5 Dog Specific New Year’s Resolutions You Should Make (don’t worry…they are realistic!)

2013 is here!

Usually, I’m not one to make new year’s resolutions.  (Let’s be realistic…who sticks to those anyways!)  Call it maturity – or insanity – but this year I decided to outline a few areas of my life that I might improve upon.  I didn’t write them down….I didn’t tell anyone…but I am going to keep them in the back of my mind as I travel through 2013.

Then I realized it might not be such a bad idea to make new year’s resolutions – just for my pups.   My dogs are my constant companions…but when things get crazy, their wants and needs seem to be the first things to slip my mind.  So, here is my list of 5 Dog Specific New Year’s Resolutions.  Consider them suggestions, loyal readers; let’s see if we can take a few minutes out of each day and brighten our dogs’ lives.

1.) Hang out – OUTSIDE!  Amigo Outside

Imagine being stuck in your house for 23.5 hours a day.  (Ok, so the first day would be glorious if you didn’t have to go out to work/run errands/be productive…but EVERY day?)  Now imagine you are genetically hard-wired to roam around in the sunshine, but you are literally imprisoned in a house.  (As humans, we really can’t even imagine what this is like!)  This is the life of your dog.  Dogs are animals first…and animals spend all their life outside.  Do I want you to walk your dog?  Of course I do!  Walking is great bonding and is an awesome way for you both to exercise!  Do I want you to take your dog to the dog park?  Of course I do!  What fun for your dog to get to make friends and socialize!  Do I think it is realistic to tell you to routinely spend hours of your life doing these things with your dog?  Of course I don’t!  What can you do?  You can spend time with your dog in your own backyard.  You can take your dog with you when you visit your mom…go to the drive-up teller at the bank…go pick up fast food.  Get them out of the house – when it’s convenient for you.  Your pups will rearrange their schedules!

2.) Challenge their minds!

Some people (not you, of course!) think that dogs lack intelligence.  This could not be further from the truth.  Let me tell you – when you were a kiddo, you weren’t that smart.  Your mom and dad had to spend hours teaching you how to talk, how to walk, how to read.  They devoted their whole lives to it!  Dogs, like humans, WANT to learn…and (unlike you in your childhood) they WANT to please their parents.  So teach them!  What can you do? As I have blogged before, I think you would be surprised at how quickly dogs pick up vocabulary.  This could be as easy as saying “bone” every time you hand them a bone, or “Kong” every time they bring you their Kong for a peanut butter refill.  Before too long, you can create a game – say the word, and as soon as your pooch brings the item to you…give her a treat.  (You won’t need the treats for long – pups love this.)   You can even sit on your lazy behind for this one!  You can do it on commercial breaks, for goodness sake!  It give your dog something to do, and they will love you for it.  (There are also lots of puzzle toys you can get to entertain your dog while you are busy/away.)

3.) Keep them healthy!

Of course you take good care of your dog!  You keep them hydrated and nourished.  You give them treats and blankets and (if they are lucky) let them sleep in your bed.  Some things, though, might slip your mind.  What can you do?  Every dog, every month, should be given heartworm medication.  (I am especially bad about forgetting this.  I feel horrible!  I have the medicine, but just can’t seem to remember to give it to them monthly!)  There are also little things you can do to keep your pups in tip-top shape.  Cleaning out their ears every 2 weeks, trimming their nails, bathing them…all things we can do in our own homes that take a matter of minutes, yet sometimes these things slip our minds!  Picking up poop is another thing we often forget.  It’s our yard, why should we have to worry?  It’s in the back, no one will see it.  Dogs are low to the ground.  They aren’t careful to avoid their waste, and they trample right through it.  Then, their paws itch and they lick them.  Not hygienic!  (Oh – and they come right inside and jump on your furniture, pillows, bed, carpet…you see where I’m going with this.)

Dog reading4.) Educate yourself!

