Lotsa Dogs Lotsa Fun

Lotsa Dogs Lotsa Fun
The Big Dogs Wait at The Door

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

My name is Chloe and I'm the cutest Yorkshire Terrier who ever lived. I come to The Doggie Den to gain some perspective... on how lucky I am. I mean these dogs are not attractive. Not like me. I guess it was just fate.

It's Flea Season Again!!

Whether or not you actually see fleas on your dog, they may be there. Scratching, scabs and dark specs, or "flea dirt" on her skin can all be signs that she has become the unwitting host for a family of fleas. During their 6 to 12 month life span a pair of fleas can produce millions of offspring. Hardy offspring, at that: fleas have survived millions of years in a variety of environments, so wherever you live, check your dog!

Fleas can carry tapeworms too. If you notice small white rice-like things in your pet's feces or in the hair around her anus, she probably has tapeworms, which means she may also have fleas. In advanced cases, she may be lethargic and her lips and gums may turn pale. Take her to a vet immediately if she has any of these symptoms.

Battling flea infestation requires PATIENCE and PERSEVERANCE, so put on your armor and get to it! Because the presence of fleas indicates that your pup's coat also hides flea eggs, it will take at least three to four weeks to completely rid her and her environment of this pesky parasite. Different flea products work in different ways, having varying levels of effectiveness; and they kill different flea stages (eggs, larvae and/or adults). You'll need to use a product that has been proven to kill in all the stages, or use a combination of products at the same time to be effective.

Shampoos, powders, and sprays will usually kill the adult fleas on your pup. Using a flea comb regularly will help too. But more adults may be lurking in your home or yard, and eggs or larvae may be laying in wait as well. You'll need to rid your house of fleas by vacuuming and washing pup's bedding once a week, and using a disinfectant on washable surfaces; and an insecticide or insect growth regulator in cracks and crevices. Sometimes foggers are recommended every two to four weeks.

When using chemical products be very careful. You may be providing too much of a potentially toxic chemical if you use, say, a flea shampoo and a fogger that contain the same active ingredient. Always check with your veterinarian before beginning your war on fleas. To assist you with clearing your home of these parasites, you may want to hire a professional exterminator. Your vet may know someone who's experienced with flea infestations.

In recent years, flea control has made great advances. Today there are liquid products which you apply to pup's skin on the back of her neck (so she can't lick the chemical). These products, such as Frontline, K9Advantix, Programme and Advantage, let you treat your pet once a month. The medication enters the bloodstream through the skin and makes flea (and tick) bites toxic without harming your pet. Some of them also create an odor which is undetectable to us but repels fleas and ticks so they don't get into pup's coat in the first place. Be very careful to use these products as directed; some may be effective for dogs, but toxic to cats. Also, you need to wash your hands thoroughly after applying the medication, and make sure children don't touch the affected on your pet area until it dries.

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Monday, April 16, 2007

Poisoned dog foods

There's been a ton of reaction to the pet food contamination that has been sickening and killing our furry friends, so I've resisted adding my two cents 'til now. But after the initial hullabaloo, the blogging, emailing, and press coverage have quieted down, and that's too bad. Because pets are getting ill and dying at the same or a greater rate than earlier in the crisis. Reporting is spotty, so it's hard to know just how many animals have been affected. But the early reporting was just the tip of the iceberg! Huge quantities of harmful substances have found their way into pet food ingredients. And 90% of the big commercial brands use the same suppliers!! That means that almost ALL of them bought from the Chinese supplier of wheat gluten whose inventory contained melamine.

We did a series of posts of what's in pet food and how to buy good pet food a year or so ago (please see our archives). That's because pet nutrition is something I get very excited about. Dogs are carnivores, and to a great extent, they can be omnivores. They basically need meat and fish, and can use grains and vegetables. So the ingredient list on a pet food package should start with meat or fish, NOT with grain or "water sufficient for processing"! The first ingredients on the list comprise 95% or so of the food. So there has to be high quality protein, at least for young dogs (older dogs can be healthy eating more grains and vegetables), right at the top of the list. Bone meal is acceptable protein if it's good quality product, meaning processed under sanitary conditions and relatively fresh. Discount dog foods buy up pallets of old bone meal that some distributor will move at a low price, so even if it appears on a supermarket brand label, don't buy the food. And don't buy a food whose first ingredient is a starch, like corn or corn meal. It's okay if corn appears as the 5th or 6th ingredient, but not before.

