Category Archives: Uncategorized

26Apr/17

Stormy weather sickness

Happy Spring everybody!

(P.S. I proposed … .and she accepted!)

Rainy enough for ya? (Another version of, “hot enough for ya?” but somehow even more annoying.) Please excuse me – I’m a little grouchy. I’m tired of the rain! (As I write this – right now – guess what – it’s raining!)

I’m pretty sure I’ve been wearing a beanie for six solid months.

Having said that, us Californians are grateful for this (relentless) rain. Battling our drought is more important than our comfort and good hair days.

Water is life and we are thankful.

But what we’re not so thankful for, and what has pulled me out of my blog exile, is a very real health concern that has been affecting local dogs and their owners recently because of all this rainfall.

Water-borne illnesses. (See a comprehensive slide-show of them here.)

(Lady, showing harmful bacteria her true feelings.)

Leptospirosis, Giardia and other Nasty Critters have been thriving in the standing water that never gets to dry up because of all this (relentless/wonderful) rain.

Waste from wild life is the real culprit here – a deer or raccoon pees or poos, it runs downhill with the water, and thrives for weeks or months in a puddle, creek or mud.

You know – all the places your dog loves to drink from and splash around in.Those kinds of places.

This recent article cited a Bay Area dog who died earlier this year due to complications from Lepto from playing in a park. A San Francisco vet is quoted as witnessing five documented cases of Lepto-positive dogs in early 2017 in her practice alone.

Besides this one article, I’ve heard through the grapevine from my veterinary friends that Lepto is on the rise and I need to pay attention.

An artistic rendering of me and my vet friends hating everything that hurts and kills dogs. Grrrrrr.

In addition, a wonderful, healthy and happy WOOF dog had to be euthanized recently due to a bacteria he encountered playing outdoors that didn’t respond to antibiotics and hospitalization.

So I felt a public service announcement was in order: please be aware of waterborne illnesses! Especially right now while everything is still very wet out there.

Some important tips:

Don’t allow your dog to drink water from puddles or creeks – EVER.

Wash your dog thoroughly if he/she has been frolicking in mud/puddles, etc. (Or keep them on a leash and don’t let them do it until the ground dries out.)

Ask your vet about the Lepto vaccine – it is a series of two vaccines spaced 2 to 4 weeks apart (if your dog has never been vaccinated for it) and is sometimes included in the Distemper vaccine (DHLPP instead of DHPP – the L stands for Lepto) *Note the vaccine is not 100 percent effective, but certainly increases the odds of your dog not becoming seriously ill from exposure

Some facts about Lepto:

It’s more common in warmer climates

It’s transmitted through urine (think of urine settling into puddles and mud)

It’s a spiral-shaped bacteria that can live in a favorable environment for weeks or even months

It is zoonotic, which means that you CAN get it from your dog (again, from direct contact with urine from an infected animal or infected water, soil or food – so wash your hands after outdoor activities and cleaning up after your pet!)

If caught in time, it has about a 75 percent survival rate

Symptoms to look for:

lethargy

decreased appetite

increased water consumption

increased urination

vomiting

diarrhea

fever

muscle pain

red eyes

blood in urine

red-speckled gums

The toughest part is realizing something is wrong with your dog in time to start a successful course of fluids and antibiotics. The symptoms can be so subtle – not to mention general and symptoms of countless other serious and not-so-serious conditions.

Pay close attention to your dog and his/her habits. When in doubt, go to your vet and get that bloodwork or Xrays. It could truly save your dog’s life.

In the article referenced above, for example, the dog was 13 years old, so the owner, understandably, thought her lethargy and other symptoms were just signs of an older dog slowing down. By the time she went to the vet, the bacteria had spread and affected her organs too much to save her. Sadly, most of these dogs go into renal failure when their kidneys stop working and euthanasia is really the only humane option.

As for me and Lady, we are squarely in the danger zone. We hike almost every morning (very early, in the dark, before work), splashing through water and mud.

We love our early-morning hikes and take selfies to document our adventures.

Lady is older (10) and is having typical old-dog symptoms. Some days she’s tired. Some days she’s achy. Some days she doesn’t feel like eating. I have to pay close attention to what’s “normal” and what could be something serious like Lepto.

I’m sure you all feel my pain here.

So what are my choices? I can hike without Lady and break her heart. I can stop hiking altogether and break everyone’s hearts.

We can just all stop doing everything we love because there are dangers involved in living.

I say no to that.

Instead, I’ve decided to continue doing what we all love, but doing it more thoughtfully and with some key precautions.

I’ve vaccinated Lady for Lepto. I keep her on leash during the hike, and am vigilant about not allowing her to drink water off the ground. I rinse and clean her legs and underside every morning post-hike (yes, every morning, when it is still dark outside and we are all tired, which sucks for both of us, but makes me feel a whole lot better when I see her “cleaning” her legs as she rests in her doggie bed.)

We will live informed, but we will not live in fear.

I urge you all to do the same.

(I am not a veterinarian nor an expert on waterborne illnesses – please consult your veterinarian about your dogs’ lifestyle and best health choices.)

 

11Mar/16

Top 5 signs you’re a (crazy) dog person

5. You wonder if your dog is mad at you.

dog mad option

Any sign my dog gives me that doesn’t communicate unconditional and complete adoration, I interpret as negative commentary on me as a human being. I obsess: what’s she mad about? What did I do? A turned back, a still tail, cool indifference – it all tells me I’m just no good anymore, and she knows it. Overcompensation (squeaky voice, unsolicited treats, unplanned walks) ensues and soon I can bask in the glow of her good will and happiness again.

4. At a party, you talk to the dog instead of the people.

dog party better

I don’t mind talking to people – I really don’t. But if there is a dog at a party, I find myself on the floor, ruining my dress and running my stockings, saying things like, “And how was YOUR day?” Trying to impress them with my jokes. “Lame party, am-I-right?” (Raised hand for a high five.) I rarely can take a compliment given by a human, but the slightest tail flutter from a dog I just met fills me with joy and validation.

3. One glance from your dog can send you into a shame spiral.

dog guilt

This is about how your dog totally depends on you. Did they go potty? Do they have water? (Is it fresh enough?) Is someone in their bed? (The outrage referenced above). I am in charge of her life and her comfort. And as any busy human knows, you sometimes just don’t have time to go on a hike before work! And I can not take the pressure, okay? Okay, Lady? Keep your scathing looks to yourself. (Sorry sweetie, I didn’t mean that. Here’s a cookie. Mommy loves you.)

2. You irrationally dislike any dog who (seems to) dislike your dog.

dog dislike

You love your dog and therefore every living organism should also love your dog. Forget that dogs are individuals with their own preferences. Forget that your dog may have done something that dog didn’t like. Forget that they’re dogs, and you shouldn’t be judging an animal with your anthropomorphic BS. My logical brain knows disliking a dog for dissing my sweet and perfect girl is insane. But my gut knows that dog is stuck up and wouldn’t know an awesome friend if she bit her on the nose.

And NUMBER 1 (and most embarrassing): You’ve had the thought: if I could have birthed her, I would have.

dog birth better

She’s beautiful, she’s smart and I’m proud of her. Why wouldn’t I be honored to be her bio-mom? (Honored and very famous on talk shows, probably.) She looks like me a bit. Don’t you think?

Are you a crazy dog person too?

we love our dogs

17Nov/15

Finding the perfect leash and collar (for you)

The other night this collar sparked an idea.

pinch collar

I was talking to a WOOF client (hi Michelle!) while one of our staff members (hi Victoria!) was in back struggling with this prong collar (hello … collar).

This collar. Not our favorite.

pinch collarpinch collarpinch collar 🙁 😥  🙁

They get tangled. Links fall off. They hurt your fingers. They’re really hard to put on an excited dog who knows his parents are here and can’twaittogetoutthere! But mainly, they just don’t work very well.

It’s not a particularly attractive collar, or user-friendly. And yet I see folks using it all the time. In fact, I know a lot of smart (especially strong-fingered) people who use this collar. And I get it  – it’s supposed to discourage dogs from pulling. And when you have a dog who pulls, you are willing to try anything.

devil dog

Even a collar that looks like this –

pinch collar

Instead of, say, this –

cupcake collar

Or (if you are gluten-intolerant, even for decorations) this –

blue collar

So I asked the client – “Do you like this collar?” And you know what she said? “No, not really!” And we had a nice laugh and discussed some alternatives.

