Sunday, September 11, 2016




On this day, the fifteenth anniversary of 9-11, I am proud to see that all of our Cincinnati Bengals stood for our national anthem, that almost every one removed their head coverings and placed their hand over their hearts, and not one of them chose to sit on the bench or take a knee.  I hope these young men understand that because of this flag and the people who have died to protect it, we have the right to express our opinions freely.  Yes, even if it means that entitled young men who are barely into double digits,  make millions of dollars to play a game and who think that they know what it means to be oppressed can show disrespect to the flag and our country and make an ass out of themselves in front of millions of their fellow countrymen.  What I hope they realize is that America is a melting pot, not a buffet;  that being American trumps being black or white, Democrat or Republican, Christian, Muslim, Jew or atheist.  We all are American  and bring our own flavor and contribution.  Because we are American we all have the right to express our individual cultures, religions, and opinions, but we cannot forget what has conferred this right upon us.

Fifteen years ago on a Tuesday two planes flew into the twin towers of the World Trade Center and changed our lives forever.  On that following weekend, my dog training club, Queen City Dog Training, had planned to hold their annual fall agility trial at Winton Woods.  Just a few days after the tragedy, we were all shaken, nothing seemed certain, and we were not sure if we should hold the trial or not.  Planes were not flying and one of our judges was therefore not able to make it.  But our trial committee decided to go ahead and proceed;  a local judge was substituted, and we all showed up, somewhat subdued and wondering if maybe this was the last trial any of us would be able to enter for a while- because our whole world had tilted on its axis and we didn't know if anything would ever be normal again.  On that Saturday morning, we raised the flag and sang the national anthem before the first dog came to the line and there was not a dry eye in the house.  And then we ran our dogs and for a few minutes all was right with the world and we felt free again.  It was a small thing, but we all felt as though we could not allow terrorists to take away our everyday lives and freedoms, and I know none of us took for granted the privilege to be there that day when so many were never coming home again. 

Our club still displays a flag- two, actually, one in each separate area of our wonderful training building;  and at the start of every trial that I have been to we still play the national anthem.  It always reminds me of that day and I will never take for granted the opportunity to do so again.  I hope these young men of the NFL, most of whom were children and many of whom were too young to really remember, never have to learn this lesson the way that we did that day.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Crazy things we do for our dogs...

Ok, I may be a little crazy....

Last summer Cory ruptured an eardrum (usually you see this after chronic ear infections, but Levi, Andy, and now Cory all as older dogs had ear drum ruptures with no history of previous or ongoing ear infections and no/minimal signs directly related to the ears- just were "not right" in training or in Cory's case, not quite eating normally and had ruled out all kinds of other issues.  I was looking for something that could cause ongoing nausea that would make him not want to eat and that was when I found the ruptured ear drum).  I treated it, it appeared to heal and the problem that had led me to find it (appetite a little off) resolved.  However, this fall I started to suspect that his hearing was starting to deteriorate.  He had reached what I call the "age of entitlement" (he turned 10 in December) where sometimes their response to previously known cues gets a little lax, and so at first I had attributed what I was seeing just to a little old timer slacking off.  But it soon became apparent that he was not hearing in certain situations.  Since he is still vigorous and active and still actively training in multiple venues, I decided to make an appointment to have his hearing tested.  Due to some scheduling issues it was going to be several weeks before I could get him in.  Not long after I scheduled the appointment, it seemed that his hearing took a nose dive and I began to suspect that not only did he have some hearing loss, but that it had progressed to a fairly profound level.

Today I took Cory to the FETCH lab at the University of Cincinnati (Facility for the Education and Testing of Canine Hearing) for a hearing test.  The test that is done (ABR or BAER test) is the same test used to evaluate hearing in newborns.  It involves applying a topical anesthetic cream (I told Cory I'd always known he was a numbskull already!), placing three electrodes by inserting tiny wires under the skin by each ear and on top of the head, and placing a soft earpiece that emits a series of clicks into the ear canal.  The electrodes measure the brainstem response to the sounds and give an evaluation of the dog's hearing capabilities.  Typically these tests are done in breeding stock or to evaluate young puppies before placement in breeds that have a high incidence of congential deafness such as Dalmations.  The test is not painful and usually can be done without anesthesia;  all that is required is that the dog hold reasonably still and tolerate the material in the ear canal. 