Besides the content, you need to know that the quality of the ingredients is acceptable. As I documented in my earlier series of posts, all of the supermarket brands are made in huge batches with the cheapest possible ingredients - for big conglomerates it's about a business model, not about pet nutrition. For heavens sakes, Walmart is quite outspoken about that. They tell us in their advertising that they're all about PRICE. They squeeze their suppliers to sell more and more cheaply to Walmart. Why in the world would you feed you best furry friend something you bought in Walmart??? The grains and vegetables in big chain supermarket brands are older and of poorer quality to start with than those in small batch foods. The fats and oils are more often than not rancid by-products of the food industry (like used fryer oil that sits around for months before being processed into pet food).

Remember, pet food ingredients are not protected the way human foods are. And gov't scrutiny of our food chain is woefully inadequate! Please, protect your pet. Notice that NO HEALTHY, SMALL BATCH PET FOOD HAS HAD PROBLEMS WITH CONTAMINANTS! Not a single one! So here are some good foods. Go to your local pet store and ask for: Canidae, Merrick, Chicken Soup for the Dog Lover's Soul, O&M, Bill Jack, Prairie, Red Barn, Pet Naturals of Vermont, Fromm, Diamond Naturals, Precise, or Premium Edge. There are others. Just make sure of two things:

1. The food must be made in small batches (manufactured and packaged by the company on the label and not subcontracted to a big pet food processor). The only preservatives that appear on the package should be natural ones like vitamin E (tocopherals). Chemical preservatives are only necessary if the food spends many months getting from the mixing process to your pet's dish. And they can cause nervous system stress and allergic reactions of which you may not even be aware.

2. The food must contain only human grade ingredients. Lesser ingredients contain bacteria and virii that are not acceptable... and they're not all neutralized by the potent preservatives that big companies use.

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Seasonal allergies

In spite of the cold, drizzly weather that has afflicted us in the Northeast, allergy season is settling in, so get ready for the sneezing, itching, and scratching. Not just you, your dog too! Dogs commonly experience seasonal allergies, usually through dermatitis. Instead of sneezing and getting itchy, watery eyes, most dogs have allergic reactions on their skin.

Symptoms of allergic dermatitis include excessive scratching, licking and chewing of paws. Some dogs do get watery eyes too. Excessive scratching can be harmful, in that areas of raw skin are vulnerable to infection and parasites. Dermatitis can be relieved by using a moisturizing shampoo that's made for allergic dogs; allergy itch relief sprays and creams can also be helpful. If the raw spots don't heal quickly be sure to consult your veterinarian.

In addition to common allergens like pollen, fleas are one of the leading causes of dermatitis in dogs. Make sure that your pup is up to date on his/her flea and tick protection. Collars are not much help - use a liquid medication that you apply once monthly to the dog's skin on the back of his/her neck. Frontline Plus, Advantage, and Program are good ones. Read the package to make sure the medication kills fleas, ticks, AND THEIR EGGS. If the latter are not killed they can drop off into your carpets or furniture causing an infestation in your home.

It's also a good idea to make sure your pet is getting proper nutrition to keep his/her coat and skin and immune system healthy enough to resist irritants. The use of vitamins and supplements can help maintain a healthy coat, but the first step is to feed a high quality food that's produced with human grade ingredients and manufactured in small batches. That means no supermarket foods!!! Companies like Iams and Eukanuba have been bought up by huge conglomerates and are no longer premium foods. Go to a health-oriented pet store (not a large chain like PetCo) and get a food that specifies human grade ingredients and lists Omega 3 and 6 among the first 8 ingredients. If you want a healthy pet you need to read labels carefully, just as you should for your human family!

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Friday, March 23, 2007

Housetraining your puppy

One of the most common complaints we get from customers who're inquiring about training is that puppy persists in doing his business in the house. There are lots of different ways to dissuade him from this smelly habit, but the quickest way is to use positive reinforcement. Dogs have an easier time understanding what we DO want than they do sorting out our angry outbursts.

For example, if your puppy pees or poops indoors it does no good to yell at him, hit him, or rub his nose in it. All that tells him is that his human goes nuts when he relieves himself. You want him to think, "Gee, I have to go, better tell my human". And you're teaching him to think, "Gee I have to go, better get as far away from my human as possible 'cause she has a weird aggression problem".

