“Staycation” Canine Style

“Is your dog stressed?” © paddingtonpups.com.au

Does your own sweet dog turn into a Dogzilla when suffering from excess stimulation? Is the heat turning your routine activities into a stress test and making both of you miserable? Maybe it’s time to give yourselves a break and relax. I’m talking about a staycation for you and your pooch.

When the outside world gets too much, maybe it’s time to make the most of “at home” training and play time. You’ll hear lots of experts (and others who like to think they’re experts) insist you must walk your dog daily or you are a Bad Person. While I absolutely agree that dogs need regular activity, I’m not convinced that translates to activities in sensory-saturated environments, or forcing your dog to endure hot sidewalks that can blister their paws.

Instead, indulge yourselves in short sessions at varied intervals. Schedule outdoor activities for cooler parts of the day. And when the heat’s too much, there are plenty of activities to help your dog chill out while keeping physically and mentally exercised. Here are a few of my personal favorites to keep Sasha mentally alert and happy, and reduce stress all round.

Work For It! Give your dog a chore in exchange for treats, meals, and (most important) time with you!  My own Sasha shows off her sit and wait skills before breakfast and dinner, and works through down-stay, come, stop (a hard one!) followed by another down then come and heel to finish around to my left where she sits for her well-deserved reward of a special yummy treat.  Treats are also on the menu when she jogs down the drive with me to the mailbox and we go through basic drills, mixed up to reduce her habit of anticipating what I want next. We practice fast and slow heeling and turnabouts while patrolling the back yard for dog waste, as well.

Find it! Treat balls which require dexterity and persistence to release tasty tidbits are a big hit, too. I’d thought that would be a great activity to keep Sasha mentally engaged and moving about while I worked, but she added a layer of fun all her own by rolling the ball under furniture or behind doors, and then asking me to retrieve it. And being a Sheltie, her “ask” tends to be loud so I stay close to cut off the bark fest before it gets out of hand. Since that means I play most of the treat game with her, we get plenty of bonding time and everyone’s happy.

We also play the “Find it!” game with Buddy the Wonder Cat as our target. This tends to be the most fun when we’re in the yard and Buddy can run behind shrubs and crouch beneath the branches of the old forsythia. Inside, I rely on hiding Sock Monkey or her stuffed duck and sending her in search of her toys.

Hide-and-Seek. This works best with at least two humans participating. One of us puts Sasha is a sit-stay while the other hides out of sight and then the one hiding calls her by name or the person next to Sasha tells her to go search and “Find it!” This is a great backyard activity too! If you’d like to try this one at home, check out this link for a quick and easy how-to. Great game for kids, too!

Rally-O, Home Edition. Take communication between handler and dog to a higher level with Rally Obedience, commonly known as Rally-O. If you’re interested in getting involved with AKC events, go to http://www.akc.org/events/rally/resources/ for more information. And if competition doesn’t interest you, everyone can enjoy what I call the “home edition.” You can create your own “course” by choosing from a collection of skills, from basic to more advanced.  (See a list of the rally skills with images and descriptions here.) So far, Sasha and I have mastered the basics and are moving on to spirals, drop on recall, and the 270° right turn and the 270° left turn–which sounds easier than it is, at least for my uncoordinated feet!

Whether you want to compete or just enjoy some exercise and time with your dog, a “staycation” can be a great way to keep your dog mentally stimulated and physically well exercised without ever leaving home!

The Big Bang: Tips for the 4th

Sasha and Buddy The Wonder Cat will be celebrating the Fourth of July indoors with plenty of sound camouflage in the form of music, movies, and one particularly loud standing fan that’s reminiscent of a C-130 in flight. The freezer is well stocked with ice cubes (Buddy likes to bat them across the kitchen tiles when he’s not pushing them around in his water bowl) and the fridge has low-fat cheese and cucumbers for Sasha’s snacking pleasure. Add in treat balls stuffed with special yummies and these two will be able to tune out the scary sound of fireworks.

Here are a few reminders about pet safety on the 4th:

Whatever and wherever you celebrate, here’s wishing you a safe and happy holiday!

Sizzling Summertime

Summer is officially underway! With temps on the rise, I make sure Sasha and I finish our 2-mile walk before the sun gets too high above the treetops. Even so, days with high humidity tend to leave both of us guzzling water along the way and taking breaks in the shade.  The photo at left was taken at 8 a.m. on a day when the temp was in the low 70s but the humidity was over 90%, leaving Sasha to make a beeline for her favorite row of junipers at the local park. Down-stay appears to be her default comfort position no matter where we are, and the lure of dew-soaked grass usually proves irresistible on warm mornings.

