healthy living
Culture: Stories & Lit
Chloe Chronicles, IV
A Canine Cure for the Winter Blues

In my dogless years, I suffered from depression during the winter months. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) they call it, but for me, it was more ISMICGOOB (I’m So Miserable I Can’t Get Out of Bed). I won’t go into details about my emotional state or describe the dire thoughts and feelings that whirlpooled around my sun-deprived mind. Let’s just say that during the winter of 2003, I was a mess. My beloved dog Wallace had died, I had divorced my husband and all I loved most about life — including the sun — had receded. Winter nights in the Northeast can be 14to 16 hours long. But it seemed like 24
One particularly dark night in January, the police actually showed up at the door of my lovely but secluded house in Woodstock, N.Y. My former husband had called them because he hadn’t heard from me in days, and he was worried.(Even though we had parted, he still sensed these things.) I remember how terrified I was to be awakened by pounding on my front door, how disorienting it was to see flashlights beaming into my bedroom window. I remember thinking, If Wallace were here, he would have barked.
Dogs sense our emotional states even better than husbands (or ex-husbands). Wallace would have let me know that the men outside the window were no threat. That event though it was a dark and bitter and miserably cold winter, we were safe.
Anyway, that was then, this is now. I have Chloe now.
After that odd but enlightening (no pun intended) incident with ISMICGOOB, I consulted a doctor — a pioneer in integrative medicine — who prescribed vitamin D; rhodiola; structured yogic breathing to stimulate the pineal gland and produce serotonin; and a high-grade, futuristic $500 lightbox. He also prescribed the usual: rest, exercise, laughter, companionship and so forth.
In other words, he prescribed a dog.
Shortly before the winter of 2004 descended like a dark curtain, in fact, one day before Daylight Saving Time ended, I adopted Chloe. Now, I don’t mean to imply that I adopted her because of the forthcoming winter — I had begun the process in August — but I was grateful for the timing. The universe sometimes gives us what we need, when we need it.
We lived, then, in New York City, which has its own particular version of winter. After the first half hour, the snow isn’t beautiful. It’s just this inconvenient thing you have to slog through to get some place you wish you didn’t have to go. Then, giant snowplows driven by angry New Yorkers scrape the snow violently into piles (scraping the side of your car along with it). The “snow boulders” just sit there for months, in great unattractive heaps the color of dung. With some piss-yellow thrown in (courtesy of men and dogs).
The cold in the city is more biting, more aggressive, some-how. City wind knows how to turn corners, fly up your skirt and speed through intersections as if trying to beat the red lights. And then there’s our source of heat: steam radiators that clang at night, as though some ghoul were hiding under your floorboards, banging a wrench against your pipes.
For dogs, the NYC version of winter includes all of the above, plus paw pain from chemicals spread on the sidewalks and the indignity of being forced to wear clothes, such as plaid Burberry lumberjackets and little canvas booties with “anti-slide” soles.
Don’t get me wrong. I love New York. And dogs love any-thing. But New York in winter? Not recommended by SAD doctors.
So we moved back to the Catskills, to Woodstock. Back to the garden, as the song goes, back to the land of peace and love. And light and space and air. One of the first things we did after unpacking was visit a local park called The Comeau Property, 76 idyllic acres of meadows, woods, streams, swimming holes and grassy fields. Chloe had plenty of land to roam on our own six-acre property, but I wanted her to make new friends. I wanted new friends, too; people with SAD should avoid isolation.