Cory tolerated the procedure well- he thought it was kind of a stupid way to earn cookies, and he was a little startled at first by some of the clicks, but overall figured that having the undivided attention of 3-4 people and cookies too was worth holding still for.  Unfortunately my fears were confirmed;  he has severe hearing loss in the right ear (the one that had the ruptured ear drum) and moderate to severe loss in the left.  It is likely that most of the impairment is aging related, although probably the issue with the ear drum did not help and may have contributed.  It's very typical for me to start to see hearing loss in my patients around 11 years old, so he was in the right age range although at the younger end.  However, I also think we tend to pick up on these things sooner in our competition dogs as most dogs can compensate so well around the house in familiar surroundings.  It is amazing how attuned they are to visual cues and how little the hearing loss impacts them in most situations.

So, unfortunately there is not much that can be done to return his hearing to normal.  However, as it happens, when I was a vet student one of my professors had done some work with hearing aids in dogs and prior to the visit when I started anticipating that the news might not be good I had done some research to see if anyone was still working with them (Dr. Marshall having long since retired).  As it turned out, the only person currently doing any work with canine hearing aids in the US was the very same Dr. Scheifele with whom we already had the appointment for ABR testing.  And, as it happens, I have pet insurance on Cory so I called prior to the visit to see if a hearing aid would be covered if he was a candidate.  Turns out no one had ever asked that question before, so they told me to apply for pre-approval but that they were cautiously optimistic that it would be covered. 

Hearing aids are not widely available in dogs for good reason;  they are not always a terribly practical option.  Teaching the dog to tolerate wearing them is not a simple task, but I am fairly confident that I could do this successfully;  Cory and I have a long training relationship and I had already started to lay some groundwork by conditioning him to tolerate gauze pads in his ear canals for short periods prior to the appointment.  However, an additional issue is that noises don't sound the same through the hearing aids that they did naturally and there is also a learning curve for the dogs from that standpoint as well.

Given the degree of hearing loss in the right ear, only the left ear would be a candidate for an aid.  My main reason for considering it is that Cory is still a vital and active dog,  he is still competing in agility, training in tracking, and finished his UD last spring (thankfully before the hearing loss- I struggled with trying to get his dad's UD after he was already having a lot of hearing issues and as a result never was quite able to get the final leg).  While the hearing aid would not be legal in the AKC ring, it might enable me to help continue to let him play in agility and maybe help me to transition him to running successfully without it.  I have spent a lot of time teaching him to listen to my verbals over my body language since I am so slow, now we have to find a new compromise.  It's also possible that it might be allowed in some of the other organizations that are more disability friendly.  I don't care if we ever Q again, I'd just like for him to continue to be able to play.  In addition, even just in everyday around the house issues his hearing has curtailed some of his freedom because he can't hear me calling him nor can he hear cars, etc. 

I am not sure that given the degree of impairment in the "good" ear that pursuing the hearing aid is worthwhile.  I will have to think about it for a bit...my plan is to get some ear plugs, work on conditioning him to wear them and see how readily he accepts them.  I will probably go ahead and file the pre-approval paperwork with Trupanion and see if they will cover it (if not, the answer becomes easy!).  Then I will make a final decision as to whether we will give it a go or not. 

Regardless of what I decide, I am a little sad tonight...even though I expected to hear the results we got, it is one step into old age and eventual retirement and then loss of my buddy...I am so sad that we have a finite number of times left to train together.  Until you have trained a dog for literally years to be your partner, it is hard to understand just how different the relationship is from a dog whose function is primarily as a pet.  Cory is my pet and my baby, but he is also my partner and someone I trust and rely on.  He's a link to his father who was my heart dog.  How I wish I had the answer to keeping him forever young!


Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Long time no post...

Once again I have been derelict in my postings...I have several topics in my head but not yet on paper, but I did think I would do a quick "light" post.  I am posting a link to a video of my rotten younger dog, Robbie.  Robbie is not quite yet ready for prime time as far as agility trials go, but he LOVES agility and in his opinion never gets enough of my training time.  Recently there has been a new show (on Dish network it's on the Rural channel, I don't think you can get it on Direct TV or Time Warner) called The Agility Show on Saturday afternoons, featuring an agility judge and showing runs and interviews with competitors from various trials he attends.  Robbie likes to watch dogs on TV and he has become OBSESSED with the Agility Show.  I DVR it for him every week and we watch it when we get home.  He will watch the entire 30 minutes intently, though during the commercials and some of the interviews he will come sit on my lap and wait for "the good stuff" to start again.  Initially he just watched, but then he started jumping at the screen and "chasing" the dogs as they ran.  This has gotten progressively more and more energetic with each episode.

Last weekend I had to be gone all day and the dogs were home alone for quite a long time, which is unusual for them as they go to work with me daily and weekends are usually spent at shows.  I often leave the TV in my bedroom on for background noise, but never really thought that they probably watched it much while I was gone.  When I returned home that night, Robbie brought me a little cosmetics bag that usually sits by the TV in my bedroom and I couldn't figure out how he had gotten up to get it (he's only 13 1/2 inches tall).  When I went in the bedroom, the towels which are folded on the shelves under the TV were all knocked around and everything was in disarray.  I could not figure out WHAT he had done, and had mental pictures of him trying to climb the shelves...It finally occurred to me that the DVR must have clicked over to the Agility Show when it came on.  I turned it on as a test, and if you click the link below you will see what must have been happening while I was gone...!

Robbie and The Agility Show

This is a funny habit, but I think it has reached the point where it is getting excessive and we are in danger of it becoming an unhealthy obsession that puts Robbie's safety and my belongings at risk.  I noticed he actually was starting to watch GOLF this weekend (and if he's not bored by golf, he'll watch anything!).  So I think we will have to start interrupting this behavior and maybe use it as a distraction while we do a little heel work!  It's much easier to prevent it BEFORE it becomes a problem than try to fix it later.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Thanksgiving


On a beautiful, sunny Thanksgiving morning I am thankful that I have time to train my dogs a little.  I have a lot to be thankful for, including my family that I will spend this afternoon with, but right now I am thankful that I have been blessed with dogs who love to work with me, no matter what venue I choose.  Lately we have been focusing on obedience and getting Cory ready to show in utility (the highest of the three basic levels).  Cory is the third dog I have trained in utility;  my first dog Levi earned his Utility Dog Excellent (UDX) title and Cory's father Andy needed just one more qualifying score for his UD when he died.  Utility is a tough class for green dogs, because it involves working independently away from the handler and making decisions between "right" and "wrong" (whereas, in novice and open, pretty much the choice is a more straightforward "do it or not").  There is heeling, a signal exercise where the dog must respond to hand signals from across the ring, a scent discrimination exercise where he must choose the dumbell touched by his handler, a directed retrieve where he must choose the correct glove indicated by his handler, and the directed jumping, where he must run away from the handler in a straight line across the ring, stop and sit when directed, and then take the correct jump indicated by the handler.  While utility is the hardest class, it also is the most fun.  