How many books on dogs are there?  We surely will never know, but it seems a new one comes out weekly.  There are books on dog training, breeds, behavior, history, evolution…science has finally gotten around to studying the animals that live closest too us.  There is a seemingly endless fountain of knowledge when it comes to our four-legged loves!  What can you do?  READ!  Pick up any dog book that looks interesting to you, and read it.  (I am a big fan of the library…so don’t even give me the excuse you don’t want to shell out the dough.)  Even if you don’t pick up the most highly regarded one, it will get you thinking.  Maybe you won’t agree with what that nut job author tells you to do, and you’ll start a conversation with your coworker about his dog.  Maybe you won’t believe that a dog’s brain works like that, and a Google search will lead you to a site that will confirm the unbelievable and get you asking more questions.  In any case, you will get a better understanding of what your dog is thinking or feeling…and why they are thinking or feeling that in the first place.

5.)  Give them undivided attention!

Ok, so this last one is a broad statement.  I’m not going to suggest where you do it, when you do it, or how you do it.  I’m not going to say how often you should or how long it should last.  I’m just going to suggest you spending some quality time with your furry best friend.  What can you do?  Put down your cell phone (I’m not even going to tell you to turn it off, because we are staying realistic here, people!)  Turn off the TV.  Shut down the iPad.  Just BE with your dog.   Talk to him.  Pet him.  Kiss him.   Love him.  Does he want you to throw the ball?  Do it!  Does he want you to lay down and nap beside him?  Do it!  All he ever wanted was to have your attention and to make you happy.  (And treats…he wants treats!)  Remember why you got this little guy in the first place!  It wasn’t to bark every time your doorbell rang or to track mud in from the yard.  You got him to be your companion and to make you happy.  Let him do his job!

Pablo and Buffy

Mange – What the heck is it anyway? Is there a natural way to treat it?

Recently, a neighbor ask me “Is there a natural remedy for mange?”  I love being the go-to dog person…so imagine my horror when I had to admit I didn’t know!


Poor pup with sarcoptic mange!

First of all – let’s learn a little bit about mange.  Mange is a skin disease caused by tiny mites.  These parasitic mites embed themselves in the dog’s skin and hair follicles and cause infection.  Dogs and cats are susceptible to two types of mange: demodectic and sarcoptic.  Most pups and kitties are not affected by demodicosis…as long as they are healthy, the mites just chill on the skin and don’t cause any problems.  It’s really only pets who are already sick or elderly that are at risk for this kind of mange.  Isolating a dog with demodectic mange is not necessary.  Sarcoptic mange, on the other paw, is extremely contagious.  These mites dig into the skin and cause intense itching and crusting (which is where the infection begins.)  Of course the poor animal is going to scratch and bite…which only causes more infection and more damage.  Dogs that are living in poor conditions (whose immune systems are already weekend from hunger and disease) are even more likely to be affected with sarcoptic mange.

If you think your dog has mange…it is recommended you visit a vet Demodex Miteimmediately.  We all know what mange looks like – and we all know the symptom (intense, persistent itching!)

But, just for the sake of investigating a curious dog owner’s question, what are some natural ways to treat mange?  (Please note – I have not tested any of the remedies below.  I have either read about them, come across them in research, or learned about them from a third party.  And remember…while I do consider myself knowledgeable about dogs, I am not a vet!)  Some of these suggestions can also be used in less sever skin irritations:

***Lactobacillus acidophilus (Wow…didn’t know we were going to bust out with the Latin here, huh?  This means acid-loving milk-bacterium) is useful to eliminate mange from inside the ears. “Where do I find this?” you might be asking.  Well, let’s put it more simply – this is basically a fancy name for a probiotic used in commercial dairy products.  In other words – wash the inside of the ears with 2 tablespoons plain yogurt.

***Raw apple cider vinegar (Does anyone read Hint from Heloise?  She LOVES this stuff!) is good for fighting mange both when applied on the skin and mixed with a dog’s meal.  (Just one tablespoon in Fido’s food will be plenty!)

