Thursday, September 29, 2011

Healthy Teeth, Healthy Dog

Just like you, your dog can get cavities, plaque, tartar and gum disease. The bacteria in your dog’s mouth that can cause these conditions can also spread to other organs such as your dog’s kidneys or heart. Unfortunately, chew toys, bones, and kibble are not sufficient teeth cleaners to prevent the development of dental disease. Brushing your dog’s teeth, ideally once a day but at a minimum three times a week, is the only way to keep his teeth healthy and help promote your dog’s overall wellness.

Before starting your dog on a tooth-care regime, you first need to make sure that your dog’s teeth are not already covered with tartar. Once tartar has accumulated on your dog’s teeth, brushing alone will not remove it. In addition, brushing tartar-covered teeth can irritate your dog’s gums and teeth which are already likely sensitive and sore from the tartar. If your dog has tartar (yellow, brown or grey material on the teeth) or you suspect he has another dental or gum disease – signs include receding or swollen gums, broken teeth, or strongly odorous breath – make an appointment with your vet before you begin brushing his teeth. Among other treatments, your veterinarian might recommend a professional teeth cleaning and check-up for dental disease. Because a thorough cleaning can be a bit painful, this procedure is almost always done under anesthesia.

The Right Tools
Before you begin, you will need the proper tools: a toothbrush and dog toothpaste. They make toothbrushes for dogs – even electric ones – but you can just buy a regular toothbrush as long as it soft-bristled. Toothbrush head size depends on the size of your dog’s teeth. Also available are little caps that fit over your index finger and have soft bristles on one side so that your finger becomes the brush. For toothpaste, you should use dog toothpaste. Never ever use human toothpaste on your dog. Human toothpaste is not meant to be ingested, but dog toothpaste is safe for your dog to ingest in small quantities as will often happen when you brush your dog's teeth.

Preparing Your Dog
Now that you have your toothbrush and toothpaste, it is time to get your dog comfortable with the idea of tooth brushing. You will be most likely to keep up with teeth cleaning if it is a reasonably pleasant experience for you and your dog. So, take some time – a few days or a few weeks – to make your dog comfortable with the process.

First, get you dog used to the idea of having his teeth touched. Gently run your finger over his gums and praise him lavishly when you are done. After your dog has grown accustomed to this, start using the toothbrush without any toothpaste. Let your dog sniff the toothbrush and then gently put it in his mouth. You don’t need to brush at this point, but run the toothbrush lightly over his teeth. Your dog might try to chew the brush when it is in his mouth, and that’s fine. Again, keep the experience friendly and low key, and praise your dog often. After several times, your dog will be used to the idea of this “strange” object in his mouth. Next, put a tiny amount of toothpaste on your finger and let your dog lick it. Since most dog toothpastes are designed to be palatable to dogs, your dog most likely will enjoy this.

Brushing The Teeth
Now you ready to put it all together and brush your dog’s teeth. Begin at the back and work forward using a soft circular motion rather than a back and forth motion. Concentrate on the teeth themselves and the gumline. Although dogs have 42 teeth, it's the upper canines – the “fangs” – and the premolars – the back teeth - that accumulate the most tartar, so pay special attention to these areas.

Thanks to Dogged Health for this article!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Skin Diseases in Dogs


- Staphylococci (‘Staph bacteria’) are the most common organisms found in bacterial skin diseases (pyoderma's) in dogs. Fortunately, these bacteria (S. intermedius) are not contagious to humans or other pets.

- Commonly itchy, yellow pustules are often observed early in the disease, and the dog’s skin can be reddened and ulcerated. Dry, crusted areas appear as the condition advances, along with loss of hair in the affected areas (lesions) and an odour.

All areas of a dog’s body may be involved, but most cases are confined to the trunk. The chin is one area commonly affected. Called chin acne, this condition is actually a deep bacterial infection. Obese dogs and dogs of the pug-nosed breeds are frequently affected by pyoderma in the skin folds on their face, lips and vulva.

Other areas where pyoderma may occur include between the toes and on the calluses of the elbows that mostly affects the abdominal area in young puppies.

- This is usually made from the case history and appearance and location of the lesions. In some cases, it may be necessary to culture the skin (grow the bacteria) and conduct sensitivity tests to determine which antibiotic will be effective in treatment. Most bacterial skin infections in dogs are secondary to another disease such as parasitism, allergies, endocrine (hormonal) disorders or abnormalities in the immune system. Therefore, in recurrent cases, it is important to search for underlying causes. It may be necessary to do blood tests, allergy tests or skin biopsies to achieve a complete diagnosis.

