Susan Tasaki is a The Bark contributing editor.
Wellness: Healthy Living
We talk to groomer extraordinaire Robyn Michaels
July 26 2013
It seems so simple. A few passes with a brush, an occasional suds-up in the tub or back yard, and there you have it: a well-groomed dog. If only. But help is here. We asked professional groomer Robyn Michaels for insights into keeping our dogs looking and smelling good with a minimal amount of fuss — and without the kind of mishaps that lead to a starring role on America’s Funniest Home Videos!
Q: What’s the best way to help a dog enjoy being brushed?
A grooming table makes all the difference. The floor is the dog’s territory. Being even a foot off the floor puts your dog in a different dimension and a different place psychologically. You can buy a used portable dog-grooming table or make your own; in either event, be sure the table is absolutely steady. Fear of falling affects dogs even more than physical pain.
Without a table, grooming is often a two-person job: one person to hold the dog still and the other person to brush. The person holding should have the dog on a very short leash and keep one hand on the dog’s withers (shoulders). The dog will not be as apt to struggle if he’s not being strong-armed and wrestled with.
This is where I make my pitch for doing basic obedience exercises, which helps your dog understand that you really are in charge, really are a leader and won’t hurt him.
Q: No matter how often we brush our dogs, they still don’t look well groomed, and dog-hair tumbleweeds are still rolling across the floor. Why?
Q: What kind of brush should we be using?
Rakes come with various numbers of teeth in a row. You will have to experiment, but to begin with, I suggest that you get one with the widest separation/ fewest teeth. The blades on the underside of the curved teeth act like seam rippers. It is almost impossible to cut your dog with this type of rake, and you will pull out a lot of hair that a slicker brush won’t get. A metal comb is also handy to have, to tease out mats, get into small areas (under armpits, behind and under ears, between toes) and clean the brush.
Q: What’s the best way to brush? And how often should we do it?
Matting starts in a dog’s moving parts: around the tail, behind the ears, in the armpits, and on the hocks and pasterns (ankles), and spreads from there. Also, if your dog has a double coat (long guard hairs and a shorter, softer undercoat), you need to get down to the skin to remove that loose undercoat hair. As to how often: you may have to do this every other day if your dog has a dry, cottony coat (like a Coton de Tulear), but, for most dogs, if you brush too often, you will cause more static, which will cause more matting and also affect the coat’s shed cycle.
I recommend brushing at least the mat-prone areas every week, and a long-haired, double-coated dog usually needs to be brushed more often when he’s actively “blowing coat” — the big twice-a-year seasonal shed.
One more thing: dressing up your dog may be fun, but if you have a single-coated dog, every time you take off his coat or sweater, you create static and cause matting.
Q: Speaking of matting — a friend’s Golden Retriever had lots of mats and tangles, so she shaved him. Is this a good idea?
Q: How about bathing — what do we need to get our dogs clean?
There are many kinds of dog shampoo, so you should be able to find one that works well for your particular dog’s coat, but know this: suds do not clean the dog. The shampoo’s active ingredients agitated against your dog’s hair are what do the cleaning. If your dog’s skin is irritated by a shampoo, it’s usually sodium laureth sulfate (or chloride, the sudsing agent) that’s causing the problem; a few manufacturers make sodium-free shampoo.
Another thing to keep in mind is that if you don’t dilute the shampoo, you’ll never get it completely rinsed out. The industry-average dilution rate is 16 to one, but you can just eyeball it.
Dispense the diluted shampoo using an old dishwashing liquid or shampoo bottle. You want just enough suds to tell you when you’ve covered the whole dog. If you want to really get the dog clean, brush the shampoo through his coat. This covers every hair, gets out some of the smaller tangles you might have missed and removes the loose stuff. After the dog’s dry, brush him again, and then float a comb through his coat to finish up and clear out any remaining tangles (don’t forget: armpits, behind the ears, under the chin, and around the tail and ankles).
People often ask about conditioners. I rarely use them. A conditioner works by coating the dog’s hair with a humectant, which attracts moisture. This can be helpful for long-haired dogs in the winter, to counter static, but conditioner is difficult to rinse out, often leaves a film on the dog’s hair, will attract dirt and may even cause matting. I suggest avoiding conditioners unless you are using them for a specific reason.
Q. Finally, a little background. How did you get started, and what do you see as the most common grooming challenge?
It surprises me that people acquire dogs and don’t give grooming a second thought until the dog smells bad or is shedding to the point that it affects their quality of life. Why does this happen? It happens because a lot of people who work in the pet industry have more contact and credibility with customers than hobbyists and fanciers do. On the other hand, when it comes to the rare breeds, pet owners often return to the breeder to have their dogs groomed rather than take them to a school- or shop-trained groomer, who may not know the breed. If a person adopts from an animal shelter, the employees or volunteers are unlikely to know anything about grooming, and will probably not even mention it. All in all, it’s important that when you select a dog, you understand what his grooming needs are so you can address them rather than ignore them until the dog’s uncomfortable and you’re frustrated.
