Tag Archives: San Francisco

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?

 

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 – 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?

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. 🙂

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?

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.

FullSizeRender (6)

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.

FullSizeRender (1)

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.

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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. 🙂

25Feb/15

Dog mom

I am one of those people who call myself my dog’s “mom.”

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Here I am, momming it up.

I call myself that because I feel like her mom. She is completely dependent on me from the moment we wake up to the moment we go to bed. (And sometimes in the middle of the night, if she’s not feeling well.)

She expects a lot from me. I am her world. Sometimes when she needs something, I am so tired and I can’t imagine doing one more thing. Even for her. But then I see her cute face and love takes over, and moves my body to do what she needs. Even if it’s to clean up the millionth mess she’s made somewhere in the house (and after I just cleaned it!)

Sound familiar, moms?

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Her cute face, expecting something.

But still I wonder what other people think of this term. Is it cringe-worthy? Is it offensive? Are they neutral and I’m the only one who feels a bit weird about it? Or do they nod their heads in recognition, like, yep, I’m a dog mom too! (If you picked the last, then you are my people and I will love you forever.)

When I’m talking to or about Lady, “mom” just rolls so easily off my tongue. But, if I’m being honest, it feels like a bit of a stretch – and perhaps even an out-and-out delusion? Since I, you know, didn’t give birth to my Siberian Husky. (But I did adopt her! But not legally? See how the mind reels.)
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Sitting on mommy’s lap.

Then there’s the judgment I may get from others when I say it, the most obvious of which: since I don’t have human children, this is obviously my way of (mis)directing my maternal instincts.

All I can say about that is that I grew up wanting stuffed animals, not dolls. I was crazy for all things horse and dog. The first question I had when my husband asked me to move in with him was, “can we get a puppy?” (Spoiler alert: we did.)

So I’m not too sure this assumption applies to everyone. Sure, I am a woman with womanly feelings and all (define those however you like), and I do enjoy “babying” my dog, but it doesn’t mean what I really want is a baby. Because at my age, I’m pretty sure I don’t. And having had a dog since I was a kid, and always wanting to have a dog in my life, I’m pretty sure what I want is a dog.

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My beautiful daughter, admiring a chicken.

My reticence in using the term “mom” is because I have a lot of respect for the job. (And for dads too!) Being a parent is a massive responsibility and I don’t want to use it lightly.

So should I switch to the more loathsome term (in my opinion) “owner?” I mean, I don’t own my husband, so neither do I own my dog. (But I will fight you ten ways ’til Tuesday if you try to take what’s mine! Ha!)

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Riding in mommy’s car.

I have friends who have kids and friends who have dogs and friends who have kids and dogs. (And friends who have cats, but don’t have kids, etc. etc.) I’ve seen a lot of kid and animal love and I never really thought to compare the two. Comparing kinds of love just seems wrong and ultimately, pointless. Someone is going to feel marginalized. And who’s to say what kind of love is greater than another?

Love is personal.

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Waiting for mommy to come home.

But I have really noticed that anybody who has a human child usually has a bit of an eye-roll reaction when they hear pet owners calling their animals their “kids.”

And boy do we pet enthusiasts love shouting our love from the rooftops!

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And sometimes from our car’s bumper…

Arguably, pet people are just as passionate about their pets as parents are about their children. Their Instagram feeds are stuffed with pics of little Fluffy or Rover doing the cutest things ever. They celebrate their pet’s birthdays. They cradle and kiss their pets on the lips. They set up play dates for them.

Need I remind you that I work at a DOGGIE DAYCARE? I mean, we have doggie daycares! People from the last century wouldn’t have even believed such things would ever exist! I address our WOOF clients as “WOOF moms and dads.” It seems so natural, and yet I have to acknowledge that maybe it’s not for everyone.

At home, I say things like, “mommy doesn’t like that!” or “come to mommy!” Sometimes when I’m grouchy, “this is mommy time.” When it comes to Lady, I hear the “m” word slip out of my mouth so easily and it feels right.

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Sitting on mommy’s knee.

