Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Be Prepared
Plan ahead for emergencies

After attending a canine emergency seminar last year, I put together a first aid kit that included Elizabethan collars, bandages, eye wash, antibacterial ointment and contact information for the emergency vet. I was feeling pretty prepared, though, of course, I hoped that I’d never have to use any of it.

Unfortunately, earlier this week, my dog, Nemo, crashed into our coffee table, injuring his eye. With the first aid kit on hand, I quickly slipped on his Elizabethan collar and drove to the emergency vet. I was horrified when it dawned on me that Nemo had never worn an Elizabethan collar before. So his first experience with the collar involved a frantic car ride, getting prodded at the vet and a thunderstorm that erupted en route to the hospital. I couldn’t even feed him treats just in case they needed to do surgery the next day.

Fortunately Nemo only seemed slightly annoyed, but this situation could have easily been prevented had I taken the time to get him used to the collar beforehand.

The next day at the ophthalmologist’s office, I saw someone struggling to get their dog to stay still on the scale. It was a simple behavior that would have been a piece of cake if they had trained a nose touch or stand.

It got me thinking that there are many behaviors we can teach our pups to help in these situations, such as swallowing pills, wearing a muzzle and opening their mouth for a check-up. Kathy Sdao’s Husbandry Training for Dog Owners article is a good place to start for ideas on teaching some of these helpful behaviors.

Hopefully you’ll never find yourself in a serious emergency, but a little prep will help make them less stressful for both you and your dog.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Just For Fun
Tricks for kicks

A lot of training is simply teaching our dogs to be polite members of both human and canine society. Walking nicely on a leash, proper greetings, coming when called, doing sits, downs and stays on cue and letting children eat ice cream cones without helping are all useful skills that make any dog more pleasant to be around.

  Yet, it’s the fun things we teach our dogs that give many of us the most joy. Even simple tricks such as beg, crawl and rollover provide loads of fun both when we spend the time with our dogs to train them and when we get to show off their tricks to other people.   Some tricks are timeless, taught to each generation of dogs. Other tricks cycle in and out of favor, with certain tricks being popular right now. Among the “in” tricks to train dogs lately are the following:   “Aaachoo!” The dog retrieves a tissue when you sneeze.   “Leg up” To lift a leg as though urinating, but without really doing so.   “Stop, drop, roll and crawl to safety.” To stop, lie down, rollover and then crawl as a demonstration of the fire safety behavior   “Tidy up!” To put each toy into the toy box.   Does your dog have a favorite trick? Is it your favorite as well?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Best Family Dogs
Which breed? It’s a common question

I am frequently asked which breeds of dogs make the best family dogs. It’s a fair question because different breeds represent different genetic stocks of dogs, and it’s well known that genetics can have a strong influence on behavior. In a recent article, What Are The 5 Best Dogs For Your Family?, Sarah McCurdy tackles this subject.