While those who know me might think I got into obedience because I am somewhat of a control freak, that actually is far from the truth.  My "obedience" dogs have all had varying degrees of basic manners, with my current two probably being the worst on a day to day basis for listening and minding me.  Training in obedience has become less about demonstrating control over my dogs, and more about developing teamwork and communication with them.  The bond with a dog that you have trained to a high level is so much more intense than the one you share with a dog you just "hang with".  It is hard to describe, especially without denigrating other types of relationships, until you have experienced it, but it is like the bond you feel with a teammate on that gold medal winning team, the bond with a child that you love desperately and have known from birth, and the bond with a life partner that is your 24/7 companion all rolled into one.  For me at this point in my life, obedience training is not about ribbons or placements;  it's not about scores although I hope before we are through we will reach the level we aspire to;  it is about acheiving the mental picture in my head and the synchronicity you feel on the days when you and your dog are perfectly in tune.  The obedience regulations state that the dog should demonstrate "the utmost in willingness, enjoyment, and precision".  We have a ways to go in the precision department, but I would like to think that my dogs fit the bill on the first part.  

I am including a video below of one of Cory's recent runs in Utility A.  (If anybody has any good tips for how to improve the quality either here or on youtube, let me know- the original video is quite sharp).   This was his second show, entering for the first time away from our home club.  I chose this trial because it was a small, one ring trial;  I knew it would be fairly relaxed and I had shown under this judge before.  Although it was a one ring trial, space was very tight at ringside with no room to have the dogs inside before their turn, not much room to warm up, and varying from quiet as a church (not good for us) to sounds that really stand out because there is not much else going on.  On our first outing at the previous show, Cory did not qualify but overall I thought did not do too badly EXCEPT that he barked (a lot) on EVERY exercise.  That is not looked on kindly in obedience and I knew it was going to be a big struggle for us.  I hoped the smaller trial would not rev Cory up quite so much (he barks both when he stresses "down" and when he stresses "up", and we had one of each types of run at the last trial).  Obedience people who look at this run will no doubt be unimpressed; we blew a signal and the first scent article, we had lots of places to lose points in chunks- he forged quite a bit on his heeling, we had a couple of no-sits (really, not-quite-sits), a sloppy moving stand, an anticipated finish, a bark or two on the scent articles and the go outs and a couple of times between exercises (a HUGE improvement over the last trial), and we didn't move particularly smoothly from exercise to exercise.  All duly noted and being worked on before the next trial.  But on this day I was SO proud of my boy I could just feel my heart clench each time I looked at him.  He was amped up to the max this day;  sometimes this can be an indicator of stress but on this day Cory was giving me every one of his signs that he was having FUN and was trying his hardest to play by the rules.  Unfortunately, he usually feels compelled to remind me of this on each exercise, especially the finishes, by commenting under his breath and in this little building it was pretty easily heard by all :-).  I know just how hard it was for him to keep his focus and not explode, and I am so proud of him for trying.  The next day he was not quite as hyped up, and he made it all the way to the last jump before he chose the wrong one and NQ'd. 

We get to try again next weekend...at our home club, where theoretically we might have a small advantage of a familiar ring.  Wish us luck- we'll need it!



video

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Remembering 9/11 and thoughts on the purpose-bred dog

Yesterday was the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy.  It is hard to believe as it is still so fresh in my mind.  I can still remember watching the second plane hit that morning as I was getting ready for work and how surreal it was;  later that day I can still remember the patient I was with when the Pentagon was attacked (he is still a patient, but getting pretty long in the tooth!).  That was a scary moment, as my sister was working nearby at the time. 

Facebook has been flooded with images of 9/11 and, on the facebook feeds of my mostly animal-oriented friends, images and remembrances of the search and rescue dogs who were part of the recovery effort.  These very special dogs and their handlers provide such an important service, putting their own lives on hold to go to the aid of others at short notice, sometimes putting themselves in danger in the process.