***As on our own skin, olive oil is great for soothing irritated skin.  It also works to kill the mites that are causing all the problems!

***Doing some online research – I came across this recipe on at least a dozen different sites and message boards: equal parts Listerine, baby oil, and warm water.  Mix it in a spray bottle and spray your pooch.  (This is one that seems to be popular for general itchiness as well!)

Borax mange remedy

***Another recipe I came across on several sites” 1 part 1% hydrogen peroxide (bottled is usually 3%, so you will need to dilute it), 1 part water, as much borax (laundry detergent) as will dissolve in the solution.  Wash your dog, rinse with solution, and allow solution to try on the pup’s coat.  (You can do this once a week…but don’t do it more than 8 weeks in a row.)

I would love to hear from anyone who has used one of the above natural mange remedies…or anyone that has a miracle product of their own.

Heartworm – What you need to know

On a recent visit to the S.P.C.A (much, much more about that in posts to come), I noticed quite a few of the poor pups up for adoption had “heartworm positive” stamped on their information sheet. As I heard other prospective parents inquiring just what that meant for them and their future furbaby, I realized that  – despite being the dog expert that I am – I knew relatively little about this common ailment in dogs.

Heartworm (or Dirofilaria immitis if we are going to get scientific about it) is a parasite that spreads through mosquito bites.  The insane thing is…the baby heartworms (microfilariae) cannot grow up to be adult heartworms without passing through a mosquito.  In other words – it doesn’t spread directly from dog to cat or cat to cat…there must be a mosquito buzzing between the two to spread the parasite.  Ironically, once they are finished incubating inside the mosquito and are transmitted to the host, they reside in the pulmonary arterial system (or “around the lungs” for those of us who didn’t do so well in anatomy & physiology class.)  So heartworms actually end up affecting lungs more often than the heart.

One of the scariest things about heartworm is it is virtually impossible to detect without a blood test.  As the worms grow and spread inside the poor animal, they will begin to crowd the heart and lungs and most dogs will develop a cough.  Dogs will become lethargic –  not being able to exercise and play like normal.  Left untreated, heartworms are almost always lethal.

Heartworm is less common, but not unheard of, it cats.  Symptoms of the parasite in kitties are the similar to dogs (lethargy) along with loss of appetite, weight loss, vomiting, and diarrhea.  There is no treatment for heartworm for cats in the United States, but somehow cats seem to be able to rid themselves of in infection on their own.

Treatment for dogs is a drug, adulticide.  This is an “organic arsenical compound” that is administered through a series of injections and commonly requires hospitalization.

As we all know, preventing heartworms are a lot easier (and WAY cheaper) than treating them.  While some people think that it’s ok to sporadically administer preventative pills (thinking mosquitos don’t buzz around in the cold) or skip the pills all together (thinking they are in a “safe zone”) – this just isn’t the way to go.  Why take a risk with your beloved pooch?  Plus those pills prevent a lot more than just heartowrm…they help keep other intestinal parasites away.  AND – here is the gross part – those intestinal parasites can easily infect people.  (3 to 6 million peeps every year – yuck!)  There is your motivation right there!

The good news?  (As if there is any when you are talking about disgusting worms living inside adorable pooches!)  The S.P.C.A. has already started treatment for all their pups testing heartworm positive.  AND, I heard one knowledgeable volunteer lecturing, they will continue to provide treatment for their pups once they have been adopted out FREE!

Check out the American Heartworm Society for more information.

Why Your Dog Isn’t a Couch Potato

Ahh…the weekend.  Those two glorious days of trying to relax and forget about that pesky job.  There’s the sleeping in….the going out…and, of course, the watching of the junk TV.

While Buffy is my faithful weekend companion (we do almost everything together Saturday and Sunday), she just will not join me in my couch potato ways.  I will lay around watching old movies and E!, and Buffy will lay in “her” chair by the window and keep an eye on the comings and goings of the neighborhood.  Occasionally a barking dog on screen will get her to perk up for a moment, but almost immediately she realize the threat is false goes back to gazing outside…chin resting on the windowsill.