Of course, having a dog is different than having a child. You don’t have the awesome responsibility of raising a responsible, well-adjusted adult who will leave you someday and roam the earth only with your teachings to draw from. You don’t have to save for a college fund. They never leave you.

I acknowledge there are some major differences.

But I stand on the similarities. If I’m responsible for feeding, providing medical care for, cleaning up after, loving and generally directing a living being’s entire existence myself, well – then I’m their mom. Period.

And I have an even more intense relationship with Lady because she suffers from separation anxiety. She literally goes everywhere with me.

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Out with friends.

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While I’m working.

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On damn near every errand. (Unless it’s too hot, in which case I don’t go and I suffer without conditioner or coffee creamer like a champ.)

My husband and my vacations so far have all included the dog. We plan our lives around her. Sometimes I feel a little resentful. Sometimes I feel guilty that she’s so needy. Sometimes I feel so lucky and can’t imagine my life without her.

Mostly, I feel like a mom.

Question: Do you call yourself your dog’s mom? Or dog’s dad? Why or why not?

05Feb/15

Doggie Healthcare at Home

Having a dog is like having a furry family member. A furry family member who totally depends on you but can’t tell you when something hurts.

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Not exactly a fountain of info here.

I know what it’s like to feel helpless when you think your dog isn’t feeling good. Maybe she has vomited a couple times; maybe she didn’t want dinner last night, which is so unlike her. 

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I think Lady still remembers this chicken from July 4th of last year.

I know the frustration of when it’s a Saturday and the only place open is an emergency hospital. You don’t know the doctors there, you don’t know how much it’s going to stress out your dog to even go there, and you certainly don’t know how much money it’s going to cost.

Owners everywhere, right this minute I’m sure, are looking at their dogs and thinking: “should I take her to the vet?” It’s not always obvious what to do.

This post is aimed at helping you answer this question by:

  • Giving you straightforward tips on how to assess your dog’s health,
  • Offering a few safe home treatments for common ailments, and
  • Clarifying when you don’t have enough information and need to go to the vet

As always, my disclaimer: I am not a veterinarian and my advice should not be substituted for that from a real doctor. These are merely general tips to help owners become more educated about the health of their dogs.

That said, meet my dog patient, Lady.

She is super-thrilled to be my model for all these humiliating illustrations.

Your home “exam”: When you are checking your dog at home, you’re simply looking for the source of what might be making her uncomfortable. I think it’s helpful to go through all parts of the body, step by step. (I put the “exam” in quotes for our purposes because nothing can substitute for a real veterinarian’s exam, one from a professional with years of training and experience to draw upon when assessing your dog.) 

That said, you can get a lot of useful information from looking at your dog from tip to tail!

Nose

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First, note how cute the nose is.

Next, note if there is any discharge coming out. If there is discharge and it’s a color (not clear), it might be infected mucous and you’ll need to go to the vet.

Is there anything up there? Is your dog breathing okay? Sometimes violent sneezing can indicate a foxtail or piece of plant has flown up there. (This is especially common in the dry season of summer.) foxtails continue to travel upwards and are not to be underestimated in the damage they can wreak along the way, so if that’s suspected, you’ll need to go to the vet.

You can also somewhat gauge hydration from the nose. If the nose is dry, it doesn’t necessarily mean your dog is dehydrated, but check it later to make sure it moistens up. A dry nose is one clue to indicate dehydration. (More on hydration soon.)

Eyes

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First, your dog will note that her food bowls are missing from the stand behind her and resent you for it.

Second, you’ll check if the eyes are red, watery or have discharge. (Again, colored discharge means you’ll need to go to the vet.) If your dog’s eyes are blood shot or the pupils look strange to you, it could indicate inflammation and you’ll need to go to the vet.

If the eye fluid seems sticky, like the lids aren’t easily lubricated with each blink, it could indicate dehydration. Dogs get cataracts, just like people, and they look similar. Ask your vet to go over the pros and cons of cataract surgery.

