Tuesday, May 14, 2013


Those words represent the sounds emanating from the head of the smiling Labrador and were accompanied by Good Boy!, Good Boy! as his owner continued the pounding.  Labradors are usually good spirited dogs and definitely have a high threshold for pain but it didn’t take a genius to observe the dog’s discomfort.  Yes – discomfort in spite of the “smiling”, tail wagging picture.

 So, what’s the problem? Well, just think about that dog’s head.  There are the eyes and ears, for example, and clearly they are important to the survival of the animal.  A smart animal does his or her best to protect those vital organs.  Now, along comes Sr, Luvadawga, filled with nothing but kindness for his buddy and doing his best to show it each time Buddy does something asked of him.  Buddy, sit!  Buddy sits and as a reward gets his head pounded on.  Swell.

 Buddy knows Sr. L. well enough to not really feel as though that hand coming down hard on the top of his head is at the very least, discomfort, and probably confusing. He cannot help but flinch, close his eyes to avoid having them injured and in general simply endure the treatment.  Sr. Luvadawga is saying all the right words, and with a big smile, but his hand carries a different message.   Is it any wonder that our poor canine companions get confused and seem to disobey?

 Breeds with less tolerance for pain, with temperaments less accepting of people and their foolishness often do not accept such “loving” care and may leave the scene, or if prevented from doing so may growl or snap.  In turn they may well be punished or be termed aggressive and find themselves seeking a new home.

Learn how to praise your dog and learn how to greet dogs you do not know.  That same outreaching hand going towards the top of the head just to give a gentle pat is often viewed as threatening and certainly that is true if done to the dog by a stranger.  The best places to give a dog a physical form of reward are to the chest area and, for dogs you know, gently behind the ears and on the cheeks.  Rather than pats the motion should be tips of fingers in a back and forth or circular action. Long stroking motions are fine if you know the dog but, please, don’t make a career out of it!   To introduce yourself to a dog offer the top of your hand, palm held down, and allow the dog to move towards you – do not move towards the dog.  If the dog sniffs, fine.  If not, accept the message being offered and go no further with your actions.  If you see strangers approaching your dog try to teach them the proper way to meet your dog and that is especially true where children are concerned!

Children often move in fast, jerky motions and have high pitched voices and these are things that can make dogs very uncomfortable and even aggressive.  The dogs give signals that they are uncomfortable but, children do not read those signals, which in turn allows a dog to believe it is proper to “discipline” the offender.  Not a good thing!

 For dogs that have been under-socialized and/or abused it is extremely important to move slowly, use a quiet voice and carefully condition the dog to the gentle, loving touch of the human hand.  And, of course, the hand is never, never used to punish a dog.

Come? Come! COME!!!

Come?  Come!  COME!!!!!!!

High on the list of those who seek training for their dogs is that they want their dogs to come when called.  Yet, it is amazing how determined people are not to listen to how to make that happen.  And always I encounter that ol' standby - He knows what I want him to do and is just being spiteful.  That kind of thinking just about closes the door to ever achieving this highly desirable goal.

Maybe the first problem is using a word (any word) and believing that the dog really does understand that word.  Words mean nothing to dogs.  (How many of you are now saying - Oh, he knows what I want.....?)  Words gain significance purely as a sound associated with a form of behavior that is repeated over and over.  So, if one says the word Come! as the dog is sniffing the ground, heading away at a run, romping with his favorite buddy or any other activity you can name then - guess what? - the dog associates the word with that action if with anything.  Of course, if you use the word "come" during all those activities the dog just learns to ignore the word.

Worst of all is the dog owner who uses "come" to get the dog to appear for something the dog does not want to do or have happen.  So - one never uses the word "come" to call a dog for , a bath, nail clipping, something it does not want to do such as stop playing with a friend, etc.  Why would he ever choose to come again with associations such as those?*

Come must ALWAYS be used in a pleasant way.  No exceptions.  (On that same note, the dog's name should also always be used in a positive and pleasant tone of voice.  The name should signify a call to attention alerting the dog that something is about to happen.)  Teaching puppies to come is easy and fun because they are so bonded and dependent on their owners. And, if the puppy is taught that come means a treat, a ball game, dinner or just some happy, feel-good, pats and scratches that is a pup on his way to good associations.  Unfortunately, it will not hold up without challenge during adolescence!

