Dogs With Jobs

It’s estimated that around 77 million dogs are kept as pets in the U.S. today, but there are no similar figures for working dogs. I’m guessing this is because the list of canine careers is impressively long, and there is no central reporting agency to keep track of all the amazing canines that are willing to work for praise, toys, treats and love instead of a paycheck.  Most of us know dogs best as pets and companions, but for thousands of years, dogs have helped people with daily tasks such as herding livestock, hunting for food, or hauling loads.  More recently, dogs have been used to help people with disabilities, to assist in search and rescue missions, and to protect the public in partnership with military and law enforcement units.  Some dogs even do unconventional jobs like helping scientists track endangered species, locating ancient burial grounds, or alerting wine grape growers to insect infestations in the vines.

I want to take some time to recognize these astounding dogs that not only assist their owners, but play a significant role in society.  Here is a brief overview of some jobs that dogs have…

Guide Dogs:  A Guide Dog is specially trained to provide mobility and independence to the visually-impaired user.  A guide dog provides these services as a loving companion, he has a quiet and calm disposition, a high level of initiative and concentration while working, and a strong will to work. The most common breeds used in assisting the visually-impaired are Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, and German Shepherd Dogs. Their intelligence, size and temperament make them ideal Guide Dogs.

The human partner makes most of the decisions for the team, giving the dog directions and determining, after listening to the flow of traffic, the most optimal time to cross each street. Guide dogs are carefully conditioned to refuse the “Forward” command under certain circumstances where it would be unsafe to proceed, something termed “intelligent disobedience.” The net effect of the conditioning, however, is a habitual reaction from the dog to specific stimuli which substantially improves team safety. It should be noted this skill deteriorates over time if the handler forgets to appropriately praise the dog for avoiding a situation. Like other assistance dogs, a guide dog relies heavily on the team leader’s feedback, especially praise, to reinforce and motivate desired behaviors.

Service Dogs:  Service Dogs are trained to assist people who have a wide variety of mobility impairments and other disabilities, such as seizures, psychiatric disorders, life threatening medical problems, or chronic pain. These dogs provide services to disabled individuals helping them function with greater self-sufficiency; prevent injuries; and summon help in a crisis.

Most assistance dogs are donated to a regional office of a training organization like Guide Dogs of America,   Dogs for the Deaf, Inc., or Freedom Service Dogs.  In some cases, these organizations rescue dogs from euthanasia at local shelters.  Hearing assistance dogs are often small mixed-breed canines rescued from shelters.  Service dogs for the physically or mentally challenged may be small or large, purebred or mixed breeds, depending on the needs of the client.

In cooperation with local foster families, the regional offices of training organizations get started on socializing and training the puppies in basic manners and obedience. Once the dogs are old enough to begin formal training, they are brought back into the regional office and given enough training to meet the minimum standards required for all assistance dogs.  Service Dogs receive approximately six months to one year of training on learning to perform various tasks, obedience, and public access manners.

Once the dog achieves at least the minimum standards of proficiency, the dog is matched to a person and begins training for the specific needs of that person.  For example, a person who struggles with upper body strength might need a dog that can open doors and cupboards.  A person who has seizures might need an assistance dog that can sense an oncoming seizure and communicate to the person that he or she should sit down before the seizure hits.

Service dogs may perform a wide variety of tasks to help their handlers.  They might retrieve dropped objects, pull a wheelchair, turn light switches on and off, provide a counterbalance for those who have mobility issues, or alert the person when his or her blood sugar drops.  They can also be very calming to a person who has autism or other mental challenges.  Each dog must be able to perform at least three tasks related to their partner’s disability.

Therapy Dogs:  Therapy Dogs are used for the benefit, both physical and emotional, of people in hospitals, seniors’ residences, nursing homes, day care centers, special needs schools, psychiatric hospitals and many other places where people may be restricted from having pets. The medical profession has widely acknowledged that stroking and petting animals can have a calming effect, lower blood pressure, and relieve tension.  Research has also proven that animals can dramatically improve the quality of life for the elderly; they can help sick patients recover faster, and can bring a renewed zest for life to the lonely or depressed.

In addition to standard canine training, Therapy Dogs receive specialized training to learn how to behave around people with difficult medical conditions. However, they aren’t classified as Service Dogs because they’re not trained to stay with people and do not directly assist them with tasks.

Therapy Dogs come in all sizes and breeds. The most important characteristic is temperament –a good Therapy Dog enjoys human contact and is patient, gentle, calm, reacting well to other dogs, and must be confident and comfortable in a variety of situations.

Herding Dogs:  Herding livestock is one of the oldest jobs for dogs. There are many breeds of herding dogs as well as many styles of herding. For example, the Border Collie commonly when herding sheep, uses what is called “the eye” to work — a glare which asserts their dominance over the sheep, others are well known for their ability to dart in and nip the heels of cattle. Stockdogs are used on many farms and ranches and mostly to work with cattle and sheep.