June 21 2013
Find a soul mate is never easy, but Brooklyn based Sarah Oren Brasky, aka the “Dog Matchmaker,” is an expert at improving the odds. Brasky’s passion for dogs began in childhood and has continued into her adult life, where, in addition to her work with dogs—she also founded and edits the rescue blog Foster Dogs NYC —she teaches elementary school.
Motivated by the conviction that adopting dogs rather than purchasing them from breeders or pet stores saves many innocent lives, Brasky has made it her mission to help people connect with compatible canine counterparts. Using a questionnaire to establish the type of dog an individual has in mind as well as the conditions under which the two will cohabit, she then casts a wide net, searching her contacts for the best possible pairing. Thanks to Brasky, Harry, Biscuit, Shiloh, Kain, Koko and many others now have homes and people who love them. Dog rescue is in her bones, she says, and in providing this service, the matchmaker herself is perfectly matched.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Paintings meet furniture
March 11 2013
In the hands of Leslie Oschmann, everything old really does become new again. Oschmann is the creative force behind Swarm, an eclectic collection of useful objects crafted from vintage oil paintings that she tracks down in antique shops and flea markets across Europe.
When Oschmann, a former visual director at Anthropologie, moved from the U.S. to the Netherlands and set up a studio in Amsterdam, she satisfied two lifelong desires: to give new life to beautiful objects and to acquire a dog. McDuff, a Wire Fox Terrier, is her constant companion, accompanying her on buying excursions and keeping an eye on her progress in the studio. And, since Amsterdam is such a dog-friendly place, he also goes with her to stores and cafés, often riding in her bicycle basket.
Oschmann has a gift for imaginative juxtapositions of subject, color and texture (linen on wood, stitching on canvas) that give the forgotten paintings new lives as handbags, shoulder bags, totes and even art-covered furniture. But it’s not all flowers and landscapes.
In her wanderings, Oschmann occasionally comes across paintings of dogs … not many and not often, but enough to pique her interest. An avowed “dog nut,” she now deliberately looks for dog-themed paintings, and the fact that they’re harder to find makes them even more special to her. In addition to using these paintings on individual items, she also arranges them in collage-like ways, sometimes including a piece’s unfinished edges, fringe or corners, then has the assemblage reproduced on sturdy canvas fabric, from which she makes pillow and, of course, dog-bed covers.
Each Swarm piece, a deconstructed/reconstructed work of art, incorporates subtle visual surprises, evidence of Oschmann’s artistic inventiveness. As a bonus, they’ve all been approved by McDuff.
Wellness: Health Care
February 11 2013
Dog? Check. Buccal swab? Check. Apply the latter to the former, inside of cheek. Rub for 10 seconds. Voilà. DNA collected.
Until fairly recently, the garden-variety dog owner could only wonder if potential problems lurked in her dog’s DNA. Now, however, it’s possible to know—maybe not everything, but at least the possibilities. Which can be kind of comforting, since it allows you to focus your anxiety where it might be more useful.
As dogs age, they display a number of signs similar to those experienced by aging humans, among them, loss of muscle tone and strength. And, like humans, those symptoms can be chalked up to simple aging. For the prone-to-worry among us, they can also be signs of something more dire, such as degenerative myelopathy, or DM (see Nick Trout’s column in the Spring 2013 issue for more on that).
For answers, we turn to our vets, and increasingly, to science. The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals offers much, much more than insights into a dog’s predilection for, say, dysplasia or subluxations. This nonprofit, which was incorporated in 1966 and began with the mission of evaluating and genetic counseling for those whose dogs were at risk of hip dysplasia, has evolved its objective: “To improve the health and well being of companion animals through a reduction in the incidence of genetic disease.” (They’re also including other companion animals these days, cats, for instance.)
So, when I started noticing hesitations and missteps in my large-breed, 14-year-old dog’s gait, I wasted no time. Going to the OFA website, I was able to request the DNA test for DM, pay for it online and have the kit sent to me. Once I received it, it was comparatively easy to do the cheek swab required (it would’ve been easier with just the tiniest bit more cooperation from the dog in question, but then, that would’ve been out of character). Some DNA tests require a blood draw, which needs to be done at a vet clinic, but many are equally reliable via cheek swab, which pretty much anyone can do at home.
The instructions were simple, as was the return. Within in days, I had a response from the University of Missouri’s Animal Molecular Genetics Lab, where the DNA was evaluated. I was glad to see that the test came back N/N, or no genetic markers for DM. But even if the results had been different, I would have at least known, and knowing is always better. Having this test done also meant I could provide my vet with one more piece of information that he could factor in to his diagnostic consideration.