Thus, we met Greg, a way-cool musician and conceptual artist in his 50s, and his handsome Setter, Rainbow. (It was love at first sight for Rainbow and Chloe; they have now been engaged for seven years, but have yet to set a date). Next we met Lilly, a witty photographer and her dog Sparky — a Pointer mix who had the air and expression of Nietzsche. The three of us humans not only had dogs in common: it turned out that we were all recent transplants to Woodstock. Greg and his family, up until then, had lived full-time in NYC, and Lilly came from Miami by way of Los Angeles. All three of us were also prone to SAD and facing our first Woodstock winter with trepidation. But, we had our prescriptions and we had our dogs.
Prescription 1: Avoid isolation. In the winter, those of us with SAD mostly want to hibernate. We want to hide in our emotional cocoons of lethargy and also in our literal cocoons of heavy down jackets with giant, puffy hoods, which we zip from head to toe and cinch tightly around our faces. Nothing shows except a nose, which is always red and runny from the cold.
Dogs, on the other hand, expand in winter. We’ve all witnessed this. They get friskier, more energetic. They tend to bounce around more, run in circles at every occasion (a ring-ing doorbell! a trip to the mailbox!) and exhibit new hidden talents for leaps and pirouettes. As the temperatures drop, their coats thicken and their pupils shrink to focused pinpoints, which somehow makes them look more alert, and feral.
At Comeau, our dogs seemed overjoyed with the new weather and their new pack. I loved to watch their ecstatic, bright-eyed faces as they ran through the white fields, and the way they seemed to smile as they leapt through the high drifts in buoyant dolphin arcs. I loved the way they threw their bodies into the snow and shimmied on their backs, pushing themselves upside-down through the drifts, only to leap to their feet again and shake it all off. Rainbow saw any dog on his or her back as fair game, and took the opportunity to get in a playful nip on the neck, rump or leg. I loved the way they would dive, twist and nip, exhausting them-selves with their clever dog maneuvers, and how they would pause from play, just slightly, to scoop some snow — powdery and pure — into their mouths for quick refreshment. Chloe always seemed rejuvenated by her “snow snack,” as we called it, like a hearty Russian explorer clearing her head with a shot of ice-cold vodka. Snow, I realized, was like a drug to dogs. A puppy upper.
Something else I found endearing was that Chloe was the least athletic among her new country-dog pals. Rainbow could clear six-foot fences and outrun snowplows, and Sparky — thick in the middle — could take a hit like a seasoned defensive lineman. Chloe, however, walked around puddles and, when she ran with the boys, was always a few yards behind, her ears flopping behind her as she ran with determination.
She didn’t mind being at the bottom of the hierarchy. She was just happy to have friends. She always trotted back to us with a smile on her face, as if to say: See, I’m hanging out with the cool guys. That smile warmed our hearts. This was much better than hanging out isolated at home with a SAD woman.
Prescription 2: Sunlight. For those of us with SAD, doctors prescribe at least 40 minutes each day in front of a light box or in direct sunlight. When our pack gathered at Comeau in the mornings, we always stood in the open field, in the sunshine. As the weeks passed, our positions shifted slightly so that we could get as much exposure and vitamin D as possible. We seemed much more aware of time after winter solstice, because we gained a full two minutes of sunshine everyday. I loved the way the low, slanted light sieved through the bare trees in the morning. The sun seemed to put in extra effort, just for us.
The dogs seemed to be putting in extra effort, too. If our conversations started to veer toward the negative some mornings (it’s cold, it’s dark, we have no mental or physical energy, Woodstock has no decent coffee), the dogs would increase the intensity of their play. They’d position themselves right in front of us and take turns spinning, biting, chasing, pouncing and wrastling. (I know wrastling is not an actual word, but it should be). Usually, Chloe was on the bottom of the play-pile, pushing the male dogs off with her hind legs. As she twisted her body to the right to get in a defensive leg-nip, Rainbow would leap over her head, Sparky, as if choreographed, would circle around them and then swoop in for another chomp on her neck. It was kind of like a canine Cirque du Soleil. After several minutes of dramatic play, they’d pause, gulp some snow and then smile at us, as though expecting applause. Which they always got.