Today, herding dogs are also seen competing in Herding Trials all over the world. Quite often the people participating in this sport are not involved in the livestock industry but have an interest in working with their dogs to help preserve the instincts and abilities of the herding breeds.

Livestock Guarding Dogs:   Dogs have been bred and used for centuries to protect livestock. Most of these dogs have a strong guarding behavior that, with proper training and patience, can be modified to make them good pets and household protectors. In general, livestock guarding dog breeds are large, strong, and independent. They are generally calm and intelligent.

Dog breeds used to guard livestock are generally different than herding dogs. Herding dogs, like collies, help herdsmen and women move their animals. Livestock guarding dogs, instead, protect animals from threats like wolves and other predators.  Livestock guarding dogs are highly social. They like to stay in groups, with other dogs they’ve known since they were puppies. This social nature predisposes them to protect and stay with livestock.

As pets, livestock guarding breeds can be challenging. They require lots of daily exercise, as well as a job. When they’re working guarding animals, this is easily accomplished. However, the amount of exercise and mental stimulation they require can be difficult to get as house pets. Livestock guarding dogs also need training and supervision from someone who is capable of assuming a strong leadership role.

Sporting Dogs:

As hunting became a sport rather than a life duty, the role of dogs continued to evolve. Hunting dogs were developed to track, point and set game for their masters. By 6,000 years ago, pointers, shepherds, mastiffs, greyhounds and wolf breeds were the prevalent hunting dogs, as they are documented in cave painting as workers hunting with their masters. From these five breeds, man began to look for special traits in dogs and use them for different needs. This is when breeding began and the number of dog species began to grow.

Today, dog hunting is almost entirely for sport, with the exception of subsistence hunts — isolated Alaskan families, for example, use dogs to help them hunt for food. In the end, the history and evolution of hunting dogs goes hand in hand with the evolution of man.

Sporting Dogs are hunting dogs that are renowned for working closely with hunters and other dogs in the field. Some of the best known are the Labrador Retriever, Pointer, Spaniel, and Setter.  This group of dogs is known to make exceptional pets. Bred to work closely with people and dogs they are loyal and friendly. They love playing with their family and tend to be affectionate and gentle with children. They are also lively and very energetic and enjoy physical activity, either on land or in the water.

Another type of hunting dog is the Hound Dog. Sporting dog breeds differ from hound dogs because they hunt by scent carried in the air, while the hound dog breeds are ground scenters. Today’s Sporting dogs have remarkable instincts and excel in hunting in both water and on land.

The importance of the dogs in service to man cannot be underestimated. The bond between man and dog has evolved throughout history. Various dogs were developed through selective breeding and hunting dog training, to assist in hunting birds and other game. Some of these early dogs were the ancestors of the pointer, retriever, setter and spaniel of today.

Despite their great personalities, some Sporting dog breeds are not the best choice for everyone. Most get along well with other pets, but there are a few that can’t be trusted around small pets.  They all need a great deal of exercise, and for some breeds the spunky puppy behavior may not diminish with age. Many can be notorious for getting away. If they get a chance they may unthinkingly take off if the opportunity presents itself, especially when young. They also bark, but are not usually aggressive to strangers.

Police Dogs:  Police dogs are in widespread use across the United States. K-9 units are operated on the federal, state, county, and local level and are utilized for a wide variety of duties, similar to those of other nations. Although most Americans perceive these animals as attack dogs, their duties generally include drug, bomb, and weapon detection and cadaver searches. The most common police dogs used for everyday duties are German Shepherds, though other breeds may be used to perform specific tasks.

Why do we bother using police dogs at all? For one thing, their sense of smell is almost 50 times more sensitive than a human’s. A dog can sniff out criminals, drugs, weapons, and bombs in situations where a human officer would have to search every inch, a dangerous task.

Only the most dedicated officers are considered for K-9 units. They must have exemplary records, plenty of arrests with convictions, an outgoing, energetic personality, and strong physical conditioning. A K-9 officer often puts in 60 hours each week. The pay is good, but the schedule is grueling, and there’s no backing out. A K-9 officer can’t decide a month or a year into the job that he or she is tired of it. A police dog’s career usually lasts about six years, and the handler is in it for the long haul.

The use of police dogs is increasing as police departments realize that a well-trained dog/handler team actually reduces liability, rather than increasing it. Every time a suspect runs away or fights police officers, the chase and struggle can lead to injuries and lawsuits against the department. The use of a K-9 unit can often keep a suspect from resisting at all, and can often end the situation before it escalates to the point where someone might get injured.