Another benefit is that by having this sort of evaluation done, you—via your dog—are contributing to the larger body of knowledge on genetic diseases. The samples and associated information about the dog become part of a DNA repository, which may in the future provide answers to some of dogs’ more vexing health issues.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Make a day of it and get great take-away ideas
January 24 2013
How many public botanical gardens welcome both you and your dog? Not many, we’d wager. But the Oregon Garden, an 80-acre botanical sanctuary located about 45 miles south of Portland, takes another point of view. Among their more than 20 specialty assemblages is the appealingly named “Pet Friendly Garden.” Horticultural manager Jill Martini says that the purpose is to show visitors how to turn their home gardens into safe playgrounds for their pets. “With a little strategy, your plants and your pets can live in harmony,” she notes.
In the Pet Friendly Garden, plants are edible, water is plentiful and flowers are undisturbed. Pathways direct pets through and around the garden, and shade is in ample supply. In other words, dogs can dig the garden without digging up the garden. The Pet Friendly Garden also offers information on edible plants, including catnip, catmint, wheat and oat grass for cats, and dwarf apples, blueberries and gooseberries for dogs. A take-home brochure lists plants that can be harmful to pets.
“The Pet Friendly Garden is part of our larger mission to provide a unique and entertaining garden experience while offering practical ideas for your own garden,” Martini says. “We invite you to bring your pet and make a day of it.”
Dog's Life: Travel
Pack up and head for a Winter Escape
December 28 2012
Asheville, North Carolina
When it’s time to settle down for the night, there’s a raft of options, starting with Barkwells’ fabulous cabins, acres of fenced meadows and dog-loving amenities. For a historical venue, check out Applewood Manor Inn B&B, the Reynolds Mansion or the Biltmore Village Inn, which is closest to the Biltmore Estate. There, don’t miss Cedric’s Tavern (named after one of George Vanderbilt’s beloved dogs), or the Creamery, both of which have outdoor seating your dog can share with you.
Marfa may be small, but it has a dog-friendly eatery. Squeeze, across from the Presidio County Courthouse, serves up a mean breakfast and lunch as well as an astounding list of healthy drinks and smoothies; enjoy them on the patio with your pal. The Thunderbird, a retro 1950s, locally run hotel, offers a pool and unpretentious, dog-friendly hospitality. However, the go-to spot for intrepid travelers and their dogs has to be El Cosmico, 18 acres of funky coolness dotted with refurbished vintage trailers, modern yurts, safari tents and teepees. Liz Lambert, who opened El Cosmico in 2009, calls it “part … campground, part creative lab.” An open-air bathhouse and cooking area are among its charms. (Not quite so charming are the goatheads, spiny seeds that can play rough with dogs’ paws; if your dogs will wear them, bring booties.)
November 8 2012
Two young women separated by 60 years fight for and find salvation in their dogs—specifically, in their sturdy, wolf like Siberian Huskies. For the Chukchi people who developed the type over more than 3,000 years, the dogs also had a spiritual role as guardians of the gates of heaven. The way people treated their dogs determined whether or not they would be allowed through those gates.
An Echo through the Snow is a tightly woven tapestry of past and present. It begins in 1929, with the Red Army’s eviction of the Chukchi from their northeastern Siberia homelands. Jeaantaa, a young Chukchi woman, is Keeper of the Guardians, the dogs who “had been at the center of Chukchi life since woolly mammoths had lumbered along beside them.” The Keeper’s first responsibility and loyalty was to the dogs, an obligation that came before everything and everyone else, including the Keeper’s own life and family. As Soviet soldiers advance on her village, Jeaantaa gives a precious ceremonial sled and 30 young dogs and puppies to an American who had come from Alaska in search of a lead dog, then flees with a team of elderly Huskies.
The second strand picks up in 1992, with Rosalie, an 18-year-old trying to survive in a small Wisconsin town on the shores of Lake Superior. Slowly being destroyed in an early, disastrous marriage, Rosalie defies her brutal husband to rescue her own Guardian, Smokey, a neglected Huskie that rumor has it will soon be shot by his drunken owner.
Each woman’s path unfurls through the book and in the end, the two paths merge in a surprising yet credible way. In between are marvelous descriptions of traditional Chukchi life, Siberia, sled-dog training and racing, and, of course, the glorious Huskies who are the true, beating hearts of both women’s lives.
Dog's Life: Work of Dogs
An SAR call to action
August 21 2012
In the wake of a disaster, the first critical task is to find survivors. To accomplish this, we turn to dogs for help. Hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, mudslides, terrorist attacks—search and rescue teams are on the spot and on the job until the last person is found.
