Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Gingerbread Time!

I'm taking the week off to spend with my kids who are home for the holidays.  So for this week's blog, I just wanted to share with you my favorite recipe for gingerbread cookies that are safe for dogs, super yummy, and definitely collie-approved.  So break out the holiday cookie cutters and whip up a batch that will last your dogs through the New Year!

Gingerbread Cookies (yields about 60 mini-gingerbread men)

  • 2 cups oat flour (plus more for rolling surface)
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup organic pumpkin
  • 2 tbsp molasses 
Directions:  Mix together your dry ingredients (oat flour through ginger) using a wire whisk.  Add in the eggs, pumpkin, and molasses, stirring with a large spoon to form the dough.  Let the dough sit for about 20 minutes in your refrigerator before rolling it out on a lightly floured surface.  Roll out dough to about a 1/4 inch thickness and cut out your shapes. Place gingerbread cookies on a parchment paper lined baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes depending on the thickness and size of your cookies.  Be sure to flip the cookies halfway through for evenness and to prevent overcooking. 

Store in an airtight container. Enjoy!

Waiting patiently to lick the spoon!

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Home for the Holidays

I know a lot of you are having family and friends in your homes over the holidays. Some of you will have these folks staying with you, while others will be hosting parties, gatherings, and general festivities.  All of this is lovely to think about and definitely something to look forward to.  It can be, however, an incredibly stressful time of year for pet owners. There are a lot of pets who do not enjoy this time of year at all, finding the scented candles, forbidden foods, dangerous plants, trees in the house, shiny ribbons, glass ornaments, and constantly ringing doorbells very anxiety provoking indeed.  And it isn't just puppies and kittens having a hard time; adult animals and senior pets can also be easily overwhelmed by all of this disruption and chaos.  So, what can you do to help your pets survive and thrive during the holidays?

First and foremost, know your pets. If your pets are social butterflies, then maybe they can be part of the festivities.  If, however, they are a bit too social, charging out the front door, jumping on guests, sniffing crotches, and nosing packages, then they might not be able to handle all of the holiday experiences.  It may be the case that they can enjoy the quieter activities such as movie or game nights, or be allowed to socialize but on leash and under someone's watchful eye.  Remind your guests not to give tidbits of what they are eating to your pets.  While it is certainly true that one little bite of cheese or a nibble of cookie might not hurt your pet, 20 little nibbles from a roomful of friendly guests is likely to upset their stomachs. And if your guests have brought you poinsettia plants, mistletoe or holly, keep those plants well away from your curious pets.  It goes without saying that you'll want to keep an eye on lit candles and forego tinsel on your tree, particularly if you have cats. 

For those pets who are more introverted or those who have anxiety-based issues such as fear or aggression, it will be safest for all involved if you just keep them in another room (safely tucked away in their crate if they are crate-trained) and let your guests know to keep that door closed.  This is not cruel in the slightest.  Your anxious pets will be relieved not to have to deal with people that they don't know trying to engage them, or worse yet, trying to decide if that person reaching for them is a threat!  Don't think of this as punishing your pet, rather think of this as the kindest thing you can do for them.  Give them fun things to do in that room and check on them regularly.  Use fans, white noise machines, or a TV to provide background white noise in the space.  Use food puzzles, bones, etc. to keep them occupied.  And don't hesitate to use those CBD drops, Thundershirts, or DAP collars as well. If your pet needs more than these holistic remedies, consider speaking with your veterinarian about other options for treating situational anxiety.

Finally, for those of you whose pets are fine with guests, don't surf tables or sniff crotches, and can be trusted not to drink the spiked eggnog or nose the burning candle, it's still a good idea to build in breaks away from the festivities for them that you enforce.  Don't wait for them to tell you that they're tired, just assume after an hour or so of visiting, they'll want some down time.  Make sure they have access to their crate or their favorite bed or perch and remind guests to leave them be if they are there, particularly children.  

Last but not least, keep to your pet's regular schedule as much as possible.  Those morning walks, evening strolls, or both are good for everyone.  Invite your guests to join you, if you like, but I often find that walks alone with my dogs are the perfect quiet time I need before I begin socializing for the day.  Feed your pets at their usual feeding times, and don't forget to use those interactive puzzles and games for stress relief and boredom busting. 

I wish you and your pets nothing but success as you move through the holiday season.  And, as always, if you have questions about your pet's behavior, you know where to find me.

Despite what the pillow says, Desi was always the perfect
 gentleman at holiday gatherings. 
We'll miss his calm presence this year!

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Keeping the Faith

Recently, I was interviewed regarding my thoughts on grief and loss from a pet's perspective and a pet owner's.  Losing a family member is incredibly difficult and for most of us, that loss and grief is the same even if the family member is a pet. Platitudes like "it was just a dog/cat" or "you'll get over it" or "just get a new dog/cat" aren't helpful.  What is helpful is surrounding yourself with people who understand your grief.  And if you don't have anyone to fill that role, reaching out to one of the pet loss support groups in your community can help. For the humans, here is a resource for you to keep handy. It's the phone number for the National Pet Loss Hotline, 855-352-LOVE. And for your grieving pets, speak to your veterinarian or reach out to me as we can help them with their grieving process.  

There isn't any one "right" way to approach grief; it looks different for each person and is closely tied to the relationship you had with the person or pet who has passed away.  You may even feel some guilt about your relief that they've passed away and that's normal too.  No one wants our families, friends, or pets to suffer, so often their passing is associated with a sense of relief, which then brings on enormous guilt. The most important thing, in my opinion, is to have conversations about your feelings, and about the loved one you've lost.  Share stories, both the funny ones and the painful ones.  Sharing those stories helps keep that loved one you've lost alive in your memories and reminds you of the times when they were free of pain, disease, etc. Let out your emotions, share your anger, despair, and pain with those you trust the most.  And if you don't have people in your life who give you the space to safely do that, find a mental health professional who will listen and guide you through the grief process.  No one should have to grieve alone.