In looking at these memorial postings, I noticed something that I thought was very important to point out, ESPECIALLY to my friends, neighbors and clients who are animal lovers but not necessarily immersed in the "dog world".  If you look at these photos, you will see that, almost without exception, these dogs are purebred dogs.  It takes a very special dog to be able to perform these services;  in virtually every case, these dogs have been bred for generations, if not specifically for THAT job, to work closely with their handlers in ways that complement this effort, and to develop the skills that are important for this job.  Dogs from the working and sporting, and occasionally herding group predominate, with German Shepherds and retrievers of various sorts tending to be seen the most frequently.  Training a dog for this work involves hours and hours of commitment and literally years of seasoning.  It is important to pick a dog genetically predisposed to excel, from a breeder who then provides the environment early on to foster these tendencies  in order to ensure the best odds that that dog will successfully complete the training.  You certainly would be very unlikely to go to, for example, a pug breeder, to find a dog to train for this type of work (not picking on pugs, but I've never seen one do SAR;  their prominent eyes would be prone to injury, their short noses make them rank well down the list in tracking ability, and their stocky stature,small size, and limited heat tolerance is not the best suited to the conditions these dogs must work under).  It would be equally difficult to go to the shelter and pick a prospect for this work.  Can it be done?  Yes, but you will run through a LOT of dogs in the process which will "wash out" of the system wasting time and resources.  There are undoubtedly mixed breed dogs out there who could do this work well, but in order to consistently identify the dogs most likely to possess that special combination of physical, mental and emotional attributes you will be far more successful in choosing a dog bred for those attributes.



This is not only true just of search and rescue dogs, but also of many, many other working dogs.  Guide dogs for the blind have been bred specifically for that purpose for many generations.  Go to any "border collie" herding trial (aimed at real working dogs and generally considered much more challenging than their AKC counterparts which are more "sport" trials);  these trials are open to any breed, and I even have a friend who has competed in them successfully with a sheltie, beating the BCs at their own game;  but in general if you want to be competitive, you need to go get a border collie.  And not just any border collie, but one that has been bred for generations and literally maybe even hundreds of years, to do that job.  And if you're smart, and want your dog to have a long working life, you will find one whose pedigree is filled with dogs who have the appropriate health clearances so your dog doesn't end up retired at three because he has bad hips, or eye problems.  And before you say "but I just want a pet", remember that a dog's genes greatly influence many things you will have to live with, including how much he barks (boy do I know that!), how much he drools, how quickly he learns things, how much he likes to cuddle etc AND how long he lives and how healthy that life will be.  I found early in my life that I was NOT a terrier person and my personality was not at all suited to that type of dog.  Luckily, I found a perfect fit for me, in a totally different breed from a different group bred for very different personality traits. 

Right now there is a very strong, "politically correct" sentiment that is pushing us towards mandatory spay and neuter policies in our communities and telling us that a rescue dog or random bred mixed breed is ALWAYS an equivalent choice to a purpose bred, pure bred dog.  For my average client, and the pet loving public, this is a very "feel good" position and the "shelter good, breeder bad" feeling is pretty prevalent out there.  Let me first say, I have NO issue with the wonderful mixed breeds out there.  My first dog Winky was a little mixed breed hound and she was a wonderful dog, a very appropriate choice for our family at the time, and lived to be 15 years old (she also had the worst allergies of any dog I have owned, and probably was the least healthy overall).  Many of my favorite patients have been mixes, and all but one of my cats have been.   Mixed breeds CAN be a great choice for a given situation.  My concern is that we are losing the CHOICE and soon either random bred dogs, or dogs from very high volume purebred producers (who generally do no socialization or health screening) will be the only options we have left to us.  Promoting the propaganda that all dogs are interchangeable, that all purebreds are unhealthy,  and there are no advantages and disadvantages to mixed breeds vs purebreds is kind of like going to a college and saying all students are interchangeable and now we will have the PhD candidates play football on the weekends and the football players spend their days in the lab.