The nonprofit National Disaster Search Dog Foundation (SDF) estimates that the nation needs more than 400 Advanced Certified canine search teams to adequately respond to disasters. But today, there are just 180 teams, and experienced pairs are retiring every year. To help narrow this gap, SDF has secured 122 acres in Santa Paula, Calif., on which it plans to build the first national training center of its kind in the country. Over the next three years, SDF plans to raise $15 million, which will be used to purchase the land, construct the facility and establish a maintenance endowment. The center will also allow SDF to consolidate its kennels, search-training sites and offices in one location.
Founded in 1995 by retired schoolteacher Wilma Melville, SDF’s mission is to “produce the most highly trained DHS/FEMA Advanced Certified canine disaster search teams in the nation.” To accomplish this mission, the organization accepts donations of dogs from individuals and rescues dogs from shelters, trains them, and partners them with firefighters and other first responders. Both the canines and the training are provided at no cost to the departments. Completing the loop, SDF also makes a commitment to the lifetime care of every dog it accepts into the program, regardless of whether or not the dog completes the training; once rescued, these dogs never need to be rescued again.
For more about their programs and to make a donation to this or another SDF project, visit their website or phone 888.459.4376.
The Penguin Press, 238 pp., March 2008; $25.95
April 9 2012
This is a story of a life measured out in dogs. Today, Morie Sawataishi is 94, and when he looks back at the road he’s traveled, the signposts all look like Akitas.
Akitas are dogs of Japan’s snow country: long, heavy legs; tightly curled tails; great stamina; and a thick double coat heavy enough to protect them in all kinds of weather. These were the dogs who are thought to have come onto the main island of Japan with the first tribes of migratory hunters some 2,000 years ago, and who, for 300 years, were inspirations for Japan’s samurai class. The story of Hachi-ko—the Akita who, daily for nine years, met the four o’clock train at the Shibuya station, watching for his deceased master—is known by every schoolchild.
Yet, during World War II, the breed came close to being wiped out. The military paid dearly for heavy Akita pelts, which were used to line officers’ coats, and in those grim times, there was no shortage of sellers.
In Dog Man, Martha Sherrill describes how Sawataishi—a single-minded man with a fierce will—helped save the ancient Akita from almost certain extinction. To Sawataishi, the Akita wasn’t exotic; for him “it was simply the local dog, the regional dog, the breed he’d seen everywhere as a child growing up in snow country.” No one was more surprised than him when, in his 30s and newly returned from a stint in the Japanese navy, he was overcome with a desire for an Akita. By that time, there weren’t many around, and because food was scarce too, feeding a dog was a hard thing to do. But Sawataishi persevered, and one day, came home with an Akita puppy—to the immense dismay of his wife.
This wasn’t the first unconventional thing Sawataishi had done; within days of marrying a well-educated girl from Tokyo, he took her to the island’s far north to live near his family. She returned to Tokyo while he served his time in the navy, but when he completed his duty, back they went to snow country, where everything was not only colder, it was more difficult. Thirty years ago, when he decided to build a traditional cottage on slopes of Mount Kurikoma, everyone else in the family objected, and some thought he’d lost his mind. But build it he did. He didn’t want the things most of his countrymen craved: a golf membership, a fine home in Tokyo, an easy life. No, he wanted space, and quiet, and room for his dogs. And there, on the side of the mountain, he found them.
This is not only a story about a man and his dogs, it is also the story of a time in Japan that Americans heard little about. During World War II, it was hard for those in the U.S. to imagine that there were people in the island nation who didn’t want to kill them, people who were appalled by the military’s raging ambition. In Dog Man, we learn about some of these “other” Japanese and the hardships they endured as every resource their country could muster went to support the military. Who lived in fear of bombers overhead. Who, starving, were urged on to even greater sacrifices by their emperor. Under those circumstances, Sawataishi’s desire for a dog is both a snapshot of normalcy and emblematic of his independent and determined nature.
“In the old days of Japan, honoring the specific look or ‘breed’ was never part of the dog tradition. Spirit was the thing one hoped to keep alive.” Dog Man is a celebration of a man with spirit to spare, and of the dogs that marked and enriched his life.
Buy this book
June 28 2011
“You take in dogs?” Lonely after the loss of their 14-year-old German Shepherd, Barrie Hawkins and his wife embarked on rescue work, starting GSD Homefinders (gsdhomefinders.org.uk) in their rural English village with only the most general idea of what it would involve. Word spread quickly, and in no time, all manner of Shepherds in need of homes turned up on their doorstep. In Tea and Dog Biscuits, Hawkins chronicles the couple’s first year of rescue and fostering. He does a lovely job describing each dog and is candid about his general ineptitude, especially in the early days. This is a story of hope and healing, both of the dogs and of the couple who took them in.
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