A quick tip on how to administer eye drops by yourself:

If you’re like me and have a working spouse, and often don’t have anyone to help you hold your dog, you can pull off administering eye drops solo! Simply straddle your dog’s back, gently squeezing with your legs, and lean the dog’s head back toward your body. This gives you the most control if your dog tries to resist. (If your dog is little, get closer to the floor, mimicking the same position.) Have your eye drops ready to go and be quick about it! Even the most patient dogs will eventually tire of this ordeal.

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Use only vet-prescribed or recommended eye drops!

Mouth

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Your dog’s mouth tells a story. First look for obvious things like lesions and cuts.

Particularly bad breath can indicate an illness or dental disease. Sharply defined, red lines above the teeth at the gum line can indicate dental disease too. You can most easily clean your dog’s teeth by rubbing them with a gauze-wrapped finger. (Works much better than a toothbrush, in my opinion.)

And don’t poo poo having your dog’s teeth cleaned under anesthesia. It’s the only way for a vet to properly clean under the gums and extract bad teeth. Dental disease is serious and can be fatal if left untreated. Not to mention the PAIN your dog is going through with an untreated rotting tooth or gum disease.

Speaking of the gums, they are really telling. They should be pink, pink, pink! Pale, white-ish gums can indicate a serious illness. If you see white gums, you’ll need to go the vet right away.

Quick Gum Check Tip: Press your index finger into the gum and take it away. Watch as your pale fingerprint appears and then quickly fills again with pink color. If your dog’s gum stays pale where you pressed your finger and takes a long time to fill back in with color, it could be a sign of illness and you should run, don’t walk to the vet.

The saliva on the gums should be wet but not sticky. If you feel sticky saliva, it could indicate dehydration.

The tongue should be relatively clear. If you see a thick film on it, it could indicate illness.

Ears

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You are looking at the skin and smelling for any strong odor. Infected ears can have red skin and smell really bad (“normal bad” smelling ears just smell a bit yeasty).

Cleaning ears: Wrap gauze around your index finger and gently swipe into the ear canal. DO NOT USE Q TIPS as the dog’s ear canal is a weird shape and you might puncture something. Ear wax should come out. If you see blood, puss or anything other than wax on the gauze (sometimes the wax is black, don’t worry), your dog might have an ear infection or a foreign body and you’ll need to go to the vet. You’ll know if your dog’s ears are infected because she will protest pretty dramatically at having her ears touched because it’s very painful.

Those aforementioned foxtails love to go into ears and often need to be removed under anesthesia.

Ear injuries: Cuts or wounds on the ears should be handled with great attention. Dogs will shake their heads at the feel of the irritated ear and sometimes burst blood vessels, creating the dreaded ear hematoma. Ear hematomas look like a squishy, blood-filled balloon has invaded your dog’s ear flap. They are terribly difficult to repair and should be avoided at all costs. If your dog has a cut on his ear, wrap his ear flat to his head with a stretchy bandage or vet wrap and get yourself to the vet. Ear hematomas generally require repair under anesthesia.

Bonus anesthesia tip: if your dog is going under anesthesia, ask if your vet can perform a dental while she’s under. Ask the tech to really trim her nails nice and short. Anesthesia is expensive and hard on the body so you’ll want to get as much done while your dog is under as possible, within reason (you don’t want your dog to be under too long either.)

Bonus bonus anesthesia tip for stomach-flipping dog breeds: dogs like Standard Poodles or other deep-chested, large breed dogs prone to BLOAT – ask your vet if they recommend stomach stapling while your dog is under. Sometimes dogs who are very prone to this deadly condition can benefit from having their stomach anchored in place so you don’t have to worry about the dreaded bloat the rest of her life.

Handy-dandy dehydration test

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Lift the skin between your dog’s shoulder blades into a tent-like shape and let go. For hydrated dogs, you should see the “tent” go back down into position quickly and easily. If the shape hold its position for longer than a second or two, it could indicate dehydration. You can also gently pinch the skin together and rub the two pieces of skin to feel for stickiness inside. (You may be seeing a pattern here: sticky fluids anywhere (gums, eyes, under skin) may equal dehydration.)