There is a reason that man has bred dogs selectively for thousands of years, and AKC currently recognizes 161 separate and distinct breeds falling into seven groups bred for specific purposes;  working, herding, sporting, hound, terrier, toy, and non-sporting.  For the average Joe Public who just wants a pet;  doesn't care how big they get or how much hair they have, and has relatively flexible tolerance for various temperament types, a mixed breed may work out fine.  One of the advantages is that there are some great deals to be had on mixed breeds.  Our tax dollars go to support county shelters, where in most instances the pets available for adoption for a nominal fee have been spayed/neutered, microchipped, vaccinated, and maybe even heartworm tested  (remember though, you DID pay for it- just at tax time, not when you walked out the door of the shelter with the dog).  The disadvantages include increased risk of infectious disease exposure to those puppies compared to those of a responsible breeder;  questionable early socialization and exposures which can impact greatly on a dog's future temperament and emotional stability, and difficulty in predicting size, coat, and personality traits.  Some of those concerns can be decreased by adopting an older dog in comparison to a puppy. 

However, the more specific your needs tend to be, the more likely it is that a purebred dog will make a better choice because you can predict many traits with a good degree of reliability.  And when I say a purebred dog, I don't mean any dog from a pet store or Craig's list who had two parents of the same breed bred together without much thought for anything other than availability.  One of the problems is that when promoting the "zero population growth/mandatory spay neuter" agenda, there is no differentiation made between a WELL BRED purebred and backyard breeder or puppymill dogs.  A well bred dog from a responsible breeder has parents who have been screened for the appropriate health conditions common to the breed (mixed breeds are NOT immune to these conditions, it's just harder to predict which ones to look for).  That doesn't mean one dog who has an OFA hip certification in the pedigree, but that the majority of dogs in a five generation pedigree have clearances.  A responsible breeder knows the dogs in his pedigrees, not just by name, but what strengths and weakness they had in structure, type, temperament, and health.  He knows how old they were when they died and what they died of.  Not just mom and dad, but again, back three, five, and more generations.  He knows what he is likely to produce in a given cross.  He breeds dogs who conform to his breed's written standard and not "rare" chartreuse flugglehounds in a breed in which chartreuse is a disqualifying fault (he found out early on that the founders of the breed wrote this into the standard because they already knew the chartreuse color was associated with health defects).  He breeds his dogs with a purpose in mind and has a way of evaluating their suitability for that purpose by outside sources, such as dog shows, obedience, agility, field trials, working farm or service dogs, tracking dogs, etc.  He spends time socializing his puppies, keeps them in clean conditions, and provides appropriate veterinary care.   He interviews his puppy buyers just as if they were adopting a human baby, and keeps in contact with them through that puppy's lifetime.  He takes that puppy back if things don't work out for any reason.  He offers guidance when the puppy goes through those terrible teens, and can be a good source of information when training problems crop up.  He is NOT always easy to find, and his puppies are rarely advertised in the local paper.  He doesn't take credit cards.  You can't go online and "order" a puppy from his website, though he may have a website which shows his adult dogs and proudly displays their health clearances and pedigrees full of more dogs with appropriate clearances.  You probably will be on a waiting list, as puppies like this are not produced overnight, but with much planning, forethought and care.  They will almost certainly cost more than the "great deal" on the Lab puppies that the guy who bred his bitch to the dog down the street and raised the puppies in a muddy stall in a barn.   Think about what you are paying for.  If you are not getting what a responsible breeder should be providing, you probably are better off with a mixed breed than one of the poorly bred purebreds who haven't had any of the planning, health screening, or socialization, because those poorly bred purebreds really offer very few of the ADVANTAGES of purebreds.  Why pay for something you aren't getting? 