No one is quite sure when humans first domesticated dogs, but one thing is certain — dogs and people have been working side by side for thousands of years. Modern training methods ha­ve led to dogs becoming an integral part of many pe­ople’s lives, not just as companions, but also as guide dogs, search-and-rescue dogs, and bomb- or drug-sniffing dogs.


The Last Great Race… The Iditarod!

You cannot compare it to any other competitive event in the world! A race over 1,049 miles of the roughest, most beautiful terrain Mother Nature has to offer. She throws jagged mountain ranges, frozen rivers, dense forests, desolate tundra and miles of windswept coast at the mushers and their dog teams. Add to those, temperatures far below zero, winds that can cause a complete loss of visibility, the hazards of overflow, long hours of darkness and treacherous climbs and side hills.  All of those together and you have the Iditarod, an exceptional race only possible in Alaska.  From Anchorage, located in south central Alaska, to Nome on the western Bering Sea coast, each team of 12 to 16 dogs and their mushers cover over 1,049 miles in 10 to 17 days.

It has been called the “Last Great Race on Earth” and it has won worldwide acclaim and interest. German, Spanish, British, Japanese and American film crews have covered the event.  Journalists from outdoor magazines, adventure magazines, newspapers and wire services flock to Anchorage and Nome to record the excitement. It’s not just a dog sled race, it’s a race in which unique men and women compete. Mushers enter from all walks of life. Fishermen, lawyers, doctors, miners, artists, natives, Canadians, Swiss, French and others; men and women each with their own story, each with their own reasons for going the distance. It’s a race organized and ran primarily by thousands of volunteers, men and women, students and village residents. They man headquarters at Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau, Nome and Wasilla. They fly volunteers, veterinarians, dog food and supplies. They act as checkers, coordinators, and family supporters of each musher.

The Spirit of Alaska! It’s More Than Just a Race…

The race pits man and animal against nature, against wild Alaska at her best and as each mile is covered, it is a tribute to Alaska’s history and the role the sled dog’s played.  The Iditarod is a tie to that colorful past.

The race starts on the first Saturday in March, at the first checkpoint on Fourth Avenue in downtown Anchorage. A five-block section of the street is barricaded off as a staging area, and snow is stockpiled and shipped in by truck the night before to cover the route to the first checkpoint. Prior to 1983, the race started at Mulcahy Park.

Shortly before the race, a ribbon-cutting ceremony is held under the flags representing the home countries and states of all competitors in the race. The first musher to depart at 10:00 a.m. AST is an honorary musher, selected for their contributions to dog sledding. The first competitor leaves at 10:02 and the rest follow, separated by two-minute intervals. The start order is determined during a banquet held two days prior by letting the mushers choose their starting position.

The Iditarod Trail, now a National Historic Trail, had its beginnings as a mail and supply route from the coastal towns of Seward and Knik to the interior mining camps at Flat, Ophir, Ruby and beyond to the west coast communities of Unalakleet, Elim, Golovin, White Mountain and Nome. Mail and supplies went in. Gold came out. All by the travel of a dog sled. Heroes were made, legends were born.  In 1925, part of the Iditarod Trail became a lifesaving highway for epidemic-stricken Nome. Diphtheria threatened and serum had to be brought in; again by intrepid dog mushers and their faithful hard-driving dogs.  Throughout the years, the sled dogs were important to day to day life in the villages and throughout Alaska.  All of these examples and more are a part of Alaska’s history.

An Event for All Alaska

Anchorage is the starting line — a city of over 250,000 people, street lights, freeways and traffic. From there the field of dog teams which grow in number each year, runs to Eagle River, Checkpoint # 1. After a restart in the Matanuska Valley at Wasilla, the mushers leave the land of highways and bustling activity and head out to the Yentna Station Roadhouse and Skwentna and then up.  Through Finger Lake, Rainy Pass, over the Alaska Range and down the other side to the Kuskokwim River — Rohn Roadhouse, Nikolai, McGrath, Ophir, Cripple, Iditarod and on to the mighty Yukon — a river highway that takes the teams west through the arctic tundra.

The race route is alternated every other year, one year going north through Cripple, Ruby and Galena, the next year south through Iditarod, Shageluk, Anvik.

Finally, they’re on the coast — Unalakleet, Shaktoolik, Koyuk, Elim, Golovin, White Mountain and into Nome where a hero’s welcome is the custom for musher number 1 or 61!

The route encompasses large metropolitan areas and small native villages. It causes a yearly spurt of activity, increased airplane traffic and excitement to areas otherwise quiet and dormant during the long Alaskan winter. Everyone gets involved, from very young school children to the old timers who relive the colorful Alaskan past they’ve known as they watch each musher and his team. The race is an educational opportunity and an economic stimulus to these small Alaskan outposts.