  Her top picks for best family dogs are the Newfoundland, Pug, Keeshond, Golden Retriever, and Labrador Retriever. I have no objections to her picks and have seen all of these breeds on many similar lists. It is true that all of these breeds have many qualities to recommend them and that many members of these breeds are great with children, easy to train, and generally a joy to have around.   Still, I think that as useful as these sorts of lists can be, I caution people not to choose a dog simply because members of that breed are supposed to make good family dogs. There is a lot more that goes into choosing the right dog for your family than picking a breed that’s a “good family dog.” It’s important to consider what you are looking for in a dog and also to evaluate an individual dog based on more than just its breed.   Dogs from the same breed vary a lot in their behavior. For example, some friends of my parents had a sweet, Jack Russell Terrier who was calm, cuddly, and very biddable. This is not typical of the breed by any stretch of the imagination, yet many people that met this dog subsequently wanted to get a Jack Russell. I was always worried about these elderly people in my parents’ social circle acquiring a dog that was not right for them as a result.   It might surprise many people to know that I saw more Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers when I was working with aggressive dogs full time than any other breeds. Do they tend to be aggressive? Not necessarily—it’s just that they are such common breeds that I was bound to see a lot of them because every breed has dogs with behavior problems, including aggression. The point is not to assume that a dog will be social and kind, good with kids, playful, or any other trait, based simply on their breed.   A dog must match your lifestyle, so even if, for example, the Newfoundland appeals to you, it’s not the right dog for you if you are not interested in regular grooming, or if the thought of dog hair on your carpet is a deal breaker. Similarly, an American Eskimo may not be a good bet if you live in an apartment building where barking is not tolerated, even if the breed suits you in every other way.   And when choosing a puppy, my best advice is to meet the parents if possible and only get a pup from a litter if you like the behavior of the parents. The parents’ behavior is one of the best predictors of a puppy’s behavior because so much of behavior has a genetic basis. If the dad is locked behind a fence because “he’s not good with strangers” then I wouldn’t bet on the puppies being good with strangers. And no matter what breed you are considering, I recommend avoiding the puppy that is off on its own (indicating a high likelihood that the puppy is overly shy and not very social) or the puppy that goes crazy, leaping and slamming into walls to get to you (indicating that impulse control may be a challenge for that individual.)   One of the advantages of adopting an adult rather than a puppy is that the dog is already developed and you have a better idea of what you are getting. If you adopt your dog from a shelter or a rescue (both of which are wonderful ways to acquire a fantastic dog and that I support wholeheartedly!), an adult dog is less likely to surprise you by developing into an individual very different than what you anticipated. Of course, millions of people have adopted puppies from shelters or rescues without knowing the parents, only to end up with the greatest dog they’ve ever known. And the same phenomenon applies to people with crosses of more than one breed. In fact, many people swear that the best dogs are so mixed in terms of breed composition that their parentage is truly “anybody’s guess.”   Part of acquiring a new dog is a commitment to accepting life’s little surprises. Even with the best research and planning, you may not get exactly what you bargained for so and there’s no way to guarantee that your expectations will be met. That’s why another key part of ending up with the right dog is an understanding that “right” can cover a broad range of possibilities.   Exceptions are very common to all the generalizations I’ve mentioned, but when getting a puppy, I believe in maximizing your chances of happiness by using any information available to you based on breed, family history, or observations of the puppy, by choosing the right puppy and by socializing that puppy well. The breed can be an important part of choosing a compatible puppy, but choosing a particular breed that you think is right for you is no guarantee of what that puppy will be like now or as an adult.  


Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dreaming of Dogs
What are your nighttime canine visions?

If there was a group called Dog Dreamers Anonymous, you would surely find me at their meetings, standing up to say, “Hi, my name is Karen, and I dream about dogs.” In fact, I dream about them every week, sometimes multiple times. Last week for example, I had three dreams about dogs.

  The first dream was about a dog trying to block the waves from ruining a little kid’s sandcastle. The dog ran in between the sand castle and a big wave and blocked most of it so that it did not destroy the castle. The child who had built this particular castle had been bullied and teased by some other competitors in a sandcastle building contest, but ending up winning an award from the judges, thanks in part to the dog’s quick move. In my dream, I was very excited about what the dog’s actions might mean about dog’s cognitive and social abilities since he acted to prevent a future problem and chose to help the child most in need.   In the second dream, I was running slow motion through a field of daisies with many dogs, most of whom belonged to clients. For years, I’ve said that people probably picture the daily life of anyone who works with dogs to be mostly running through a field of wildflowers with piles of puppies, and probably in slow motion. The reality, though still wonderful, isn’t quite so idyllic.   I was running a race in the third dream. A dog joined me after a couple of miles and ran with me the rest of the way, which kept me going over the last few miles when I was feeling bad and wanted to stop. As I crossed the finish line, I turned to give this dog some water, but he was gone. I looked all around, but couldn’t find him. Later, I learned that every struggling runner who finishied the race reported having this dog as company, but that he always disappeared at the finish line.   Do you dream of dogs? What canine thoughts dance in your head as you sleep?
News: Guest Posts
Pit Bulls Save Chihuahua From Coyote
The lucky little dog has good neighbors

