Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Baby It's Cold Outside!

 A client called me over the weekend concerned about his little Chihuahua mix.  She's 10 months old and has a very short coat.  He was worried that she might be getting cold on their early morning and evening walks.  Given that this is a confident, happy-go-lucky little dog,  I asked him if she was shivering on their walks, hesitant to leave the house, etc. He said she had started shivering in the mornings on their walks and seemed to like it if he picked her up and tucked her inside his coat.  I told him that if we combined that behavior with her burrowing under the covers on his bed at night not wanting to get up, I'd think it is safe to say she's chilly!  Dogs with very short coats and those with hair rather than fur, particularly small dogs, can get cold in cooler weather.  Older dogs also don't thermoregulate as well, and puppies will get colder faster than adult dogs.  And walking in snow or ice presents other complications for most dogs. So what can you do?

Some dogs will let you put a sweater or coat on them to keep in the heat on their walks.  Most will resist at first, but then be resigned to wearing the garment (and even perk up) once they realize that the coat/sweater keeps them toasty warm.  There are also dogs who will resist putting on a sweater or coat with gusto, trying to escape, roll or rub the coat off, and even growl or snap at the person trying to put the coat on them.  Even if your dog gets chilly, if they resist your help, back off.  You can try taking the garment with you on the walk, waiting until they are cold, and then seeing if they will let you put it on them at that time.  As with anything new, pairing the coat or sweater with yummy treats can help.  It is also important to ensure that the garment fits them properly.  Coats and sweaters should fit, not slide all over.  They shouldn't cover the tail or block them from toileting properly.  Most dogs hate hats or anything over their faces, so go for coats and sweaters without hoods if that is the case.  Their comfort should be your first priority; function before fashion!

My rough coat collies most certainly do not get cold in the winter; they love cooler weather and perk up as the weather turns chilly, much preferring that to the triple digit summer heat.  I do put raincoats on my collies, however, as I hate trying to get them dry after we walk in the rain.  They don't mind the raincoats at all and have gotten so much positive attention for them that they now strut around the neighborhood in them rather proudly.  My daughter's smooth coat collie does get cold in the winter, but he loves sweaters and coats and will actually nose his coats on the rack by the door if he feels the cool air as we are heading out for a walk and haven't put one on him yet.

So, back to the client. I suggested trying a coat or sweater on her to see if she would allow it.  Turns out she hates clothing.  As soon as he put the sweater on her, she ran off, hopped up on the bed, snarled at his other dog and bit him on the ear! So, no sweaters or coats for her.  For now, my client will need to adjust his walking times to when it is a bit warmer, and then spend some time desensitizing this little dog to wearing something to keep her warmer. He must do so, however, away from the other dog so redirected aggression doesn't happen again. 

Just as with costumes at Halloween, dogs need to have the ability to choose NOT to wear the garments we've selected for them. If they don't like getting dressed up, please don't make them do it.  Same goes for booties on their feet.  You have to train a dog to wear something on their feet, otherwise those booties can cause more discomfort than they are worth.  While booties could help your dog in the snow, you might just as easily be able to get by with musher's wax on their feet which is more easily tolerated. 

As always, if you have questions about your pet's behavior, you know where to find me.

Adolescent Ozzie wearing his custom-made raincoat!

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Your Aging Dog

 Desi turned 10 years old in October.  This was a milestone for him and for me as I've never had a collie live long enough to make it to double digits.  While Desi has always struck me as an old soul (super mellow, very self contained), watching him actually age has been bittersweet.  His hearing isn't as good as it used to be, though he can still hear the cheese drawer open if there aren't any other noises going on.  He was never a fast walker, but now I would describe his pace as a slow amble. His face is turning white and he even has a few gray hairs on his previously all black head. Naps have always been his favorite past-time (after snacking, of course), but he spends most of his days napping now, moving from spot to spot around the house.  He is most active and spunky in the morning when he trots around, tail held high, barking at me to get a move on with his breakfast.  We have a routine that we go through when he takes his medication for his arthritis.  Desi loves routines.  If it's 2 p.m. and I haven't gotten out the dog bones, he lets me know.  And he always knows when it is 5 p.m. At night time, however, I really notice Desi's age.  He is slow to rouse when I wake him up to move him into our bedroom to sleep; it often takes him a minute to gather his thoughts and head to the back of the house.  He loves his bedtime snack and tucks himself right in and falls back to sleep. 

My observations of Desi are quite similar to the stories my clients tell me about their aging dogs.  While I have a few clients whose dogs have remained super-active, most have slowed down and seem to be enjoying their "golden years." I talk so much here about puppies and adolescent dogs, it seemed like it was really time to give senior dogs (dogs over 9 years of age) their due.  While senior dogs often make themselves so easy to care for that you almost don't give it much thought, you really should.  Keeping your senior dog's mind (and body) active and engaged is incredibly important to their continued health and well-being.