On the Trail

Every musher has a different tactic. Each one has a special menu for feeding and snacking the dogs. Each one has a different strategy — some run in the daylight, some run at night. Each one has a different training schedule and his own ideas on dog care, dog stamina and his own personal ability.

The rules of the race lay out certain regulations which each musher must abide by. There are certain pieces of equipment each team must have — an arctic parka, a heavy sleeping bag, an ax, snowshoes, musher food, dog food and boots for each dog’s feet to protect against cutting ice and hard packed snow injuries.

Mushers spend an entire year getting ready and raising the money needed to get to Nome. Some prepare around a full-time job. In addition to planning the equipment and feeding needs for up to three weeks on the trail, hundreds of hours and hundreds of miles of training have to be put on each team.  Training starts in late summer or early fall and intensifies between November and March; competitive teams run 2,000 miles before the race. When there is no snow, dog drivers train using wheeled carts or all-terrain vehicles set in neutral.  The dogs are well-conditioned athletes.  An Alaskan husky in the Iditarod will burn about 5,000 calories each day; on a body-weight basis this rate of caloric burn is eight times that of a human Tour de France cyclist.

The Sled Dogs…

The original sled dogs were Inuit Sled Dogs bred by the Mahlemuit tribe and are one of the earliest domesticated breeds known. They were soon crossbred with Alaskan huskies, hounds, setters, spaniels, German shepherds, and wolves. As demand for dogs skyrocketed, a black market formed at the end of the 19th century which funneled large dogs of any breed to the gold rush. Siberian huskies were introduced in the early 20th century and became the most popular racing breed. The original dogs were chosen for strength and stamina, but modern racing dogs are all mixed-breed huskies bred for speed, tough feet, endurance, good attitude, and most importantly the desire to run. Dogs bred for long races weigh from 45 to 55 pounds, and those bred for sprinting weigh 5 to 10 pounds less, but the best competitors of both types are interchangeable.

Starting in 1984, all dogs are examined by veterinarians/nurses before the start of the race, who check teeth, eyes, tonsils, heart, lungs, joints, and genitals; they look for signs of illegal drugs, improperly healed wounds, and pregnancy. All dogs are identified and tracked by microchip implants and collar tags. On the trails, volunteer veterinarians examine each dog’s heart, hydration, appetite, attitude, weight, lungs, and joints at all of the checkpoints, and look for signs of foot and shoulder injuries, respiration problems, dehydration, diarrhea, and exhaustion. When mushers race through checkpoints, the dogs do not get physical exams. Mushers are not allowed to administer drugs that mask the signs of injury, including stimulants, muscle relaxants, sedatives, anti-inflammatories, and anabolic steroids. As of 2005, the Iditarod claims that no musher has been banned for giving drugs to dogs.

Each team is composed of twelve to sixteen dogs, and no more may be added during the race. At least five dogs must be in harness when crossing the finish line in Nome. Mushers keep a veterinary diary on the trail but are not required to have it signed by a veterinarian at each checkpoint. Dogs that become exhausted or injured may be carried in the sled’s “basket” to the next “dog-drop” site, where they are transported by the volunteer Iditarod Air Force to the Hiland Mountain Correctional Center at Eagle River where they are taken care of until picked up by handlers or family members, or they are flown to Nome for transport home.

There is no question about it… the Iditarod is by far the most grueling, intense, and demanding race for the duo of man and dog.  Tune in as the race is going on right now!


Four Legged Heros

The muffled, rapid beat of digging comes first in the dim light under a layer of hard snow.  Then a paw breaks through, followed by an inquisitive snout, and daylight pours in.  The avalanche victim reaches out to a rescue dog … and hands him a chew toy.

It’s all part of a simulation that trains handlers and dogs alike at Squaw Valley USA in the rapid location and recovery of skiers and snowboarders caught in a slide.  Squaw Valley is just one of a number of resorts with ‘Avy’ dogs on duty.

In these days of hiking, skiing, snowboarding, and just about any other winter sport you can imagine, Avalanche dogs are a must-have in any mountainous environment. Even flat regions have a use for avalanche dogs. Young children who get lost in snow, or elderly people who fall and are subsequently covered by falling snow have been rescued by avalanche dogs.

Since the beginning of civilization, humans and dogs have enjoyed a strong relationship.  Early humans were hunters, and they quickly realized that if they teamed up with dogs, it would help ensure the survival of both.  This was a true partnership, and man and dog forged a mutual understanding that allowed both to prosper.  When dogs were trained, the idea was to help the two species understand each other.  The dog’s improved performance was a consequence of good communication between man and dog.