So what’s up!?  Turns out dog’s eyes are SO much better than ours, the stuff on the TV looks too fake.  Back in the days of CRT screens (you know…before TVs were flat and hung on our walls) they refreshed at about 50-60 Hz.  This is perfect for us humans.  Dogs, though, have a flicker fusion rate of 70-80Hz.  

(Science term for the day – flicker fusion: the tendency to perceive a flickering sensory input signal as continuous when the frequency is above a certain threshold….in other words, how quickly images have to be flashed at you so you can see them as continuous motion.)

So, on old TVs, it would appear to a dog as if the picture on the screen was flickering (like a strobe light).  What about new fancy TVs, you say? Most pups still aren’t interested, but not because of their eyes.  Their noses are the problem!!  (I just read about this, and I had seriously never thought about it before.  Now it seems so obvious!  Dogs take in their surroundings nose first unlike humans who always favor their eyes.)  Dogs simply have no time for a world that doesn’ have smells.  (Of course there are exceptions to ever rule.  I’m sure some of you have dogs whose tails start waggin’ when Wilfred comes on!)

The fact that dogs don’t “see” the television does not stop pooch parents from leaving theirs on when they are out.  Almost 60% of pet owners leave their TVs (or radios) on for their dogs or cats.  Personally, I never leave the TV on for Buffy.  She loves to nap, and I’m worried that it will be more annoying than comforting.  I don’t think most dogs really care one way or the other, but I must say that sometimes I leave the television on for background noise when I’m home alone…so I can totally understand.

The only time Buffy is ever interested in our TV is when the television is off.  We do not have it mounted, and it sits level with the couch directly across from it.  That girl will see her own reflection and start barking her head off!  She will go from dozing lazily on the sofa to at attention with hair raised in about 2 seconds. What a nut!

(I think she is really just pointing out to me that she is the only thing on TV worth watching.)

Why Willy Wonka didn’t have a dog (Truths about Chocolate)

(Almost) everyone knows not to feed their dogs chocolate.  Everyone has heard horror stories of pups raiding candy dishes or sneaking chocolate chip cookies and then being rushed off to the vet.  But what the heck is the deal with dogs and chocolate anyway?

Chocolate labs are good...

Chocolate contains theobromine.  For us human, theobromine  affects us like weakened caffeine.  While hard to overdose on it (believe me, I’ve tried) I was surprised to learn that it can be poisonous to us in large quantities.  Dogs, though, metabolize theobromine more slowly than humans which affects their heart, central nervous system, and kidneys.  This means that even a small amount of chocolate can cause them serious harm.  I found this cool chocolate chart to help you determine “how much chocolate is too much”, although I think it’s safe to say that even a bite of chocolate is too much for Fido.

While I would never give my dog…or any dog…ANY chocolate,  I did have one client that would give her dogs M&Ms as treats.  Seriously!  In my experience, though, you should never make comments or vocal judgements on how people handle their own pups.  Telling someone that they are feeding their dog a sub-par dog food or that they have gone about training wrong is the equivalent of walking up to a mom in a grocery store and telling her how to discipline her child.  (The HORROR!)  People really do take their pups seriously…and since I work for them, I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut.  So while I didn’t feed this particular pooch any melts-in-your-mouth-not-in-your-hand goodness, I didn’t say a word as I knew the theobromine quantities were too small to do any harm.

...but giving chocolate to your lab is not!

While researching this post, I came across something that made me laugh.  It seems that small amounts of chocolate won’t physically harm your dog, but it might cause psychological damage.  Once your dog tastes that deliciousness, he or she will only crave more!  This might drive them to obsess over getting another piece…and we all know how crafty and persistent pups can be when they want to get something.  Eating just one “speck” of chocolate might turn your dog into an addict, and I’m not sure there is such thing as doggy rehab.  (I laughed at this information because it reminded me of what I always hear about diet soda.  It’s not that they are fattening, but they are addictive and will cause you to crave sweets.  I am an absolute diet soda junkie.)