- Initial treatments may entail removal of the hair in and around the lesions, washing of the whole dog with antibiotic shampoos such as benzoyl peroxide, careful drying and the application of an antibiotic ointment to local lesions, in most cases, antibiotics will also be administered orally for 3-4 weeks. Bandages or a protective collar which prevents the dog from mutilating the lesions may be applied.
Some pyoderma involving skin folds can require corrective surgery. In recurrent cases where testing reveals no definable underlying cause, special staphylococcal vaccines as an alternative to long-term antibiotic treatment can be tried.

It may be necessary to continue treatments such as antiseptic shampooing, antibiotic ointment applications and giving antibiotics orally at home. While most cases respond to treatment, recurrences of pyoderma are common, particularly if treatment recommendations and follow-up visits to your veterinarian are neglected. Glucocorticoid steroids cannot be administered.

Fungal Skin Infections (Ringworm)

- The fungal skin infections of dogs are caused primarily be two species of fungi: Microsporum and Trichophyton. The skin diseases resulting from these fungi are commonly called ‘ringworm.’

- Ringworm is seen most commonly in young dogs. The fungi live in dead skin tissues, hairs and nails. Hair loss, usually in circular patches, may appear. If infected, the center of the patches may have a dry, crusty appearance. The head and legs are most commonly affected by ringworm, although the disease may spread over other parts of the dog’s body if not treated. Dogs may scratch the lesions.

- The appearance of the lesions, the history of their development and the age of the dog are all helpful in diagnosing ringworm. A Wood’s Lamp Test (ultraviolet light) can be used to help diagnose the Microsporum species only. A definite diagnosis can be obtained through a fungal culture -- grow the fungi found on the affected hairs.

- The hair around the lesions is clipped, and special fungicidal shampoos or rinses are used for bathing the dog. Topical lime sulfur and mandatory systemics should be administered.

Public Health Aspects of Ringworm - Ringworm is contagious to humans, particularly to children and to other household pets. Infected dogs should be kept away from children and other dogs and cats until the infection is cures -- which can be as long as 2-3 months or more after the treatment begins. Adults should be careful to wash their hands thoroughly after handling an infected dog. If treated early, ringworm is readily controlled in humans. Other household pets should also be examined for ringworm.

Allergic Skin Diseases

Allergies in dogs are common. Signs such as itchy skin, nasal and eye discharges and sneezing, and/or digestive upsets and/or skin lesions may indicate an allergy is present. Many skin diseases seen in dogs are caused by an allergy.

- An allergy is a hypersensitivity reaction to allergy-causing substances known as ‘allergens’ or ‘antigens.’ Dogs (like people) can develop allergies at any age, and the signs can appear quite suddenly.
The most common allergy dogs develop is the flea saliva. The presence of a single flea on these allergic dogs causes intense itching. These allergies are seasonal in climate zones where fleas are eliminated by the cold in winter months -- and a year-round problem in warmer climates.

Atopy (atopic dermatitis, allergic inhalant dermatitis) is a pruritic (itchy) skin disease dogs develop in response to inhaled particles such as house dust, molds and pollens. This common form of allergy usually starts at a relatively young age. Rarely, dogs can be allergic to chemicals contained in soaps, waxes, carpets and flea collars. This type of hypersensitivity is known as a ‘contact allergy.’ Also, some dogs are allergic to insect bites and stings. Food allergies usually case diarrhea and/or skin lesions.

- Itching is the primary sign of allergic skin diseases in dogs. The affected skin may appear normal, or red and moist in patches called ‘hot spots.’ Pus and dried crusts are apparent if a bacterial infection is also present. The dog tends to constantly scratch and lick affected areas. Initially, flea allergies are most evident over the dog’s back and near the tail. A dog’s face, feet, chest, and abdomen are more often affected by pollen and dust-type allergies. Contact allergies are seen mostly on the hairless areas of the abdomen and on the bottoms of the feet.

- The dog’s case history helps with the diagnosis. The intense itching and location of the lesions are also helpful in diagnosing the type of allergy present. Response to treatment (flea control) is often used as a method of diagnosis of flea allergy. Trials of special hypoallergenic diets are used to diagnose food allergy. Allergy testing is used to help choose immunotherapy. Blood tests are also available to diagnose allergies, but their use is more controversial. Ask your veterinarian for his or her current recommendations.