Dogs have carried out a range of tasks throughout history, working in cooperation with their human counterparts.  They have hunted with us, guarded our livestock and property and led us safely down busy streets.  They have a natural ability to learn and communicate that makes them ideal to train for these roles.  Dog training historically has focused on teaching dogs specific tasks – anything from go get that specific lamb and bring him to me to stay here and protect the barracks.  And like many colleagues who work well together, we’ve struck up a strong friendship over the centuries.

In the early 1930’s the Swiss Army hit upon the brilliant idea of using a dog’s superior smelling skills to locate buried people. Over the years, training procedures have refined greatly, and now in the twenty-first century, the first group of rescue volunteers sent out always includes dogs.

Training an Avalanche dog is intense and often is a three year dedication.  Avalanche dogs are trained to detect human scent under the snow by first locating their handlers that are buried in shallow “graves” under the snow. The dog must be taught not only to locate human scented articles and humans, but also to alert and dig out the victim. Handlers as well, should be in top physical condition, and have to train along with their dogs. Teamwork is essential, as well a very strong handler to dog bond.

An avalanche dog is trained to track a wide area of snow-covered space in a rapid zig-zag pattern, searching for pools of human scent that rise up above the snow. Once the dog has located the scent of humans he/she sounds the alarm, typically a high-pitched, excited bark, and then digs down to the victim, letting the ever-needed air in for the victim to breathe, until her handler gets to the burial location to assist with first aid.

In a real avalanche emergency, canines are among the most valuable members of the response team. One avalanche dog can cover more ground more thoroughly than two dozen people with probing poles. Someone trapped in the snow has a 90 percent chance of surviving in the first 15 minutes, but those odds drop to about 50 percent after half an hour.  Once a person is buried under a layer of snow, detection is impossible with the naked eye. Dogs that are trained in Avalanche Rescue can easily pick up the human scent with their superior noses, making a live recovery possible.

Once the person has been dug out, the handler will praise and play with the dog — but if the victim has died, the situation must be treated carefully as it requires a certain level of sensitivity. It’s a positive thing to find the victim, but the handlers might take the dogs someplace else to reward them, away from any family. Or they will have someone hide, so that the dog can get a live find to replace the unhappiness.  In happy cases, when someone is found alive, the dog gets especially energetic praise and tug games. Often, the lucky “find” will want to meet the rescue dog afterward — the best reward of all.

Avalanche dogs are a popular feature of the local ski scene and receive a lot of attention when they’re on duty — after all, it’s not every day you see a dog riding along on a ski lift. They’re discouraged by their handlers from letting this go to their heads, though, because when all’s said and done, the ‘Avy’ dogs, unlike most of the people they meet every day, are in the resort to do a job. Their work is becoming more and more important as increasing numbers of skiers and boarders head away from groomed trails and “out of bounds” into potential avalanche terrain.

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Posted by on February 21, 2012 in Uncategorized


Separation Anxiety in Dogs Can Be Cured…

Dogs are social animals, and they naturally bond with family members in their household. When separated from their family, certain dogs can become extremely stressed. These dogs act out as a result of the fear and anxiety triggered by their separation from you.  Many dog owners mistakenly assume these behaviors are a result of spite, disobedience or poor training. Your dog is not a bad dog. His bad behavior may be the result of separation anxiety.

Let’s start with what separation anxiety actually is.  Your dog becomes so stressed in your absence (sometimes even if you simply go into the next room where he can’t see you) that he cannot cope with being alone.  He then tries to do whatever methods he thinks will get you to come back and to work through his stress — barking, destruction by digging and/or chewing, peeing and pooping, or a combination of some or even all of these. Ultimately, he is having a panic attack.  It’s a common problem with adopted dogs, retrievers, and small dogs.  However, other dogs can also suffer — and they do suffer — from separation anxiety, too.

Please realize that he is not doing this in retaliation for your leaving. TREATING A SYMPTOM (barking, destruction, house soiling) DOESN’T WORK because it doesn’t get to the cause of the problem — it’s comparable to putting a bandage on a broken leg because that will stop the bleeding, but it sure doesn’t mend the broken leg! Punishing him doesn’t work because he literally can’t help himself.  It’s as if he was gasping for air and he’s trying to do everything he can to get more oxygen. You may have read or tried several “solutions” to alleviate separation anxiety or even worked with other trainers, yet your dog still is suffering. Cookie cutter approaches and quick fixes do not work! So the first thing we need to do is to see whether it truly IS separation anxiety — there could be other reasons for your dog’s behavior.

Here are some things to think about:

*There is a difference between SEPARATION anxiety – “I’m so stressed when you’re not here that I’m panicking” – and SEPARATING anxiety – “I’m in control here. You can’t leave because then I won’t have anyone to boss around.”

*There’s also a difference in degree – mild, moderate, or severe.

*Your dog could simply be bored – “No one’s here and there’s nothing to do, so I’ll just tear up the place because it’s fun.”

