Tag Archives: behind the scenes at a boarding facility

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 ūüôĀ ūüė•¬† ūüôĀ

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?

 

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

 

 

 

06May/15

Do dogs like music?

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

music bedroom

Our concert hall.

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

music 6

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.)

jazz 2

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.

music 9

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.

music 7

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.)

music 8

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.

music 10

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.

music 5

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

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.

music 3

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 Рthere 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?

13Feb/15

Your Funny Valentines

I started working at WOOF on Valentine’s Day three years ago. I met the staff, the dogs and wrote the very first Dog Blog on a day dedicated to love.

sweethearts

It was a pretty sweet first day.

Years later, even though dogs have come and gone, our business has almost doubled in size and our staff has grown by leaps and bounds, reflecting back on what I’ve learned here so far … I have to say¬†I’m having a little deja vu!

Valentine’s Day is a day to celebrate dogs.

love

In our playgroups, it’s always interesting to see which dogs gravitate toward one another. I’m not sure how they decide who they want to play or cuddle with. But each morning we see them choose their playmates or recognize when one of their besties is entering group.

It is, needless to say, super cute.

group play

So on this day of love, let’s highlight some of our WOOF Valentines and celebrate their special brand of affection.

Maggie and Posey

Posey and Maggie have an interesting relationship. Posey often sits on Maggie, and Maggie doesn’t seem to mind. Love works in mysterious ways.

Donato and Emmy

Emmy and Donato are from the same family. We always know they’re around when we see a blurry set of dots whizzing by.

Jasper and Annie

Annie is a big girl in Little Dog Land and Jasper the Cavalier has found the stunning redhead of his dreams.

JJ and Liza

JJ and Liza are from the same family and always have each other’s back, even when they’re sleeping.

Scout and Liza

Although sometimes JJ (NOT LIZA, whoops!) needs a little Scout time too. (JJ is okay with it.)

Indy and Posey

Indy and Posey are two Viszlas from the same family and rule Big Dog Land with an iron (red) paw.

Cosmo and Nike

Cosmo and NIke, the sweetest black Labs ever, live together at home and stick together at WOOF.

Charlie Jasper Scout and Annie

This motley crew proves that four is not a crowd. Charlie, Jasper, Scout and Annie like to create this kind of special sleeping society mid-day in Little Dog Land. (May I join? Please?)

Biggie and Ruby

Biggie the chocolate Lab pup is relatively new to our play group but he found a kindred spirit in Ruby, the kind older woman.

Hank and Jake

Hank and Jake have a pretty strong bromance going on. The give each other stiff, manly hugs but we see the tenderness underneath.

Asher and Serge

Asher and Serge, baby German Shepherd and Doberman, are growing up together in Little Dog Land (they’ll graduate to Big Dog Land soon!) They understand life is about the three P’s and N’s: play, play, play and nap, nap, nap.

Freya and Posey

Freya and Posey know size doesn’t matter when it comes to getting some girly alone time.

Abby & Bitsy

Abby the Great Dane puppy has found a friend in Bitsy the Dachshund, who is three times smaller and three times older but showing her the ropes while she goes through puppyhood in Little Dog Land. Bitsy’s the boss, obviously.

And this last picture shows that you don’t even need two dogs to spread the love.

Riley

Riley has plenty oozing from every pore on his adorable, fuzzy face.

Here’s to a very Happy Valentine’s Day! Keep your loved ones close and your dogs even closer!

family

xoxo,

Vickie Jean

15Jan/15

Bad dogs

Have you seen the trend “dog shaming”? It’s when owners post photos of their dogs with a sign telling everyone what naughty thing their doggy has done. They can be so funny because, really, dogs are dogs, and they have no shame thankyouverymuch. It’s part of their charm.

dog shame more funny

(source)

But this one hit home and made me very sad.

BADDOG-637x424

(source)

If you can’t read it, it says: “I got kicked out of doggie daycare because I’m a jerk!” The other says: “I’m her blind brother and I am awesome at daycare!”

I’m not criticizing this person at all. I think this was something very lighthearted and I’m sure he/she loves these dogs very much. It just ignited my thoughts about something I’ve been dealing with for a while now that I think is worth exploring.

Because I work at a dog daycare facility, I’m often in the position of having to tell owners that their dogs can’t come back to play. I hate having this conversation. Unfailingly – despite how carefully I choose my words and how clearly I try to communicate – what they hear when I tell them their dog isn’t working out in the daycare is that “your dog is bad.”