Senior dogs still need their walks; they may need the walks shortened, but they still need to sniff and explore their world.  Let them take their time and really enjoy those sniffs.  Play with your senior dogs.  While many may not be able to physically handle a strenuous game of fetch, most enjoy a brief game of tug or short distance fetch.  Dental disease can be a large problem in senior dogs, so make sure you are brushing their teeth and providing them with appropriate chewing options that can clean their teeth and provide oral stimulation.  Desi doesn't enjoy hard bones any more, but he loves his CET Veggiedent Chews and gets one everyday  They help clean his teeth and give him a fun, age-appropriate chewing option.  Senior dogs often need a diet change too.  Because they've slowed down, it is easy for senior dogs to put on weight.  Add in joint pain, disc disease, and arthritis and you have a sedentary dog who is heavy and making those issues more pronounced.  A diet formulated for senior dogs, rich in antioxidants and good fats, but lower in calories, is often the perfect solution.  Desi is actually on the dental diet from Hill's Science Diet as that helps to keep his teeth in the best condition as well.  Joint supplements like Glucosamine with Chondroitin help a lot of senior dogs, but may not be enough if their pain is significant or widespread.  Consult your veterinarian to discuss the different options available for pain management.  While many humans may think of arthritis as a natural outcome of the aging process in dogs, it certainly doesn't have to be something your dog just lives with.  Arthritis is treatable and should be for your dog's comfort and peace of mind.

Senior dogs still need mental exercise.  Just as we might give a senior human family member a book of crossword puzzles or sudoku to keep their mind active, senior dogs need a similar challenge.  Continue to use interactive feeding toys like those from Kong, Busy Buddy, Starmark, and Outward Hound to keep your senior dog's mind engaged.  Desi enjoys his toys from all of these companies, as well as his snuffle mat and an occasional egg carton filled with goodies!

Some senior dogs develop fairly pronounced anxiety.  It may manifest as separation anxiety, noise sensitivity, twilighters (evening agitation), or anxiety related to health issues such as diminishing vision, or hearing loss. For some dogs, just as for some people, senility can become a problem with aging.  While it isn't a given that a dog will become mentally impaired, it is possible.  Oftentimes the first signs are a lapse in house training, wandering aimlessly around the house, and a disruption of their normal sleep pattern.  If you see any of these signs in your older dog, get them in to see your veterinarian for an evaluation and blood work.  Once other issues like pain have been ruled out as a cause for the behavior change, you can then treat those problems with supplements or even a drug called Anipryl.  Pfizer, the manufacturer of Anipryl, has a quiz on their webiste that dog owners can take to determine if senility may be occurring in their pet. You can complete the quiz and then share with your veterinarian during your senior pet's appointment.  Senior pets need regular veterinary appointments that include exams and blood work to stay on top of physical changes associated with the aging process.

I love senior dogs and cats.  They may move a bit slower but their overall calm behavior is such a nice change from the frantic pace I see in the puppies and adolescent dogs I am working with daily.   And I love that my clients reach out for help through all of the stages in their pets' lives.  I am truly blessed.

As always, if you have questions about your pet's behavior, you know where to find me.

My beautiful 10 year old collie, Desi.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Adolescent Dogs: The Sequel

 As many of you know, I've been spending a lot of my time working with puppies and their families and I love it!  As of now, several of these dogs have transitioned from being puppies into being adolescents and those changes have seemingly occurred overnight (or from one week to the next).  I know I've talked about adolescence before, but I think it's time to revisit some of the behaviors exhibited by adolescent dogs, the frustration their behavior can create, and how we might ease the pressure and all survive this normal (yet incredibly irritating, in some cases) period of time.

Beginning around 8 months of age (for some dogs a bit sooner, and for others a bit later), all dogs enter adolescence.  Adolescence can continue well after their first birthday for some dogs, extending until 2 years of age for many, in fact. Just like human adolescence, this developmental period is characterized by defiance, willful disobedience, inattention, deliberately contrary behavior, destructive tendencies, and even food related quirks.  That sweet puppy who came every time they were called, sat before being asked, could easily be occupied with a chew toy, now runs the other way when called, turns his head and ignores your requests, chews on furniture and destroys TV remotes. The puppy who loved to eat his meals now, apparently, prefers eating trash and backpack zippers, turning up his nose at mealtimes.  Don't despair as this is is all quite normal. Building confidence and independence is a good thing.  We just need to remind these dogs who is in charge of the resources, what our expectations are for them, and what the consequences will be if they choose not to comply.

Just because your older puppy appears to be house trained, doesn't mean you should give them full access to your house.  Accidents may still occur and being left unsupervised often leads to these dogs chewing on furniture, curtains, door moldings, and room decor.  Too much freedom, combined with boredom, will definitely lead to disaster.  Continue to confine your older puppies either to their crates, exercise pens, or the rooms they've been using that have been safely puppy-proofed all along.  Continue daily toy rotation, making sure to include hard things to chew on so they won't be so attracted to those door moldings and chair legs.  I love those sterile, stuffed bones from Red Barn Brand.  They are safe and made in the USA.  Those bones can be lifesavers for young dogs who need a chewing outlet.

