Wednesday, May 26, 2021

I'm OK, You're OK!

 I was at the park with a client this week, working with her anxious dog.  This dog's anxiety can often lead her to behave aggressively if she feels scared.  Off leash dogs scare her, kids on bikes scare her, and unfamiliar people wanting to pet her really scares  her.  I wanted my client to feel safe working with her dog out in public, so we muzzle trained her dog.  Her dog will now happily wear a muzzle thus allowing us to work with her more safely, without risk of my client (or me!) getting bit if the dog gets frightened and/or we need to scoop her up.  This all sounds good, right?  Well, we sure thought so until a man walked up to us while we were working and wanted to know why we'd muzzled "that sweet little dog."  As he got closer to us, he discovered why the dog was muzzled as she got scared by his approach, and lunged for him, barking aggressively.  At this point he wanted to know what we were doing out in public with "such a sketchy dog."  My client was horrified and I'd had enough.  I explained to this man quite firmly that his opinions on what we were trying to accomplish here were unwanted; my client and her dog had every right to be out in public as she had two leashes on her dog for better control, AND the dog was muzzled.  What was really needed was a muzzle for this man! He could tell by my tone of voice and body language that I wasn't going to put up with anymore of his nonsense and he moved along.  But for my client, this encounter made her want to throw in the towel and never take her dog out in public again. She is so tired of apologizing for her dog's behavior, even though she knows the dog's behavior is not her fault!  It took me 15 minutes to build back up her confidence that she was okay and what we were doing with her dog was perfectly fine.

Another client told me that she'd decided to stop walking her dog altogether because she needed to use a pinch collar on him (he weighs more than she does!) in order to feel like she had control of him if he decided to give chase to a cat or a squirrel when they were on walks.  A well-meaning neighbor, however, had told her she was being cruel by using the pinch collar and that she should educate herself on the proper way to walk a big dog.  He also told her that, in his opinion, a woman her size shouldn't have a big dog like that.  Are you kidding me?

Have you ever had an experience like that? One where some well-meaning bystander just decided that they could step in and judge your parenting skills, your control of your dog, etc.? As a parent of three (now adult) children and a dog owner, I know that I certainly didn't and don't appreciate people stepping in and judging me on how I parent or interact with my dogs.  At what point in time did it become okay to judge one another so harshly?  What makes these people who offer their unsolicited opinions think that what they are doing is helpful or courteous? Just because someone doesn't agree with your parenting approach or the way you walk your dog doesn't give them the right to judge you or call you out.  

I'll admit that I often will see things when I'm out walking my dogs that I'll think, "Gosh. I could help them with that and/or I could fix that problem easily."  However, I don't insert myself in the situation, offer my opinion, or make suggestions unless I am asked to do so.  If you need help, I'm here for you, but I'm not going to judge you for trying to figure it out on your own.  

I've decided to ask my clients who are out there in public, working on making positive changes to their dogs' behavior if they feel comfortable doing so.  Because if they don't, I need to figure out a better way for them to do the work that needs to be done.  Maybe it means having a friend work with them who can run interference with  the well-meaning busy-bodies.  Or maybe I just need to be there for a couple of the first public practice sessions, so I can bolster my clients' confidence and support their efforts to change their dogs' behavior.  And to shoot stink eye at the passersby who think they know the best way to train a dog.

Okay...climbing down off my soap box now.  Be kind to one another.  Show compassion.  No unsolicited opinions.  And if you are having a problem with your pet's behavior, you know where to find me.

Ozzie and I used to go to the park when he was younger to practice his recall amid distractions, using a long line instead of a leash.  On one of those occasions, a guy started to walk up to me to tell me that I ought to just let him off the leash "because he's so good."  Ozzie broke his stay to come over to me as this man approached me.  "Ah," he said, laughing.  "Guess he still needs to practice that stay."  Bet you can you guess my response to that unsolicited bit of wisdom!

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Why Muzzling Your Dog is a Good Thing!

 Last week, I taught two clients to muzzle train their dogs.  They had both been very hesitant to do so given the "bad rap" any dog wearing a muzzle seems to get when out in public spaces.  It appears that people who muzzle their dogs are being judged (unfairly!) by other dog owners.  Given all of this, I figured it was time to talk about muzzles and why they are a training tool that every dog should be familiar with and willingly accept.

Let's review some of the reasons why you might want to train your dog to wear a muzzle.  First and foremost, does your dog go to the veterinarian's office? I'm sure she does.  On occasion, she may go to the vet's office and need to have something done that will be painful.  A dog who has been trained to wear a muzzle will not pose a risk to the veterinarian and their staff trying to help the dog with whatever is causing the pain.  And if it's that the procedure being done is pain-inducing, then muzzling your dog means that the procedure can be done quicker and is thus less stressful for all parties involved.  

Second, if you have a dog who literally eats everything they find when out in your yard, on walks, etc., then muzzle training is for you.  Ingesting foreign objects isn't just gross or a nuisance, it can be potentially deadly.  It's one thing if your dog eats leaves or grass, and it's another issue entirely if your dog eats oleander, rocks, and trash.  Or maybe your dog swallows socks, underwear, or highlighter pens (I've had clients with dogs who've eaten all of those things!).  Wearing a muzzle means your dog can still sniff and explore, but they can't eat anything they shouldn't.