Sigh.

My take-away from this conversation is that people buy a collar that’s supposed to perform a certain way and end up keeping it even if it doesn’t perform as advertised. Maybe blaming themselves that they’re not using it right, or their dog is just extra-determined to stick with the negative behavior that the collar was supposed to discourage.

And that makes me sad because a good product – used correctly, sure, sure – should work! But I’ve never seen a dog respond particularly well to the prong collar. (If you have, please do tell in the comment section!) I see them pulling anyway, digging those medieval-looking claws into their skin and dragging their owner along in the process.

What I mostly see with this collar is frustrated dogs, frustrated parents and – hello WOOFers! – frustrated dog professionals trying to deal with the darn thing.

Let’s look at it again, just for fun.

pinch collar

You bad old collar, you.

How do we end up with the leashes and collars we have? Maybe it’s a combination of what’s familiar, what we’ve been told to use by “experts” and what’s just convenient for us.

But how SHOULD we choose them? Let me count the ways.

main collar fancy

I’m basing the following on my personal experiences with leashes and collars (which adds up to a lot if you count all the dogs and leash-collar combos I’ve dealt with in my career) – plus a little online research to make sure I’m giving you sound advice.

Having said all this, I want to make one thing clear: use the leash and collar that works for you. Even if it’s the prong collar of our aforementioned nightmares – it’s okay! We’ll deal with it if that’s what works for your dog.

Step one – what are your dog’s physical characteristics?

What does your dog look like? Take a good look.

your average dog

Is your dog BIG?

biglittle?

little

Does she have curly hair?

curly hair

Wiry hair?

wiry hair

Skin folds? (And a flat, super-adorable face?)

skin folds

All this can factor into your collar choice.

Step two: what is your dog’s walking style?

Is he a puller, eager to get to the next thing? A slow-poke, meandering past ever flower, sniffing everything? An escape artist, who can’t wait to slip out of his collar and run free?

A perfect gentleman, ideal in every way?

confidence

Oh, Rocky.

Now keep all those details in mind as you move on to –

Step three: knowing your options.

I know when you go to the pet store it’s pretty overwhelming.

IMG_2354

(I was mesmerized by this display today, and I was only in there for dog food.)

Even though it looks like there are endless options, there are really only a few kinds of collars – just with endless variations on those kinds. Let’s just focus on the basic types of collars.

choke chain

The classic choke chain. (The precursor to the prong collar, I think?) I remember these were used a lot when I was a kid (think 80s & 90s) but I don’t see them around much anymore. Although when you say “collar,” this is what some people will always picture. (Which is one of the main factors in how people choose their collars – and dog breeds, for that matter – just purely from what’s familiar/iconic for them.)

This is a fine collar in my book. The beauty of it is that it self-regulates. If your dog is pulling, it tightens. If your dog lets up, it loosens. It can be a great tool for training if you know how to use them judiciously.

But quite honestly my experience with this collar is that a dog who is determined to pull will pull (and pull and pull), choking himself silly. And also, if it’s not put on correctly, it doesn’t “give” – once it tightens, it stays tight. So I would only recommend this to someone who really knows how to use it and makes sure it’s not constantly choking their dog with no relief.

pinch collar

Back to the prong collar, and its kissing cousins –

prong

The plastic spiky prong collar (I named this myself)

This prong collar s a little easier to put on and manage, since the prongs aren’t detachable, but it poses all the same issues. If a dog pulls, the discomfort of the plastic spikes often doesn’t seem to stop them. A dog will pull those spikes right into his throat and not seem to understand the correlation between stopping pulling and relief. So, unless your dog responds to the pressure of the collar by letting up, I’m not a big fan.

thick and flat collarA variation on your basic martingale collar. I’ve come to learn that “martingale”is just a fancy word for collars that don’t have an opening and closing mechanism – they expand to fit over the dog’s neck and the pulling action of the leash shortens the collar’s girth to fit tightly around the neck. These are good for dogs who try to slip out of their collars – because the harder they pull, the tighter the collar gets.

regular collar

This is the most classic, basic collar. (I call this the Tiny Human Belt Collar.) It has the classic belt-like closure. I like this collar a lot because it does its job without too much user-education needed. I dislike having to put this kind of collar on a really excited dog, because getting the closure done properly requires the dog to be still. Too often, it’s put on using the wrong hole – either too loose or too tight – so your dog’s going to slip right out of it in the parking lot or you’re choking the poor thing.

regular collar with snap closure

This is the basic non-leather collar with a really convenient snap closure. This is definitely the collar I see most at WOOF and I really like this collar. You adjust it once and it stays the right size. It’s really easy to snap on a wiggly dog. It’s comfortable for dogs and they come in a lot of cute prints – I especially like the ones where you can stitch the dog’s name and phone number right on the collar. Also a nice option for quick ID for a lost dog without the jingly-jangly annoyance of tags.

rolled collar

Here’s your basic rolled collar. This is ideal for dogs with thick, double coats (like Bernese Mountain Dogs, Newfoundlands, St. Bernards etc) – the rolled material nestles gently inside the thick coat instead of mashing it down like a regular collar, causing tangles to form underneath and possible discomfort. (If you have a thick-coated dog, make sure you are constantly checking for matts – you can’t always see them, but you can feel them if you run your hand down the dog’s hair. They are really deep tangles that sit close to the skin and they hurt because the hair in the tangle is pulling on the hair growing out of the skin.)

halti

Here we see my personal favorite for dogs who pull: the head collar. (Also called the Halti and the Gentle Leader, and I’m sure other things.) I love this ingenious piece of equipment! It uses the same philosophy horse owners have been using for decades: an animal will stop pulling if they feel pressure on their nose, which is very sensitive. (Ever wondered why people lead bulls around with nose rings? This is a much more humane version of that idea.)

I had a Newfie named Clyde who was an angel … in his Halti. In fact, soon after buying the Halti I would only have to show him that I was putting it on and he knew what his limits were, and he didn’t even try to pull. So if you have a puller, try the head collar! I highly recommend it.

Then we get to the harnesses, which is by and far the biggest trend I’ve seen lately, especially among little dogs.

little harness

Harness proponents like them because they don’t put any pressure on the dog’s larynx. When the dog pulls, they are getting an even distribution of weight along their chest. That’s a good thing physiologically – especially for our flat-faced breeds like Pugs or Bulldogs, who already have a hard time breathing without a potentially crushed trachea.

But training-wise, it’s not such a good thing. If a pulling dog suffers zero discomfort when pulling, then guess what? They’ll continue to pull! In fact, some dog experts think dogs actually get some pleasure out of the act of pulling, so you’re only making it more “pleasurable” by using a harness.

Here’s a good article on whether to choose a collar or a harness. (I like a harness for little dogs, or flat-faced dogs, because their anatomy is a lot more delicate than a bigger dog and I think the protection a halter offers far outweighs the training downside. Also because a Chihuahua pulling is a lot less problematic than a Great Dane pulling…)

So, here we are knowing all about our dog and what is available. Let’s consider some example and think about what kind of equipment would be best in each scenario:

You have a Pug who loves to pull and has larygeal paralysis?

– try a HARNESS!

camou-harness

You have a Bernese Mountain Dog who doesn’t pull at all and goes to the groomer rarely (you groom him at home)?

– try a ROLLED COLLAR!

rolled collar

You have that Bernese Mountain Dog’s brother who pulls like the dickens?

halti

– try a HALTI!

You have a sweet-natured and gigantic Mastiff who doesn’t pull but is notorious for escaping out of his collar?

thick and flat collar

– try a martingale-style big, flat cloth collar!

And if his fur matts up under that thick collar? (This one is a toughie…)

rolled-martingale

– try a martingale ROLLED collar!

I use the word “try” deliberately – make sure you TRY OUT a few things before settling on something that really isn’t working that great for you. If you can’t find a nice pet store employee to let you try a few things on your dog and walk them around the store, go to another store. Any good establishment will be willing to help you find the right equipment.