- Allergies can be controlled in most cases, with few ‘cured.’ Antihistamines and corticosteroids may be used by your veterinarian to give your dog relief from the intense itching. In most cases this will stop the self-mutilation. The owner will be instructed to give corticosteroid tablets in decreasing dosages for a few months. Corticosteroids are potent drugs and should not be used carelessly or for long periods of time. The main objective in controlling flea allergies in dogs is to kill the fleas on the dog and in the dog’s environment.
Another approach to allergy control is hyposensitization (immunotherapy). In this procedure, a correct diagnosis by intradermal or blood testing is necessary. The dog is then given injections of small but increasing doses of the allergy-causing substance at varying intervals for up to 12 months. Lifelong response may take up to 12 months.

Parasitic Skin Diseases

- Fleas are the most common parasitic skin disease found in dogs. Mange is another type of skin disease which is caused by mites. There are two severe types of mange: sarcoptic mange and demodectic mange.

- Ear mites, lice, and ticks are other parasites that affect dogs. Their presence irritates the dog, leading to self-mutilation.

- Sarcoptic mange causes intense itching, loss of hair and crusting of the skin. A dog’s ears, front legs, chest and abdomen are most often affected by sarcoptic mange.

- Demodectic mange can cause itching. The skin is reddened and scaly, and hair loss occurs in round patches resembling ‘ringworm.’ The face and front legs are most commonly affected, although some cases may be generalized. Generalized demodectic mange is often a sign of underlying internal disease or a hereditary problem.

- Ear mites cause severe irritation in the ears. Often, an affected dog will scratch the hair off the back of its ears. Ticks, lice and fleas may transmit other diseases, in addition to causing irritation.

- Mange is often suspected on the basis of the case history and the appearance and location of the lesions. A skin scraping test is always performed to aid in identifying parasites. Ear mites, which are barely visible to the naked eye, appear as small white objects. The black debris commonly seen in the ears of dogs with ear mites is a combination of dried blood, normal ear wax and discharges from inflammation. Lice, fleas and ticks can also be seen by close examination of the dog’s skin.

- Mange is treated by clipping the affected areas and washing them with an antiseptic. Antimite dips are often necessary and may be used weekly or biweekly for several months. Shampoos can be sued before each dip. The dog’s eyes should be protected with mineral oil or eye ointment and the ears plugged with cotton before dipping. Most cases of mange respond well to this treatment. Antibiotics can be administered in cases of mange where infection may be present.

Ear mites can be readily treated Initially, your veterinarian may recommend a thorough cleaning of the dog’s ears while the animal is sedated. This treatment can be followed up with home treatments using special solutions or ointments to kill the mites and prevent infections in addition, insecticidal dips, sprays, powders or shampoos are often used.

Lice, ticks and fleas must be killed on the dog and in the dog’s environment with insecticides. Dips, shampoos, flea collars, sprays, powders, foams and foggers containing insecticides are available from your veterinarian to help control these parasites.

Hormonal Skin Diseases

Skin diseases caused by hormonal abnormalities in dogs are difficult to diagnose. The thyroid gland, adrenal glands, pituitary gland, testicles and ovaries all produce hormones. If excessive (‘hyper’) or deficient (‘hypo’), these hormones produce changes in the skin and hair coat. Most hormonal problems that affect the skin produce hair loss that is evenly distributed on each side of the dog’s body. The skin may be thicker or thinner than normal, and there may be changes in the color of the skin or hair coat. These diseases usually are not itchy.

When any of the hormone-producing glands malfunction, they affect other body functions besides the skin. Hormonal skin diseases in dogs can be much more serious than a ‘skin problem.’

Some causes of hormonal skin disease, such as hypothyroidism and adrenal gland problems, can be diagnosed by special blood tests and effectively treated. Others may be more difficult to diagnose and treat. Skin changes related to the sex hormones can be successfully treated with surgical neutering, if this has not been performed previously.

Condition : Atopy (Allergic Inhalant Dermatitis)
Description : Allergic reaction by the animal to something it inhales such as pollen, house dust mites and mould
Symptoms : Licking of feet, inflamed ears, itching, redness, sometimes development of infection or hot spots
Diagnosis : Intradermal or serologic (blood) testing for allergies
Treatment : Reduce exposure to allergen (what the pet is allergic to), shampoos, fatty acid supplements, steroids, antihistamines, immunotherapy

Condition : Food Allergies
Description : Allergic reaction to something in the diet
Symptoms : Licking of feet, inflamed ears, itching, redness, sometimes development of infection or hot spots
Diagnosis : Food elimination trials
Treatment : Change in diet