Third, some dogs play too rough.  Wearing a muzzle during play means a dog who enjoys running around and engaging other dogs can't get themselves into a scuffle by playing too hard. It's also an easy way to introduce unfamiliar dogs if you are unsure of how the interaction might proceed. 

Fourth, maybe you have a super-cute little dog that people constantly swarm when you are out.  Kids want to pick him up because he looks like a little stuffed toy.  The problem is, he's not a toy and he is frightened of new people, children, being picked up, etc. Muzzling your dog means you will worry less; when people see a dog wearing a muzzle, they slow down their approach and may even avoid interacting altogether, thus giving your dog the space he needs to feel safe and unmolested.

Basically, what I'm saying is this: EVERY DOG SHOULD BE TAUGHT TO WEAR A MUZZLE.  Having said that, not all muzzles are created equal.  You will want to train your dog to wear a basket style muzzle that is lightweight and easy for you to clean.  I like the vinyl basket muzzles like the ones in the pictures below. These muzzles, when fitted properly, don't slip around on your dog's face and allow him to pant, bark, growl, drink water, and take treats. A well-fitted muzzle will not ride up on a dog's eyes or rub the end of their nose and will be wide enough to allow for open mouth panting and not be so loose as to be easily rubbed or slipped off.  Even short snouted dogs can be taught to wear a muzzle!

Here's the way that I teach my clients to muzzle train their dogs: It should only takes a few days to a week to acclimate a dog to wearing a muzzle, and some dogs get it really quick!  Your first step is to put peanut butter or cream cheese all over the inside of the muzzle and let your dog lick it out with you holding the muzzle like you would a bowl of ice cream or a yogurt container.  Once she will readily do this, you will "bait" the muzzle again, and turn the muzzle on its side so that she has to stick her nose into it to lick it clean.  Once she is doing this readily, you "bait" the muzzle and attach it to her.  Watch her until she is done cleaning it out and then remove it.  At this point, you are ready to lightly "bait" the muzzle, put it on her, and then feed her yummy snacks while wearing it.  And voila! Your dog is muzzle trained!  

Many dogs taught to wear a muzzle come to see it as just another training tool like a head halter, harness, or even the leash. When done correctly, there will be few if any hurt feelings with wearing one; in fact, a lot of anxious/fractious dogs treat their muzzles like on/off switches.  When wearing their muzzles they are "off duty," and when the muzzle comes off, they are "switched back on."  This makes their behavior more predictable and controllable for you, their devoted owner.

There are places in the world where dogs out in public areas are required to be muzzled.  Muzzles make it safer for lots of unfamiliar dogs and people to be together in smaller spaces.  I think we all just need to change the way we view muzzles, the dogs who wear them, and the owners of those dogs who are doing their very best to insure that their dog, your dog, your kids, the veterinarian, and you are all as safe as possible.  Dog owners who muzzle train their dogs are being responsible.  They aren't bad dog owners and their dogs aren't menaces.  Let's all educate ourselves about muzzles and show some compassion and empathy for each other.  

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

Durable vinyl muzzles on a short snouted dog and a medium snouted dog, for reference.

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

If Your Dog Loves to Swim, This Blog's for You!

 A few years ago, I had a client whose neighbor lost their dog to water toxicity.  While not super common, it does happen and just this week, I had another client reach out to tell me that her sister's dog nearly died from water toxicity following a day at the beach.  Given the unseasonably warm weather we've been having, and the number of clients headed to the beach or uncovering their swimming pools, it seemed like a good time to revisit this topic.

Acute water intoxication is somewhat rare but most commonly seen in dogs that love to play in water. It can actually occur anytime an animal ingests a large quantity of water quickly. High risk dogs are those that engage in water play, including those who like to bite at sprinklers or play with the garden hose. Dogs who love to retrieve round toys in water, or compete with other dogs to get those water toys are also at risk of ingesting large quantities of water as their mouths are open when retrieving.

So, what are the symptoms of water intoxication?  They are: loss of coordination, lethargy, bloating, vomiting, glazed eyes, excessive salivation, difficulty breathing, seizures, and coma.

Once a dog begins showing symptoms of water intoxication, it is critical to get them veterinary care immediately if they are to recover. When a dog ingests too much water, this results in a condition called "hyponatremia," which is excessively low sodium levels in the blood. Too much water causes unbalanced electrolytes and dilutes the sodium storage in the fluid around the cells. Cells fill with water which causes swelling that affects the nervous system since sodium helps maintain blood pressure and is important to nerve and muscle function. It is also the case that dogs who play in salt water for extended periods of time may ingest too much salt water leading to hypernatremia.

If you have a water-loving dog, or one who will retrieve a toy tossed in the water over and over, you need to monitor their water activity and insist on breaks.  Even if they just love playing in the sprinklers or biting a garden hose, watch them for taking on too much water. Even a dog who quickly empties a water bowl following brisk play or exercise is a risk for water intoxication.  Wait to refill that bowl until the dog has cooled down and the water they drank has been properly absorbed.