So make sure to keep a chocolate out of your pooches reach and don’t let any of those brownie crumbs fall to the floor.  And of course, if you want to give your dog a sweet treat, we have just the thing!

Why does my dog look like a punk rocker? (What does that mohawk mean?)

Every dog has a trigger.  For some pups, it’s a large man coming into their personal space. (P.S. That get’s me going too!)  For others, it’s an unfamiliar sound.  For my dog, it’s kids on bikes…she just can’t figure out what the heck they are!  All these different things can cause a dog to feel threatened, but the reaction is often the same – MOHAWK!  Well, the technical term is piloerector reflex, but (personally) “mohawk” is the only term that seems to fit.

Believe it or not, this is your dog’s way of looking bigger.  (My dog gets maybe and extra inch of height if she is lucky, so this seems extremely comical to me.)  It is not an offensive behavior: in other words, your pup is not looking to start a fight.  Rather, a dog with a mohawk thinks he or she is being threatened and is trying to look as intimidating as possible.  Most commonly seen on a dog’s hackles, it can also be seen down the spine all the way to the base of the tail.

Surprisingly, this reaction works similar in our own species.  Our piloerector muscles are smooth muscle fibers that connect hair follicles to the dermis, and they rely on the autonomic nervous system to function. ” What the heck does that mean?” you might be asking yourself.  Well…it means that when something scares you (like when you are watching that horror flick) your piloerector muscles are what make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.  They are also what give us goosebumps.  Want to know something really interesting?  While goosebumps now seem like the most pointless thing in the world, back when we (humans, that is)  were much less evolved (and much more hairy), our piloerector muscles did the same thing that your pup’s are doing now!  They made our hair stand up and made us look much more intimidating to predators.  Through the beauty of evolution, though, we have lost that thick layer of hair covering our bodies (thank goodness!) and are left to gaze upon those annoying, ugly bumps on our skin.

But this blog isn’t about humans, is it? 

While it may be true that mohawk doesn’t necessarily mean your dog is ready to fight, it does mean that he or she is alarmed and agitated.  Most dogs will accompany a piloerector reflex with a growl or a bark or, if you are my Buffy, tearing around like a crazy woman running from window to window.  Some dogs, though, skip the dramatic performance and internalize their discomfort – the silent raising of their hair the only sign of a problem.  When I worked in a large dog daycare facility, this is one of the first things I learned when supervising play.  It’s all fun and games….until someone gets a mohawk.  This means, though your human eyes might not have detected anything, the mood of playtime has somehow shifted.  Sometimes this can easily be corrected by stepping in and calling a dog’s name.  (“Ok, guys!  Remember this is just play and we are all having fun!”) Sometimes dogs need to be separated.  As always – a dog that feels threatened is more likely to snap….it is up to you to intervene! 

…or maybe your dog just wants to rock out to the Ramones.

The Daily Once-Over

I am not a vet, and I do not claim to be.  There is a lot that goes on under that fur and thick skin that I don’t have any idea about, but I do know one thing for sure:  Dogs cannot talk.   They simply cannot open their cute little mouths and tell us that their ear hurts.  Or they have a tummy ache.  Or that they’ve noticed a tiny lump on their back that they would really like to have checked out.  I have never had a baby – a two-legged one at least – but I would imagine it goes pretty much the same way with children of the human persuasion.  You must be ever diligent to make sure no sniffle or scrape goes unnoticed.