As far as leashes go, it’s much simpler. Just get a leash no longer than six feet. I don’t care what the material is or the style.

But never, ever, get one of these monsters.

retractable

The dreaded retractable leash.

I don’t know who likes this leash but it’s not any pet professional I’ve ever talked to. The problem is you have zero control over your dog. The locking mechanism that limits the amount of “leash” (which is really just a thin piece of rope material that can lacerate the heck out of human skin) is useless – it jams, it doesn’t work, or it lets out feet upon feet of leash when you are trying to reign in the dog.

Our ultimate nightmare combination:

retractablepinch collar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just don’t get one of these. They’re so problematic, WOOF has “outlawed” them in our facility (although I still see one or two sneak in…) If you want your dog to have more room to run, find a good off-leash area. (Or bring them to WOOF!)

If you already have one of these, throw it away and get a regular leash. Please.

A leash and collar have to do two things: work for the dog and work for the owner. If it’s falling short in either area, I guarantee there’s something else on the market that will be a vast improvement.

And when you find your perfect leash and collar, your dog will look deeply into your eyes, give you a big kiss, and say, thank you, wonderful mommy. You’ve made my dreams come true.

kiss

Not really. She’ll jump all over you and say, let’s go for a walk, fool!

What kind of collar works for you?

 

02Oct/15

Trendy dog names

Choosing your dog’s name is one of the more fun parts of – let’s use a word out of fashion – dog husbandry. (Dog wifery? Dog womanry?)

Boomer fancy

And I’ve always been curious: how do people go about it? What makes a good dog name?

Heidi fancy

In my years in the pet service industry, I’ve seen names come, names go, and names stay. (Max, for example, is here to stay, I think. Oh, the many wonderful and varied Max’s I’ve met! And the many more Max’s sure to come!)

Max fancy

(This is the smallest Max I’ve met, but one of the best!)

It’s the trendy names that interest me most. When I suddenly noticed a bunch of Kai’s walking into the veterinarian office or doggy daycare, I knew something was afoot. (What ever happened to Rover?)

Lucky fancy

These trendy names – they catch on like wildfire and leave me scratching my head, not for the quality of the names themselves, but the way they somehow worm their way into people’s brains and become the moniker du jour.

Rosie 2 fancy

Rosie too fancy

(And Rosie is not even on the trendy list!)

Here’s a sampling from one of the most recent trendy dog lists I found online, showing the top ten names for both sexes (full article here):

The girls:

Elsa, Bella, Stella, Quinn, Sophie, Ivy, Charlie (a girl Charlie!), Aurora, Avery and Lila.

The boys:

Sawyer, Jack, Hudson, Finn, Emerson, Bear, Puppy, Max, Kai and Cooper.

Luna fancy

At WOOF, we have at least one representative for each of these names (except Aurora and Emerson – any Auroras or Emersons want to come to WOOF? You could be a trailblazer!)

We mostly have a lot of Max’s, Coopers and Bellas. Lots and lots of Bellas! (And Murphy’s, but that’s not on this year’s list.)

Frank fancy

Yet only one Frank. Hmmm.

Ruby fancy

I have my own approach to choosing my dogs’ names: I look at the dog, cast my eyes skyward, see a bunch of names circling in a little imaginary name cloud, and blurt something out. Then my dogs get stuck with my whim (you’re welcome Sherman, Penny, Woody and Clyde!)

Zeppelin fancyMany of my dogs already came with a name, because they were rescues.

lady fancy

I could have changed their names, but it just didn’t feel right. For example, Lady has been Lady for many years before she lived with me – she knows it, she responds to it. And although it wouldn’t have been my first choice, it seems to fit her. (She is one of the most feminine female dogs I’ve ever had!) So Lady it has stayed.

Bowie fancy

I believe Bowie was named after David Bowie, who famously had two different-colored eyes too.

Smoke fancy

And Smoke for his smoky colors? (Or maybe because he enjoys cigars – I’m not sure yet; we haven’t hung out together socially.)

Sarge fancy

I’m also still getting to know Sarge, but so far the name seems to suit him. He’s kind of a take-charge sort of fellow. (As most bulldogs are.)

Personally, I like dogs with human names. For example, I’m dying to one day name a dog Gary. No idea why. I also like Doris or Joan. The dignity of a human name attached to a dog just tickles me.

Morty fancy

Ah, Morty. Perfection.

How did you choose your dog’s name?

 

13Jul/15

Everything you ever wanted to know about spaying and neutering (and certainly weren’t afraid to ask)

I’ve talked about this so much over my veterinary years, I feel like I could have written a book on the subject.

neuter better

All kidding aside, let’s get the usual disclaimer out of the way: I am not a veterinarian and nothing I say in this blog should ever substitute for advice from a real medical professional. 

Okay, so here we go…the decision to surgically alter your dog is a big deal. It’s done under general anesthesia and, for females especially, it’s a major surgery – a total hysterectomy, in fact, just like us human females may have to get someday, which is another reason to baby our sore girls post-op! (I got your backs, bitches.)

If you adopt a dog, odds are he or she will be handed over freshly spayed or neutered. So owners of rescues rarely ever have to face this issue.

But if you get a puppy from a breeder, or a rescue from a group who didn’t have the funds to spay/neuter, it’s a whole different ball game. Should you spay/neuter right away? Does your breeder stipulate something about it in your contract? (I’ve found you won’t find more opinionated people about when to spay and neuter than breeders, who have a financial stake in turning out dogs without health issues that could even vaguely be linked to an early spay/neuter. Way more opinionated than even veterinarians, in my experience, which always struck me as odd. But that’s another blog.)

Further, should you spay and neuter at all?

Some people don’t think about this issue at all and some people think about it A WHOLE LOT. And have lots of questions. And I’ve heard the questions. So here are my best answers.

Following are all the things I’ve come to learn, from doctors, books and just plain old experience –  and I’d like to share. For all you spay/neuter aficionados out there, the doubters, the naysayers, the worrywarts, the staunch proponents and opponents, the ones who wonder if their male dog will ever forgive them – this one’s for you.

Why should I spay or neuter my dog?

I believe the decision about whether to spay or neuter really comes down to lifestyle. With a dash of health intervention. Why do I bring up lifestyle first? Because – to keep it perfectly real and one hundred, as the kids say – I don’t think health is really the main reason to spay and neuter (although there are a lot health benefits I’ll go into later). The way you want your dog’s life to be is the real tipping point here. Let me explain.

The fact is, if your dog is going to come into contact with other dogs, for everyone’s safety (including yours) he or she really should be altered. And by “contact” I mean dog parks, daycares, kennels, walking down the sidewalk, even your neighbor’s backyard – if you want your dog to be social with other dogs, minimizing the sexual part of their natures is key. Why? 

group fancyt

For social dogs, you’d be wise to spay and neuter:

– so they don’t reproduce and you have an unwanted litter on your hands (if you think you want puppies, I think unless you are a serious breeder dedicated to upholding the standard of a beloved breed, this may be a short-sighted decision. For every friend you find to take one of your dog’s puppies, that’s another potential home taken away from a shelter dog who already exists. Add to that the time and money it takes to raise a litter – it’s not something that should be entered into lightly. It’s not something that would be “cute” or “show your kids the miracle of life.” Don’t breed if you don’t know what you’re getting into! Because if you do, your puppies may be the ones who end up at the shelter.)

– so they don’t fight. Whether it’s an intact male being too aggressive, to other dogs targeting an intact male because they feel threatened by him, to dogs competing over an eligible female, intact dogs end up fighting in one way or another. Trust me, they do. I’ve seen it. (My boss Jacque has a good analogy for this: imagine your intact male dog entering a group of other dogs sticking up his middle finger to everyone. Flipping the old bird – of course, you’d have to imagine he could anatomically do that, which is dubious. But that’s really how an intact dog comes off to the other male dogs. And no good play session ever started with, “Hey, smell that? I’m bigger and badder than you. So… f*&k you. Want to play?”)