Don't let your adolescent dogs off leash unless they are in a fenced area and you have the time to work on getting them back to you if they resist.  If you don't have the time to work on that, then don't let them off leash.  Work with your adolescent dogs on a long line; using a 15, 20, or 30 foot leash to work on recall is a good daily exercise for your dogs.  Hook on the long line and let them follow their noses away from you.  Once they are good and distracted, call them back using an upbeat tone of voice and have extremely yummy treats on hand to reward them when they finally get to you.  Don't despair if they don't come racing toward you; they are adolescent dogs, after all.  If you have to give a tug on the leash to get them coming toward you, that's fine, just don't get frustrated.  If you get frustrated you will lose this game for sure!  And it is a game to your adolescent dog, so remember that too.  The more fun you make this exercise, the more likely they will be to play along.  If you are worried that your dog won't get enough exercise if they can't safely be off leash, again put them on that long line and use a flirt pole lure toy to exercise them efficiently. 

Rather than feeding your adolescent dog in a bowl, try feeding them using an interactive feeding toy. In a pinch, just spread their kibble on a cookie sheet or spread around in your fenced yard for them to forage and find.  If you want to use a bowl, use a slow feeder bowl to challenge them. If your adolescent dog is acting finicky about their meals, allot a period of time for the meals and simply pick up what they don't eat.  They will eat when they are hungry, so don't give in and "spice up" their food with snacks and sauces or think about changing their food. Frequent food changes can actually contribute to finicky eating more than it curbs it.

Short training sessions are still the key to dealing with the inattention and active disobedience so often seen in adolescent dogs.  Really short sessions, like 3-5 minutes total a couple of times a day work the best for most adolescents.  Don't just focus on "boring" behaviors they already know; add in new tricks or ask for longer stays, several sits and downs in a row (aka puppy pushups), or mental games like picking one particular toy out of a pile of toys, finding the treat under a cup (the shell game), etc.

Make sure all the humans understand the importance of being vigilant with adolescent dogs in the house.  Close doors and gates.  Don't leave backpacks, purses, etc. within their reach.  Put away shoes and socks.  Don't leave a plate of cookies within their reach as they will definitely be tempted!  Do work on leave it and drop it (again) even if you've already taught those commands.  

And finally, be consistent with the consequences.  If your adolescent dog is defying you, give them a time out.  If they don't come when called, ignore them until they do (social shunning).  Make sure they get those all important naps in their crates every day.  Let them sniff on their walks.  If you use daycare or dogwalkers, find out what kind of shenanigans your adolescent dog is doing there so you can stay on top of them.  Remember just like with adolescent humans, your dogs will grow out of this phase and move on to being young adult dogs.  While working with adolescent dogs can be challenging, it is well worth the effort as you will end up with a nice, well-adjusted, well-mannered adult dog that you can be proud to call family.

As always, if you have questions about your pet's behavior, you know where to find me.

Adolescent Ozzie napping in an x-pen amid his toys.  Better to chew on these toys than my dining room furniture which he was known to do, even when we were sitting right there with him!

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

An Attitude of Gratitude

 I received two thank you notes this week from clients and they were so unexpected, and yet so appreciated!  I make it my goal to help each and every pet owner who reaches out to me for help and I can see when my suggestions and treatment plans are working, but it still gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling when someone tells me how much they (and their pets!) learned from me. 

The truth of the matter is this: I am constantly learning from my clients and their pets.  Sometimes I'm reminded of why patience is important (lol!) but more often than not, I can see how a little empathy and compassion can go a long way in helping pet owners better understand the behavior of their four-legged family members. Those clients who tell me that they understand anxiety because they are working through their own issues in anxiety.  The clients who tell me that anti-anxiety medication has helped them and wonder if it will help their pets as well.  The clients who tell me they just want their animals to be happy and have a good quality of life.  These are the people who bring me great joy and fulfillment when we work together.

If you and I have worked together, I just want to say again that I appreciate you and the trust you put in me to help you and your pet.  If you'd like to share something that we worked on together or something I suggested that made a difference for you and your pet, I'd love to hear it.  As many of you know, I'm working on a book about my life as an animal behaviorist and I would like to include some of the specific methods and treatment protocols I have used that have made a difference in the lives of the pet owners I've worked with.  

These are strange times we are living in.  We can't hug one another and we have to stand 6 feet apart and stay masked. We need to protect one another from this deadly virus while still supporting each other along the way.  I will continue to find creative ways to help pet owners and hope that you will continue to seek out my assistance and encouragement as you navigate pet ownership during a pandemic.

And, as always, if you have questions about your pet's behavior, you know where to find me.

My sweet Rottweiler friend, Bella. I am grateful to her family for allowing 
me to continue to be part of her life and theirs.