Prescription 3: Laugh. On weekends, Greg’s wife Mindy joined us, along with their seven-year-old son, Clayton. Clayton was the instigator of many a dog game. In fact, he played as exuberantly as the dogs: he’d dive, tackle, roll and had no problem falling face-first into the snow. He would insist that we bury him neck-deep in the higher drifts so that the dogs could play “find the avalanche victim.” Clayton insisted on riding his toboggan down the hill by himself, so the dogs could follow along, like a great team of bodyguards, and pig-pile on him en masse at the bottom of the hill. Once, Clayton somehow wrangled Rainbow onto the toboggan, wrapping his legs around the dog to keep him in place. Rainbow looked positively miserable, his tail curled underneath him as we pushed them down the hill, but still, he submitted because he loved his family. Dogs will do any-thing for love.
Prescription 4: Establish a routine. We met at the park at 8:28 am exactly. Greg had to drop Clayton off at his school bus at 8:17, and it took him 11 minutes to reach Comeau. This meant I had to leave my house at 8:21, and also that around six, Chloe would be at the door with her nose pressed to the crack, tail wagging, dancing up and down with excitement. Our small foyer was narrow, and it was difficult to open the door with an exuberant, 60-pound dancing dog trying to wedge her way through. Her enthusiasm made me smile. And smiling is a nice way to start a day.
It took me seven minutes to drive to Comeau, and in those seven minutes I always tuned in to Writer’s Almanac on NPR. I loved listening to Garrison Keillor recite poetry in his smooth, soothing voice. (Poetry: another wonderful antidote to SAD.) Meanwhile, in the back seat, Chloe would be pressing her body forward with a serious and focused look on her face, as if she alone was responsible for guiding us.
When we arrived, Chloe leapt out of the car and ran in circles, looking for her friends. Lilly, Greg and I usually arrived at the same time. Lilly drove a Jeep. Greg drove an old but elegant Mercedes wagon, which, being a Mercedes, ran quietly. But if Greg was late, we could hear Rainbow yowling in excitement from a quarter-mile away. Rainbow, the most vocal of our dogs, greeted Sparky with a chummy grunt and a body slam; his girlfriend Chloe got a more emotional “a-woo-woo-woo.” Chloe — not much of a barker — whimpered in a cute, coquettish way, and Sparky would just do a little leap and then stand calmly by Lilly again. Sparky kept his real thoughts to himself.
After this brief canine greeting, the dogs greeted the humans with kisses, tail wags, crotch-poking and figure eights. Then, led by Rainbow, they tore off into the fields, bounding through the snow. Next, we humans would walk to our spot in the sunshine, drink our coffee, complain about the cold, absorb our daily dose of vitamin D. After the prescribed 40 minutes of sunshine, we would start the official walk.
Prescription 5: Spend time in nature. Comeau is a large park, but the hiking trails are modest. It would take a dog-less person probably 20 minutes to walk them. Our pack liked to amble, so it would take us 45. We liked to pause and point out the beauty of ice clinging to pine needles; we liked to stop and listen to the sound of water flowing intrepidly beneath the frozen surface of the Mill Stream. And, of course, we liked to watch the dogs: blazing their own trails through the snow, chasing the squirrels who chittered at us from the trees, or — glory of glories — finding deer poop to roll in (Rainbow) or eat (Sparky) or both (Chloe). Somehow, Chloe’s rolling offense seemed less gross in winter, because I could quickly wipe it off with a handful of snow.
