favorite pastimes!  Here are a few things I noticed:

Some people blatantly ignore posted signs.  Oddly enough, there were rangers on the beaches and they ticketed people who brought their dogs onto beaches where they weren't allowed.  No sense in arguing with them either given the amazing signage everywhere which said no dogs allowed.

People letting their dogs chase birds.  This one doesn't bother me too much given that I know the birds can get away before the dogs get to them. But I have often wondered what a rush it must be for those unsuspecting birds!

Unleashed dogs on beaches and walkways where leashes are required.  This is a pet peeve. If it says leashes, please use them. And not those infernal retractable leashes either.  Use a real leash. And if you want your dog to have some distance from you, you can use a long lunge line to do so.  Unleashed dogs are unpleasant for people trying to enjoy the beach who don't like or are afraid of dogs.  Sandy, wet, unleashed dogs who jump up on unsuspecting walkers are also a pet peeve. If you can't control your dog, they really do need to be on leash.

Bringing your pet dog inside the restaurant.  It's not a service dog, therefore this violates California health codes.  So many restaurants have patios dog owners can use. Why make other guests and the wait staff in the restaurant uncomfortable?

Pretending you don't see that your dog just pooped on the sidewalk/beach/boardwalk/trail.  Yes, we are all outside, but that doesn't mean you don't have to pick up behind your dog.  Come on...just because it's a trail off of the beaten path doesn't mean you don't have to pick up behind your pooch.

Nuisance barking.  While many hotels accommodate guests with dogs, they do expect that said dogs will be well-behaved and not bark incessantly.  If you know your dog will bark if you leave them alone in your room, then don't leave them alone.

Two of my favorite new canine friends were Lucy, the pint sized Poodle greeter at the inn where we stayed and a social butterfly of a wirehaired fox terrier we met on the beach.  Definitely got my dog fix.

Do you take your dogs with you on weekend getaways?  Where do you like to go? Any pet peeves?

Ozzie and Desi visiting the Prehistoric Gardens outside Port Orford, Oregon. 
A local attraction that is dog friendly for canines on leash!

Thursday, September 6, 2018

It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year! maybe it's a little early to be singing holiday songs given that it is only the first week of September.  It's not too early, however, to start thinking about the behavior of your dogs as it relates to the holidays.  Does your dog charge the front door? Bark at guests? Jump up for attention? Sniff crotches? Invite themselves into people's backpacks and bags? Surf the counters and tables? Beg for food? Behave nervously with guests or unfamiliar people? Afraid of kids in Halloween costumes?

If any of these scenarios (or more than one!) sound familiar, then it's time to get started so that your dogs will be under your control and better behaved when the holidays arrive.  Too many dog owners wait until the holidays and holiday stress are upon them to try to get a handle on nuisance behaviors.  Sure, if your dog is crate trained, you can simply put him in his crate when you have guests or parties.  This doesn't, however, address the underlying issues that are leading you to take the path of least resistance.  Instead, teach your dog the way you want him to behave now so that he will understand what you want him to do.  Just as you've taught your dog to sit, stay, come, etc., you must teach him to not jump, stay back from counters and tables, and refrain from nosing into people's personal spaces. Obviously, if your dog is afraid of kids in costumes, then crating them with something fun to chew on is much preferred to trying to desensitize them to unsuspecting children on Halloween.  However, for most of the other issues listed above, a ready solution is at hand.

For example, if your dog jumps up on people for attention.  Stop giving them attention for jumping up.  Period.  Don't admonish them.  Don't try to correct them verbally, because you've done that before. Instead, block them with your knee, turn around, and walk away. Remove yourself completely.  Same goes for dogs that paw for attention or nudge hard, possibly knocking food or beverages out of people's hands.  When they paw or nudge, get up and walk away.  They WANT your attention, so if you remove yourself, they aren't getting what they wanted.  The moment the light bulb goes on above their furry little heads and they sit instead of jumping up, pawing, or nudging, then acknowledge them for a job well done.

So what behaviors do you need to fix before the holidays?  Let me know if you need help making your pet's behavior shine this holiday season!

Desi showing off his attentive sit for a holiday cookie!

Thursday, August 30, 2018

A Spoonful of Sugar!

I met with a new client this week who told me that I was "magical."  Because I could tell that she had a sense of humor (and she had kids!), I said why, yes. I'm a regular Mary Poppins for dogs!  We both laughed, but it got me to thinking about Mary Poppins...and dogs...and learning.