Condition : Allergic and Irritant (Contact Dermatitis)
Description : Reaction of the pet's skin to something it had contact with such as wool or plastics
Symptoms : Red skin and small bumps or blisters on the areas of skin that are sparsely haired and directly exposed to the offending substance, itching
Diagnosis : Patch test, exclusion trials
Treatment : Restrict exposure to the allergen or contact irritant in the pet's environment, steroids, antihistamines

Condition : Flea Allergy Dermatitis (Flea Bite Hypersensitivity)
Description : Severe reaction by the animal to the saliva of the flea
Symptoms : Intense itching, redness, hair loss; sometimes development of infection or hot spots
Diagnosis : Presence of fleas; reaction to intradermal testing
Treatment : Flea Control in the environment and on the pet; steroids and antihistamines for the itching

Condition : Sarcoptic Mange
Description : Infection with the Sarcoptes mite
Symptoms : Intense itching and self-trauma
Diagnosis : Skin scraping and microscopic examination - the mite is often very difficult to find
Treatment : Amitraz (Mitaban) dips (off-label use*); ivermectin (off-label use*)

Condition : Demodectic Mange in Dogs (Red Mange)
Description : Infection with the Demodex mite - occurs when the immune system is deficient
Symptoms : Hair loss, scaliness, redness, pustules, ulcers, sometimes itching
Diagnosis : Skin scraping and microscopic examination
NO Steroids!
Treatment : Amitraz (Mitaban) dips

Condition : Cheyletiella (Rabbit Fur Mite) Mange
Description : Infection with the Cheyletiella mite
Symptoms : Itching, scaliness
Diagnosis : Skin scraping and microscopic examination - the mite is often very difficult to find
Treatment : Permethrin (Dogs ONLY) or Pyrethrin

Condition : Ringworm
Description : Infection with several types of fungus
Symptoms : Hair loss, scaliness, crusty areas, some itching
Diagnosis : Culture
Treatment : Miconazole, lime sulfur dips; oral griseofulvin or itraconazole

Condition : Yeast Infection
Description : Infection with, most commonly, Malassezia; usually follows some other underlying disease
Symptoms : Itching, redness, sometimes oiliness
Diagnosis : Skin scraping/smear and microscopic examination, culture
Treatment : Treat underlying disease; oral ketoconazole; miconazole shampoos

Condition : Hot Spots: Acute Moist Dermatitis
Description : Result from allergies, flea bites, mange, anal gland disease, poor grooming, ear infections, plant awns or burs, arthritis
Symptoms : Hair loss; red, moist, oozing skin; constant licking or scratching
Diagnosis : Physical exam and history
Treatment : Treat underlying condition; clean area; apply Domeboro solution; topical and/or oral antibiotics and steroids

Condition : Cutaneous Lymphoma
Description : Rare type of skin cancer
Symptoms : Itching, ulcers, nodules, redness
Diagnosis : Biopsy
Treatment : Usually does not respond to treatment

Condition : Lice
Description : Infection with several species of lice
Symptoms : Variable; itching, hair loss, crusts, rough hair coat
Diagnosis : Finding lice or nits on skin or hair
Treatment : Permethrin (Dogs ONLY) or Pyrethrin, ivermectin (off-label use*)

Condition : Skin Fold Dermatitis
Description : Occurs where folds of skin touch each other such as lips, vulva, face (in breeds like bulldogs)
Symptoms : Redness, oozing, itching
Diagnosis : Physical exam; microscopically examine smear for evidence of infection
Treatment : Treat any infections; clean areas daily; surgical correction if severe

Condition : Hookworms
Description : Infection with the larvae (immature forms) of hookworms
Symptoms : Red bumps, usually on feet, rough foot pads, abnormal nail growth, itching
Diagnosis : Physical exam, history of poor sanitation
Treatment : Treat for intestinal infection; move animal to different environment

Condition : Neurodermatitis:

Acral Lick Dermatitis
Psychogenic Dermatitis
Description : Self-licking in dogs and cats results in self-trauma; possible causes include anxiety, boredom, stress (e.g., new member in household)
Symptoms : Acral Lick: red, hairless, well-circumscribed lesion usually on forearm; cats: symmetrical hair loss, sometimes ulcers, on abdomen, groin, along the back
Diagnosis : Exclude other causes; history important
Treatment : Relieve underlying cause e.g., anxiety;

Condition : Bacterial Infection
Description : Often occurs as a result of another condition
Symptoms : Redness, pustules, bumps, sometimes itching
Diagnosis : Microscopic examination of smear; culture
Treatment : Treat underlying condition; topical and/or oral antibiotics