Paws

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Lift the paws, separate the toes, look at the skin, pads and nails. Our friend the foxtail likes to make an appearance between toes, creating a nasty hole and abscess in its wake. Sometimes ticks will attach here. You are basically just looking for abnormal skin or foreign bodies hiding between toes.

Bonus note on ticks: ticks are generally harmless unless your dog comes into contact with the tiny ones that carry Lyme disease. Lyme-carrying ticks vary according to region and are more prevalent in the northeastern US. Regardless, you’ll want to REMOVE ticks as soon as possible. You DON’T have to use matches or any strange technique! Simply use tweezers, grab the tick and pull it out. Or take your finger, press it onto the tick (for the brave of heart), and make quick, tiny circles on it with pressure. The tick will let go and you can pull it out and flush it down the toilet (my fave method.) If part of the tick remains in the skin, worry not. You know the tick is dead and the body treats the leftover part as a foreign body, pushing it out eventually. (You’ll want to watch for infection if this is the case.)

Bonus note on nail trims: if you cut your dog’s nails too short and “quick” them, you don’t have to have Kwik Stop or a similar product that helps the blood clot. You can use regular old flour!

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Flour, right out of my cupboard!

Simply tap a gob of flour onto the bleeding nail’s tip and have your dog rest for a while, as walking breaks the clot off, starting the bleeding process all over again.

Spine

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If your dog seems painful, is hunching or has trouble walking, you can palpate (a fancy term for examining by touch) the spine to check for any points of pain. Start at the top, using both of your thumbs to press gently along each side of the spine. If your dog has an issue somewhere, she will likely flinch or cry out. Spine issues require a specialist so you’ll need to go to the vet.

Palpating other parts of the body

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Methodically and gently squeeze the elbows, legs, knees, hip area, and muscles to try to pinpoint any painful spots. Pay close attention to how your dog reacts because dogs are generally STOIC and have an instinct to hide their pain. Rotate and flex their joints to see if there is any arthritis pain.

If you are in any doubt about your dog being in pain, you must go to the vet. There are safe and effective pain relievers for dogs. Dogs shouldn’t have to live with pain just because they are good at hiding it.

Bonus life saving tip: DO NOT GIVE OVER-THE-COUNTER PAIN MEDS to your dog! Ibuprofen (Advil) and Acetaminophen (Tylenol) are TOXIC to dogs and might kill them. Aspirin can be safe in infrequent, low-doses but you should consult your vet because it can cause stomach ulcers with prolonged or heavy use.

Tummy

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Your dog’s tummy is just as sensitive as yours is, so be gentle! Press around to scout for pain, lumps or masses. For females, you can give a breast exam along the nipple lines, similar to how you would do your own breast exam. (She just has more of them because she has more mouths to feed…) The more you do this, the more you’ll get to know what your dog feels like and what’s abnormal or new going forward. For boys, it’s a good opportunity to peek at the old privates and make sure there are no obvious issues down there.

Taking your dog’s temperature

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Not a rectal thermometer, but here for illustration.

You’ll want to buy a rectal thermometer and write your dog’s name really big on it so you’ll know exactly where it’s been (and where it should go next). You’ll need something like KY Jelly or Vaseline for lubrication.

Coat the end of the thermometer in the lubricant and explain to your dog that something slightly upsetting is about to go down, but it’s for her own good.

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Make a goofy face to show her how much fun you are having together.

Lift her tail and insert the tip of the thermometer gently. Most dogs are okay with this if you are deliberate and gentle. Wait until the thing beeps or count to fifteen one-mississippi-style.

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A NORMAL DOG TEMP is about 101 degrees Fahrenheit. (Normal range is 99.5 to 102.5.) A temp 103.5 or above is considered to be a FEVER and you’ll need to go to the vet. If her temp reaches 106 or above, it can be FATAL.

Common ailments & home treatments

The most common issue for dogs at home is vomiting, diarrhea or both. Before I suggest treating these signs, let’s first agree on when a vet needs to intervene.