Whether you live in an urban environment or the quiet countryside, there are some basic ways we can all keep our pets safe in the heat. I’ve included my personal “must know, must do” strategies in this post, and will likely add more as the summer wears on. Have ideas of your own to share? Add your own suggestions and resource links in the comments section!

Use the 7-second rule. Asphalt, concrete, and brick–all commonly found in sidewalks, streets, and patios–quickly absorb and retain heat, making it dangerous for your pet’s paws. Test the heat by pressing your palm (or bare foot) against the pavement. If you cannot hold it for more than 7 seconds without discomfort, it’s too hot for paws! You could invest in booties or special paw wax, or just walk in the coolest part of the day. Whenever possible, stay off pavement by walking on the grass.

Never leave your pet in the car. Even if your vehicle has an efficient air conditioning system, remember that it’s almost always warmer toward the back of the vehicle. I drive a small SUV and even with the rear seats down and sunshades on the tinted rear windows, Sasha could easily overheat. If we absolutely have to travel during the heat of the day, I use the travel crate with mesh on three sides and position it so Sasha can enjoy the cool air streaming from the vents. A full water dish and a battery-operated fan help keep her comfortable, too.

Watch out for health hazards. Ticks, fleas, bee stings, snake bites, poisons, heat stress–any and all of these can turn a carefree summer outing into a bad situation without warning. You can lower some of the risk by keeping your dog on regular flea and tick prevention, removing potentially poisonous materials from your yard, keeping fresh water readily available, providing cool shelter, and maintaining a basic first-aid kit for dogs. You can buy a pre-packaged kit or put one together yourself. The website Irresistible Pets has a great article complete with a list of all the essentials you should consider when compiling a kit for your own pets.

Heat may be the most significant of all summertime hazards. Whether your pet is at home, in the car, or vacationing with you, know the signs of heatstroke and have a plan in place to deal with heat-related stress. Here’s a terrific infographic from Murdoch University’s Pets in Summer Series that’s definitely worth bookmarking for future reference. Click to enlarge image.

 Have a favorite keep-cool strategy to share? Add a comment to this post. Happy Summer!

There Came Along A Kitty

Like Deadly Ties, the first in the Waterside Kennels mystery series, there are multiple scenes in book #2 (Dangerous Deeds) that were inspired by real events. One of those is the scene in which Maggie Porter’s dog Sweet Pea rescues an injured stray kitten she finds beneath the dock. Although Maggie’s initial assessment is “not much more than bones and fur” the kitten turns out to have a tiger-sized attitude and, after a brief stay at the vet, claims the kennel—and Sweet Pea—as his own.

The roots of that story go back to the mid-1990s when my own beloved spaniel Alix found a raggedy bundle of fur in our yard and dropped it at my feet with a “Fix this!” look. Beneath the raggedy coat was a near-starved Calico we promptly named Katie. We nursed her back to health under the watchful eyes of the dog Alix and Amy, our Silver Tabby (another rescue). The three of them immediately became collaborators, conspirators, and loyal-to-the-end friends.

About six months before we lost Katie—the last of the three—in 2012, Buddy the Wonder Cat came to us as a feral kitten weighing just 2½ pounds. One of the reasons he’s called the Wonder Cat is because it’s a wonder he’s still alive. On one terrifyingly memorable occasion he injured his foot, fracturing or dislocating most of the bones and mangling one of his claws. In the fear and pain that followed, Buddy’s feral instincts came roaring back and nobody escaped unscathed before the vet managed to get him sufficiently sedated to examine. If the vet clinic keeps a “Look out for…” list, there’s probably a picture of Buddy with the warning “don raptor gloves before handling.”

Thanks to the fabulous skill of our veterinarian and the clinic crew, our only reminder of that experience is one razor-like claw which to this day does not retract. I channeled a good bit of Buddy the Wonder Cat into the fictional feline you’ll meet in Dangerous Deeds. (That probably explains why he tends to sprawl on the desk when I’m writing.) In celebration of life ongoing, here’s a slideshow of the best of Buddy the Wonder Cat through the years.

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At the Crossroads (Again) of Fact & Fiction

In a previous post I mentioned the issue of breed-specific legislation is a key part of the plot in  Dangerous Deeds (#2 in the Waterside Kennels mystery series).  In that fictional world, community members take sides over a proposed “dangerous dog” ordinance to ban specific breeds, and the kennel staff is caught in the crossfire. For the record, my protagonist Maggie Porter agrees with the AKC that breed-specific legislation (BLS) is not a viable solution.

In the real world, breed bans and similar dog control measures continue to cause controversy in many communities and countries. The latest  comes from Ireland following the death of a woman attacked by dogs.  (You can read the entire article here.) Whatever your personal opinion of dog control laws might be, we can all benefit by being informed about the issue.