"In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun and SNAP. The job's a game." Mary Poppins

I couldn't agree more.  The reason the client felt today's session was so magical is because I try to make learning fun. Fun for the humans and for their pets, whenever possible. I still have a job to do, and I want my clients and their pets to be successful, but that doesn't mean they can't enjoy doing it.

"And every task you undertake, becomes a piece of cake. A lark. A spree. It's very clear to see."
Mary Poppins

The more we played games that helped solidify the basic commands we were working on with her puppy, the more fun the puppy had showing what he'd learned. I worked with him for a full hour, which is a long time to hold the attention span of a 13 week old puppy, and he did it.  For him, it wasn't work, it was fun. Learning can be fun.

"A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down." Mary Poppins

Work can be fun.  That's true for humans and for their pets.  Turning the mastering of basic commands like sit, down, stand, stay, come, etc. into a game makes it fun for everyone.  An upbeat tone of voice, clear hand signals, and yummy rewards make those rote behaviors easy to learn. Happy puppies make for happy owners.  And happy owners and well-behaved pets make for happy animal behaviorists.

So, what do you think?  Should my next box of business cards say "canine life coach" on them?  Or how about "Mary Poppins for dogs?"  Those are some mighty pointy shoes to fill.  But, I am up to the challenge. And I do speak dog too.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

To Come Or Not To Come...That's Your Dog's Question!

We are coming up on week 3 of puppy class and already I am seeing puppies who don't show much interest in coming when they are called.  I know this is frustrating for their owners, but coming when called isn't as much of a "no brainer" as many people might think.  Teaching your dog to come reliably when called is a skill and one that must be worked on from the start.

Young puppies want to please you, so bending down, patting your legs or clapping your hands, and making kissy sounds will likely have a puppy running in your direction.  Add in some love and a couple of treats and you are off to a good start.  Make it fun to come when called by hiding from your puppy and letting them find you.  Or you can toss treats their way and as they scamper off to get the treat, wait for their head to come up.  Then say their name and as they come back your way, toss another treat out for them to get. Be sure to use their name and the word "come!" in an upbeat, positive tone and ONLY WHEN YOU INTEND TO CALL YOUR PUPPY OR DOG FOR SOMETHING THEY WILL CONSIDER POSITIVE.  Thus, don't use the word "come" when you intend to bring your dog indoors when they've been enjoying the outside; when you need to give them a bath or clip their nails; when it's time to go to the vet; or when you are gathering them up to leave the park. Using the command "come" when the outcome for your dog is negative, only serves to make your dog NOT want to come when called!  Instead, just go collect your dog.  Don't waste the value of that "come" command.

And for those of you who take your dogs to off leash parks and areas, please don't let them off those leashes until their recall is foolproof.  If your dog still has a tendency to ignore you in favor of other dogs, other people, or other things, then keep them on leash until they learn the value of coming when called. You can use a long, lunge line (basically an extra long leash) to let them explore safely as you know you can always reel your dog back in if you have to.

Finally, if your dog has made negative associations with the word "come," then change the command you plan to use and teach them the behavior all over again, but this time as a positive. Never get frustrated or angry with a dog who is slow to come to you. Rather, get excited when they do and offer them payment for a job (sort of) well done. They will be much more likely to come the next time you call. And if you are still having trouble, let me know. I can teach you some games and give you some other tools to help get your dog back on track and happily coming when you call.

Ozzie and Desi like to play the "Pied Piper" game, one of many that improves recall!

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Puppies, Classes, & Vaccines...Oh My!

I started a new round of puppy classes last week.  Before the class even began, I received more than one text and/or email from a new puppy owner saying that they wanted to take my class, but they couldn't because their puppy wasn't fully vaccinated yet. I had to count to ten before I could respond to these messages as I, quite frankly, thought we dog owners were past this. I find it incredibly frustrating that this issue seems to persist.  Why are new puppy owners still thinking that they have to wait until their puppies are 4 months old (or older if they have some of the immune compromised breeds like Rottweilers, for example) to start puppy classes? 

In an effort to calm myself, and provide these well-meaning new puppy owners with solid information, I did some more research on the topic of puppies, vaccines, and puppy socialization classes.  The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) has published on this topic several times. Their membership is comprised of veterinarians who specialize in or have a unique interest in animal behavior.  Because they are veterinarians, they can speak knowledgeably and with authority on issues regarding vaccines.  As such, their official position is that it is important for puppies to attend puppy training and socialization classes BEFORE 12 weeks of age, and preferably as soon as they take up residence in their new homes, thus at 8-10 weeks of age. Yes, this means that puppies attending puppy classes will not be fully vaccinated; all attendees will have roughly the same vaccine history when they begin their classes.