The town of Littleton, Co., is on edge this summer due to coyote attacks on a young boy and pet dogs. Early Saturday morning, Buster the Chihuahua mix was grabbed by a coyote while he and his owner were outside their home. The neighbor's Pit Bulls chased after the coyote who then dropped Buster. The little dog crawled under a bush and the Pit Bulls guarded him until the coyote was gone and Buster's owner could rescue him. Buster will undergo surgery today for various injuries sustained during the attack. Hopefully, he will make a full and quick recovery. What struck me most about this incident was how the owner did not view the coyotes as "bad," nor did she see the Pit Bulls as completely "good." What are your thoughts on this unique dog-saves-dog story?

News: Guest Posts
Shelter Dog Plays Trick on Staff
Locks are no match for Red the Greyhound

The staff at Battersea Dogs & Cats Home in England had a mystery on their hands: Who let the dogs out? Enjoy!

News: Guest Posts
Blanket Lust
An (seemingly) unstoppable obsession

I am obsessed with blankets. Turns out, so is Leo. My blanket obsession began with a passion for textile design, which developed into a habit of buying any blanket, comforter or quilt that caught my eye. Leo’s blanket habit is related to mine: Whenever I bring home a gorgeous coverlet, he has to chew a gigantic hole right in the middle—as soon as he is left alone with it for more than 20 seconds.

  Sometimes I think fate must have ironically brought Leo and I together, or that maybe Leo is saving me from the fate of being crushed under an avalanche of blankets when I open the linen closet. With Leo’s blanket-munching, I recognized there were two issues that needed to be addressed. First, Leo could not be left alone with blankets until he learned chewing on them is inappropriate. Secondly, he needed a positive outlet for his chewing, such as a chew toy.   Keeping Leo away from blankets worked for like a week. His tenacity for finding unattended blankets was borderline inspiring. I’d leave the bedroom door open for a minute while I went to grab clothes from the dryer: Gigantic hole in the blanket. I’d take a catnap on the sofa: Down feathers everywhere when I awoke.   Since keeping him away from blankets wasn’t going to happen, I tried taste deterrents, like bitter spray misted onto the blankets. Apparently, the only one affected by this was me. Many a nap was rudely ended by a bitter taste. After falling asleep in a blanket cocoon on the sofa (exhausted from watching back-to-back-to-back episodes of Cake Boss), my open mouth would inevitably make contact with the surface of the blanket. It was heinously gross. Meanwhile, Leo would power through the nasty flavor. For my sake, I gave up on the bitter spray.   My plan to redirect Leo’s affection from blankets to toys has been even less successful. Even after taking Leo to training specifically to pique his interest in toys, he drifts after more than 20 seconds unless it is something he can eat (like a bully chew or a Kong toy). I see a future with a morbidly obese dog curled happily on elegant, intact quilts.   The reality is Leo and I both have issues that need to be dealt with (though I’d like to think that I can curb my blanket-purchasing habit as soon as I can curb Leo’s blanket-eating habit). What next? Do I give Leo one blanket and designate it as his? Do I continue my two years of attempting to interest him in toys? Do I concede that maybe I won’t have nice blankets ever? Any suggestions?


News: Guest Posts
Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.
Inexplicable phobias and unlikely explanations

“Mitch, you know the rule! No standing in the house! Dude, if you want a drink I’ll get you one, but you can’t stand up—it freaks the dog out.” Whenever my friend Mitch comes over, this is my reality. Most of the time, life at home with the dogs is pretty uneventful. The dogs keep themselves occupied playing with toys or enjoying the backyard whenever we’re not snuggling on the sofa. From time to time, my friend Mitch (a towering six-foot-four, bearded lumberjack of a man) will show up, and Skipper does not like it. My usually friendly and docile dog barks constantly at him, clipping his heels, until he sits down. As soon as Mitch hits the couch or chair, it’s like someone flipped a switch and Skip goes back to normal.