Seeing beauty is also important for a person with SAD — or anyone, really. And while winter beauty can be lonely and stark, it is a beauty that points forward somehow. With the trees bare, we could see the mountains beyond and the steeples of white churches, and soothing curls of smoke rising from chimneys. There is something about being able to see through the distances, especially in winter, which reminds us that there is always the beyond.
Plus, we had three bird dogs, the sort of dogs who always roamed far ahead of us and pointed at things worth seeing: bright red berries on the holly bushes. Chickadees and cardinals. Our dogs were our rangers, our trail guides. I liked following their paw prints in the fresh snow. It felt as if we were doing something entirely original and new.
The trail led us straight back to the parking lot, where we would say goodbye for the day. It took a lot of coaxing and bribing and promises of bacon to lure the dogs back into our respective cars. (Chloe usually wanted to go home with Rainbow.) But they always gave in, knowing that they were going home to hearty breakfasts and warm fires.
Prescription 6: Take care of your body. On the way home, I stopped at Sunfrost Café for carrot juice with a shot of wheat-grass. The juice rejuvenated me in a way that, I suppose, Chloe’s gulps of snow rejuvenated her. There was a sense of freshness, of eating something clean.
Then we’d go home. In the foyer, I’d remove my boots and Chloe would shake off the final flakes of snow. I loved the way she smelled — it wasn’t so much the smell of wet dog as the smell of cold. Of winter at its best. After Chloe had licked the final chunks of ice off her leg feathers and from between her toes, both of us would go upstairs, where I’d light a fire and brew a cup of tea. As soon as I latched the door to the wood-stove, Chloe would curl herself up on the hearth.
Prescription 7: Rest. The hearth — that’s the best thing about winter. The center, the source of warmth, the fire element, our own personal sun. Whenever I see a dog lying by a hearth, I have the sense that life is exactly as it should be. That winter is a time to be home.
Prescription 8: Practice gratitude. Some days, the mornings at Comeau were the only sane hours I had that winter.But those hours accumulated and built upon themselves, as did the vitamin D in my body from the sunshine; the number of times I laughed at the dogs’ antics; and the number of great, deep breaths I took in that pure mountain air. Slowly but surely, I found my frame of mind shifting from, excuse the pun, SAD to glad.
Zen master Shunryu Suzuki once wrote: “If you can just appreciate each thing, one by one, then you will have pure gratitude. Even though you observe just one flower, that one flower includes everything.” Dogs seem to instinctively know this.
I remember that during one particularly grim winter, before I had dogs, I had to work very hard to find things to appreciate. (Such a statement might sound obnoxious, but this is the state of mind of a person in the throes of SAD.) I have always loved stars — their calming presence, their cool, serene beauty — but that winter, not even stars made me happy because, well, because of SAD. The fact that I could not even appreciate stars made me feel even worse. Then, I decided to be grateful that other people appreciated stars. And that one shift in perception and attitude lifted every-thing up again.
The winter night sky in the Catskills is beautiful beyond description, with stars plentiful and bright and acute. When I step outside at night and look up and out, I feel as though I am seeing all of eternity. And I realize I never would have experienced this feeling if I didn’t have a dog. Because, believe me, I would not be outside in below-zero weather for any other reason.
In the mornings,  I am the one who has to coax Chloe inside after our walks. But at night, it is she who rushes back to the house first. Now, even on the darkest, longest winter nights, I feel as if I could stand underneath that starry sky forever. It reminds me that there is no such thing as sadness. Just an infinite number of worlds, working in harmony. “Look,” I say to Chloe, pointing up. “Sirius. The dog star. That’s you!” She wags her tail, and her breath forms a cloud in the air, which seems like a loving answer. And we go inside. Where it is happy and warm.