Can I just say for the record right now? There ARE NO BAD DOGS.

blog 4

Dogs are individuals, just like us, with likes and dislikes. They have experiences that shape their reactions. And the simple truth is that not all dogs like being put in a group with a bunch of other dogs.

blog 15

Some like to play with just a few besties.

blog 11

Or cuddle with a close friend.

blog 9

Or sometimes, sit on each other for no apparent reason. (Get off Maggie, Posey!)

blog 2

Others just want to play with a ball. (And if another dog tries to take that ball, all hell will break loose.)

blog 14

Others might be having a bad day and just want to be babied a little.

blog 16

There are a few things that we just can’t get around in the daycare setting. First off, they have to be okay being surrounded by other dogs. That’s just what a dog daycare is like. And second, they have to be able to have their own brand of fun in this setting. All of this has to be done safely, so that no one gets hurt.

blog 17

Many times, I’ve talked to owners who need their dog to come to daycare because they work all day. Unfortunately, these owners don’t always have dogs that enjoy group play.

blog 8

They want us to socialize their dogs better, so that they will start to like daycare. Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t. And while we’re figuring that out, we have to make sure nobody gets seriously hurt.

Whatever your theory on dog training (and there are many!) I have one truth I believe about dogs. They are individuals, just like us. And just like you can’t train a person to be an extrovert when they are an introvert, you can’t always convince dogs to enjoy something that they just don’t.

blog 1

I’m not an expert, but I can say that I’ve owned dogs since I can remember and have worked with them going on 20 years. I’ve worked with the most carefully bred labs and goldens in the Guide Dog program and helped treat street dogs who wanted to tear my face off. And I can honestly say I loved them all, and I could understand where each one was coming from.

An angry dog is just an angel who’s had her wings messed with one too many times. The angel is still in there – you just have to gain her trust.

vickie and sherman

vickie and desi

lady kiss

Having said all that, I think it’s an understandable misconception that all dogs like to play with other dogs. And that if they don’t – if they snap at dogs at the dog park, or lunge at other dogs while on leash – well, they’re BAD DOGS with BEHAVIOR PROBLEMS.

blog 3

But I say no to that. No, they are not bad dogs! They are just dogs who prefer doing other things for fun.

It’s asking a lot to expect every dog, who are all individuals with their own experiences and reactions, to love being surrounded by other dogs in a play group. Some dogs are understandably overwhelmed and lash out in fear. Others pick up on the frenetic energy of the group and think it’s a free-for-all for ransacking and bullying. And yet others panic because their personal space is constantly invaded and they feel they have no place to be.

blog 5

I read an article,”My Dog Got Kicked Out of Daycare Today” by Robin Bennett, a behaviorist from The Dog Gurus,,” who I think got it just right:

“When a dog doesn’t do well in off-leash play, it is not necessarily a symptom of a problem… This might be the case, but more often than not, it’s just a dog who prefers people…”

blog 6

“… It’s a dog who would love a hike in the woods but doesn’t enjoy off-leash play with a group of other dogs. This doesn’t make the dog bad.”

Bennett goes on to say that many of her clients still don’t accept this situation – they have dogs who don’t seem to enjoy dog parks or doggy daycares and they want to know why.

“Don’t all dogs want to play with other dogs?” they ask. “Shouldn’t I socialize him so he gets used to it? The truth is, there are far more dogs who do not enjoy off-leash play, than there are dogs who love it.”

And this was my favorite part:

“When a pet care professional dismisses your dog from daycare or recommends you don’t go to the dog park, you should thank them. Thank them for caring more about your pet, than about making a buck … Thank them for seeing your dog as a unique animal with individual temperament traits. Thank them for trying to look out for the well-being of your pet and putting your dog’s safety and comfort first.”

Thank you, Robin!

So to all those folks out there who think there is something wrong with their dog when I call them to say WOOF is not right for them, this blog post is for you.

I don’t think you have a bad dog. I think you have a lovely dog who just doesn’t like daycare.

 

21Feb/14

Daycare snapshots

Oh, hello.

close up pup

Where the heck have I been on this blog? Wasn’t November just yesterday?

It’s a deep thought, I know.

deep thoughts

Well, all I can muster is that it’s been busy, busy, busy! Business is booming, we’re meeting a lot of new faces all the time and it’s just staggering how many incredible dogs and dog families there are out there in the world!

little and ready

Yes, our enthusiasm is positively UNBRIDLED at this news as well. (She gets it.)