At seven or eight months (it really depends on the dog) there is enough development that the dog will feel the need for some independence and then the fun begins.  The owner usually makes the big mistake at that time of getting very cross because the pup always came before and now acts like he doesn't even know his name.  So, the adolescent gets pushed away rather than getting the reinforcement needed to get through the stage well.

On the other hand, if the dog has been taught to sit, down and stay (both in the sit and down positions)  regular "work-outs" of doggy discipline nudge the canine brain into respect mode and that helps with the problem of coming when called.  The dog is not treated as though he just entered Marine boot camp!  He is praised and given treats or allowed a toy as a reward for his wonderful cooperation which in turn encourages more of the same.  But - he is definitely going to do those exercises!  Sometimes it feels as if one is beginning all over again but all that info is in there – just needs a bit of a reminder to get it to resurface.

As for the off leash games - fine so long as you do not continue to call the dog and reinforce that coming is an option.  But, better to curtail the off leash activities until the dog is showing attention once again.  There are series of exercises to be performed with varying lengths of line so that the dog realizes that control extends to many different distances -  dogs learn very quickly that your control doesn't extend beyond about 6 feet so that idea must be changed completely.

Allowing the dog to drag a long line so that he is periodically reeled in, if necessary, is another way to get the idea home that Come! means just that - and it means now.  Regardless of whether the dog comes when called or needs some help with the line a treat or other reward is always given.  This is supposed to be a pleasant experience, remember?

Do not go for an outing and only call the dog when the outing is to end.  It would take a really stupid dog to not catch on that come means the fun is over.  Instead, call the dog back regularly for treats and then release him again so that he doesn't know just when the romp has ended.

The last item of business with this cue (as with all others!) is to learn to give just one  and make it happen.  While I haven't a glimmer of hope that those of you reading this will give up hollering and repeating Sit, SIT, SIT!, or Come, COME! COME!!!! I am honor bound to continue to try teaching the proper way.

While the following phrase did not originate with me I surely wish it had because I love it: "Every handler gets the dog he deserves."

Think about it!

 *When one needs to get the dog for things the dog considers unpleasant the trick is to go TO the dog – not use the wonderful Come! word for those occasions.

Bring 'em Up Right!

Bring 'em Up Right!

Dogs are social animals and that means there is a powerful need to interact with their own kind as well as the human sort that is often their only or primary social situation. We used to refer to them as pack animals but it has been clearly determined that they do not form “real”packs such as wolves would do.     This interaction process begins with the litter mates and their mom.  Some studies promote handling the pups each day from day one.  What is consistently supported is the need to leave the pups with their litter mates and with the mom until a minimum of 8 weeks of age.  Many responsible breeders will not release toy breed puppies to their new homes short of 12 weeks of age.

Puppies do their first real interactions with one another between weeks 5 and 7.  Before that they lack adequate mental development to learn socializing behaviors - You chew on my ear and I am not going to play with you!.  They begin to accept superiors and inferiors in their circle of litter mates and parent and their personalities truly emerge.

During these weeks and those that follow, well raised puppies should be in the house where they learn about the noises generated by humans and their many machines as well as being assured of adequate interaction with people - big people, little people, people with hats, beards, long hair, dark glasses, etc.   Puppies sheltered from such actions and noises may end up having lifelong fears of vacuum cleaners, food processors, even the moving action of brooms!

This is also the time for their first vaccinations, parasite treatment and checkup by the vet as well as learning about collars and how to walk on a leash.  Responsible breeders do all that and so much more!  Pity the poor pup that has been wrenched from the only world he knows, stuffed into a stinky, bouncing machine with the whole outside world flying by!  Then his next car ride will probably be to the vet making both the car AND the vet mighty unpopular.  All avoidable with some effort on the part of the breeder.