FOR VOMITING: generally, vets consider three vomits within 24 hours reason to have your dog seen by a vet. If your dog vomits breakfast one morning, try giving her a half meal at dinner to see if she keeps it down. Don’t give a vomiting dog water – it will likely trigger more vomiting! Check for hydration (nose, gums, skin “tent”) and take your dog to the vet to get rehydrated under the skin by IV. If your dog is vomiting infrequently but for a prolonged period of time, go to the vet. Blood in the vomit? Go the the vet pronto.

FOR DIARRHEA: Dogs are like us in that they get diarrhea sometimes. Some breeds and certain dogs even get diarrhea often. You can home-treat diarrhea with a bland diet: white rice (brown is too complex to digest), low-fat cottage cheese, scrambled eggs, low-sodium chicken broth – all are good and delicious bland dinners to give your poopy dog.

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You can also give Imodium (loperamide) to dogs safely. Doseage is .05/.1 mgs per pound of body weight every eight hours. (For example, Lady weighs 55 pounds, so I can give her one to two 2mg tablets.)

If diarrhea continues for more than a couple days, or contains mucous or blood, or is dark red or black, get your poopy dog to the vet. Dark stool can indicate blood coming from the intestines and needs to be addressed.

POISON INGESTION

Dogs love the sweet taste of anti-freeze. They’ll lap up pools of it off your garage floor. Chow-hounds like Labradors love to eat just about anything. For this reason, you may find yourself in the position of inducing vomiting.

Be careful – you don’t want your dog to regurgitate everything. A whole chicken carcass fished out of the trash, for example, can do harm coming back up the throat. You don’t want to induce vomiting for bleach, drain cleaner or if it has been over two hours since ingestion. You also don’t want to induce vomiting if your dog is in any weakened state and can’t be counted on to vomit successfully. Ask your vet before inducing vomiting so you can tell them the suspected substance.

But it’s a good idea to have hydrogen peroxide on hand for those throw-up occasions.

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You’ll want to use the 3% kind that’s sold at most pharmacies. (The more concentrated ones are too potent.) Use 1 teaspoon for every 10 pounds of body weight. (Lady’s vomiting cocktail, for example, would be 5 teaspoons (rounding down for 55 pounds.))

Vets have the advantage of having oral syringes to shove the liquid down, but at home you can mix it with some non-chocolate ice cream or honey to make it more palatable. Walk your dog around after she has taken it to get the reaction going. Take her to a place you don’t mind being covered in vomit! Comfort and encourage her as she vomits as the act is very stressful for dogs. It typically takes 15 minutes or less. If the hydrogen peroxide doesn’t work, or you are unclear what your pet may have ingested, you need to go to the vet.

Benadryl is your friend

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Benadryl (despite being blurry in the above picture) is truly a wonder drug for dog owners. Its uses are myriad and it’s pretty safe for all dogs.

Doseage: 1 mg Benadryl/diphenhydramine (make sure the pill contains no other ingredients!) per pound of body weight every 12 hours or so. It makes most dogs sleepy!

ALLERGIC REACTIONS – if your dog starts swelling up, pop her with some Benadryl for its antihistamine qualities. If the swelling doesn’t subside, or recurs for no apparent reason, go to the vet.

SEDATIVE – Benadryl is a safe, over-the-counter sedative for dogs who have anxiety. Whether it’s fireworks, separation anxiety or any stressful situation, it can help your dog calm down. You’ll want to try it first when you are around because sometimes dogs get more anxious when they feel a shift in their perceptions and they panic, negating the therapeutic effect.

GENERAL ITCHINESS – try Benadryl first. If the problem persists, go to the vet.

And… that’s all for now.

There may be more medical tips percolating in my brain but I think that’s quite enough for one round.

Lady has been poked and prodded, is tired and needs a cookie.

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Your dog’s health may not be simple, but dogs themselves are. So Lady, take this cookie and call me in the morning.