So the first question I would ask yourself when debating the spay/neuter issue is: what do I want my dog’s life to be like? Is he going to be with just humans all the time or do I want the opportunity and ability to take him to the dog park, walk him safely down the sidewalk or drop him off at daycare? If you do, spaying and neutering is really the only way to ensure he can enjoy these activities safely.

There are other behavioral benefits to spaying/neutering that also make your dog have a safer lifestyle and – well – more fun to be around.

behavioral benefits fancy

– neutered males do less leg-lifting and marking.

– neutered males have reduced dominance.

– neutered males exhibit reduced humping (imagine how maddening it would be to have all these sexual urges and no real outlet – another reason, I think, it’s more humane just to go ahead and lessen that urge for them).

– neutered males are less likely to escape and roam (did you know the majority of dogs who are found dead along highways are unneutered males, wandering and looking to mate?)

– neutered males elicit less attacks from other dogs.

– spayed females don’t get their periods (when I was a kid I had to put a pad on my Golden Retriever Penny because my parents weren’t big on spaying and neutering – what can I say; it was a different time – and let me tell you it is not fun).

– spayed females don’t incite aggressive breeding behaviors from other dogs.

What about the health stuff?

The other consideration in spaying or neutering is for the dog’s health. This is where it gets a little tricky because there are pros and cons on both sides. As with many medical concerns, this issue is still being studied. I’ve had veterinarians say there’s no reason not to spay/neuter as young as eight weeks; some say wait until 6 months; others say wait until 18 months for the giant breeds. I’ve heard some vets say all three over the course of many years. And to their defense, the best age is really not conclusive. But we must start somewhere, so let’s start with the benefits.

benefits fancy

– spayed females won’t develop uterine infections, uterine or ovarian cancers and have a much lower incidence of breast cancer.

– neutered males have reduced occurrence of prostate disorders, no testicular cancer and less incidence of peri-anal fistulas (if you don’t know what this is, I’m not going to tell you about it because the world will look nicer to you if you never find out).

The flip side is that there are some health concerns that have risen in recent years that make it unclear what the impact is of spaying and neutering to your dog’s health. And further, how to calculate the perfect age to perform the spay/neuter to avoid these pitfalls. Basically, all the concerns have to do with depriving your dog’s body of their hormones and the impact of their absence on their bones, joints and general health.

health concerns fancy

– obesity: altered dogs tend to be less active and put on weight. However, I counter that this is easily controlled with diet and exercise intervention from us humans. (And dog parks and daycares – the kingdoms for altered dogs to romp and mingle – are great places to burn off those extra calories! So I dismiss this objection wholeheartedly.)

– cancer: even though removing the sexual organs can help your dog avoid many kinds of cancer, there are other cancers that some veterinarians think may be a bigger factor for dogs who are spayed or neutered “early” (“early” being under 14 months of age.) However, the studies associated with these findings could not link the cancer directly to the early neutering since the kinds of cancer in question were already risk factors in general. So I call this one a draw. Mainly because I’ve found cancer to be a real inevitability for any pet owner. Generally, if pets live long enough (thanks to your excellent care, of course!) they’ll get some kind of cancer. That’s just how it goes. So I don’t think this should dictate your decision to spay/neuter at all, really.

– Hypothyroidism: there has been some research showing an increased incidence of hypothyroidism in dogs spayed/neutered early. But this condition is easily treated and may occur anyway. So I don’t think this concern in any way outweighs the benefits of spay/neuter.

– Joint issues: this is the only health concern that really pauses me in my “go ahead and do it already!” campaign to spay/neuter. I can see such a direct link to growth and hormones, so it’s hard to ignore that an early spay/neuter could really hurt your dog’s skeletal development, causing dyplasia of the hips and elbows, ACL tears and knee luxation – all very common ailments among dogs and ones that really affect their ability to enjoy their life (and their owner’s ability to pay their mortgage.) To this concern, I say consult a vet about what kind of dog you have and what they think the best age to spay/neuter would be. In fact, consult a few vets. But generally, the bigger the dog, the longer you should wait. So if you have a teacup Yorkie, relax. If you have a Great Dane, be vigilant in your research before deciding what age. But still, I recommend moving forward with the spay/neuter at some point in young adulthood before the behavior issues you experience far outweigh any safety measures you think you’re taking to save your dog’s joints.

(At WOOF, have a few intact adolescent males and females waiting to get their growth in before being altered, and we allow for that as long as their behaviors stay safe in group.)

In conclusion:

Ask your vet about the health ramifications of spaying and neutering, but don’t worry too much about it. Dogs are meant to be together, and the truth is they’re better together when they’re not trying to mate with each other. If you have philosophical concerns about it being “unnatural” to alter your dog surgically, may I counter how “unnatural” it was to take canines out of the wild and make everything from Mastiffs to Dalmatians to Teacup Poodles out of them. Domesticated dogs no longer operate on the plane of natural.

They operate on our planes – human planes. With beach days, long hikes and cuddles with their daycare friends. Their main job is no longer to reproduce – we humans have taken that initiative from them and tuned it to our own purposes.

So get your dog, do your research and make the best decision you can. Not just for you.

For them.

spay neuter better

 

 

 

11Jun/15

Should we be afraid of the dog flu?

The time has come to talk about contagious diseases. It’s not a cute topic, or very fun to write about. To help things along, I’m going to use adorable pictures of WOOF guests for illustration. I truly believe the sheer cuteness of their faces can eradicate these diseases from our lives – or at least make us feel better reading about them.

Usual disclaimer: I’m not a veterinarian and this blog is not a substitute for advice from a medical doctor. 

dog flu fancy

In short, NO – we should not be afraid of dog flu. (Does Mojo look afraid?) I’ll tell you why, but first I want to acknowledge that fear is a natural response when you hear of something “new” that might hurt your dog – and, incidentally, encouraged so that you click on articles. But that’s another topic.

Case in point is the recent rash of stories about a strain of canine flu (H3N2) hitting Illinois and the East Coast and – horror! run! – possibly spreading to us on the West Coast. The fact is, there have been cases reported in many states, including California, and the dog flu is nothing new. This is just a new strain that’s gaining some traction.

(Here is a recent article from a pretty reputable source.)

A flu is a flu is a flu. Yes, they are devious little soldiers whose only mission is to find a host to take over. When they strike out with one host, they mutate to infect new hosts, in new and different ways. We develop vaccines and then they mutate again. They wreak havoc on our bodies but are rarely fatal. So being afraid of it is natural and taking precautions is smart.

But!

But. Before you rush to your vet’s office to get that vaccine or keep your dog away from all other dogs, let’s use the best weapon we have against fear: information. Here are some of the basics about canine flu:

– There are no reports of the canine flu being passed to humans. (Although some reports claim it is being passed from dogs to cats, which would make it a zoonotic disease, one that can be passed cross-species.)

– It has the symptoms you would expect: cough, runny nose, fever. Although not all dogs will exhibit symptoms. (Also, if you’ve never heard a dog cough, it doesn’t sound like what you would expect. It’s a hacking noise like they are trying to expel something.)

– There are vaccines for the two strains of dog flu we’ve identified: H3N2 and H3N8. They work the way all vaccines do by introducing a small, manageable amount of the virus into the system to promote an immune response that will hopefully protect your dog during future exposure.

– Treatment includes supportive care as your dog’s immune system works to fight the virus. Fluid therapy and cough suppressants can help your dog be more comfortable. Antibiotics may be prescribed to battle secondary infections.

– The canine flu “kills” a small percentage of dogs. It is hardest on dogs who have other health issues going on. Pneumonia is the main secondary condition to be worried about.

When I get questions from clients about how bad the latest dog scares are, it’s helpful to humanize the situation. For example, would you be afraid to die if you caught the flu? I’d say most of us would not. Would you be afraid if your grandmother, who has a heart condition and emphysema, got the flu? Yes, you would. So if you are worried about the dog flu, think about how healthy your dog is in general and how their bodies might react to the virus before you decide your course of action.

Since we’re on the subject, let’s run down all the other things your dogs can “catch” from another dog. Since the majority of this blog’s readers are WOOF clients, I know you want to know!

Let’s start with the diseases your dog regularly gets vaccinated against.