Prevention is obviously the best course of action with this issue. If your water loving dog does however, show any of the above symptoms, get them to the vet quickly. 

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

Ozzie loves to go to the beach, but he's not at all drawn to the water.  He likes to trot along on the sand, chasing birds.  Incoming waves cause him to scramble away to stay dry!

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

When to Take Things at Face Value

 I have been working with a client on and off for several months. She had initially indicated that she'd found me through a "trusted friend."  We've done phone consultations and Zoom consultations, but had yet to meet in person, first because of COVID concerns and then because of budget concerns.  At least, that's what I was told.  You see, that's what the client had told me and I took those statements at face value.  Then, I received a call from her veterinarian and everything changed.  You see, she'd never told her vet she was working with me or vice versa.  In fact, when her vet recently recommended me to her during an appointment for help with her cat, she told him she was already working with me.  She also told her vet that I hadn't ever offered to come to her home to see the cat there, nor had my recommendations been "all that helpful." This blindsided me as every one of our conversations had concluded with her thanking me profusely for my help, after telling me what had been working, and then tweaking what wasn't to work for her and the cat.  My notes show all of this, as well as where I asked her if she wanted me to come to her home and see the cat there now that I've been fully vaccinated. She indicated that progress was being made, no need for an in-person meeting.  Well, obviously, something wasn't adding up, leaving both the vet and myself feeling completely duped by this owner and unsure how to help her OR her cat!  While this isn't the first time something like this has happened, I'm always frustrated when it does.  You see, I don't want to be one of those people who doesn't believe what a pet owner is telling me. I want to be able to take what they are saying about their pet at face value, determine where the problem lies, and then help address that problem in a straightforward, humane, and conscientious manner with respect for both the pet and pet owner.  Doing that is difficult, however, if owners are being intentionally (or even unintentionally) deceptive with their communications of what is going on with their pets.  People who are more concerned with saving face, or downplaying questionable behaviors they are seeing, or the circumstances and frequency with which they see those behaviors, are doing themselves and their pets an incredible disservice.

Look, I know it's hard to admit that your pet has a behavior problem.  People can get emotional and defensive as they feel like their "pet parenting skills" are being judged by others.  And some pet owners are just inexperienced or unfamiliar with animal behavior and thus are arriving at erroneous conclusions with regard to their pet's behavior (e.g the whole "I know I need to be an alpha with my dog" nonsense we've talked about before).

After 30 years in business, I've gotten really good at asking the right questions and not making snap judgments. If a client says their dog is reactive, I ask them what that looks like.  If they say their puppy is aggressive, I ask what the puppy is doing.  Words like reactive and aggressive are loaded with meaning that might not even apply to the pet we are discussing, but the owners have heard/read those terms or someone told them that was the problem. Labels like reactive or aggressive can also keep an owner from pursuing help for their pet. I try to listen to not only the words, but the emotion behind them.  Much of what I do is about being a good listener and a good observer of both human and canine behavior.  Over the years, I've had veterinarians tell me that their clients tell me a whole heck of a lot more than they ever learn during their appointments!  I find that disturbing as well given that vets do have to rely on owners' reports of their pet's behavior in order to decide what diagnostic tests to run, for example. Downplaying lethargy, vomiting, loose stools, etc. could lead a veterinarian to assume a pet isn't in too much distress, when really they are, but their owner is unable to convey that because they are scared, in denial, or afraid of being charged for unnecessary services. 

We all filter the things people tell us, but when it comes to people's pets, those filters are layered with love, guilt, fear, and even anger.  Being kind in the way I ask questions, getting clarification, and asking for examples has always been my strong suit. I know that my clients don't process or prioritize information the same way that I do, and that's okay. It's my job to get at the heart of the matter and help them to help their pets. It's one of the reasons during this pandemic that I've solicited so much video from my clients. I've reviewed hours of video footage of clients' dogs displaying everything from separation anxiety to panic to aggression to fear. Those videos are invaluable as I can look at them and then the client and I can talk about the behavior in the video, rather than their interpretation of what they saw when they took the video. Their interpretation is often laced with emotion. My evaluation of the video is not.  I am compassionate and caring, but I try very hard to be specific in the words and phrases I use so that clients can truly understand what the problem is and how we are going to fix it.

I don't think my clients are trying to be intentionally deceptive, but if they are reporting different things to their veterinarian than they are to me, or vice versa, it makes it incredibly difficult to determine what should be done to help the pet. Behavior problems can be very scary, I get that.  But we can't even begin to figure out what can be done if you can't be honest with me and with yourself about what you are seeing.  I treat what you tell me as privileged information, only sharing with your referring veterinarian if you want me to OR if your veterinarian is needed for diagnostic tests and/or drug therapy. Your secrets are safe with me and being honest will help me help you.  And if you don't know what you are seeing, just describe it as best as you can and I'll try to ferret out what's going on. Or send video and we can watch it together, learning about your pet and their needs together.

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

My office assistant is very good at not judging what he sees or hears during my phone and video consultations with clients.  He does, however, fall asleep on the job.