*He could be calling you home – “I’m just going to bark and bark because I don’t want you to forget where you live, and you’ve always come back when I’ve barked before.” Alternatively – “I’ll just pee and poop because then you can follow your nose home because you know what I smell like.”

*Maybe he’s sick and you haven’t noticed – “I really don’t feel good and I need someone to comfort me.”

*Possibly he’s uncomfortable – “I’m freezing.  Help!”

*Maybe he’s afraid of something – “That garbage truck makes a lot of noise and scares me.”

*There may be other creatures outside – “Don’t you dare come into MY territory.”

Those are a few of the scenarios, and each case is unique and involves a specific program tailored to each dog. It involves substituting new wanted behaviors for old unwanted ones by working on your dog’s senses – sight, smell, sound, touch, and even taste. It involves behavior modification on his part — and yours!  You may have even asked your veterinarian to help with medication — but medication alone will not solve the problem. Medication may help because it changes your dog’s brain chemistry so learning can take place easier. Your dog needs help with behavior modification and training so his behavior will change.

What Helps Dogs with Separation Anxiety?

Grounding -Dogs with separation anxiety need your help, and the first thing to do is to start having your dog do things respond to commands for everything he gets — food, attention, treats, play and walks all happen after he listens and responds to a command such as sit. This will calm him and help reassure him that you are leading the team. For complete guidelines click here.

Space-Separation anxiety dogs are often “owner addicts.” They want to be leaning, touching, sitting on, gazing up at or sitting their owners every moment. This needs to change. Get a dog bed. It doesn’t have to be fancy — a folded blanket will do — and give him all his petting and attention there. Treats are given there. Meals are given there. Make this the best seat in the house. Do not call him off of the bed to come to you, and leave him be when he is on it. This may be hard for you at first but things have to change, right?

Teach-Get the interaction you crave through training. Take a class, pick up a dog sport and find new ways to spend time with your dog — ways that don’t involve you attending to his needy side. If you want him more confident, you need to build his confidence through daily, fun training sessions. Developing shared communication between the two of you is a gift only you can give your dog.

Confinement -Many dogs can learn to be contentedly crated, as long as you take the time to make the crate a pleasant spot. Crating an anxious dog can prevent mishaps and calm him. If he is clean in his crate, the crate can be as large as you want. Start slowly. Introduce crating with treats — feed him in the crate and then crate for short periods when you are home. If you only crate when you leave, that can create crate stress.

Exercise- Physical Long walks, solo fetch games up slight hills and swimming are all good ways to give your dog a work out. Playing wrestle-mania with a friend’s dog works some dogs up, leaving them more excited and active. How do you know when you’ve found the right routine? When your dog is calmer after the session than before.

Mental– Mental exercise is just as important than physical, if not more. Games that build his self-control, focus and patience are key to him getting better when alone.

Calm- Our advice? Leave and greet your dog the way you leave and greet your parents or spouse — calm and matter of fact is perfect. Avoid long, drawn out, emotional partings because those only make matters worse for your dog. A good rule? Act the way you want your dog to act, he’ll follow your lead.  At the other end of the spectrum, skip yelling. As frustrating as this problem is, if you yell at your dog when you come home you’ll increase his stress about your coming home, making the anxiety more intense. Prevention is key, not punishment.

Lastly, keep your routine the same seven days a week. If you give your dog 100 percent attention on Sunday, expect an increase in separation issues on Monday. Do him a favor and make his life predictable.  Most dogs with separation anxiety can be helped.  Your dog can change, but you have to change first. Even though it’s the dog’s problem, only you can teach him a new way.

Separation anxiety is a complex issue and can be difficult but is usually not impossible to overcome. It takes time and understanding, and most of all, patience on your part. You may become frustrated during the training process because you’re working with a new ‘normal’, both for you and your dog. Expect the frustration, and work through it. You are your dog’s best hope. If it is separation anxiety, he cannot overcome this by himself and he will not get better over time. He does not have control over his fear – it really is bigger than he is.

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Posted by on February 16, 2012 in Dog Health


The Dog Food Rollercoaster…..

The topic of dog food is a heated one among dog owners.  Several people believe that dog food is dog food, and buy the cheapest brand available because their dog is doing ‘just fine’.  On the contrary, there are others out there that believe the most expensive brand is better because it purely just costs more.  Nevertheless, neither side is correct.  There is much more to it than the price of the food you decide to feed your dog.  Several dog owners start to think about what they should feed their dogs once health issues occur, such as excessive itching and scratching, ear infections, digestive issues, or even weight loss or weight gain.

Every food on the market contains different ingredients, and each one has the potential to cause symptoms of allergy or intolerance in some dogs. Every food contains a different ratio of macronutrients – protein, fat, and carbohydrates – and you have to learn by trial and error which ratio works best for your dog. Each product contains varying amounts of vitamins and minerals, and though most fall within the ranges considered acceptable by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), some may be in excess of, or deficient to your dog’s needs.