In The Irish Times article, correspondent Tim O’Brien reports increased interest in a review of current legislation concerning control of dogs. He cites Professor Ó Súilleabháin with the National University of Ireland at Galway (NUIG) who notes breed-specific legislation is falling out of favor in some areas of the United States as well as Europe. According to the professor, “This is because there is evidence to show that dog breed is not a factor in what caused dogs to attack.” Summarizing the professor’s remarks, O’Brien writes:

Dr Ó Súilleabháin said there was substantial peer-review research available that showed any type of dog could show aggression. The animal’s behaviour and training were closely connected with the behaviour of their owners.

However, he did not think a law requiring owner and dog training to be undertaken before a dog licence was issued was a good idea. Instead, he called for measures to create a community where dog owners would act responsibly and where those who did not educate themselves and train their dogs would be targeted by enforcement officers.

He said it should be possible for an individual to report a dog behaving aggressively, leading to a visit from a dog warden who could order the owner and animal to undertake education and training. The media had some responsibility in creating misguided calls for a ban on specific breeds, when a dog mauls someone, he added.

Some research suggests that legislation controlling dangerous breeds may actually make the problem worse. If you’re interested in a historical overview of this issue in the UK, check out https://www.bluecross.org.uk/if-looks-couldnt-killHere in the United States, the American Kennel Club published an issue analysis in 2013 and contends BSL is ineffective; you can read that online at: http://www.akc.org/content/news/articles/issue-analysis-breed-specific-legislation/.  And more recently, the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior published a position statement opposing breed-specific legislation. The policy statement includes statistics and evidence from myriad countries, including the United States, Canada, Spain, Germany, and the Netherlands. Key points from the position statement:

The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) is concerned about the propensity of various communities’ reliance on breed-specific legislation as a tool to decrease the risk and incidence of dog bites to humans. The AVSAB’s position is that such legislation—often called breed-specific legislation (BSL)−is ineffective, and can lead to a false sense of community safety as well as welfare concerns for dogs identified (often incorrectly) as belonging to specific breeds.

The importance of the reduction of dog bites is critical; however, the AVSAB’s view is that matching pet dogs to appropriate households, adequate early socialization and appropriate  training, and owner and community education are most effective in preventing dog bites. Therefore, the AVSAB does support appropriate legislation regarding dangerous dogs, provided that it is education based and not breed specific.

….

Results of Breed-Specific Legislation Breed-specific legislation can have unintended adverse effects. Owners of a banned breed may avoid veterinary visits and therefore vaccinations (including rabies) to elude seizure of the dog by authorities and/or euthanasia. This negatively impacts both the welfare of dogs and public health. Similarly, owners may forego socializing or training their puppies, which increases the risk of behavior problems, including fear and aggression in adulthood.

….

Aggression is a context dependent behavior and is associated with many different motivations. Most dogs that show aggression do so to eliminate a perceived threat, either to their safety or to the possession of a resource. In other words, most aggression is fear-based.

 

The narrative is well-supported by reasoned evidence and information from nearly 40 sources and concludes with this compelling statement:

The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior invites you to share this position statement on breed-specific legislation to discount common fallacies of “easy fixes” that are often based on myths, and instead promote awareness that will reduce the prevalence of aggression toward people and promote better care, understanding, and welfare of our canine companions.

In the book Dangerous Deeds, myths and falsehoods abound. What’s true is that, just as in the real world,  community members’ opinions vary widely on the subject, and the resulting tensions can escalate quickly and may ultimately set the scene for murder.

 

Winter Fun and Safety

It’s been a mild winter here in the Ozarks, with temps fluctuating between single-digit bone chilling cold to spring-like days when we traded parkas for tee shirts. Green sprouts appeared in the garden a month ahead of schedule and daffodils splashed color across the late winter landscape.

We settled in the Ozarks 22 years ago after decades of living and working in far-flung spots on the globe. We’ve seen a lot of changes in our time here, but one thing has remained constant. When the daffodils bloom we know we’re in for at least one more round of winter’s breath. And so it was again this year when the mild days of early March were swept aside by an arctic blast of cold rain that turned to snow that turned to sleet, leaving us shivering under a thin sheet of slick white stuff.

Sasha had a fine time prancing around the yard as the sleet-crusted snow crunched beneath her paws. I snapped this photo of her in one of her rare still moments, just before she returned to zooming around the yard. I was glad to see her in self-exercise mode, as I was less than enthusiastic about navigating icy patches on the sidewalks and streets. Fortunately the sun came out and cleared a path so we could continue outdoor training time without fear of landing flat on my … whatever.

If winter weather has you cutting short your dog’s training time, consider these suggestions offered by Mary Burch, AKC Canine Good Citizen director: teach a skill; tease their brains; and find ways to have fun inside and out, no matter the weather. For details, read Mary’s article here.