Condition : Ear Mites
Description : Infection with Otodectes
Symptoms : Intense itching of ears, redness, dark crumbly discharge in ears
Diagnosis : Direct visual or microscopic examination of ear discharge
Treatment : Clean ears and apply medication containing pyrethrin (Ear Miticide)

Condition : Pelodera Dermatitis
Description : Accidental infection with larvae from a non-parasitic worm that lives in straw and other organic material
Symptoms : Intense itching, redness
Diagnosis : Skin scraping and microscopic examination
Treatment : Remove bedding; mild antibacterial shampoo; steroids if necessary to control itching

Condition : Chiggers (Harvest mites)
Description : Seasonal disease caused by larvae of the chigger
Symptoms : Itching, bumps usually on feet, abdomen, folds at base of ears
Diagnosis : Visualization of mite larvae or microscopic examination of skin scraping
Treatment : Permethrin (Dogs ONLY) or Pyrethrin

Thanks to All About Dogs for this wonderful article!!

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Frustrations of Dog Training

Some people grit their teeth or hold their breath. Others clench their fists or rattle off a string of expletives that would make Pacino blush. When the frustration of daily life comes to a boil, people respond in myriad ways.

Keep in mind that our dogs can get very frustrated with us, too! Especially when we fail to give clear directions or when we put them in a stressful situation with no way out.

Dog training comes with many opportunities for human frustration. You wanted a dog. You didn’t realize that “dog” was potentially code for “eats everything in sight, jumps on the kids, barks like a jackhammer, and if given the chance, leads you on a wild goose chase around the neighborhood as your recall word falls on deaf ears.”

Training a dog, regardless of the method used, is bound to bring about moments of frustration. Addressing unwanted behavior can take time, and today’s modern family often finds spare time to be in limited supply. In the midst of juggling busy personal and professional lives, it’s easy to suddenly find yourself at the end of your rope when it comes to dog training.

The problem with frustration is that, when left unchecked, it can lead to an emotional outburst. Ever lash out with harsh words directed at your kids or spouse after a particularly challenging day at work? We are only human. It happens. In dog training, these emotional outbursts often manifest in strong verbal reprimands, leash pops, and other physical corrections.

Interacting with your dog in an angry or physically forceful way carries the substantial risk of damaging the dog-owner relationship. It can also create an anxious dog, or one who “shuts down” when uncertain what to do. In extreme cases it can become abusive. Additionally, there’s a dirty little secret about losing one’s temper and responding to the dog in a vindictive manner: behaving this way can be rewarding.

How can something as unpleasant as yelling at or jerking the dog’s leash be rewarding? After all, very few of us feel good about losing our temper and resorting to violence (no matter how mild). But even a moment of lashing out (verbally or physically) serves to vent our frustration, and worse, it can alter the dog’s behavior. Pain or fear may temporarily suppress the dog’s unwanted behavior. In the moment, this can feel like a “win” for the handler . . . but this sort of emotional outburst on the part of the handler generally doesn’t result in a lasting behavior change in the dog.

How to Get Past Frustration
It’s infinitely easier to teach a dog what you want as opposed to what you don’t. That’s why positive reinforcement training can be so effective. It’s built on a foundation of recognizing and rewarding correct behavior – not waiting for the dog to make a mistake. It’s proactive, not reactive.

Many dogs who have been trained with physical force or intimidation learn to “shut down” when they’re unsure of what they’re being asked to do.

I freely admit to having moments of frustration while training. Despite the years of effort I have put into building strong, trusting, positive reinforcement-based relationships with my dogs, I still sometimes find myself gritting my teeth when things aren’t going as I’d hoped and my dog can’t seem to correctly perform a behavior we’ve spent generous amounts of time training.

The trick lies in learning to manage the frustration in ways that don’t involve taking it out on the dog. The following strategies can prove helpful:

Relax and remember to breathe. Sounds easy enough, but frustration and stress can inhibit our breathing, which affects our body language – something our dogs are keenly aware of. By concentrating on slow, deep breathing, you take in more oxygen, and the shoulders, neck, and upper chest muscles are used less in the breathing process. This helps relax your body posture, which sends a different picture to your dog.

Pay attention to your dog’s behavior. Dogs often respond to stress with one of many fine-tuned signals. Yawning, lip licking, sniffing the ground, and averting their gaze are behaviors dogs use with each other to reduce stress and defuse potential conflict. If you notice your dog engaging in these behaviors during training, take note. He may be aware of your rising stress level even before you are. These signals can be a sign your dog is attempting to self-soothe in the presence of a stressed handler.