DHLPP fancy

Ah, the big one. This is the main combo vaccine your dog gets several times when she’s a puppy, then yearly, then every three years until she dies. Some vets delete the Lepto part; some give the Lepto part solo. We don’t really need to worry about these diseases because the vaccines do a great job halting them in their tracks. So get those vaccines! (If you’ve ever met a dog with Parvo, you would kiss the syringe. What a horrifying condition.) However, if your dog is older your vet may suggest stopping the vaccine regimen because odds are your dog’s antibodies are going to protect her without any more boosters and vaccines are taxing her system.

rabies fancy

The big condition with the little name. Rabies is not to be messed with – it’s 100 percent fatal once you start showing symptoms and crosses species like nobody’s business. The virus is spread through the saliva and is the only pet vaccine required by law. (That’s why you need to show proof of rabies when getting a dog license.)

For some regions that don’t have rabies – like Hawaii, for example – you have to go through a quarantine period in addition to a specific vaccine regimen in order to think about bringing your pet into the state. Aloha, Rabies! (And I mean the “goodbye” kind of Aloha here.)

bordetella fancy

This is the vaccine that is designed to combat the latest strain of canine tracheobronchitis. This is the clinical term for “kennel cough.” But us in the boarding biz do not like this term – we prefer “canine cough” because kennels aren’t the only places that pass around doggie colds. Dog parks, pet stores – anywhere dogs congregate – can be a hotbed for transmission.

There are a couple things to know about canine cough. One is that (like the flu) it is very rarely fatal and only severely affects dogs who have other health issues going on. Dogs can still get it who are current on the vaccine because the virus is constantly mutating. Dogs can be asymptomatic and pass it to other dogs. These are all the reasons why boarding or daycare facilities have limited control over the spread of canine cough.

If you opt for the vaccine (and it’s not optional at WOOF!) it’s given in two forms: intra-nasal and the traditional subcutaneous method. Protection lasts anywhere from 6 months to a year. I advise that people get this vaccine for their dog – even if they don’t go to doggie daycare- because some protection is better than none. Unless your dog is sickly and the introduction of unnecessary vaccines taxes their system – then you should weigh your options and maybe opt to keep your dogs away from other dogs.

mouth warts fancy

Mouth warts! MOUTH warts? These, more accurately called oral papillomas, are small, clustery warts caused by the papilloma virus. They are contagious dog-to-dog but NOT dog-to-human (thank goodness). They are irregular in shape, resembling cauliflower, and typically grow on the lips, inside of the mouth and on the tongue.

They are generally harmless but can be uncomfortable depending on their size and location. In rare cases, they are a precursor to cancer. There is not yet an effective treatment except removing the warts. When we see a case like this at WOOF, we isolate the dog from the other dogs and won’t allow the affected dog back in group until the warts have fallen off or have been removed – whichever happens first.

pink eye fancy

Oh, this is a good one. I specifically used the laymen’s term for this because I want to make sure I’m addressing something I think is frequently misunderstood. Pink eye’s clinical term is conjunctivitis – it refers to the inflammation of the conjunctiva, the moist membrane that coats the inner surface of the eyelid.

The red inflammation can be caused by many things, only a few cases being contagious from the passing of a virus or bacteria. Many cases are caused by an allergen in the air – pollen, mold, dander – or a pre-existing condition in the eye that somehow becomes exacerbated.

So if your dog has an eye problem, it’s not necessarily something she caught from another dog. Whatever the source, eye issues should be addressed immediately and the good news is there are many treatments at your disposal to help your dog feel more comfortable right away.

ticks fleas mange fancy

Oh boy, this is a toughie. Let’s go hardest to easiest.

Mange is an ugly, devastating skin disease caused by parasitic mites. The dog loses hair and develops really obvious scabs and skin irritation.The contagious part is when the mites jump from one animal to another. Sarcoptic mange is when the mites burrow in the skin and demodectic mange is when they live in the hair follicles. (In humans, a similar mite infestation is called scabies. And humans CAN catch sarcoptic mange from dogs so watch out! Humans can also catch Ringworm from dogs. They’re not actually worms but a bacterial infection. Read more here.)

The treatment is what you’d imagine: isolating the dog, thoroughly cleaning everything the dog came in contact with (especially bedding, where those little mites are building condos), and the dog is repeatedly bathed with a special shampoo (usually sulfurated lime). Vets may also prescribe a drug called Ivermectin. Successful treatment can take one or several months depending on the case.

Fleas have been relatively easy to control with modern products like Advantage and Frontline. However, even these super products have their limits as the fleas quickly adapt and become immune to their formulas. Ask your vet what flea product they recommend and be aware you might have to switch things up once in a while based on your pet’s health and what products the fleas haven’t yet become wise to.

Remember just because you kill the fleas on your dog, there might still be some in the environment. Consult a pest control service or ask your best friend for their favorite home remedy. I’ve heard things ranging from candles in plates full of water to herbal sprays.

One thing I can advise against: do NOT use or trust flea collars. Every vet I’ve worked for has said they do nothing to fight fleas and can actually be dangerous to your dog. Plus, they smell awful and are gross and our dogs deserve nice smelling things on them – or at least bad-smelling things that they choose to put on themselves.

Ticks are the easiest of all to deal with. You don’t have to light a match or get out the tweezers. You simply put your finger on the tick and make a quick circular movement applying moderate pressure until the tick pops out. Flush that sucker. If part of the tick is left in the skin, worry not – the body will expel it naturally as a foreign object. Just keep an eye on it for infection. And yes, Neosporin works just as well on pets as it does on us.

The trick with ticks is finding them. You need to do a thorough tick inspection every time your dog is in a wooded or bushy area. Ticks can transmit diseases if they are attached to your dog long enough. The prevalence of these disease-bearing ticks varies by region. There are tests to determine if your dog has Lyme Disease, and only about 10 percent of dogs who test positive will develop clinical signs. (You need to also be aware of Lyme Disease because it is a truly devastating condition for humans as well.)

worms coccidia giardia fancy

Now that we’ve talked about external parasites, let’s talk about the internal ones. And yes, I just shivered writing that.

The most common worms are roundworms, hookworms, whipworms and tapeworms. Tapeworms look like white grains of rice in the stool and come from a dog eating a flea. The other worms come from dogs eating stool or soil infected with that parasite. Hookworms can also enter the body through the skin, usually on the feet.

Worms, though gross to think about, are actually good news because they are very treatable. They are also easily detected by a fecal exam. If your dog is acting sick, many vets will suggest a fecal straight away to rule out worms.

Giardia and Coccidia are the “non-worm” internal parasites frequently found in dogs. If your dog has one of these, the main symptom is diarrhea. And more diarrhea. (Sometimes vomiting from mild nausea.) Some dogs don’t show symptoms at all.

Like other parasites, the primary route of infection is from fecal-oral contamination. This can even happen when a dog eats infected poop and then drinks water and then a new dog gets it from the water. You can imagine all the scenarios. (You imagine them; I don’t want to right now.)

There are good tests to detect these conditions and good treatments. A follow-up test is typically given after the treatments to determine that it is truly gone. At WOOF, as with any other preventable contagious disease, we can’t allow a giardia or coccidia-positive dog to intermingle with other dogs until they are cleared by the vet.

And finally:

heartworm fancy

Heartworm is a devastating disease that kills dogs and is a monster to treat. Worms are passed from dog to dog by a mosquito. Foot-long worms grow in the heart, lungs and blood vessels and literally suffocate the dog’s organs, disrupting their activities, and possibly killing the dog.

Heartworm disease is more prevalent on the East Coast than the West Coast, but should be tested for and treated if your dog has any outdoor exposure. Heartgard is the most traditional preventative but you can ask your vet for alternatives. Here is a pretty good Heartworm prevalence map.

Heartworm-positive dogs can be treated but it is very intensive and expensive, and in some cases doesn’t work at all. That is why I believe heartworm medication, especially if you live in a high-risk area, is a way better deal than taking your chances.

I may not have covered all the contagious diseases, but this is a pretty comprehensive list of the major ones and the minor ones we encounter most often at WOOF.

