Dental Health

What did you do last night? I sat on the floor with my dog, watched television and brushed my dogs teeth!

I did not get him as a puppy, so did not have a chance to start touching his teeth and gums from the time he was learning how to accept touch. Fortunately he was a conformation dog and was touched often and all over, but probably not his teeth. Your dog may or may not like having its teeth touched. If not, be patient, it is worth the effort.

I use a doggie toothbrush and doggie toothpaste that is supposedly beef flavored.  Human toothpastes need to be avoided as they often contain abrasives and high-foaming detergents that should not be swallowed or inhaled by dogs. Toothbrushes designed for dogs are soft and angled to assist in brushing the back teeth. Some dogs prefer finger brushes. A variety of “dental wipes” containing different products are available. The single-use wipes are rubbed daily on the outside of the teeth to remove plaque.

How important is your dog’s oral hygiene to his overall health? The answer is that it’s very important! In fact, if you don’t maintain your dog’s oral health, it can have a direct impact on your dog’s vital organs like his heart, kidneys, liver and digestive system. And it’s a two-way street: organs like the kidneys can be affected by poor oral health … but your dog’s oral health can also suffer if he has kidney disease.

Aside from the fact that a healthy mouth is good for your dog’s overall health, there’s another strong incentive to keep your dog’s mouth healthy…you’ll avoid having to put him through dental cleanings under anesthesia. Some dogs go through this every year. It’s expensive and it’s risky.

Unfortunately, the problem with my being a real person is that what I know to be “the best thing” and what I actually do at home are occasionally not the same. I know exactly how dental disease affects pets. I know that the dental tartar you see slowly building up is about 80 percent bacteria and that it damages the gums, the bone beneath and the ligaments that hold teeth in place. These bacteria can gain access to the blood stream. Even with this knowledge I do not regularly brush my dog’s teeth.

What is the right thing to do for your dog’s best possible oral health? Sorry, no answer from me. I researched several writings by veterinarians and other pet experts and there does not seem to be any true agreement. Some say raw bones, others say no raw bones and at least one said to feed rawhide bones.

I think the best thing we can do for our dogs (and cats) at minimum is be aware of the importance of oral hygiene and try our best to provide appropriate dental care. That includes asking the veterinarian’s opinion at every wellness visit.

What are you doing for your pets’ oral hygiene? Share your ideas, I know we all could learn from each other on this topic.

There is nothing truer in this world than the love of a good dog.—Mira Grant

To Be Alpha or Not To Be Alpha

While visiting with my sister on Easter weekend, she commented that she could not believe I allowed my dog to dominate me. She insisted that I needed to show him who was boss. Really!?!

Where do I begin? My dog was not trying to dominate me. He was telling me he was not happy about what I was asking him to do. So maybe it is my fault. Maybe he is not trained well enough for that task. Perhaps, he has a personality like a teenager who feels he has to do everything and moans about it. I think this is what is happening.  Or perhaps he mumbles for another reason. What I am sure of is he was not trying to dominate me. I need to conceivably, be a better trainer, but I do not think I need to be bossier.

The alpha myth is everywhere. Google “alpha dog” on the Internet and you get more than 17 million hits. While not all the sites are about dominating your dog, there are oodles of resources instructing you to use force and intimidation to overpower your dog into submission. They say that you, the human, must be the alpha. And one person with such a belief is my sister!

Researchers have studied wild wolves form hierarchical packs in which individuals vied for dominance. However, these were captured wolves whose group structure was non-natural. After a broad review of the scientific literature and thirteen summers spent observing free-living wolves on an island in the Northwest Territories in Canada, wolf ethologist L. David Mech concluded that social interactions among wolf-pack members are nearly identical to those among members of any other group of related individuals. Essentially, the typical wolf pack is a family in which parents guide activities of younger members. Vying for dominance in the pack hierarchy is not a priority. Care-taking and teaching of younger pack members by adults is.

