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!