For your pets who are grieving, keep them on their favored schedules.  Keep feeding times, walks, play time, etc. on the usual, predictable schedule.  Changes to that schedule create anxiety for our pets.  Those walks and playtime provide much needed exercise and fresh air for you both.  Remember that petting your animals helps lower your blood pressure and calm your breathing rate while doing the same for your pets. That symbiotic relationship between you and your surviving pet is worth celebrating with a walk, with a pat, or with a cookie. 

Yes, it's true, things do get better.  We do get to the point where we don't burst into tears every time we talk about our loved ones who've passed, but it's still not easy. It's just different living in a world where they are no longer residing. I still miss my heart dog, Shadow, who passed away in 1999.  She may have been gone for almost 25 years, but her memory lives on in my mind (and in the many photos of her on my walls), and I have shared stories of her with my children so that they, too, will know how special she was to me.  I am a true believer that I will see her again someday, waiting at the Rainbow Bridge, with my other beloved dogs and family members who passed before me.  I'm pretty sure she'll let me know that she was taking care of everyone til I got there, something she did when she was alive as well.  She was a Border Collie after all and we know what good managers they are.

The holiday season can be rough for a lot of people and the world is a confusing place right now.  My hope for you is that you will find peace and joy in the smallest of things, those purrs from your cats, those licks and cuddles from your dogs, those nuzzles from your horses, and the hugs from your friends and family. Take care of yourselves.

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

Christmas 1993. My beloved grandmother and Shadow are both gone now, but that apron she made me lives on.  I think I even have those ridiculous red hoop earring somewhere too, in case you were wondering!

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Hark the Herald Angels Sing!

Well, the angels might be singing, but I sure know a lot of puppies who aren't listening to them...LOL.  For many dog owners living with puppies between 4-6 months of age, this not listening phase is quite frustrating.  I'm here to tell you the phase is short (usually a couple of weeks or so), BUT whether your puppy responds to you going forward depends a lot on how you deal with your frustration during this normal phase of their development. 

First, let's start with why this "not listening" thing can be seen as a good thing.  Your puppy is feeling confident, brave enough to explore beyond the usual boundaries, including the boundaries of your voice and directions for them. Developmentally, this age in wild canids like wolves, coyotes, wild dogs, etc. is associated with the beginning of independent exploration, away from the den and the watchful eye of the dam. For your puppies, it's quite similar; they are looking to explore their world with a bit more freedom and independence than they've previously shown. Those 8 week old puppies that didn't want to let you out of their sight, are now hardly looking back as they explore the far reaches of your yard, or the full length of their leash. So what are you supposed to do when your puppy ignores you?  Well, you most certainly don't want to let them get away with that! If you do, that just sets you up for future issues with attentiveness to your directives and overall responsiveness.

When that puppy ignores you, you have to step up your game AND you need to anticipate this behavior before it happens.  So, while you might be tempted to let that 4-6 month old puppy roam leash-less in your yard, don't.  Put a long line on them instead; this gives them some freedom to explore, but a tether for you to gently tug on if they don't respond when you call them back. You don't want to yank on the line as they'll just resist. Instead, put a small amount of pressure on it and call them.  Don't say "come," necessarily, as you don't want to make coming to you seem negative to your puppy. Instead, whistle, clap your hands, bend down and make kissy sounds, etc. all while tugging gently on the line. I like to wiggle my fingers too as that seems irresistible to a lot of the puppies I meet.  Even if they are slow to get to you, throw them a tickertape parade with lots of love and some high value rewards as well when they get to you. Now, and this is important, let them wander off again.  You see, you want them to understand that coming to you doesn't necessarily mean the end of fun exploration away from you, it just means that they have to check in periodically.  If you practice this long line recall every time you take your puppy outside, you can work up to doing the same thing at the park, during a little league game, etc. What this reinforces is that coming to you and checking in is always a good idea. And, yes, sometimes you'll be reeling them in and taking them home, but not every time.  Your puppy learns that check-ins are smart, that they don't mean the end of fun, AND that they will always be rewarded for doing so.

I'll just go ahead and say it.  Some breeds are better listeners than others.  If you have a hound, for example, and they are hot on the trail of a rabbit they just chased into the bushes, no amount of calling or tugging is going to get them out of there.  Just go collect your puppy at the end of that line and start again. Some dogs, regardless of age, never can be trusted to be off leash safely.  They just don't have reliable recall.  Whether that's because they got in the habit of ignoring their owners as puppies and their owners allowed that behavior, or because they are a breed bred for independent thinking, either way, they stay on leash (or a long line) forever, for their safety and your peace of mind.  There is no hard and fast rule that every dog has to have off leash time to be a well-adjusted member of canine society. Some dogs, in fact, are just safer kept on leash.

Henley is a good listener. We've worked on the long line and off leash in my own yard.  He knows there will be rewards even if he's slow and he's certainly tested that theory more than once. It does help that he has Ozzie who comes every single time I call him as his guide in life.  Ozzie can be off leash and out of my sight and if I whistle, he comes running.  Every single time.  And that's why he's earned off leash time on forest hikes; he's a reliable hiking companion. Whether Henley gets to that level of reliability remains to be seen. He's only 8 months old and he's got a lot of maturation left to do.  Ozzie and I are ever hopeful.

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

Here's Desi, off leash, at our neighborhood park when he was about 4 years old. He had great recall, always coming back when called. He was never speedy about it, but he always came back, even if there were squirrels, wild turkeys, or people he wanted to greet.