So, you can see by my list above, there are some very real differences between the purebred puppy from a responsible breeder and the mixed breed puppy from the shelter.  Depending on your circumstances, those differences may or may not be hugely important to you.  I would personally not recommend going for the "cut rate" purebred as in my experience they may or may not exhibit the physical and temperament traits which caused you to select that breed in the first place, and they rarely to never have any health screening and early socialization;  I think much of the "bad rap" given to purebreds is because people don't bother to differentiate.  There will always be a market for these dogs in our gotta have it now, looking for a deal society.  Don't be the rube who gets taken.  As far as the current fad of blaming any disease a purebred dog happens to get on "inbreeding",  a lot of it is simply hype.  Many diseases can be controlled or eliminated in a breeding population by screening your breeding stock with appropriate testing.  This is rarely done in the backyard/puppy mill bred purebreds and, not coincidentally, I am much more likely to see inherited disease in them than in their carefully bred counterparts.  The really ironic thing is that if you look at these dogs' pedigrees, they are such a mishmash that they often have zero dogs repeated in a five generation pedigree, so they are about as outcrossed as you can get.  However, dogs are creatures, not machines and even the most carefully bred dogs can have unexpected problems crop up.  In my group of purebreds I  and my family have owned that have passed on, the youngest was not quite 12 and the oldest was almost 17 at the time of their death.  One died in an accident at 14 and was still quite hale and hearty.  All of them were healthy and vigorous into old age, some even competing in agility in their geriatric years, and only one had any prolonged illness the last year of his life (he died at 13).  How many of you, with your presumably quite outcrossed human families full of hybrid vigor, can claim an average age of your family members in their late 80s with no significant illnesses until their mid seventies?  (those of you with highly inbred families need not answer!).  Yet that is my experience with my purebred dog family.  Thankfully I have been very lucky, but I also have been very careful and hopefully very smart in choosing my dogs, caring for them, and on rare occasions breeding them. 

Regardless of which you choose, please, please understand that there is a REASON that we need to have a choice when it comes to our dogs.  Purebred dog owners and breeders are not in it for the most part because they are vain and need a new "toy" or possession to show off (just visit most of our houses, look at our cars and in our closets in order to get over that idea real quickly!).  Our dogs are our passion and our lives, and there is a reason we have chosen to live with the dogs that we do.  It is a reason that can greatly benefit society as well.

Please, familiarize yourself with the difference between "animal welfare" and "animal rights" groups and realize that the animal rights groups are NOT the friend of the animal lover.  Please educate yourselves and don't buy into their agendas, and when the mandatory spay/neuter proposals come up in your town, please DON'T fall into that trap and support them.  (Don't think it will happen?  Check out the situation in Louisville if you don't think so).  These laws will do little to impact the high volume puppy breeders or the careless pet owners, but they will eliminate the majority of responsible hobby breeders which are our BEST source of quality purebred dogs. 

And please, think carefully when you DO choose your next pet.  The BEST way to keep the shelters empty is to CHOOSE CAREFULLY AND APPROPRIATELY THE BEST PET FOR YOUR SITUATION, purebred or mixed.  Disposable/recycled pets make up a huge part of the shelter population.  Please don't get a dog you can't care for, don't know how to/have time to train, are allergic to, are shocked when it gets to be the size of a horse, can't deal with its coat care, can't afford it's medical bills.  Be a responsible pet owner and do your part not to contribute to the shelter population.

And please, unless YOU meet the criteria for the responsible breeder above, please spay or neuter your pet at an appropriate age agreed upon between you and your veterinarian (not your city council).  Breeding dogs is not for the faint of heart, and breeding dogs well takes a level of time, commitment, money and energy that most pet owners are not prepared for.  Saying you "just want to breed pets" is a cop out.  Failure to do the appropriate screening and planning is not conducive to producing healthy pets.  I know, it's my job to see them every day and pick up the pieces.   So many times so much heartache could have been avoided if my clients just stopped to think and choose carefully BEFORE they brought that dog home.

We don't need government to tell us whether or not and when we should be breeding our dogs.  They have their hands full with other things.  Dealing with the aftermath of irresponsible HUMAN reproduction comes to mind.  We DO need to take responsibility for our own actions in our dealings with our pets.  With freedom to make choices, comes responsibility for the consequences of those choices AND we also must have tolerance for those who make other choices we may not always agree with.  Don't know about you, but I like it better that way than having my government "protect" me to death.  Looking at the 9/11 images again just brought home to me once more that I want to live in a FREE country.  I want to make my own choices and live with the consequences of those choices, good or bad. 

Off soapbox now.  Thanks for reading!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Thunderstorms and fireworks and phobias...Oh my!