A big benched show, an obedience class, and the Dalmatian just won’t go with the program. He “downs” during the sit-stay. . .

It’s okay to stop. When things aren’t going well, sometimes the best thing to do is call it quits for the day. People often feel the need to end on success, and keep training as things start falling apart. According to legendary animal trainer Bob Bailey, whether or not you end a training session on success does not affect the animal’s ability to successfully learn the task at hand.

“Ending a training session on a ‘high note’ is of little significance in itself,” says Bailey. “This assumes that the session more or less randomly ends with a success or a failure.” However, he cautions against creating training scenarios where the dog consistently fails and then shuts down – a poor precedent for the dog.

Remember how patient and forgiving your dog is of you. That’s advice from professional trainer BK Grice of Muncie, Indiana. “Take some time to just hang out with your dog. Break off training and share an ice cream together. Remember that there may be other dogs in your life, but there will only be one Rex or Lassie. When you’ve calmed down, look at what you were doing and see if you can make some changes.

Take notes. In her book, Tales of Two Species: Essays on Loving and Living with Dogs, Patricia McConnell talks about the importance of being patient, and recognizing that training takes time. In an example of teaching impulse control to dogs, she writes, “It takes growing humans about 20 years to learn to control their emotions … so be patient with your dogs, and think in terms of months and years when training, not days and weeks.”

. . . and returns to his owner during the down-stay. It has to be difficult at a time like this, but a handler must refrain from showing signs of anger or frustration in the show ring, lest her dog start to dread the experience.

In an age when popular media aims to convince dog owners that behavior dramatically changes in the course of an hour, this reminder is a refreshing dose of eye-opening honesty that should be considered.

Feeling like your dog’s behavior is not improving can be a major source of frustration for people. Often, he is getting better, but owners who are deeply embroiled within a training program might have difficulty recognizing the incremental changes.

“I often get clients who call me to talk about how they aren’t progressing in their training programs. Then I go out and find a dog who is so much improved, it’s amazing,” says Louise Kerr of Elite Pet Care & Education in New South Wales, Australia. “Clients often cannot see the small changes.”

Learning to recognize and appreciate the “baby steps” along the way to complete problem solving can be a valuable tool in reducing human frustration. Organized trainers routinely keep training logs and journals that document results of each training session. Analyzing the data offers concrete information about a dog’s rate of progress, and helps trainers fine-tune training programs when necessary.

Styles of record-keeping are as varied as the trainers using them. Sometimes I keep track of how many times we practiced something and how often my dog was correct. Other times I jot notes about what issues I discovered during the training session, which directs my focus for the next session.

The author says of her dog, “It’s hard to believe I can get frustrated with a dog this cute, but it happens. His dedication to me and willingness to play whatever game I throw his way remind me of the importance of creating and maintaining a rewarding, respectful relationship.”

Even something as simple as a happy or sad face drawn on the calendar – denoting an overall “good” or “bad” day in training – can prove helpful. When working to modify problem behavior, it’s easy to forget where you started. A quick glance at the ratio of happy to sad faces on the calendar can provide the confidence boost you need to keep pushing forward with what feels like a slow-moving or stalled training program.

The Magic of Management
Many of the routine problems clients ask trainers about can be prevented with management: not letting the dog practice the unwanted behavior in the first place. If your dog is reactive to people and dogs walking past his territory, he shouldn’t have unsupervised access to the front room of the home, where he perches atop the sofa, ready to sound the alarm at the first sign of passersby. Nor should he be unsupervised in the backyard where he launches himself at the fence. Of course, you need to spend time teaching an alternative behavior, but if you aren’t prepared to actively train, the next best thing is to prevent what you don’t want.

“When possible, don’t let the dog make the mistake in the first place,” says trainer Gail Rhyno of Prince Edward Island, Canada. “I didn’t get this right away, and looking back, I likely could’ve prevented a few behaviors from becoming problems in the first place. Much of my frustration appears when I’m not training – when I’m tired and I don’t have a plan. The unwanted behavior would happen and I wouldn’t have a response ready and the frustration wells up; I’d feel like all the work I’d done the days before was wasted.”

As an example, Rhyno says, “With my little dog – who’s on high alert all the time – I make sure I’m ready, or I don’t put her in the situation to make mistakes. I don’t have to take her out into the yard every time I go. I don’t have to go to the places in town that I know are full of things that will set her off. I can put her on-leash in the house so that when guests enter, she doesn’t have the chance to jump of them. Things like this have really helped me get around myself. I can’t train all the time; I get tired of it, so in order to not get tired and frustrated, I have to find a way to not let my little pooch make the mistakes in the first place.”