Once the pup has been settled into the new home the education begins immediately.  Either the pup is learning what you want him to know or he is learning things that will require some back-peddling on your part.  Better the former.  For example, do not allow the poor whining sad little pup to sleep with you the first couple of nights and then be upset that he screams and cries, etc., when you decide to put him elsewhere.  Don't reward him with pets and coochy-coos when he jumps on you and then become impatient with the dirty paws and sharp toenails that are ruining pants and scarring skin!  Do not give the little one free rein of the entire house and then get upset about puddles and poop piles.

While he cannot be allowed out on the streets until totally protected with vaccinations (usually at about 4 months) he should be exposed to other pups, dogs, cats, people and anything else that is part of the world in which he lives.  How to do that?  Visit a friend's garden and invite friends to yours.  Take the pup for short rides in the car - rides that do not end up at the vet's!  When he is safe from the killer diseases make an effort to get him into a puppy training class.  While such classes do not replace the need to do ongoing training a bit later in his life the time for socializing is when he is a youngster.  And, start with training the day he arrives - no punishment, please.  He is a baby.  Just use food treats to teach him to sit, down, come and stand for grooming.  It is fun and oh so easy!

Well raised properly trained and socialized pups rarely need a "home in the country" along about 8 months of age.  And?  If you have not continued with group training this is THE best time to hop to it again.  This is adolescence time!  ;-)

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Canine Obesity, Part Two

Are you killing your dog?

Did you instantly respond - Of course not! I love my dog! - ? Well, let's look at the facts. Have
you checked your dog's "waistline" lately? Can you actually see the ribs? If your dog has long
hair can you feel the ribs with only the amount of pressure it would take to barely dent the flesh
of an over ripe avocado? If you have trouble with these questions than it could well be that
your dog is fat - even obese.

Some estimates state that in excess of 80% of our canine and feline companions are

"Obesity related illnesses can kill, and when they don't, they reduce the quality of life." (DOG
WORLD, October 1998) Almost no part of the body escapes the stress of an overweight
condition - heart, kidneys, liver, pancreas, joints, etc. And, this "disease" is totally

 It is true that some breeds (the Nordics and Labs, for example) seem to gain weight very easily
but a simple equation exists for all breeds - feed no more than the dog requires to meet needs of
growth and/or activity. There is evidence that in neutered animals the metabolic set point is
lowered but the above premise still holds true - feed no more than the dog needs. Another
aspect of weight gain in spayed/neutered animals is that the operation usually takes place
at about the time that the animal has also slowed way down in its growth rate. Therefore
neutered dogs require less to eat but the same amount is offered!

 Over and over again, when I comment to clients that their dog is too heavy (read fat!) I get comments such as - "Really?" "He hardly eats a thing." "My breed is supposed to be
heavy." "But, he is always so hungry - just look at that expression." And when I ask exactly
how much the dog eats the answer is often - "Well, about a half a bowl full." Or, "Just a
few handsful." One of my favorites is "But she won't eat if I don't put (fill in the blank) on
her food.) This is said about a dog that is so fat it clearly doesn't even want to eat and is
being "forced" into doing so by a "loving" owner!

To get in charge of the situation the first thing that is required is to know exactly how much the dog eats at each meal and don’t forget to add in all the little extras that fall her way! To
know precisely the amount requires a measuring cup. No guessing. No free feeding! Decide
just how much the dog has been getting and reduce that amount by up to 15%. While there
are low calorie diet foods available there is reason to believe that the dog will feel more hungry
on those empty calories than on reduced intake - which is what will be required ultimately

Feed on schedule, offer no fatty table scraps, buy the best dog food available if you are feeding kibble - do not buy supermarket brands! Consider feeding “real food”* rather than processed
food. Avoid any and all foods with corn, wheat or soy. Best, actually, to go grain free! Grain
free is NOT free of carbohydrates but it is a step in the right direction. For training treats (You
do train your dog, right?) you can mix some of the kibble with tiny bits of meat, cheese, hot
dogs dried fruit,(NO RAISINS!) etc. and let the flavors blend. Only your dog will tell you if the
mixture is worth working for.