The alternative? Watch your puppy closely and when he starts to squat, interrupt his action with a single loud noise that makes him pause, rush him outside and praise him lavishly when he finishes his business. A treat doesn't hurt, either.

If you miss him going into squat, don't cry over spilled..... um, pee. Don't say anything to him, just clean it up, and ignore any attempt to play with you while you're down there on the floor cursing silently.

And oh, BTW, the reverse is true. Rewarding a puppy for doing something undesirable is as foolish as punishing him for doing something in all innocence. Also, if he poops indoors and looks at you "guiltily", that's not guilt, it's fear. He's expecting you to yell or hit or whatever. Again, just IGNORE MISTAKES, and watch more carefully next time. Better yet, take him out at logical times, like after eating or drinking.

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Friday, March 16, 2007

How to make your dog walk nicely

We're expecting a nor'easter in Massachusetts today, March 16th! It's supposed to dump around 6 inches of snow, maybe more. NEVERTHELESS... it's spring, tomorrow is Saint Patrick's Day, and the weather is bound to turn mild one of these days.

Mild weather makes us want to be outdoors - people and dogs! We all know that walking is great exercise and you would think that leash walking the pup would be a preferred springtime activity. Too often, though, we won't walk with our dogs because their on-leash behavior is awful. They pull and jerk us around. So some of us get retractable leashes thinking the dog will get some exercise and it will be less unpleasant for us. WRONG ANSWER. Retractables give your dog license to be out of control which is the problem with her on-leash behavior in the first place. And whose job is it to get pup under control? You guessed it! Someone once said, "When I see a dog behaving badly I look at the other end of the leash".

A tip: dogs need strenuous exercise, especially young ones. Pup will make a better walking partner if, while you're training her, you engage her in strenous activity before snapping on the leash. Try a few rounds of fetch in the yard - tennis ball, frisbee, whatever she'll chase. When she's panting and starting to slow down, snap on the leash and off you go.

All dogs need time to sniff and mark trees along the walking route, so allow them to do so. However, YOU are the one who should decide when that's okay and when it's not. I live on a pretty street where people love to walk their dogs and I'm always seeing owners who take their cues from the dog. Of course, this teaches the dog that she can do what she wants, because you will follow her lead. Don't allow that behavior!

It will take time and patience but you can teach her to look for cues from you as to what's next. Pat Miller, in her column "Good Dog Walking" in the March 2007 issue of The Whole Dog Journal, recommends using a clicker and treats to reward pup when she is walking nicely beside you on a loose leash. Begin by using the command, "Let's walk". This means that pup can do a little sniffing, peeing and exploring as long as she is not pulling on the leash.

Holding the clicker in your left hand and the treats in your right, move forward. When pup is beside you, click and treat. Bring your right hand around to her mouth. You don't want her to move around in front of you to get the treat. Click frequently in the beginning for being close enough that the leash hangs loosely between the two of you. Before long, she will realize that the treat comes when she is close by your left side. When she pulls out ahead of you, stop. Be a tree. Refuse to budge until she turns around to look back at you. As she does so, the leash will slacken. Click and treat.

If that doesn't work, back up slowly, increasing the pressure on the leash. As soon as she moves toward you, click and treat. When she has learned to stay close enough so that the leash is always slack you can begin to teach the "heel" command, which is a precise position next to your left leg used in close quarters of while walking among a group of people and dogs.

Don't give up! It's not safe for your dog or for you for her to ever get the idea that she's the one making decisions. You have to be the "alpha dog". Making the effort to be the leader is just part of having a pet dog.

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This is Mitzie, the grande dame of The Doggie Den. She's elderly and quite bossy. We try to respect her wishes but sometimes we get it wrong and does she ever let us know!! We love her dearly - she comes to daycare almost every day.
Mitzie is our March Dog of the Month.
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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Saba is The Doggie Den's only Norwegian Elkhound client. She's been coming to play with us since she was a pup and (rightly?) believes she owns the place. She's big, cuddly, easy to please, and, well, opinionated on certain matters. She has a gorgeous coat and a noble head to go with her personality.


There are few concepts that dog owners talk about more than "dominance". Every behavior in the book gets attributed to this trait: nipping, leash pulling, humping, body checks during play, and on and on. The minute a behavior disturbs or frightens someone, the dominance devil rears his ugly head.