So the big question here is, how do you choose?

You have to start somewhere.  This blog is to help you identify the foods with the best-quality ingredients – whole meats, vegetables, fruits, and grains, and high-quality sources of dietary fat – to get you into the right “ballpark” in terms of quality.

Let’s start with the ingredient panel.  AAFCO has developed profiles for dog and puppy nutrition. These standards are reflected on the dog food label. This information will give you an idea of the food’s content, but beware – the labels can be misleading. Just because a food meets AAFCO requirements, it does not mean that is the best food for your dog. Look for food companies that exceed AAFCO guidelines and use high-quality ingredients that are human-grade if possible. Avoid foods that contain chemical preservatives and fillers like wheat, corn and soy.  When you’re shopping for a healthy food for your dog, look for dog foods with meat, fish, or eggs listed as the first ingredient. These are very digestible, and if they are listed as the first ingredient, you can assume the food offers a good-quality protein source, and includes several valuable, usable amino acids. If you are switching to a new food, be sure to allow ample time for your dog to adjust to it.

Dog foods are classified into three major categories:

“Grocery store” foods – those found in grocery stores and mass-market retailers – are typically made with lower-quality, less-digestible, inexpensive ingredients and are therefore a cheaper alternative. While easy on the pocketbook, “grocery store” foods normally do not provide your dog with the healthiest, most nutrient-dense ingredients.

-Premium foods – often found in grocery stores, pet stores, and veterinarian offices – contain higher-grade ingredients, but may still include some elements of “grocery store” food, such as artificial colors, artificial flavors, chemical preservatives, and “filler” ingredients. Premium foods are usually more expensive than “grocery store” foods because their ingredients are of a higher quality, and are therefore somewhat more beneficial and digestible.

-Healthy foods – the newest addition to the pet food market – provide pets with the highest quality, healthiest, and most nutritious ingredients. They are typically available for purchase online or direct from the manufacturer, and can be found at local pet store retailers. Foods in the Healthy class contain nutrient-rich ingredients.

Formulated to provide optimum health benefits for pets, these foods often use whole, fresh fruits and vegetables, real meat as the primary protein source, and carbohydrate-rich whole grains like brown rice and barley. They should not contain artificial preservatives, flavors, or colors. They will almost always be fortified with additional vitamins and minerals, and will use the best natural sources for fatty acids to help build healthy skin and a beautiful coat. Because healthy foods use high quality ingredients, you should expect to pay a little more than you would for other types of pet food. Remember, with healthy foods you can generally feed less since healthy foods are more nutrient-dense than other types of food.

Dogs, just like people, are individuals. What works for this dog won’t work for that one.  A Pointer who goes jogging with his marathon-running owner every day needs a lot more calories than the Golden Retriever who watches TV all day. The diet that contains enough fat to keep that sled dog warm through an Alaskan winter would kill that Miniature Poodle who suffers from pancreatitis.

Don’t choose a new food for your dog just because you like the look of the bag.  You should have some rationale for your purchase.  For example, if your dog is overweight, look for a food with a higher protein and less fat.  If your dog is itchy, look for a limited ingredient food (a single protein and a single carb source, preferably not grain).  If your dog is too thin, look for a food with a higher fat content.  If your dog seems to be losing condition as it ages, look for a food with more protein and higher-quality protein sources.  If your dog is having digestive problems, try foods with less fat, a different protein source, or no grains, depending what works for your dog.  If your dog acts hungry all the time, look for a food with a higher fat and protein content.  Finally, if your dog is a picky eater, try rotating foods more often, and offer foods with different protein sources to see which are most appealing to your dog.

After you’ve done all you can to make sure a food is healthy and beneficial, take a look at your dog after feeding the food for at least a month. Bright eyes, a shiny coat, and a healthy energy level will let you know you’ve chosen a good source for your dog’s nutrition.  Let your dog tell you how the new food works!  If you need assistance selecting a food for your dog, seek veterinary/professional advice.

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Posted by on February 8, 2012 in Dog Health


Are Dogs More Intelligent Than We Give Them Credit For?

All dog owners like to think that their pet can sense their mood and emotions.  Researchers now accept that dogs and other animals can experience primary emotions such as anxiety, fear, and anger.  The scientific community, and particular animal behaviorists, have only recently begun to study animal intelligence on a serious level. The findings of some of the initial studies are astounding — that some animals can comprehend abstract ideas, symbols, new concepts, and, can analyze situations and choose varied but appropriate responses for their reactions.

As humans ask “What can a dog learn to do?”, we raise the expectation and discover that dogs are capable of learning a great deal more than originally believed, and that they are capable of using that knowledge to interact with humans in helpful, meaningful ways.