With love,

Your doctor mom

 * Thanks to Hans DeHamer, Super Husband, for helping me take all these pictures. *

22Jan/15

Top 10 Tips for Going to the Vet

In a former life I was a veterinary coordinator. That’s a fancy title for people who answer the phone and schedule appointments at a vet practice (but!) are also called upon to help save lives every now and again.

 

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For nearly two decades, I counseled people through medical conundrums large and small and had to become competent really fast in giving sound veterinary advice. I’ve worked at general practices, a practice specializing in orthopedics and neurology and for the veterinary program at the fabulous Guide Dogs for the Blind in Marin County.

I’ve had the privilege of shadowing some amazing doctors while they diagnosed and treated, a delicate balancing act between education, experience and good old-fashioned detective work. I’ve seen dogs saved and lost, anguished owners grieve, and angry owners blame. I’ve seen some things.

At WOOF, I’m in charge of monitoring the health of our guests – a responsibility I take very seriously as I’ve seen how quickly a seemingly insignificant problem can go really wrong, really fast.

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You could say I’ve been writing this blog in my head for quite a while.

So, what are the Top 10 Tips I would give to owners for going to the vet, you ask? Let me tell you.

But first, the standard disclaimer: I am not a veterinarian. This blog is about sharing some general observations I’ve had as part of the veterinary world and not to be substituted for real medical advice.

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1. Try out more than one vet.

Successfully caring for a pet is very dependent on a good relationship between vet and owner. Find a vet who you can communicate with, whose medical approach you understand, and who you like. You might want a small practice that incorporates some acupuncture, or you might prefer a big practice, with in-house diagnostic equipment and 24-hour availability. Figure out what makes you feel safe and who you trust so that each visit isn’t confusing and upsetting. (If you pick the small vet, make sure you have an emergency vet in mind for after hours!)

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2. Know your dog and speak up.

Vets need to take a good history of your dog in order to diagnose. They may need to know what they eat, how often they poop, if they are generally hyper or mellow, if they eat socks, etc. You are your dog’s spokesperson! There is nothing more frustrating for a vet than hearing crickets when they ask the owners questions, or owners who go off on unrelated tangents. Remember that symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea could point to so many different illnesses – the details you share with your vet can really make the difference between life and death. Be observant, stay on topic, and give as many relevant details as you can.

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3. Stop Googling!

Don’t go into your vet appointment armed with pages of online research and self-diagnoses. Vets have gone through years of study and practice – let them do their jobs. A little information is truly dangerous. If you think you already know what is wrong with your dog, you run the risk of steering your vet in the wrong direction or – worse! – deciding you don’t need to take your dog to the vet at all. (And on this topic, take Yelp reviews with a grain of salt. Even the best vet practice is going to have some loudmouths spewing nonsense online.)

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4. Keep and bring records.

If you change vets, move, or go to a different vet for emergencies or specialty treatments, keep copies of any lab work your dog has ever had. Blood work, urinalysis, titers (the tests that determine if booster vaccines are necessary) – each time you get one of these done, (you’ll know because they are expensive!) ask your vet’s receptionist for a copy and keep it in a handy folder. When you can hand your vet previous labs, they can compare your dogs’ values over time and see trends that may help them in diagnosing what may be wrong today.

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5. Ask for estimates!

For any vet appointment, you walk in the door already paying an exam fee. They can range from $40 to $90, depending on the practice. (Future readers: these are 2015 prices.)That’s it until the vet takes your dogs’ vitals and history, and then starts suggesting tests, surgeries and treatments. This is where you ask for an estimate. This helps not only determine the cost of your visit, but also illuminates the approaches your vet might take in diagnosing your dog. Any vet worth their salt will not only willingly give an estimate, but gladly do so. This helps them make sure they can collect their fees and protects them against folks who may be ignorant of how much things cost. I’ve had vets work up two or three estimates at a time, pricing all my options at once.