No diet is complete without an exercise program but if you have neglected this part of your buddy's life begin very, very slowly to avoid stress on the heart and joints. Walk only in the
early or late hours to avoid heat. The sidewalk is hot to the touch so consider how that feels to
the dog's pads! And, sun beating down on the dog plus radiating up from the sidewalk (He is a lot closer to it than you are.) can dehydrate an animal very rapidly.

As for those pleading eyes and the drooling. remember that your dog is capable of doing that following a full meal. Hunger may actually be part of the problem if you are feeding dry food
that is mostly grains and very, very little meat. The dog is not satisfied even if she is full! If
you love your dog give her a life free of the strain of packing around extra pounds that tax the
system and destroy the joints.

*To me “real food” means a raw diet but even a well balanced cooked diet is way ahead of what comes in bags. There are a LOT of resources for home prepared food but even giving
your dog some vegetables, fruits, eggs, fresh meat now and then is an improvement over the

Canine Obesity

The lead article in the April 2007 issue of the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine is about
obesity in canines. One study done by the National Academy of Sciences show that 25 to 40% of
our companion animals are obese. Not just fat. Obese! And, three quarters of their owners don’t
see their dogs that way at all. Or, do not want to see their dogs as obese? The result, sad to say,
is the same: unhealthy, unhappy and uncomfortable companions who count on their people to
monitor such things as what and how much they can eat.

10% overweight may shorten the dog’s life by 33% and 20% overage makes that figure leap
to 50%. The review states that the “fourth top cause of canine death is obesity-induced
disease” according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. And people refuse to see
the situation or, if they see it, often fail to take action to improve the lives of those animals that
depend on them 100%. What to me is even sadder is when vets do not tell their clients that
their dogs are obese and make it clear just what that is doing to the animal! Dr. Sean Delaney
of the University of California, Davis, says: It is debilitating, and obese animals are really

Routinely I see dogs struggling to walk with their owners. Their breathing is rapid, they are
panting, they are limping from the joint pains – the one thing they are not doing is enjoying the

The illnesses you impose on your dog when you allow her to gain those extra pounds are
multiple. Arthritis and other orthopedic disorders are often related to the excess wear and
tear imposed on body joints having to deal with the extra weight. While many dogs may get
arthritic conditions as they age just being a “little bit” overweight brings on the conditions sooner,
escalates the deterioration, and causes pain earlier in the dog’s life.

Existing problems are exacerbated and they include luxating patella, canine hip dysplasia,
ruptured or torn ligaments supporting joints, and ruptured spinal disks. Even small reductions in
weight can give the suffering dogs some relief from the pain.

Breathing problems are clearly evident and never more so than with breeds with breathing
problems to begin with – English Bull Dogs, French Bull Dogs, Boxers, Pekinese, Pugs, etc. These
breeds have enough trouble breathing without fighting the extra pounds! Fat dogs often try to
stop regularly while walking in an effort to improve their breathing. They indicate shortness of
breath, they snort, gasp, use a wide footed stance and allow their tongues to hang out of their
mouths all with the hope of increasing air intake. How very, very sad.

Fat contributes to the condition because it constricts the diaphragm, lungs and airways. Nice
thought, eh?

That fat and the fat in the abdomen of course complicates surgery both for the surgeon and
for the anesthesiologist who tries to monitor the anesthesia. Fat cells absorb some forms of
anesthesia and therefore take a longer time to leave the body after surgery. Obese dogs have
a higher rate of death following surgery than dogs with proper body weight. The doctor’s job of
diagnosing problems is totally compromised as she probes and palpates trying to check on organs,
locate a lump, etc. and lab results on blood and urine tests are altered!

And we aren’t finished yet with the downside of obesity. The liver may be affected, diabetes may
result, some studies indicate that obesity contributes to bladder or mammary cancers. Immune
system suppression, incontinence and skin and coat health are affected negatively.

So – be realistic about your dog. Really, really accept responsibility for those extra pounds
and what it is doing to your dog. She doesn’t know that by eating the extra dog food, happily

accepting a slice of pizza, nibbling away off and on all day long, begging for and getting fatty
foods, causes her the pains making so much of her life less comfortable than it could be and
having her die sooner than need be.

Only you can help her to live well and comfortably.