As you can see, controlling diseases in the dog population is never an exact science. No facility can guarantee your dog will NEVER catch anything because that’s just not how diseases work. They lie in wait, looking for weaknesses. That weakness may be a vaccine that’s not the right strain, or a dog who is sick but not showing any signs or a water bowl that has giardia spores hiding in it, ready to infect its next host.

The only way to protect your dog fully is to wrap them in bubble wrap and never let them do anything. You may be preserving their life, but really, what kind of life would it be?

I say play on, inform yourself, and make educated decisions that are right for you and your dog! There’s no better feeling than outsmarting a disease. I highly recommend it.

diseases fancy

xoxo,

Vickie Jean

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

06May/15

Do dogs like music?

At WOOF, we play music in our play groups and overnight facility to soothe and entertain the dogs.

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Our concert hall.

We pick music that is pretty easy-listening – classical, spa-like music, occasionally some soft oldies. When some of our staff suggest other styles, we always think: but will the dogs like that?

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For example, does Posey like David Bowie?

Do dogs like music at all? And if so, what kinds? (And further, do they all like the same kind?)

I listen to music at home and wonder what Lady thinks. Driving around in the car, or hanging out in my husband’s office, Lady does seem to notice the music. I think. Sometimes. (My husband swears she likes jazz.)

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Dancing to some slow jams.

But, you know, it’s hard to know what dogs are thinking. Unless it’s about food, play or love – you can easily project your own musical tastes on your dog.

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Max here lives for Michael Jackson.

I’m pleased to report the scant research I found on this subject totally supports our musical choices at WOOF. Dr. Deborah Wells, a psychologist and animal behaviorist in Ireland, did a study in 2002 concluding dogs seem to respond most favorably to classical music. Read about the study here.

Dr. Wells had two study groups in a shelter setting: a group of dogs who listened to music or other “auditory stimulation” and a control group of dogs who didn’t listen to anything.

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I would like to hear some Bob Marley.

Dr. Wells concluded that classical music had a more comforting effect compared to other kinds. With classical music, the dogs responded by resting more and barking less. Heavy metal agitated the dogs. (Surprise, surprise.)

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Don’t agitate me.

Interestingly, sounds of human conversation and pop music had no effect, which she theorized was possibly due to dogs habitually being exposed to the radio and therefore not really noticing it.

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Justin Bieber means nothing to me.

I think this is one case where anthropomorphising dogs is actually appropriate. Any music that makes you feel calm and relaxed will probably have a similar effect on your dog. (Unless, of course, heavy metal music calms you down – in which case, rock on but please close the windows.)

You know, it’s common sense stuff. Like music that has loud, sudden sounds will probably make your dog jumpy.

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And these guys can rile up themselves just fine – they really don’t need the encouragement. 🙂

So we’ll keep on doing what we’ve been doing. The dogs seem to like it, and it’s not so bad learning some of the classics.

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Crank that Beethoven!

What kind of music does your dog like?

23Apr/15

What to feed your dog

I find there are two kinds of owners when it comes to dog food. The owners who say, “I would NEVER give my dog people food!” And the owners who slip something off their plate every time they see those sweet puppy dog eyes.

I have to admit, I am the plate-slipper kind of owner.

indulge

Here she is licking salt off my face, like the walking food source that I am.

While treats are a matter of taste, picking the right dog food is a lot tougher. We are in the age of choices, and deciding between aisles upon aisles of kibbles, raw diets, freeze-dried and frozen meals – it’s hard to know what to do.

When I was doing my research for this blog, I messaged all my veterinary friends to get their take on how to choose a dog food. Their responses showed what a hot-button issue it has become. “You’re so brave to write about that!” they said. And I got more than a few “I’m staying out of that one!” Some named a couple brands that they personally use, but wouldn’t necessarily recommend for everybody. (Which makes sense because not all dogs should eat the same food.)

But I do think there is a place we can all start from when choosing a dog food. (Yes, I am going there, vet friends.) Please be kind and know that I am just going over some basics and that I fully encourage you to do your own research. And, as always, consult with your vet because some dogs have very specific nutrition requirements based on their health.

AH, THE PURINA DAYS

When I was a kid, dog food was easy. There was Purina, Alpo and Milk Bones. That’s it. And if you gave your dog anything else, you were “spoiling” them. As long as the packaging had a picture of a dog and a wagon on it, you were good to go.

THEN WE GOT WISE

Fast forward a few decades and enter the era of the informed pet owner. No more cheap dog food for us. (Or horse meat? Was that a real thing?) We wanted to do better. And just like everything else that used to seem simple (kid’s birthday parties come to mind) the internet has enabled us to more easily share ideas. That’s a good thing! But the dark side of the internet is that it has also allowed us to more easily compare ourselves with others, and awakened a forum for the competition of who can be the best. The Best Mother! The Best DIY-er! The Best Pet Owner! (That’s me, by the way.) Look at any blog or Instagram and you can see this competition playing out in real time.

For example, my refrigerator looks WAY BETTER than this one from the internet.

refrigerator

In your face, @marthastewart.

THE BASICS

So there is a lot of noise out there. I think a good place to start is with the VERY basic. What are dogs supposed to eat? Are dogs carnivores, herbivores or omnivores? (Surprise, surprise – there is controversy about this subject too!) I found a good article addressing this question, which claims the following:

– It is believed that all dogs originated from the timber wolf about 15,000 years ago

– Wolves are definitely strict carnivores (nothing but meat)

– Domesticated dogs are not exactly wolves, but share a lot of their traits – therefore they are carnivores too

– Dogs’ carnivorous traits include sharp teeth, front to back (no square molars to grind grains); the absence of salivary amylase, the enzyme herbivores and omnivores have to help break down starchy carbs into simple sugars; and a higher concentration of stomach acid that aids in digesting meat and protecting them from bacteria in decaying meat.

– Although dogs are basically built to be carnivores, over the years they have adapted to eat non-meat foods, including scraps from their owners’ cast-off meals, whatever they could scavenge and, more recently, commercial dog foods.

Read the entire article here and decide for yourself.

BUT ARE DOGS REALLY LIKE WOLVES?

Carnivorous wolves they may be, dogs have become highly functioning omnivores. And let’s be honest, thanks to their incredibly malleable genome and years of human tinkering, most domesticated dogs don’t look anything like their lupine ancestors.

for real wolf

Real wolf.

real wolves

Native American Indian Dogs. (A mix of wolf, Siberian Husky, German Shepherd and Malamute.)

Luca

And English Bulldog Luca, who is the cutest wolf I’ve ever seen.

LET THEM EAT MEAT! (BUT ONLY MEAT?)

Now that we know dogs are carnivores, but have adapted to also eat grains and vegetables, we are faced with a choice. Do we stick with an all-meat diet? A raw-food diet? Or do we “compromise” and buy a more convenient kibble that has ingredients other than meat? I think that depends on your dog and your lifestyle.

Dogs, like us, are all individuals and their dietary needs are going to be different. There is going to be some trial and error. (For some people, just finding a dog food that doesn’t make their dog itchy or have diarrhea is a feat in itself.)

And committing to an all-meat regimen is no easy task. I had a hard time finding an all-meat kibble online. (I did find a Real Meat Pet Food site, where a 10-pound bag of beef dog food was about $100.)  Even brands like Instinct and Taste of the Wild are “grain-free” but still contain vegetables, and in some cases, fruit (and other stuff).

Feeding raw meat is do-able, but can be difficult. It’s expensive, it’s tricky to store, and it’s hard on some dog’s digestive systems.

Unless you’re going to cook every day, you’re going to have to find yourself a decent kibble. This is when we enter the crazy world of canine marketing. What should you look for? What ingredients are acceptable?

FINDING A GOOD KIBBLE IS ALL ABOUT READING LABELS

We stand in the pet food store and stare at the shelves. We read labels, scratching our heads because they all have ingredient lists a mile long. We choose the lesser of all the evils and still feel a little guilty. (At least I do.)

feed with love

And we really want to do better.

You have to read dog food labels with a discerning eye. By law, food manufacturers are supposed to list the largest percentage of what’s in the food first. So I am always looking for foods that start with some kind of meat ingredient. Be wary of the word “meal.” Meal is a Frankenstein-like meat monster. “Chicken meal,” for example, is suspect because by law it is allowable to use “4D chickens” to make this meal – the four D’s being dead, dying, diseased or disabled.