Here are what veterinarians in the AVSAB are saying:

"Well-run puppy classes undoubtedly provide the basis for happy, healthy dogs and happy owners. The risks of a puppy's exposure to infectious agents always need to be considered, but the risk of being euthanized or surrendered is much greater in unsocialized, untrained dogs than the risk of dying from infectious diseases." Kersti Seksel, DVM

"For puppies, the single most important part of a behavioral wellness program is proper socialization during their critical developmental period, which ends by 16 weeks. Owners must begin socialization the day they bring their new puppies home, and the clock is ticking."  Brenda Griffin, DVM

"The risks associated with attending puppy classes are minimal to nonexistent and the benefits are positively huge: Puppies learn 1) bite inhibition through puppy play and 2) proper interaction with people during off-leash play and while being handled by strangers. And owners learn to train their puppies in a controlled setting in which training is integrated with play. In this setting, a puppy's reward for training is play with other dogs." Ian Dunbar, DVM

"Relatively few risks and enormous benefits exist in allowing puppies to interact in a well-run puppy class before they've completed their vaccination series. Canine parvovirus transmission is the main risk, as the other infectious agents we vaccinate against are either comparatively rare in prevalence and the vaccines are highly effective, or the agents cause relatively minor illness in otherwise healthy puppies. The risk is relatively small, but it can't be ignored, and it must be balanced against the serious behavioral risks of holding puppies back from class until they are fully vaccinated. Specifically, poorly socialized puppies are at greater risk of behavior problems." Jennifer Messer, DVM

I am hoping that this post generates some good discussion among the behaviorists, dog trainers, and veterinarians that I know.  I wholeheartedly believe that puppy classes, held in a safe, clean, controlled, well-maintained environment for puppies 8 weeks of age and up are incredibly important and should be available to every new puppy owner so that they can know that they are doing what is best for their family's newest addition. No guilt. No fear.  Just good science.

Ozzie had the hardest time staying awake for all of puppy class!

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Your Dog's Pearly Whites!

Recently, I posted a picture on Facebook of a dog having his teeth brushed.  What spurred me to make that post was the fact that I had just brushed teeth for three dogs, my two collies, and a visiting Cavalier!  While all three dogs are pretty good about having their teeth brushed (they are not afraid, they don't try to escape, bite, or clench so hard that you can't actually brush their teeth), I wouldn't say that it is their favorite thing.  I have met dogs who love having their teeth brushed. Years ago, I house-sat for a client whose Golden Retriever would run to the bathroom and grab his toothbrush off the counter and wait for you to brush his teeth when you did your own! His owner had made it fun as a puppy by brushing her teeth and his at the same time of day. I have to say, her dog had the best teeth I've ever seen; brushing twice a day really works!  For my dogs, brushing their teeth is hit or miss. Meaning, if I remember to do it, it gets done. If I forget, it won't happen. And I know that there are plenty of dogs out there who hate having their teeth brushed, some going so far as to bite their owners if they even try it.  I am always asked if there are viable alternatives to brushing.  There are indeed, but how you use these products makes all the difference in the world with regard to how successful they will be in maintaining your dog's oral health.  The take home message is this: Anything you do to help prevent plaque and tartar accumulating on your dog's teeth is beneficial. The key factor is doing whatever it is that you do consistently and daily to reap those long term benefits.  And combining more than one method will help you to get the best results.

According to the American Veterinary Dental College, brushing your dog's teeth with toothpaste formulated specifically for dogs is the single best way to maintain your dog's oral health.  This does make sense even in humans; when you brush your teeth, the scrubbing action in combination with the abrasive texture of the toothpaste helps to knock tartar off of teeth and cut through plaque on the surface. The key is to brush the teeth daily, ideally twice daily, following meals. For dogs, there are multiple styles of toothbrush available, most are slanted so that you can reach a dog's back teeth.  However, there are also finger brushes that you can slide on one of your fingers to reach into a smaller mouth.  It is also fine to use a pediatric tooth brush.  Just remember you need to use dog toothpaste. Human toothpaste isn't designed to be swallowed and is therefore dangerous to dogs. If you have never brushed your dog's teeth before, or you are teaching your puppy, take it slow.  Let them sniff the wet brush.  Add the toothpaste and let them simply lick it off. Begin tipping the brush sideways and try to gently rub those front teeth (incisors).  If they are accepting of this, begin working on the cheek teeth.  Once you can do this, you are ready to open your dog's mouth so you can get to the inside surfaces of their teeth closest to their tongue. Take it slow.  Benefits can even be gained by using a finger to rub dog toothpaste on the tooth surfaces you can easily reach. While I know that dogs can be trained to allow you to use an electric toothbrush on their teeth, this isn't where you start the process!  Take it easy and build up to being more invasive in your cleaning.