So here we are, catching our breath from all the holiday boarding, and find we are now in the midst of a very healthy daycare turnout. Our old-timers are showing the new-timers how it’s done.

chair stoughton

(It’s okay Stoughton – don’t get up.)

So many dogs, so many days, so many moments. We get to share them all with your pups while you are away. And I thought, hey, here we have all these great moments captured in photos.

I struck upon the best blog idea of all – The Quick & Dirty Photo Barrage.

So here goes nothing – a few of our favorite daycare snapshots!

It’s been chilly, so we’ve enjoyed a doggie fashion show each day.

cold pups

This is Maisy and her fabulous pink plaid jacket. You know she knows she looks good.

 

jacket maisy

I look good too! (You do.)

another coat

There has been lots of tennis ball action, of course.

 

running with ball

And some tennis ball hoarding.

 

lets play

We saw double.

double trouble one

double trouble two

double trouble three

And sometimes quintuple. (Quadruple? Let’s just say lots and lots of black labs.)

black dog meeting

There has been some igloo-sittin’.

igloo sitting

And some stolen kisses.

stolen kisses

Some massive babying. (Which we enjoy.)

rockabye doggie

Some interesting choices to rest.

denali trash can

(Denali! Get off the trash can! Denali? Okay. Never mind…)

And, of course, lots of RUNNING, RUNNING, RUNNING!

active pup

Okay, have to go back to work. It’s busy, you know. Did I tell you that?

Bye!

bye

 

16Aug/13

Off to college

We lost a good one yesterday.

Max dog wrangling

Max, one of our long-time dog handlers, is leaving us for college.

Max graduated

Here he is with his sister at graduation. (Yes, Max, I lifted a few of your personal photos off Facebook for the purpose of this blog.)

We are so happy for him. He’s going to Montana State University to major in mechanical engineering. Smart kid, good major – we know he is going to make everyone proud.

We’ve known Max through most of his high school career. He got a job at WOOF because of several e-mails he sent asking to work for us. He was tenacious – so much so that owner Jacque gave him a chance.¬†And we are so glad that she did because Max was a keeper.

His true love of dogs, maturity, work ethic and just plain sweet-natured personality has made it a pleasure to work with him over the years.

Max smiley bulldog

We know he’s about to embark on an important journey – one where he is going to begin to grow into an adult (and decide what kind of adult he wants to be.)

Max little dog

But can I confess something?

His absence is going to be a huge loss to the WOOF family and we are more than a little sad.

Max deep love

The job of a dog handler is not easy. You’re on your feet for hours, cleaning up countless messes. And after all that cleaning, yep, there’s more cleaning – you clean the entire building after the dogs have gone home. (Read about all of our amazing staff here.)

It really requires someone who can tolerate all the dirty work because they just like being around the dogs. And it requires someone who the dogs like being around too.

Max more deep love

Max is one of those people.

In honor of Max’s legacy, and to give him a proper send-off, let’s enjoy some Max moments.

There are the endless shots of him doing our famous Cuddle Times:

Max big shaggy dog

Max border collie

Max lab

Max Christmas

(Christmas cuddle!)

Here he is hanging out with his WOOF crew off hours:

max and kwon

Max and Andrew

woof friends

Max, Alex and Lauren

Can you spot him in the Little Dog Lounge?

max the lounge

And one of my personal favorites, Max in the Little Dog Chair, giving a little thug life flavor:

Max in little dog chair

So with that, let us just say goodbye and good luck Max.We look forward to seeing you on all of your school breaks, filling in for us where you can.

We’ll save your drink for you.

Max kwon

xoxo,

Vickie Jean @ WOOF

03Jul/13

Heat wave

We’re finally nearing the end of this record-breaking heat wave. And let me tell ya – ¬†it’s not a day too soon!

hot

So. Very. Hot.

 im hot

Hey! Hey! It’s hot outside!

hot too

Hey, um…

bulldog german shep

Hot enough for ya?

Yes, kids. I know. It’s hot.

With the temperatures hovering in the high nineties (and sometimes hitting three digits!) for about a solid week now, we’ve gotten the same question from our WOOF parents:

How on earth do you keep them cool?

Well, for those guests who are staying in our luxurious, air-conditioned suites overnight, staying cool and comfortable is not a problem.

suite

(If I could fit on that bed, I would have slept in there. My house has no air conditioning!)

But during the day, the dogs want to play outside so we have to improvise. We use the typical anti-heat weapons, of course.

Shade…

tarp shade

(We love our new sail shades!)