Let's start with the assumption that we all want what we want, including dogs. So if Fluffy sees that Fido has a cute squeaky toy that he's loathe to share , she's going to challenge him, bark at him, flirt with him, distract him and/or simply grab the toy. If she opts for the more aggressive tactics (like challenging with a stiff body, a hard glare and a growl; or grabbing the toy) she will likely be labeled dominant (argh...). People seem to labor under the misconception that some dogs are hardwired to try to take charge in every situation. I swear, some of our clients think their dogs lie awake at night reviewing their game plan for daily dominance.

It's an easy answer and it helps people to sound knowledgeable. Unfortunately, more often than not, it's the wrong answer. If every undesirable behavior could be reduced to dominance, training your pup not to indulge in same would involve simply overpowering her in each naughty instance. In case anyone is wondering, that doesn't work. The dog may learn to submit (maybe) but only when you're in her face. And she won't learn to obey. Try using power tactics when your dog sees a squirrel and takes off! You'll be lucky if she even notices you.

Most of your pup's behavior is driven by either instinct or conditioning.

Instinct includes fear responses of fight and flight; hunting, (which frequently manifests itself as nipping at or mouthing other animals, including your cat); playing; seeking company (either people or other dogs); and guarding resources, like food. There is a hunting instinct called "predatory drift" whereby a perfectly nice dog will automatically attack (and often try to kill) a smaller animal, especially if the smaller guy moves suddenly, or scoots. These behaviors aren't driven by a desire for status. They're traits carried on from ancestors, or traits that humans have selectively bred for in order to enable the dog to perform a given task successfully. Some breeds of hunting dogs are bred to disable prey quickly and efficiently. Some herding breeds are genetically programmed to nip at other animals on the run to get them going in a certain direction. But very little of your dog's behavior is driven by her need to fancy herself the leader of the pack. Dogs don't have the capacity for that sort of self congratulation. However, they may indeed try to rule the roost if you let them do whatever they want and/or give in to tantrums on their part. I have clients who think it's cute that their dog whines and barks when anyone takes "his spot" on the couch. Not cute. One day a child may visit you and take that seat; his mom will not be delighted when your mastiff barks menacingly.

Behaviors that come from conditioning are those that have gotten your dog what she wants. For example, she may have learned that shoving her muzzle into your hand will get you to stroke her. Sometimes we mean to condition our pups (like when you give a treat if a dog obeys a command) and sometimes we don't even know we're doing it. For instance, if your pup pulls on his leash and you continue to allow him to move forward (what he wants) he's going to pull you every time you snap on his leash. If, on the other hand, he is pulled back by your side and made to stand or sit for a moment every time he pulls, he will learn to do what you want, which is to move forward at a pace that leaves some slack in the leash. That is, IF you're consistent about praising him lavishly (and or treating) every time he moves forward at the pace that YOU set. BTW, with high energy dogs and puppies, it's a good idea to trot or run with your leashed dog at your side at first, so he doesn't have to contain too much frustration!

That said, there is such a thing as social hierarchy, whether we're talking about dog packs, families and their pets, or large corporations. The reason is obvious: social hierarchy is a structure that helps get the group focused on the task at hand, whether it's people making widgets or dogs sharing food without killing one another. In the social hierarchy of dogs, it's not the lead dog or "alpha" that's likely to exhibit aggression. On the contrary, it's the middle ranking dogs that challenge, contest and try to punish. Dogs will follow a leader that doesn't have to exhibit aggression because she is confident in her strength and can get others to obey with a look. Think of those nature films about wild dogs where the alpha will change an underling's behavior simply by staring at him. It is extremely rare that alpha dogs in the wild use force to asset their authority.

So, if your dog growls at any other dog that comes near you, it's likely because she's a feisty middle ranker. If you have a truly dominant dog, he'll be able to get other dogs to back away from you simply by staring. His look will say, "Did you just approach my person without asking?" And, the middle ranker will usually respond by either going away, or asking to approach in a submissive manner, like crouching down and inching slowly toward your alpha dog, always staying lower than him.

Now the REAL question is not whether your dog is dominant or not. It's WHO INFLUENCES WHOSE BEHAVIOR?!! Do you throw your dog's toy because he's barking at you? Yup, he's got you trained. No complaints when he won't do what you want!!

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