When we look at what a dog can accomplish without special training, say, saving the life of a loved one by warning them of a fire in the home, it is even more amazing what they can be trained to do. Early on we learned to develop their natural instincts to do such things as guard livestock or hunt.  Now they help us in many capacities including serving as ears for hearing impaired persons, leading the blind, as arson detection dogs and much more.

Personally I believe that there has always been much more to the canine mind than what we have in the past permitted ourselves to perceive. Believing this is no longer the wishful thinking of a pet owner humanizing their own thoughts onto those of their dog’s. Rather, dogs have recognizable intelligence.

Of course dogs have feelings, and we have no trouble acknowledging most of them. Joy, for example. Can anything be as joyous as a dog? Bounding ahead, crashing into the bushes while out on a walk. Conversely, can anything be as disappointed as a dog when you say, “No, we are not going for a walk”? Down he flops onto the floor, his ears fall, he looks up, showing the whites of his eyes, with a look of utter sadness. Pure joy, pure disappointment.

But is this joy and disappointment identical to what humans mean when we use these words? What dogs do, the way they behave, even the sounds they make, seem instantaneously translatable into human emotional terms. When a dog is rolling in fresh-cut grass, the pleasure on her face is unmistakable.  The words used to describe the emotion may be wrong, our vocabulary imprecise, the analogy imperfect, but there is also some deep similarity that escapes nobody. My dog may appear to feel joy and sorrow much the way I do, and the appearance here is critical: We often have no more to go on when it comes to our fellow humans.

Dogs love their friends and bite their enemies.  Unlike people, who are incapable of pure love, and always have to mix love and hate in their object relations.  In other words, dogs are without the contradiction with which humans seem cursed. We love, we hate, often the same person, on the same day, maybe even at the same time. This is unthinkable in dogs because, as some people believe, they lack the complexity or, as I believe, they are less confused about what they feel. It is as if once a dog loves you, he loves you always, no matter what you do, no matter what happens, no matter how much time goes by. Dogs have an amazing memory for people they have known. Perhaps this is because they associate people with the love they felt for them, and they derive pleasure from remembering this love.

From an evolutionary point of view, it would be very strange if dogs did not have the ability to sense mood. It would also be an almost incredible fluke if self-consciousness suddenly occurred for the first and only time in the human animal. It doesn’t make sense to have a pack animal like a dog unequipped to realize when he was getting into trouble with another dog or when his behavior was having the desired effect. If dogs feel what we feel, they should be happy when we’re happy, sad when we’re sad, and on the lookout (or hiding) when we’re angry. All of the above do occur, on an almost daily basis, in our homes.


Could Valentine’s Day Harm Your Dog?

Many holidays cause a spike in poison-related cases for animals.  Valentine’s Day is no exception!  A holiday that is known for chocolates, flowers, and cocktails can cause numerous poisoning possibilities.  The Pennsylvania Veterinary Medical Association is providing tips on how to prevent unwanted consequences with your favorite Valentine’s Day treats.

Every rose has its thorn, so the song says, but thorns on roses and other flowers can be very dangerous to dogs and other pets.  Stepping on, biting, or swallowing stems can increase the risk for puncture, which can result in infections internally and externally.

Several people receive chocolates on Valentine’s Day, but as we all know, chocolate can be toxic to dogs and cats because of the chemical it contains, theobromide.  The darker the chocolate, the more toxic it is.  However, dark, milk, semi-sweet and baker’s chocolate all can cause adverse reactions.   Darker chocolate contains caffeine like stimulants that cause gastrointestinal, neurological, and even cardiac functions that can cause vomiting and diarrhea, hyperactivity and elevated heart rate.  The high fat in lighter chocolates can cause life-threatening inflammation of the pancreas.  Make sure to keep chocolate up high out of paws reach!

Life is sweet, but to dogs something so sweet can be so deadly.  Do not let your pets near anything that is sweetened with xylitol.  If ingested, gum, candy and other treats that include this sweetener can result in a sudden drop in blood sugar known as hypoglycemia.  This can cause your pet to suffer depression, loss of coordination and seizures.

Cocktails also pose a threat to pets because of their smaller size.  Even a small amount of alcohol stolen from a low-sitting glass or licked up from a spill on the floor can cause dramatic problems to a dog.  Some examples are vomiting, lack of coordination, central nervous system depression, tremors, difficulty breathing and even coma.

In addition, be sure to blow out any unattended candles when you leave the room and put away wrapping paper and bows from gift opening.  Valentine’s Day can be fun for everyone with just a little forethought.  If you think your pet has been poisoned, contact the Poison Help Line 800.213.6680.

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Posted by on January 26, 2012 in Dog Health