Rest…

Licorice

Water…

water

Fans…

fans

Heck, we even have movie days.

movie day shade

But our biggest secret weapon against the summer heat?

pool 7

pool 4

pool 2

WADING POOLS! Yeah, baby!

Dogs are funny about pools. They don’t approach them like us human folk. Their first thought is typically: why, this is a giant water bowl! How fun. I’m gonna drink all this water.

pool 1

pool 9

 

Then, inevitably, there the splashing begins.

pool 8

pool 6

Cool! Giant water bowl to splash in!

And then, finally, when drinking and the splashing is over, there’s the sitting.

pool 3

Ah. Sittin’ in my giant water bowl.

This explains, WOOF parents, why your dogs may be slightly damp when you pick them up at the end of a hot day.

pool 5

Mom’s here?

Because we know one thing to be true in the battle of keeping your dog safe in the summer heat:

wet dog

A wet dog is a happy dog.

Happy summer and stay cool out there –

Vickie @ WOOF

10Jun/13

Our amazing staff

One indisputable fact about running a doggie daycare? The canines definitely outnumber the humans.

the group

 

staff feet

staff unknown

I’m becoming suspicious that they know it, too.

i know it

(See that knowing look?)

So it’s really important to find and hire just the RIGHT HUMANS for the job.

staff max weimereiner

Max

We get a lot of resumes at WOOF. I think it’s because people have a romantic notion of what it’s like to work at a doggie facility.

puppies-in-the-field

(insert self in field, maybe carrying a basket of fruit)

Whenever we interview an applicant, I ask “why do you want to work with dogs?” ¬†(Hint, I’m looking for an answer that goes beyond the typical, “Um, because I love dogs!”)

Some of the better answers have included:

I like interacting with them.

kyle with flying dog

Kyle

I’m interested in dog psychology.

abby says hello

I like to stimulate their minds.

staff frankie ballFrankie

 

Those are the kinds of answers that intrigue me.

Because, to be honest, it’s a lot of hard work. It takes a lot more than just love to keep a yard with 50-plus dogs clean all day. And it takes more than love to keep them entertained and – more imporantly – safe in the process.

It takes a lot of energy, compassion and commitment.

bag organization

(And organization. Did I mention organization?)

There are 7 am start times, diarrhea clean-ups and slobber on clothes. ¬†When you can love them through all that, then I know you’re right for WOOF.

staff more brandon on floor

Brandon

staff more brandon on floor two

Our track record of finding these kind of extraordinary people is pretty good, if I do say so myself. ūüôā

katherine

Katherine

andrewAndrew

nathalie bio pic

Nathalie

lauren bio pic

Lauren

I updated the staff bios recently on our web site (read them here), and as I was writing them, I realized that it takes a special person to do this job well.

We have a lot of young people in the mix – people who are typically in school, studying to be nurses, psychologists, actors – you name it, we have an employee aspiring to be it. WOOF is their “day job,” a pit stop on their way to their futures.

As I wrote their profiles, I thought about the difference between the present versions of these people versus the people they are striving to become.

I thought about Lauren and Max, for example.

staff lauren and max

Two of the most genuine, sweetest young people I’ve ever met.

Lauren is in school getting her general education credits toward her nursing degree. Max, who has worked at WOOF through most of high school, is leaving us in the Fall to go to college to study mechanical engineering.

Even though their plates are full with outside goals, when they are at work, they are 100% present for the dogs. They arrive early and stay late. They always take extra shifts. I, on the other hand, can barely get my grocery shopping done.

Ah, youth.

staff max and dog

Max

I find that passion and commitment to the dogs starts from the top down. I’d love to take all the credit, of course!

reagan

Look at how the dogs just ADORE me.

But the truth is, it takes a real team to tame the wild and wooly WOOF pack. And I have to hand it to WOOF owner Jacque.

staff jacque 2

She’s the kind of owner who is here just as much as everyone else. And cleaning and doing the dirty work on top of it.

staff jacque

When your staff sees you not just telling them what the right thing to do it, but doing it yourself, it makes a big difference.

staff elisa

Elisa

staff kyle

Kyle

staff nicky couch

Nicky

 

I think the bottom line is, you can’t fake it. It’s obvious when you have a true passion for dogs. And if I ever detect that passion wavering, I know it’s time for someone to move on.

Because the dogs always give us their very best selves.

staff buddies

And they deserve nothing less in return.

all about the dogs

xoxo,

Vickie Jean @ WOOF