I am amazed at how many people are completely ignorant to their pet’s ailments.  Being aware of what is normal and what is abnormal to your particular pup can be incredibly helpful.  It can also save you time and money you might otherwise spend taking Fluffy to the vet for something that isn’t what I deem “vet worthy.”  Last month, I noticed one of my clients (FYI – my “clients” are the dogs and the “parents” are…well…the parents!) had some hair loss and redness on her back hind legs.  She was really itching at them on our walk and during our playtime, so I left a note drawing it to her mom’s attention.  After a vet visit the next day, her mom informed me the poor dog had a staph infection!  She also told me she “hadn’t even noticed it! My dog is so active, I can’t really ever get a good look at her.”  Without the pills and cream the vet perscribed….this could have been a drawn out (and itchy!) ordeal.  Unfortunately, I have a long list of other instances like this – ranging from eye infections to paw pad scrapes.  Ailments that might not be as serious or noticeable as a tail getting chopped off in a freak parasailing accident, but things that get worse and worse as time goes on.  Things that cause your little furry friend pain, and remember – they can’t tell you about it.

My advice?  A Daily Once-Over (a DOO!)  It doesn’t have to be as traumatic as a doctor poking and prodding you in a sterile room with year old magazines.  Just wait until your pooch is calm, and pet them!  Pay attention to any bumps, lumps, scrapes, scratches….basically anything weird.  Use your eyes if you can…but feel around if you have a hairier pooch.  (This can be great for young pups too.  It will get them use to be touched everywhere – by you or your vet.)  If you make a point to do this every day, you will start to notice if something seems odd or if your dog flinches when you touch an area that usually causes no reaction.  It literally takes seconds, but it can be valuable if something does pop up. 

So go ahead….DOO it!

P.S. Works on humans too!  It’s always good to know your own body.

These Paws Were Made for Walkin’ (the first of many posts about walks)

“Max is just a little dog, so he doesn’t need to go on walks.” 

“We have a big backyard, so Isabelle gets plenty of exercise running around by herself.”

“Lulu doesn’t have any behavior or aggression problems.  She is perfectly happy lounging around the house.”

“I take Rocky out to potty several times a day.  That is the same as a walk.”

NO! NO! NO!!  I hear this all the time.  There are so many reasons why all the above statements are completely wrong.  Your dog needs to be walked every single day.  People assume when I say that, I am promoting my own business.  This is not the case – your dog NEEDS to be walked.

Dogs, before we domesticated them, were pack animals.  All day, every day, they walked.  They walked to find shelter.  They walked to find food.  They walked…that is what they did.  When working and living with dogs, you must remember….they are animals.  Though we think of them as members of our family (which they are!) biologically speaking, they are still animals.  Evolution has not erased their need to move around and travel.  Now, think of little Fifi staring out the window.  Her body is telling her to walk, to explore, to see the world!  The two minutes you let her out back to do her business is not fulfilling her most basic need. 

I would venture to say 95% (no scientific studies, folks, this is just my best guess) of behavior problems in dogs are caused by boredom.  What would you do if you couldn’t leave your house?  Maybe not chew the leg of the table, but some human equivalent to it.  (eating an insane amount of iced animal cookies?  Maybe that’s just me….)  Jumping on guests when they come in?  Hell, ya!  Your pup hasn’t had that much excitement in days.  Whining in the middle of the night?  Of course!  Fido isn’t tired…he’s ready to roll.  A nice long walk would have fixed these problems. 

I think lots of people get dogs expecting the pups to adapt to their lives.  You have to go to work, go to the gym, cook dinner, pay bills… and maybe have a social life once in a while.  You just don’t have time to walk.  Well, people, walking is as important as remembering to feed your pooch.  You’re dog – quite simply – cannot adapt.  The need to walk  is literally in their.  You just have to find the time.  Maybe every day is unrealistic.  (I tell myself I’m going to go to the gym everyday….and let me tell you, that is unrealistic!)  Maybe the recommended hour per walk is just not doable.  (Ahh, the things I could do with one extra hour in my day!)  But you have to make an effort.  You assumed a responsibility when you brought little Max, Isabelle, Lulu, or Rocky home.  You have to keep them happy and healthy….and walking will keep you happy (sleepy puppy = happy human) and healthy (we all could use a little exercise) as well.

And if you just can’t find the time….you could always hire a dog walker! 😉