* A special note (and long one, sorry!) about vets and money: I stop listening to people when I hear the words: “All vets care about is money.” This is the battle cry of the ignorant, is unfair and simply not true. Firstly, veterinarians (unless they are specialists) rarely, if ever, make anything close to six figures. Secondly, running a veterinary practice costs money. The overhead for a hospital is staggering and most of the income goes towards staff, leases, insurance and upkeep, not lining the vet’s pocket. And thirdly – and I’m most passionate about this point – vets did not go to school and incur student loans to fund your dog’s health care. That’s your job, as the owner – one you took on when you decided to get a dog. It’s manipulative and insulting to tell a vet they don’t care about dogs because they won’t treat your dog for free. If they did that, they’d be out of business and couldn’t afford to treat their own dogs, many of whom I assure you they’ve probably rescued.

Okay, rant over. Onward!

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6. Can this be a tech appointment?

There are many things a technician can do, saving you an exam fee. Things like vaccines, anal gland expression, fecals, nail trims, and even blood draws for pre-ordered tests. Most vet offices will allow this so long as your dog has been seen by the doctor within the past year. So ask for tech appointments for the small stuff, and thank me later when you feel rich and clever.

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7. Medications – ask for them!

If you have an ongoing relationship with your vet, and bring your dog in regularly, sometimes your vet will prescribe a medication over the phone. Things like antibiotics for hot spots, pain medications for arthritis, sedatives for the Fourth of July – all can be given without an office visit so long as your dog has had recent blood work and been examined within a year. Make sure to ask about risks and side effects and let your vet decide if a med is reasonable to try before coming into the office. But you can certainly ask!

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8. When in doubt, throw in an X-ray

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen dogs present with some subtle symptoms – a little dehydrated, minor vomiting, lethargy. Blood work is done and the values seem mostly normal – maybe the white blood cells are a little high, or the dog is a tad anemic. Nothing serious. Can I just say – go ahead and ask for an X-ray. They can be a bit pricey (ask for an estimate!) but sometimes a vet is willing to take one lateral view (that’s the one taken from the side) and it doesn’t cost that much. An X-ray can spot swallowed foreign objects that could obstruct the intestines or a tumor that will eventually burst. Ever since I lost my dog to a splenic tumor that I had no idea was there, I’m a fan of the X-ray. They can’t catch everything, but they can catch some big things.

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9. Get the pain meds.

Dogs feel pain just like we do, but they are really good at hiding it. Some say it’s a leftover instinct from the wild because showing pain showed weakness. Whatever the theory, if your dog has had a surgery, an injury or even a particularly nasty hot spot, ask for the pain meds. As long as your dog’s liver and kidney values are normal, there is absolutely no downside to treating their pain, even if you’re not sure it’s bad. The flip side is that your dog will be suffering silently and it’s your job to make sure that doesn’t happen. (This also applies to surgery: make sure there are pain injections on your estimate and that your doctor will be actively controlling your dog’s pain while hospitalized. Sadly, some vets overlook this aspect of treatment and, ironically, make their clients really happy because their surgeries are “cheaper” without the pain injections. Another reason to feel good about paying your vet well!)

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10. Lastly, BE NICE.

Vets and their staff are people too. When you are a cooperative client who makes appointments, follows the rules and is pleasant – and doesn’t pull the “all vets care about is money” card when presented with your bill – the staff appreciates you and will be more willing to help you when you really need it. They’ll be more willing to squeeze you in between appointments when you are having an emergency, or to waive the exam fee if the diagnosis was really simple. At the vet’s office, just like in life, it pays to be nice. You are setting the tone for the relationship and you will often be treated as well or as badly as you treat the staff. (And this goes the other way too: if the people at your vet’s office are rude, change vets!)

Going to the vet is really stressful for everyone. You’re worried about your dog, the vet is worried about missing something important and your dog is just plain worried. I hope these tips help in navigating these stressful waters. And please know I am always available to you if you have any questions about your dog’s health.

Here’s to health and happiness,

Vickie Jean

Receptionist

 

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.

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But this one hit home and made me very sad.

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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.

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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.

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Some like to play with just a few besties.

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Or cuddle with a close friend.

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

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…”

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“… 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.