Home Health Care

It has not been a good couple of days. Around 3:00 Monday morning, my dog woke me and stood staring at me. Unusual, but I was in a sound sleep and thought he was patiently waiting for me to take him outside. I get up and notice he still did not seem normal, but make it to the door and open it. He stands there and looks at me. I asked him to go out and he did, but immediately turned around and asked to come back inside. He had water and he knows he does not get food/treats in the middle of the night. Being a large dog and of a breed that is susceptible to bloat, I watched for any signs that might be happening. None.

I slept on the couch the rest of the night as to be close if he needed me. We made it through the rest of the night, but when I got up he still was not “right.” He did go outside and he ate and drank. I was ready to call work and take a vacation day, but I instead decided to go to work as when I am home he follows me and I think would try to mask any ailments. I have the best neighbors and asked one to check on him when she got a chance and let me know what he was doing. She saw a normal dog at each visit.

Tuesday he was more himself, but still not the dog that greets me each night when I get home. Wednesday morning things seemed more normal. What would you do? I chose not to give him any NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.) If he had hurt himself, I wanted white blood cells going to the inflammation and start the healing process.

Right now he is getting sardines for omega-3 fats. Many of the fats a dog eats are either omega-6 fats or omega-3 fats. Both are important and both help control a dog’s hormones and immune system. The omega-6 fats however, could help trigger inflammation and the omega-3 fats reduce it.

He is also getting turmeric and blueberries and ginger for their antioxidant effects. Antioxidants are molecules that can prevent the cell damage free radicals cause.

I am not sure if these help or not, but they do not hurt, and it makes me feel like I am trying my best to make him feel like his old self. He will see the veterinarian on Saturday for blood work to determine if he has any health issues.

That is what I have done. What would you have done in my case? What have you done for your own dogs? I look forward to reading your comments.

A dog will teach you unconditional love. If you can have that in your life, things won’t be too bad. Robert Wagner

I Do Not Understand You!

How can spring be here already? I am not ready for show season! What did I do all winter?

I did train my dog; I just did not train for obedience. I trained for play and mostly to enhance our communication skills. However, there are still times where I speak in a not so happy voice and there have been plenty of times when he has told me off.

People have debated which foreign language is the most difficult to learn, but based on a 2001 study by Nicola Rooney at the Anthrozoology Institute in Southhampton, UK, the answer is clear. The language humans have the most difficulty understanding and using is “dog.” In this research featuring 21 owner-dog pairs, the scientist videotaped the owners engaged in play with their dogs. The owners patted the floor, barked, bowed, shuffled their feet, slapped their thighs, crawled on all fours – anything to get their Fido to romp with them.

The researchers identified common actions owners used to elicit play and then tested them to see which signals actually worked. As a result, they discovered that bowing or lunging while verbally encouraging a dog usually elicits play. Tickling/quick pats and stamping feet got virtually no response. Patting the floor and clapping were less than 50 percent successful.

The researchers found that although some actions tended to instill silent stares and others instigated play, the frequency with which the owners used the signals was unrelated to their success. That is owners tended to use unsuccessful gestures as frequently as successful ones. This means that we are oblivious to whether our dog is responding to us and whether our actions create the appropriate response. Instead, we babble or gesture blindly, and occasionally use the correct language.

According to Sophia Yin, DVM, you need to pay attention to both your actions and your dog’s responses. She says in order to be successful at training and changing behavior, you must: have good timing, be clear and consistent with your expectations and signals, and provide the correct rate of reinforcement.

Yin explains that dogs are not blank slates, as researchers once thought. That is, they cannot all learn the same tasks equally well, and even when trained in exactly the same manner, they may not learn exactly the same thing. These differences in learning are due in part to differences in past experience and motivation level at the time.

Managing your dog’s every task is one that some people cannot help but attempt. They are constantly telling their dog what behavior to perform. You have seen it, people telling their dog to sit, sit, sit, sit, sit.

Good training starts with a reason to learn. Most dogs’ motivators are a combination of food, praise, petting and play. Here is an exercise to try. To see whether praise or petting works well as a reward while your dog is in training, praise him exuberantly. See whether he wags his tail or ignores you. If he wags his tail and looks at you the entire time you are praising or petting him, then praise or petting is an effective reward. If he acts like you are not there, then these potential motivators – at least under these conditions – are not a worthwhile communication tool.

One of the obedience tasks I need to train my dog is go outs. Well, this was not fun for me or my dog, so I added the retrieve. (Now my brag) This week, he went into another room and retrieved my slippers and brought them to me one at a time.  So while I did little formal obedience training this winter, my dog and I have increased our communication skills. Can I transfer these skills to ring work? We will find out the end of this month.

In what ways do you and your dog communicate? Let me know, I might need to copy your ideas.

“A dog can’t think that much about what he’s doing, he just does what feels right.”
Barbara Kingsolver (author, Animal Dreams: A Novel)

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.

No Barking!

This is not a topic I thought I would be writing about. I have actually had to teach my dog to bark when someone comes to the door! Fortunately, I have great neighbors who understand when I come to the door barking and my dog is just watching me. These neighbors are so understanding they allow me to shut the door and ask them to knock again – sometimes two or three more times. I do not know how it happens, but there comes a time when someone knocks and my dog barks like a maniac and races to find me.

This type of barking is usually thought of as Territorial/Protective Barking. When a person or an animal comes into an area your dog considers his territory, that triggers barking.

Alarm/Fear Barking is when a dog barks at any noise or object that catches their attention or startles them. This can happen anywhere not just in their home territory.

Boredom/Loneliness Barking happens when a dog is left alone for long periods of time whether in the house or in the yard. They can become bored or sad and often will bark because they are unhappy.

Greeting/Play Barking is usually a happy bark, accompanied with tail wagging and sometimes jumping.

Attention Seeking Barking happens when dogs want something, such as going outside, playing or getting a treat.

Separation Anxiety/Compulsive Barking occurs in dogs with separation anxiety when left alone.

I am going to the Bernese Mountain Dog National Specialty soon and will be staying in a hotel with my dog. The same dog who use to never bark now barks when I leave a hotel room. He is almost always with me but there are times when I want to get ice or go to breakfast and he must stay in the room alone.

We have been working on the word “Quiet.”  First this was hard for me to teach because the only time he barks at my home is when there is someone at the door, and I like this behavior and want it to continue. And, I do not want to spend money on a hotel room just to teach this behavior.

I do not want to use treats if I am going to be gone for a short period of time, so I started adding the word quiet.

What I have also done is put him in situations that might cause him some anxiety. For example, he is very food motivated, and I do not mind him following me to the refrigerator. So asking him to wait in another room while I go in the kitchen was a huge deal for several weeks. As I left the room I would give him a morrow bone that I had filled with peanut butter or cheese. My trips to the kitchen were initially followed, so I reentered the room he was in or stood in the doorway until I saw a little relaxation.

I found this web site to be very good at explaining the different reasons dogs bark and how to treat excessive barking.

There is probably more information here than you will get most 4-H’ers or their families to read, but hopefully you will gain some ideas to help them. Oh and by the way, I do not follow all of the recommendations – I enjoy my dog greeting me at the door when I come home and will miss him jumping to hug me when he is too old to do so.

Do you have a dog that barks a lot, or do you have a 4-H’er with a barking dog? If so, you know how stressful this can be for the dog, the child and all around if a dog continually barks.

Until the next post remember: Those who teach the most about humanity aren’t always human.