It’s easy to blame our dogs when they fail to perform “out in the world.” Do your posture and cues look and sound like they do at home? Ask someone who is familiar with you and your dog give you an honest assessment.

It’s Not Personal – But You Do Need to Own It
It’s sometimes hard to not internalize your dog’s misbehavior and take his noncompliance as a personal affront. Factor in any perfectionist tendencies, you may have and it can be a real test in emotional self-control to keep from feeling like your dog is purposely pawing his nose at you when things aren’t going as planned – especially when training in a group. You’re being watched. The heat is on. “Please, for the love of dog, will you stop jumping around and just sit?!”

Emotions are tricky. We know on a logical level that noncompliance isn’t personal, but this can be tough to remember in heat of the moment. One of the greatest gifts I’ve gained in training dogs – especially my own, where the emotional involvement can intensify my perfectionist tendencies – is the ability to accept my training mistakes, recover, and move on. It’s easy to blame the dog. “He knows this,” or “He knows better,” or even, “He did it right yesterday at the park.” It’s harder to look at how our own actions likely contributed to the dog’s inability to perform to your expectations or hopes.

It’s easy to underestimate how a simple location change can affect a dog’s ability to perform correctly. Clients who primarily practice behaviors with their dog at home and during dog class often report that their dog struggles when asked to work in new, unfamiliar surroundings. This is a normal part of the training process, and why I encourage my clients to not believe their dog “knows” something until they’ve had training success in several different locations away from home. Be aware that certain environments will be more challenging than others, and gradually raise your expectations at a level that is fair and appropriate for your dog.

It’s also important to look at how your behavior might affect your dog. If you primarily lure your dog into positions like sit and down by using treats, you might believe your dog “knows” down, only to be surprised by his inability to perform correctly in the absence of the treat. Sudden behavior changes on your part – such as switching from treat to hand signal, or even changing how you present a hand signal – can reduce the dog’s ability to be correct, which can lead to frustration. Make changes like this to your training program gradually.

Finally, don’t forget that dogs can get frustrated, too. My Golden Retriever reserves a specifically pitched bark for when I suspect he feels that I’ve failed to provide clear direction while running agility. More often than not, he’s right and my body cues were incorrect. “Dang it, woman!” he seems to say. “Where exactly do you want me to go?”

We’re Only Human
Do I still get frustrated? Of course. I’m only human. I’ve been known to call my dog a creative “pet name” or two, or rattle off something to the effect of, “It’s a good thing you’re cute,” as I re-set an obedience jump bar that he just knocked down – again. My secret? I deliver my monologue in a happy, upbeat voice, and often while delivering a stream of treats or tugging with a toy. I release the necessary steam and hope my dog is none the wiser. I’m far from perfect, but this trick often helps me keep my emotions in check so I’m not as apt to unfairly direct frustration toward my dog.

I often think about something an agility judge once said during a pre-run briefing. I don’t remember her name, but her words will stay with me for as long as I choose to share my life with dogs. “Run every run like it’s your dog’s last,” she said. Powerful words. Our dogs are never with us long enough. I want to fill my memory bank with joyful interactions, not frustration-filled memories that potentially led me to treat my dog with less than the respect and compassion he deserved.

After all, as an anonymous author is widely quoted, “He is your friend, your partner, your defender, your dog. You are his life, his love, his leader. He will be yours, faithful and true, to the last beat of his heart. You owe it to him to be worthy of such devotion.”

Thanks to Whole Dog Journal for this wonderful article!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Water Dogs!

Not all dogs love to swim, but for those who do, nothing puts a sparkle in the eye and a catapult in the step like the sight of a big blue lake, a stretch of beach with its fascinating surf, a pristine swimming pool, a muddy pond, a plastic kiddy pool, or a really big puddle. Even a freshly filled water bowl tips some dogs into ecstasy—if this is your dog, then you know exactly what I’m talking about.

Swimming is great exercise for dogs who enjoy it, and it’s also an excellent way to help retrievers and other dogs exercise their natural instincts. But the splash factor can wreck your dog’s beautiful coat in several ways. Here’s how good grooming can head off the damage so your dog won’t miss out on all the summer fun.

Pool Dogs

Chlorine dries out human hair and skin, and dogs aren’t immune either. Dogs who take frequent dips in the family pool may suffer from dry, itchy skin and a dry, dull coat because the chemicals in pool water strip the skin and coat of their natural oils. Chlorinated water may also have a slight bleaching effect on dark coats, and could even turn lighter coats (gasp!) greenish.