For dogs who just won't let you use a brush, think about trying dental wipes, dental gels, or oral rinses. These products usually contain something called "Chlorhexidine"which is an effective anti-plaque antiseptic.  It tastes icky, however, so you will want to choose a product that is flavored to mask that bitter taste. Dental wipes and dental gels are pretty self explanatory; you rub them on the teeth, hoping to reach them all.  The oral rinses come in two types, one that you squeeze into your pet's mouth and it will get swished around and then drooled out or swallowed (definitely do this outside!) or a type that can be added to their water bowl.  If your dog is picky about his water bowl, however, don't use the type that is added to water as you would never want to discourage your dog from drinking water regularly. These products, except for the water additive, require that you be able to get into your dog's mouth successfully. What can you use if you can't get your dog to let you into his mouth?

There are several dental diets on the market. Some have the food shaped to help provide an abrasive surface on the teeth while others are diets coated in cleaning agents to scrub your dog's teeth as they eat.  There are also quite a few different types of chews out there that also combine an odd surface and treated coating to tackle plaque on the teeth. I have always been a fan of real bones too, but many veterinary dentists discourage the use of real bones as they can chip or fracture teeth.  Any chew or bone given to your dogs should be given when you can observe them to keep things safe.

It can be difficult, however, to decide which of these products will really do what they claim to do.  Your best bet is to choose products with the "VOHC Accepted Product" label.  The VOHC is the Veterinary Oral Health Counsel. Basically, the equivalent of the "American Dental Association" for our pets.  You can visit their website at and click on the link for accepted products for dogs. They also have a list of accepted products for cats. This list also provides you with information on where the product can be purchased as some are only available through your veterinarian. Here is the direct link to that list:

Finally, some of you asked what I give to my dogs since, obviously, I am not brushing their teeth every day. I don't give real bones any more as they aren't good for Desi who has some teeth issues. I do give the collies Nutri Dent Dental Chew Treats daily.  These look like "Greenies," but I've found they don't upset my dogs' stomachs like Greenies do and they only contain 8 ingredients total. Ozzie and Desi like the filet mignon flavor, in case you were wondering!  Nutri dent chews come in several sizes so there is one for ever sized dog. My dogs also enjoy CET Chews from the Virbac company.  CET chews come in several varieties including flips, sticks, and rawhide-like chews. These products are all coated in Chlorhexidine, so they provide an enzymatic cleaning action.

Finally, regularly playing with hard-surfaced toys like Nylabones or ones made of braided rope ("flossies") *may* help with oral health maintenance. However, your dogs need to play with these toys regularly and vigorously to gain any traction with plaque and tartar build up. And some dogs have been known to lose teeth playing with these toys, or chip teeth, so you will still need to supervise them.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Does Your Pet Qualify as a Senior?

One of my collies, Desi, turns 8 years old in October.  I have to admit that this is kind of freaking me out.  My previous tri-color rough coat Collie, Cooper, passed away suddenly just before he turned 9 years old.  I never thought of Cooper as an "old dog," nor do I think of Desi that way.  However, collies are big dogs and it's a fact of life that large breed dogs have shorter life spans than smaller breed dogs.  Still, 8 years old doesn't seem that old really, especially given how well cared for my dogs are.  Okay. Yes, they are spoiled.  Nonetheless, I want to make sure I am doing everything I can to not just increase my dog's life expectancy, but increase his quality of life.  So, how old is old?

First of all, it's a total myth that one human year is the equivalent of 7 dog or cat years. This is just too much of an over-simplification as this popular notion was based on the "average sized dog." What in the world is an "average sized dog?" And cats vary little in size and yet this same reference point was used for them as well. Not too long ago, the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) came up with a new way to measure the age of our pets using something called the "Canine Life Stages Guidelines" and the "Feline Life Stages Guidelines." These guidelines make a lot of sense and help pet owners and their veterinarians to better determine the needs of these animals.  AAHA divided dogs into six categories: Puppy, birth-6 months of age; Junior, 6-9 months of age; Adult, 9 months to 6.5 years, Mature, 6.5 years to 9.75 years; Senior, 9.75 years to 13 years; and Geriatric, over 13 years old. Here are the guidelines they came up with for cats: Kitten, birth to 9 months of age; Junior, 9 months of age to 3 years; Prime, 3 years to 7 years; Mature, 7 years to 11 years of age; Senior, 11 years to 15 years of age; and Geriatric, over 15 years of age.