Next, the fewer ingredients the better. Although they will have to add some kind of preservative to keep the kibble fresh on the shelf, tons and tons of chemicals are not what your dog needs.

Basically, choose food for your dog that you would choose for yourself. Real, whole foods are best. Compromise wisely.

And by all means, slip your dog a piece of boneless, skinless chicken off your plate once in a while. Because, despite what you’ve heard, people food is dog food.

Take it from me, the Best Pet Owner on the Internet.

What do you feed your dog?

13Apr/15

5 Tips: Bringing Your Dog on Vacation

Can I just say right up front that you don’t have to take your dog on vacation. DON’T TAKE YOUR DOG ON VACATION. That’s what WOOF is for! So, go ahead. Go on vacation. Leave your dog with us. We got this.

2 Boarding reception tour

Welcome to WOOF – may we take care of your dog today? 🙂

But let me pose a hypothetical situation. Say you adopt a dog. Say that dog is crazy adorable.

lady stump

(And this is just the back view.)

Say this crazy adorable dog also has separation anxiety. And say, even though you may work at a boarding facility, and get free boarding, you never leave her at work. Like ever. And maybe in order to actually be able to relax without constantly worrying about your dog, you have to take Miss Crazy Adorable with you on vacation.

Maybe that person is me.

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Hi, my name is Vickie and I am with my dog all the time.

(Hi Vickie!)

Let’s just say I have a lot of practice taking my dog everywhere, even on vacation. Let me share my insanity wisdom.

1. Find a good dog-friendly hotel.

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The emphasis being on the word “good.” Just because a hotel will accept your dog doesn’t mean it’s acceptable to you. Remember, this is your vacation so find a place you would like regardless of its pet policy.

I drove across country with my dog twice and was able to find a decent spot just about everywhere we stopped. Most chain hotels accept dogs – just call ahead and check. It’s becoming more and more trendy to accept pets, so you have that going for you.There are books and web sites listing pet-friendly hotels, like this one. If they’re pros, they’ll only charge you an additional $20-$30 a day for your dog. If it’s more, or they want a hefty “dog deposit,” shop around. A pet fee shouldn’t be more than 15-20% of what your room costs per night.

Some hotels won’t allow a dog over a certain weight. This always confused me because little dogs can be just as destructive as big dogs. I’ve heard hotels prefer small dogs because if the dog pees or poops in the room, the mess is smaller. There’s no point in arguing with the front desk, especially with a chain that operates by corporate rules. (And don’t start your vacation being angry – it’s not worth it.)

But sometimes if I just say, “okay, I’ll call the hotel down the street,” they want your business so badly they’ll accept your big dog. Same goes for the pet fee – if you think it’s too expensive, politely decline and tell them why. They’ll either lower the price to get your business, or they’ll make a note for management.

lady halloween

I am very clean, thank you very much.

Make sure you understand the rules – the main ones being don’t make a mess (easily done if your dog is potty trained and you take care not to let food and hair get everywhere) and don’t leave your dog unattended in the room. (I couldn’t leave Lady in the room even if I wanted to, so my plan includes bringing her along everywhere we go.)

Luckily for me, my favorite place in the world is also famously dog-friendly. We most often vacation in Carmel, Calif. because it has everything we like: beaches, hikes, great food and it’s just plain beautiful. Neighboring city Monterey also has the amazing  aquarium, which is worth going to more than once. Up picturesque Highway One is the coastal majesty known as Big Sur. (If you haven’t been up this way, you really should go!)

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This is just a picture I took from the car. I mean, come on.

I love the Carmel River Inn because it’s clean, quiet and my kind of charming. There is a main motel-like hotel but tucked in the back is the good stuff: sprawling gardens peppered with quaint little cottages. We like the John Steinbeck cottage (room 24, king bed, whirlpool tub, little patio). Rates per night are around $150-$200, depending on the season, and the dog fee per night is $20. It’s very reasonable considering you get your own space plus acres of Bambi-esque meadows to wander around in.

If Disney designed these cottages, they couldn’t have been cuter. (And I did not get any discounts for mentioning this inn – I just really like it!)

Some photos, proving my point:

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Gurgling fountains.

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Flowers, flowers everywhere.

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(Oh, hi Lady!)

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Our cottage duplex.

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Part of our room (I moved the couch around.)

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The rest.

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Big, ol’ tub!

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Our patio.

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Swing for swinging.

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… my magical place….

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… where I swung my head back, looking at the trees.

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An actual hammock.

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A leafy heart right outside our room.

Not every dog-friendly hotel is the Carmel River Inn, but if you do a little research, you’ll find a good place.

2. No hot weather (sorry sun-worshippers!)

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It’s essential that the place you’re visiting doesn’t get much hotter than 70 degrees because it’s likely you’ll have to leave your dog in your car sometimes. (Make sure your dog doesn’t mind hanging in the car!)

Generally, it’s cool enough to leave your dog in the car if the temperature outside is under 70 degrees. Finding shade is best but not essential if the temperature is low enough. (If it was over 70 degrees and we couldn’t find a shady spot, we’d change our plans to include Lady.)

A sandwich on the beach instead of dining in a restaurant is not that much of a letdown when the view looks like this.

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(Carmel Beach is 100 percent dog-friendly!)

3. Pack only the essentials.

Just like with your own packing, you don’t need to totally relocate all the creature comforts of home for your creature abroad. We take food (meals in sandwich bags are easy), leash, bowls, brush and bed. That’s it. Anything else that comes up, like a bee sting or wound, you can buy what you need at the drug store. Read my blog about home healthcare here.

(The bed is optional but Lady loves hers and knows immediately where her “spot” in the room is. But most dog-friendly hotels will provide a doggy blanket.)

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Bed in car!

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Bed in room!

Bonus tip: If you’re ever travelling and run out of dog food, white rice mixed with scrambled eggs or boneless, skinless chicken is a good alternative (and your dog will love it!)

4. Have a game plan.

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Dogs are pretty basic. They need food, exercise and sleep. (And love, yes, yes.) They’re like humans without all the added cerebral BS – they know what they like, and they don’t over think things. Following their lead actually leads to a pretty awesome vacation day.

Here’s what worked for us:

We had breakfast in the room. A french press and fruit is a little piece of heaven. Lady ate her breakfast and got pieces of toast. We showered. Lady did not.

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We went on our Big Morning Outing – I’m talking at least a couple hours. It was either a hike in the forest or a long beach walk. This was Lady’s favorite part (and mine too!)

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Bonus tip: have water and a bowl in your car at all times. It’s important to hydrate your dog (and yourself) frequently.

The next thing was our people-only time. This is when we found the shady parking spot, Lady took a nap and we had some human fun.

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One of my fancy meals.

 Then a siesta was in order. We all went back to the room, cleaned up a little and rested.

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Sometimes we’d nap on the beach.

Refreshed, we’d venture out for our Nighttime Activity. We’d go out to dinner, we’d sit on the sand and look at the stars, we’d marvel at the weirdness that is Carmel.

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This is their gas station sign, for example.

5. Decide if your vacation can realistically involve a dog.

Figure out what a great vacation is for you. Mine is pretty simple: to walk, to eat, to sleep, to read. That’s all I want. Lady fits in with our ambitious plans just fine.

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Like peas and carrots.

 But if your idea of a good vacation is more involved, like flying to a faraway land or exploring the ruins of an ancient civilization, you might have to leave your dog at home.

And “by home,” I mean at WOOF, of course!

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Staff are standing by.

Much love,

Vickie Jean

 

 

 

 

 

24Mar/15

Dog Park Etiquette

Once upon a time there was a magical dog park by the sea, where dogs romped and played and owners laughed and hugged, and all was right with the world.

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There were balloons there every day.

My dog park is just like this – sometimes. (Let’s hear it for Alameda Dog Park!) But I have to be honest. Dog parks are wonderful and fun, but they can also be extremely stressful. From naughty dogs to abrasive owners – sometimes the dog park is not the canine utopia we would hope it to be.