The Fourth of July is upon us and the phone calls started at the end of last week.  The endless fireworks season has started, and to top it off we've also had fairly severe thunderstorms (sadly, with lots of noise but little rain or cooling effect) for the last several days.  Many dogs are afraid of loud noises, with thunder and fireworks topping the list, so it's a tough season for them.  These phobias tend to worsen with age, although at some point many dogs become deaf enough that they sleep through them so the problem is somewhat alleviated.  The severity of the problem can vary widely, with the mildly affected dogs simply panting, pacing, and acting stressed, all the way to the far end of the spectrum to dogs who panic and destroy things, often in an attempt to escape and run.  (This is also the worst time of the year for lost dogs, as many dogs panic from the noise while outside in the yard and take off, not always able to find their way home, so be sure and take appropriate precautions). 

If you are just now calling us about your dog's problem, our options are much more limited- for dogs with serious phobias, most of the medications we use take at least three weeks to reach full effect and the dogs need to be started at the beginning of the season and kept on them until the end.  However, there are some things we can do.  One of our first recommendations is often melatonin.  Melatonin is available over the counter and is often sold as a sleep aid.  It is a naturally occurring hormone that helps the body regulate cycles which fluctuate with season or time of day.  It is generally a very safe drug with few side effects, although I always caution my clients with breeding animals that it may have some effect on reproductive processes.  In animals, it often has some anti-anxiety effects as well as helping them to sleep better, so we use it for mild phobias as well as older dogs whose cognitive function may be declining.  It also does not require a prolonged time to "build up" to effect.

Another very safe, benign product which can be helpful is a DAP collar or diffuser.  DAP stands for Dog Appeasing Pheromone, and is supposed to mimic the chemicals secreted by a bitch when she nurses her puppies.  It is available in either a collar form or a diffuser which is plugged in like an air freshener.  I have used the collars with some success on my own dog, when he developed a fear of bottle rockets shortly after his companion died.  He had been raised with fireworks from the stadium and riverfront going on practically in my backyard, and had no issues until he was about four years old.  We went to an out of town trial, one of the first ones where he was the "only dog" after his father died, and there were a number of bottle rockets being set off outside the hotel.  He seemed only mildly worried there and asked to go back inside, but the next year was terrified of them and did a running pace around and around the house until well after they had stopped.  He could not be distracted or stopped without physically restraining him.  The DAP collar helped quite a bit, and the next year, I did not have to use it and so far have not needed it this year.  (I think also having another dog in the house again has helped him).  Interestingly, he is not bothered by gunshots, and will bark at the loudest thunder but doesn't show the same signs of distress- it's those darn little pops of the bottle rockets.  The DAP products can be ordered online and do not require a prescription.

Some people swear by "Thundershirts" or anxiety wraps, which are tight fitting jackets the dog wears during the storm.  I have not tried them myself, but know several people who have used them with success.  They are not totally without a basis in science, as this is a therapy used in soothing autistic children. 

Counter conditioning, or pairing the noise with a positive stimulus such as a treat, can also be successful.  Many tapes are available to start with the sounds at a low level and work up to full volume if you find your pet is not interested in food during an actual storm or fireworks display. 

Finally, medical therapy may be indicated for some pets with severe phobias.  This generally is appropriately done with a full physical to rule out any contraindications for the medication, as well as a consult with your veterinarian to help develop a behavior modification plan to use along with the medication.  As I stated above, most of the medication needs to be started well in advance of the season, though we do have a few options for quicker acting anti-anxiety drugs to use short term for severe cases.  In most cases, I don't like to use tranquilizers as they don't alleviate the fear at all, just make the animal incapable of reacting- which in some cases will make the phobias worsen more quickly.

I did just recall that I did a similar post a couple of years ago, so if your dog is having problems you may want to look in the index to the right under fireworks and check out that post as well.  Happy Fourth to all!  (and thanks to my friend Joann Jozwiak for the photo above of my beloved Andy at our favorite place, my friend Maryann's farm).