So, looking at Desi coming up on his 8th birthday, he is considered a mature dog; he is in the middle to last 25% of his life expectancy, and he certainly isn't a senior! And while he is a large dog based on his breed, this isn't the only determinant of his life span.  His nutrition and associated weight play a significant role as well. And his diet affects his teeth and the health of his teeth affects his life expectancy, and so on.  So, basically, me doting on my dogs with healthy snacks, bones to clean their teeth, a high quality diet, daily walks, daily grooming, interactive toys, and new daily experiences is not only enhancing their quality of life, but helping to insure that they live longer as well. That's a huge relief!

Many of my clients focus a lot on the physical exercise their dogs receive, as well as the diet they feed their dogs.  As an animal behaviorist, I also try to get them to focus on the mental exercise and psychological well-being component.  Those interactive toys and games, letting their dogs sniff and explore on walks, and moving away from free-feeding are key factors in stimulating the brain.  Older dogs (and cats!) can't do the New York Times crossword puzzle, but they can forage for their meals, play with interactive toys, and have their daily environments enriched.  Keeping those older minds active will extend their life expectancy too.

The bottom line is this: Work with your veterinarian to determine what your pet needs based on these guidelines.  Enroll your dogs of all ages in classes to keep them active or try a new sport or activity.  Even pet assisted therapy qualifies as a brain-building job and is one that can be performed by a pet of any age.  That is definitely Desi's favorite job!

I am looking forward to many more birthdays with Desi and intend to make every one of his remaining years count...because he is family.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

When Your Dog is Blue

We just got back from vacation on Sunday and Ozzie was depressed.  He's usually a pretty easy-going dog who enjoys just hanging out in his yard or my office. Since we've been back, however, he's been listless, not really wanting to do anything, not interested in his snacks or his meals.  I know he isn't ill in the traditional sense of the word; what he is is depressed.  He is sad about being home. Ozzie really enjoyed our vacation on the Oregon coast.  It was so much cooler there and everything we did revolved around the dogs.  They went everywhere with us for a whole week, so lots of new smells, new adventures, and our undivided attention.  Now that we are home, we are back to work and the usual routine.  We are having triple digit heat, so dogs need to be indoors with fans and the A/C running. No adventures in the car for sure as it's way too hot.  No wonder Ozzie is depressed!  Hey...I'm a little sad too!

Depression is a very real thing for our pets.  There are documented cases of depression across all animal species.  Some animals experience depression with changes in their living situation such as following moves, end of summer/return of the kids to school, vacation, etc. Many animals experience depression with the loss of family members, whether those family members are human, canine, or feline. Some animals can move through their depression on their own, while others really do need our help.  The signs of depression in animals are lethargy, increased sleeping, lack of desire to pursue things they would normally enjoy, loss of appetite, and change in mood. Sound familiar? The symptoms are very much like those you might see in a person experiencing depression. The big difference, however, is that animals cannot verbalize their feelings and thus must rely on their humans to help them overcome their depression. Treating depression in animals involves environmental enrichment with new interactive toys and games, increased exercise, and an enforced change of scenery.  For many animals, these steps are enough to overcome their depression, while for others a trip to see their veterinarian is also necessary as a short course of Elavil (Amitriptyline) is needed to get them back on their feet and enjoying life again.  If the cause of the depression is the loss of an animal companion, exploring the addition of a new animal companion may even be in order.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that depression is a very real experience for our pets. Psychological issues can most definitely affect physical health and well-being and as such must be taken seriously.  Just telling your pet to "snap out of it" or ignoring the symptoms and expecting them to just "cowboy up" won't work and may even result in profound repercussions.  Thus, while mourning periods can be observed by both humans and animals after the loss of a loved one, for certain individuals more must be done to be able to successfully move forward with a quality of life.

For Ozzie, after a couple of days of being cajoled into walks and enticed with tiny bits of human food, he is back on track.  He still isn't happy about the heat, but he is back to his usual goofy self,  hanging out with us and is eating his meals again.  He is so different from Desi who I think really is happy to be home and back to the usual routine.  Dogs, like people, approach life differently.  We know that there are certain personality types in humans that are more prone to depression.  That may be true in animals as well, though it is a bit more difficult to explore with them and more research is needed.

Have any of your pets ever experienced depression?  What did you do to help them overcome it? Let me know your thoughts.