  Fear of unusually (i.e., freakishly) tall people is only one of Skipper’s many strange and inexplicable phobias. He also fears karate, a fact I discovered when Skipper witnessed our friend Andy doing a Tae-Bo workout video. Additionally, and perhaps more logically, Skipper fears smoke. If we’re getting overzealous with the panini maker or those s’mores are getting a little out of control, Skipper will cower and hide in the bushes and look so sad it’s enough to break your heart in two.   This unique constellation of phobias has lead me to only one logical conclusion: Skipper’s previous owner must have been some sort of ultimate karate master (I’m thinking Bruce Lee), who met his demise at the hands of a giant, bearded redhead (plausibly Chuck Norris) during some sort of epic showdown in a burning building. Skipper likely employed an arsenal of canine kicks and punches to save his sensei, but either the smoke was too thick, or perhaps, Skipper was cruelly thrown aside (which also explains his blindness in one eye), and could not save his dojo-master. That, or like many owners, I have constructed an alternate reality to explain the source of all my dog’s fears with one traumatic event.   It’s a natural tendency to want to believe that Skipper’s life was perfectly happy until one fateful day everything came apart, but it all worked out because I adopted him. It’s almost a mode of self-preservation, considering that I already get overly emotional when watching those ASPCA ads of dogs in shelters: I couldn’t handle imagining poor Skipper going through an extended ordeal. The reality is though, any dog, whether from a shelter or from a responsible breeder, can develop strange phobias that we don’t understand.   Think of it this way: As humans, not all of our phobias come from rational places. Case in point, I had (OK, let’s be real, HAVE) an irrational fear of E.T., stemming from my childhood. This doesn’t mean that I was at any point abducted by aliens, or lured into Drew Barrymore’s closet after following a trail of Reese’s Pieces, or forced to fly away from government agents on a 10-speed bicycle (at least, I can’t recall ever having any of these things happen to me). Sometimes, dogs, like their people, just develop phobias we can’t explain. (Some canine compulsions might even have a genetic component.)   As much as I love Skipper and want to know everything about him, I have to accept that’s not possible. Instead, I just have to be the best dog parent I can be, and deal with his quixotic fears. Unless, of course, I am totally right about that Bruce Lee vs. Chuck Norris karate showdown. In that case, Skipper has just been trying to tell me something and I should be very, very afraid.


News: Guest Posts
Study Dogs Sought
For study of canine compulsive behavior

The Animal Behavior Clinic at Tufts University is currently enrolling:

  Terriers (except Bull breeds) German Shepherds Border Collies   into a study regarding the genetic underpinnings of compulsive behavior. Dogs that are affected and unaffected are needed. You will be required to fill out a survey about your dog’s behavior and a blood sample will be taken. A visit to Tufts is not required. If you are interested in learning more about this study, please contact Nicole Cottam at 508-887-4802 or nicole.cottam@tufts.edu.


Dog's Life: Lifestyle
An Unlikely Couple
The love of a goat and a dog

It’s hard to say what makes a pair fall so deeply in love, and when a close bond develops across species, it is both more puzzling and more endearing. A goat named Minelli and a Great Dane named Judy used to spend all their time together—sleeping, cuddling, and just being with each other.

  They were strays, though, and are now being held in an animal care facility in Dallas for the required 18 days in the hopes that their owners will claim them. Minelli is in an enclosure with more closely related animals. Since being separated from Minelli, Judy barks all day and seems highly distressed. A member of the staff at the facility describes it as heartbreaking and everyone involved in the situation hopes they can be reunited soon. They are separated as required by law, although the deputy involved declined to state which law specifically doesn’t allow them to be together.   Dogs and humans obviously form intense social bonds with each other. Have you had any other animals of different species who are obviously in a close relationship?