So Lady and I have come up with some unwritten rules – now written! – that can help you keep your dog park experience fun and safe.

dog park etiquette

Step 1. Yell “we’re going to the dog park!” in a ridiculous, shrill voice.

Watch the doggie theatrics ensue.

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WE’RE GOING TO THE DOG PARK!

2. Use the entry chute as it was intended.

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Hopefully your dog park has a little area that has double gates – one to the outside and one to the inside, so you have a “neutral zone” to unleash your dog and let her smell inside dogs before letting her in. Make sure you close the outside gate securely before opening the inside gate. Don’t be one of those owners who sloppily close the gate and then watch it swing open in surprise while dogs rush the chute and race out of the dog park. (I’ve seen this happen, I’m sad to say.)

Don’t let other dogs into the chute if you can help it. (But if you do, rest assured that the outer gate is securely closed because you made sure!)

Do make sure you take your dog’s leash off before entering the dog park. When you enter with your dog still on leash, it can cause insecure or protective feelings that can lead to a dog fight. (You know those times when you’re walking your dog and an unleashed dog rushes up and all hell breaks loose? That’s because leashed dogs feel and act differently than unleashed dogs. So even the playing field by taking your dog off leash so she can interact and greet other dogs on her own terms.)

3. Keep calm and monitor your dog (from a distance!)

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Dogs will rush up to your dog because nothing is more exciting than THE NEW DOG who just entered. Observe the interactions but resist the urge to participate by petting the other dogs. Dogs have a very specific greeting protocol that involves sniffing each other and generally sizing each other up. One false move from either dog (or you!) can throw this greeting off and make the dogs defensive and possibly cause a fight.

Keep your attitude calm and neutral because, believe it or not, your dog is very in tune with your emotions and if she senses you are alarmed, it will make her alarmed and feel she must defend you. Remember you are her pack leader, and you set the tone.

4. Note (and follow) the rules.

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Each dog park will have its own set of posted rules. It’s a good idea to know what they are and follow them to the letter. A dog park is a public space, so do your part by keeping it nice for everyone. Since my local dog park is sandy, someone went to the trouble of posting these signs about holes. So you better believe I’m refilling the holes my dog digs out – not only because it’s a rule, but because I’ve seen plenty of people step into a hole there and almost break an ankle.

5. For goodness sakes, clean up after your dog.

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In a place where there are bags, shovels, rakes and garbage cans devoted to this gross but necessary task, you have no excuse not to clean up your dog’s poop. And yet I still see owners casually stroll away from their dog while they are relieving themselves, either not noticing or pretending not to notice. (Guess what – I’m onto you.) It’s not a choice to pick up after your pet; it’s your responsibility – your dog, your mess. And believe me, there are plenty of owners who will call you out if you try to shirk this chore. And I’m one of them. Let’s avoid an embarrassing and unpleasant exchange and just do the thing you know you are supposed to do.

Also make a mental marker when you see your dog poop from afar. Many times I can’t find the poo and feel like announcing to the park, “I’m sorry; I tried!” 🙂

6. Beware the bench.

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This is personal choice but it is most assuredly a fact that if there is a bench or chair at the dog park, it is covered in urine. Just know that before you sit down. Or be like me and wear “adult play clothes” to the dog park you don’t mind being coated in a light mist of urine. Because it’s fun to sit a while at the dog park, even on a pee-pee bench.

7. Monitor dog behavior.

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This is one of the trickiest things to master at the dog park. I monitor dog play professionally and even I make mistakes sometimes. I think the key here is to know your dog, to know the warning signs of an impending fight and to only intervene if it is absolutely necessary.

Watch every dog your dog meets. Is the greeting going well? (Remember, it should ideally be the mutual butt sniff scenario.) You’ll notice one or both dogs trying to take things to the next level by initiating play. Usually it’s one dog trying to get the other dog to chase her.

Lady, for example, loves being chased the best, but will be the chaser if that’s her only option.

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So chasing, pawing each other, doing play bows – those are all good signs your dog is enjoying herself. Sometimes a dog will initiate play with your dog who plays in a style your dog DOESN’T LIKE. I don’t call this a “bad dog,” but simply a “bad match.”

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You’ll be able to tell if it’s a bad match because one of the dogs will start to look wary and a little offended. A good example is one dog trying to mount another one (some dogs tolerate humping; my dog Lady does not, so I always intervene if a dog tries to mount her.) Maybe a dog plays rougher than your dog likes. You’ll hear and see your dog warning the other dog to back off.

Your job is to watch closely for these warning signs and intervene at the critical point before play turns into aggression. If you’ve ever seen a bar fight escalate, it’s very similar. It starts off as joking around, then someone gets angry, warning signs start being thrown (with people, it’s words and sticking their chests out; with dogs, it’s baring of teeth and growling)

If you see the beginnings of aggression, DO NOT reach in to physically separate the dogs. It’s best to REDIRECT your dog to something else. With Lady, if I yell her name in that same shrill, ridiculous voice aforementioned, and tell her “over here!” it breaks the trance and she’ll follow me. Your dog may be different. For example, if you have a ball-crazy dog, grab a ball and get her attention diverted to a game of catch.

8. Keep your leash at the ready.

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The leash is handy because it will allow you to quickly leash up your dog if you see a situation escalating and pull her away. People’s first instincts are to grab their dogs’ collars, but this can be dangerous. If you take the extra second to latch the leash onto the collar, you can get your limbs and hands out of the way and have more control over your dog during a fight. The hope is that other owners are smart enough to leash up their dogs too and then a fight can really be stopped quickly without human flesh being served up for dinner.

9. Monitor your behavior. 

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Remember how I said calm owners generally mean calm dogs? Well the opposite is true too. Anxious owners sweating over every dog who approaches their dog are an absolute recipe for disaster at the dog park. Owners who interpret every sound as a growl, or every play grab as a bite – please do yourself and everyone a favor and don’t come to dog parks. It’s unreasonable to expect no touching at the dog park. Don’t bring your teacup chihuahua into the big dog area and then accuse all the other dogs of playing “too rough.” Use your head, and keep your outrage for situations that truly warrant it.

Conversely, don’t walk around the dog park “educating” everyone. (That’s what blogs are for – ha!) There’s nothing more tiresome and condescending than strangers telling you all about dog behavior, breed types, etc. It’s like talking politics or religion at a dinner party – you can do it, but you shouldn’t. Everyone has come to the dog park to have a good time, not to listen to you. Light conversation is nice. I strictly keep mine to “your dog is so cute!” That seems to be okay with everyone.

10. Watch at the water bowl.

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Generally, dogs at the dog park aren’t bowl-aggressive because the dog park is neutral territory. But if you know your dog can be food-possessive, be careful at the water bowl when another dog comes up to drink. Your dog may react like the other dog is trying to take something away from her.

Lady has many drinking buddies and is a happy drunk.

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That was some GOOD water!

11. Finally, understand you are taking a risk.

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Any off-leash, dog group play situation comes with inherent risks. Your dog may get hurt. Your dog may hurt another dog. Your dog may catch a cold. Etc. The only way you can keep your dog 100 percent safe is to keep them at home (and even then there are risks.)

Knowing this going in is helpful and reconciling with yourself a cut or scrape is minor compared to the major enjoyment and socialization your dog will get at the dog park makes the risk worth it.

I saw a People’s Court recently where a dog got attacked right when he entered the dog park. The owner hadn’t even taken his leash off yet. (Breaking my rule number 2!) Even though it was clearly the other dog’s fault, the judge had to rule that the victim had to assume all the responsibility for the vet bill because the attacker’s owner hadn’t done anything wrong. They were just at the dog park, where it’s allowed for your dog to be off-leash. That really clarified for me that dog parks are dangerous, because you are giving up some control by putting your dog in with dogs you don’t know, and you may very well come home with an injured dog and a big vet bill.

But somehow Lady doesn’t understand all this when I yell “We’re going to the dog park!” And that’s okay. Because it’s my job to think of that part. Her job is to just have fun.

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 What are your tips for going to the dog park?

NEXT TIME: Cat Park Etiquette. Rule one: sit with a box of wine and hope for the best. 🙂