Cold weather brings a host of challenges for both dog and owner. Check out these 10 winter safety tips posted by Randa Kriss to the general care section of the AKC website.

Here’s an inforgraphic, courtesy of Vet Street that’s chock-full of good reminders for us all:

Don’t let winter’s chill spoil the fun for you and your dog. With a little creativity you just might discover new opportunities for training and bonding time with your best friend.

One Joyful Year!

For seventeen years after losing my beloved spaniel Alix, I didn’t believe I had enough heart left to offer another dog. Then a year ago, a volunteer sent me this photo of a dog surrendered to a rural county sheriff’s office:

I took one look at that sweet—and oh, so frightened—dog, and put everything on hold to cross the prairie plains to bring her home. It was a long journey and a heart-wrenching one at that. What was I getting myself into? I knew next to nothing about her situation other than the sad details shared by the volunteer, and I knew even less about adopting a rescue dog. Was I making the right decision for her, for us? How would Buddy the Wonder Cat react to sharing his family? And what would happen to her, to us if I couldn’t make this adoption work?

If you’ve been following Sasha’s story, you know her most challenging issues included generalized anxiety, fear of strangers (and men in particular), and extreme hyper-sensitivity to noise. We still have work to do, but overall she’s made tremendous progress along the way. That progress might be best summed up using our experience with the coffee grinder.

In her early months with us, loud or unusual sounds sent Sasha scurrying for cover.  That included raised voices, applause, and the sound of clickers, which proved problematic during obedience class. She was wary of anything and everything in the kitchen that made noise, to include the coffee-bean grinder which left her trembling with fear and barking wildly. It was quickly apparent that this dog took hyper-sensitivity to sound to a whole new level. We tried showing her what it was so she wouldn’t be scared. Tried distracting her, supplied extra love and attention. Nothing worked.Fresh-roasted-coffee-beans-and-grounds

Then I got smart and turned it into Extra-Special Treat Time. Using Fromm’s big oven-baked biscuit treats  I put her in a sit-stay where she could see the grinder, praised her, and gave her a treat. Repeated the process when we measured the beans into the grinder, again when the grinder started and yet again when the grinder finished. Yup, lots of treats, with plenty of time to chew before we moved on to the next step. Since we don’t use the grinder daily it took several weeks to condition her to the sound and cutting back on treats at the same time.  And then one day she came running into the office, whined softly to get my attention, and then trotted back to the kitchen just as I heard the coffee grinder in action. The message was clear: it’s treat time! 

We successfully reduced her fear in favor of excitement. That success, however, came with an unintended consequence. She reached the point where she’d hear the kitchen drawer holding the coffee supplies slide open (and yes, she’s smart enough to differentiate between the sounds of different drawers!) and would begin barking. We’re talking the piercing, full-volume bark only a Sheltie can manage; it’s enough to hurt your ears and earn a disapproving glare from Buddy the Wonder Cat. Oh, and she added the word coffee to her vocabulary, which had reduced us to spelling the word to avoid the inevitable manic barking.

So….enter conditioning, phase two. These days, she has to work to earn that treat. At a minimum we go through the no-bark, down-stay, sit, and off-leash heel while the grinder’s being set up. Then, and only then, does she earn that treat. And since this is the only time she gets the Fromm’s treats, she’s been quick to pay attention.

I’ve used the coffee-treat time to build her interest in our indoor obedience sessions. Even though the treats are different, she knows if she works well she’s sure to enjoy some tasty tidbits. The indoor sessions are becoming a favorite activity on cold mornings. I use the same martingale collar and leash we use for our neighborhood walks, but Sasha clearly differentiates between my outside and indoor clothes and runs into the hall where we routinely start our workout.

And we have an audience for our indoor sessions, too. Buddy the Wonder Cat watches all the action from his perch and will follow us as we go through the house. We finish with a 3-minute out-of-sight down-stay. (The Supervised Separation is test item #10 for the AKC’s Canine Good Citizen test.) Buddy is the supervisor most of the time. Inevitably, we’ll hit the 2:30 minute mark and Buddy comes trotting to find me. I’m not sure if he’s reporting that Sasha is still holding the down-stay or if he’s asking if I forgot about her, but he follows me back as soon as the timer goes off and signals the end of our session. As that’s always followed by play time for Sasha and Greenies for Buddy, everyone’s happy!

Happy might be the best word to sum up our year together.  The scared little waif who came to me a year ago is now officially known as Ozark Summer Highlands Sasha. We’ll be back soon with more news of Sasha’s ongoing adventures. Meanwhile, here’s a snapshot tour highlighting our year together. Enjoy!

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