That research was about wolves, not dogs. The logic went something like, “Dogs are descended from wolves. Wolves live in hierarchical packs in which the aggressive alpha male rules over everyone else. Therefore, humans need to dominate their pet dogs to get them to behave.” From an ecological perspective, dogs and wolves are indeed distinct species because they are adapted to different niches. That is, they earn their livings in different ways. Wolves kill large prey, while dogs live in partnership with humans.

Despite data to the contrary, many people still believe dogs follow a pattern of alpha (dominant) and omega (submissive) individuals. Many trainers have capitalized on this belief system by arguing that you can solve behavior problems in your dog only when you have established yourself as Alpha dog.  Alpha owners have had and continue to find some success. They are especially good at shutting down behaviors – convincing a dog that it’s not safe to do anything unless instructed to do something. And yes, that works with some dogs; with others, not so much.

My dog is a very “soft” dog that could be easily psychologically damaged by one enthusiastic and inappropriate assertion of rank by a heavy-handed dominance act. He would quickly shut down – fearful and mistrusting of anyone asking him to try something new. That person would be me and I DO NOT want to change my dog in that way.

If a dog repeats an inappropriate behavior it is not because he is trying to be your boss. It is because he’s been reinforced by offering that behavior. My challenge is to figure out how to prevent reinforcing the behaviors I do not want, and to reinforce liberally for the behaviors I do want.

What I mostly want is a relationship with my dog that is based on mutual love, respect, communication, and companionship that brings joy by being in the others’ presence.

Have you ever felt a need to dominate your dog?  Are you solely a positive reinforcement trainer? Do you use a combination of training methods? I do believe there is more than one way to train a dog. I do not believe my dog (or any dog) wants to dominate me. Have its way, yes – dominate, no.

Hot Weather Days Are Not Always Wonderful

88 degrees!!! Yes, that is what the weatherman reported the temperature is likely to be this Sunday! I am going to be at a dog show. That means I need to do extra planning.  We will be in-doors but not in an air conditioned building.

Most of us know how to plan for the higher temperatures and make adjustments so we can continue our normal activities without problems. Most of the things we do for ourselves are what we should also do for our pets.

We need to make sure there is enough water for ourselves and our pets. I have a friend that told me that she wears black pants when she walks her dog (the dog has a heavy black coat) and that way she is reminded about every 30 minutes to offer water to her dog.  My sister pours water over her dogs and lets them enjoy the cooling evaporation process.

Since dogs do not have sweat glands the way humans do, they are limited to panting as their major cooling effort.  You are probably saying they do have sweat glands in their paws, and you are correct. However, these are not the principal mechanisms for cooling. Panting takes energy and can tire a dog. Panting along with the insulation effect or their fur, means they are susceptible for heat exhaustion, particularly if they have not yet built up a tolerance to the heat.

Everyone should know the signs of heat exhaustion and impending heat stroke in dogs: sluggishness, very heavy panting, bright red gums, excessive salivation (which may progress to the opposite: dry tacky gums), vomiting or diarrhea, and collapse. I read that park rangers have observed dogs can die rapidly in these later stages. A park ranger in southern California reported that it is not uncommon for them to see several dogs a year die of heat stroke on the trails.

Certain dogs are especially prone to heat stroke: overweight pets, brachycephalic (flat faced) breeds like pugs and bulldogs, and dogs with dark coats. But remember it can happen to any dog. What can we do? Cool our dogs with water but not with ice. When I did competitive trail riding with my horse, we were told to put the horse’s feet in buckets of cool water, because, the water had a long way to travel to the heart and the cooled blood would help cool the body. I do not know if it is true or not, but I have always remembered and believed it. You have to choose what is best for your pet and the situation you are in. Offering the pet water to drink, pouring water over it, putting its feet in water, or other means are all options.

It seems like common sense that the best way to prevent heat exhaustion from happening in the first place by being aware of the risks. But we would not have to be thinking about this topic if it was so easy. Things to remember include avoiding activity during the hottest times of the day, acclimating your pet to the heat and make sure you take plenty of water breaks.

I usually do not buy a case of water to take to a one day show, but I will this weekend.

How have you helped your pets adapt to the heat? Please share your ideas; we learn more by hearing what works for others.



Money can buy you a fine dog, but only love can make him wag his tail.