To avoid these nasty side effects without banning your eager retriever from the pool (as if that would work), do just three simple things.
•During pool season, spray your dog’s coat with coat conditioner before he goes into the pool. This will help protect skin and coat from drying. If you can find one that also contains sunscreen, all the better (because dogs can get skin cancer, too).
•After every swim—or at the end of each day, if your dog tends to jump in and out of the pool all day—rinse his coat thoroughly with cool water. Rinse longer than you think is necessary to remove all the chlorine and other pool chemicals. Towel-dry or blow-dry if appropriate. If your dog has a medium or long coat, follow the rinse with another spray of coat conditioner and a swipe-through with a comb. Get all the way down to the skin mats can hide, and when they dry they’ll get tighter. Missing one for even a day during the summer can result in a knotty problem.
•Once each week during swim season, comb out all tangles and bathe him thoroughly with a gentle moisturizing shampoo and conditioner that will rid the coat of chlorine residue and restore moisture to a dry coat.

These three simple steps will make a noticeable difference in the effect chlorinated water will have on your dog’s coat. For good measure, an omega-3 fatty-acid supplement can help replenish natural coat oils from the inside out.

Beach Dogs

If you are lucky enough to live near a dog-friendly beach, then we would like to come visit. But we also know that sun, salt, and sand can create a perfect storm of itching. You can avoid much of the beachy discomfort by adding a few key items to your beach bag: doggy sunscreen, a bristle brush, and an extra towel.

Before your dog heads out into the sun, apply a moisturizing sunscreen to protect his skin and coat. After your day in the sun is done, give your dog a thorough brushing to dislodge sand, brushing against the direction of hair growth, and then with it. After you’ve gotten the loose stuff out, take advantage of those beach showers to rinse your dog from head to toe. Work your fingers through his coat to loosen sand and help rinse away salt. Or, if you’d rather have a salty, sandy dog in your backseat than a soaking-wet dog, do it as soon as you get home.

If your dog seems itchy after a beach day, you may not have gotten out all the salt or sand. Time for a bath! Try a gentle anti-itch shampoo, such as an oatmeal or aloe shampoo, that will help to soothe irritated skin while dislodging remaining evidence of the seashore. Even if your beach dog doesn’t seem uncomfortable, give him a good thorough shampoo and conditioning with gentle moisturizing products about once a week during beach season.

Another consideration for beach dogs: Sand can be harsh on paw pads, so apply a paw-pad balm before and after a day at the beach.

Lake and River Dogs

If you live in the middle of the country, you are more likely to have access to lakes and rivers than oceans or gulfs, and that’s probably just fine with your water dog. But stagnant, muddy lake water and rivers downstream from any kind of industry can get pretty disgusting. Not all lakes and rivers are dangerously dirty, but many contain high levels of pollutants, not to mention slime, sludge, and even leeches! (Gross.)

For this reason, it’s usually a good idea to give a dog a full-fledged bath after a dip in a lake or river. Comb out any tangled spots, wet the coat very thoroughly, and scrub all the way down to the skin with plenty of shampoo. Restore moisture with a good conditioner.

If your dog takes a dip in the lake or river frequently, choose a shampoo without detergents that won’t strip the coat of natural oils so you can shampoo him as often as daily withoutany damage to the skin and coat.

Ear This!

Finally, dogs who swim anywhere, anytime, are at risk of ear infection because when water enters the ear canal, it creates the ideal dark, wet environment for bacterial and yeast growth.

After a swim, or even a bath, dry the insides of your dog’s ears as well as you can with a towel or cotton balls. This is important for all dogs, but especially for those with floppy ears because the earflap can prevent your dog’s ears from drying out after a swim. Weekly or even monthly application of an ear wash made for dogs can also help keep ears infection-free. Ask your veterinarian if an ear wash would be appropriate for your sassy swimmer.

If your dog begins scratching his ears or shakinghis head, or if you see any redness inside the ear canal, give your veterinarian a call. She may want to take a look, and if necessary, prescribe medication to lick the problem. Ear infections are common in dogs and easily resolved, but if they are neglected they can spread deep inside the ear canal and become very painful. Your dog isn’t going to tell you if his ears hurt, so it’s up to you to pay attention to what’s going on in there.

All this grooming is a small price to pay to give your dog the immense joy of an all-out swim session. Whether your dog is fetching sticks or refining his water-rescue skills for the highest levels of competition, a few extra minutes pre- and postswim will keep his skin, coat, and ears in great shape, so your summer can go, well, swimmingly.

Thank you to Canine Health Foundation for this wonderful article!