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Dog Daycare
More than fun and games

You have an all-day work event, your dog walker comes down with something and your back-up help is out of town. Then you see the ad for a local dog-daycare facility: “We can help! We offer 12 hours of fun and socialization for your dog.” The message is accompanied by cute photos of pooches at play. Should you be sold?

Across the U.S., dog-daycare businesses — franchises and single-owner operations alike — are flourishing. They offer your dog what you sometimes cannot: playmates, companionship and supervision when other commitments take you away from home. Most keep hours similar to those of daycare centers for children: drop your dog off before work, pick her up afterward.

Do dog daycares provide a necessary service for both dogs and owners? Are all daycares created equal? Is dog daycare an option you should consider? The answer is a resounding “It depends.”

Marc Bekoff, PhD, a University of Colorado ethologist who has studied dogs and their wild relatives for more than four decades, gives the concept of dog daycare a thumbs-up: “I love the idea. I think they provide a great function. At the same time, daycare should not replace people spending a good deal of time with their dogs.” E’Lise Christensen, DVM, and board-certified veterinary behaviorist in New York City, agrees “For healthy, active, social dogs, daycare can be a great outlet for getting exercise and social enrichment.”

In fact, this belief is exactly what originally spurred the development of the dog daycare industry. “In the early 1990s, training professionals found there was a need for dogs to get out of the house, socialize and engage in mental stimulation and physical exercise,” explains Melinda Miller, hospital director at Smith Ridge Veterinary Center in South Salem, N.Y.

Social play and mental stimulation are the main reasons many people choose to enroll their dogs in daycare. Mat Zucker of New York City has been taking his co-pilot Ezra to Paws in Chelsea three times a week for the last nine years. “When Ezra was a puppy, it was a great place for him to burn off energy, be social and run around. We were worried he would be bored home alone.”

Zucker makes a good point. The complex process of domestication did not shape dogs for solitary living (raise your hand if one is napping at your feet as you read this). On the other hand, dogs did not evolve to engage in all-day play sessions either.

The Social Scene
Dog daycare websites feature buzz words like “play,” “fun” and “canine friends,” words that, for owners, readily elicit images of their dog exuberantly sparring with a new best friend. But what do social experiences at dog daycares look like?

In the daycare setting, dyadic play (play between two dogs) is probably the most prevalent type. A recent study* investigating social play in adult, group-housed dogs at a boarding kennel found that of 343 social-play bouts, all but one were dyadic in nature. “This is not surprising,” notes Alexandra Horowitz, PhD, and term assistant professor of psychology at Barnard College, who has studied dog play behavior extensively.** “Dyadic play is an easier dynamic for most dogs than triadic or larger-group play. In a bigger group of players, it would be hard to have play signals in all those different directions, and a dog could certainly miss something. Because of the complexity of play, this high-paced, rambunctious activity needs a lot of coordination.”

The idea of giving dogs space to play might seem straightforward enough, but there’s more to it than simply providing square feet. Numerous factors can influence the presence, or absence, of happy frolicking. While a dog’s physical size warrants consideration when forming daycare playgroups, play style is paramount. Becky Trisko, PhD, behaviorist and owner of Unleashed in Evanston, Ill., knows this well. “A good daycare surveys play styles and groups dogs accordingly. At the same time, [it] also allows flexibility between groups throughout the day to manage personalities and excitement levels.”

When it comes to play, turning up the dial is not always better. As Miller explains, “Hyper dogs allowed to get into a frenzy and maintain that level of excitement all day can be worse in the home than they were before they went to daycare. Staff members who help dogs learn about relaxed play and recognize when dogs need time out or a change of pace and rest are helping both dog and owner.” Trisko agrees. “Owners often assume that an exhausted dog is a happy dog. But an exhausted dog could also be an irritated dog.”

In a well-run daycare, these issues are addressed by handlers who ensure that dogs engage in the congenial play their owners envision. While no formal research has been done to validate these numbers, the consensus is that an ideal handler-to-dog ratio is 1:10, or 1:15 at the outside (Christensen recommends a ratio of 1:5). If groups grow in size, so too should the level of human attention. But even with multiple human hands on deck, large dog groups can be challenging to manage. Kate Senisi, a former daycare employee, knows this firsthand. “Daycares that create multiple, smaller groups within a space, as opposed to one large group, allow for more direct supervision of the dogs. But that also means that the daycare has to provide additional staff to cover the new groups,” she says.

Done right, supervision gives dogs the variety they need within a complex environment. Though many daycares tend to highlight “all-day play,” a quick review of online daycare videos reveals dogs engaged in any number of activities. Some dogs play, some watch; others investigate something on the floor, jump on a handler, sit in a handler’s lap or lie on the floor. In other words, individual dogs have a range of interests that shift moment by moment, and good supervision can facilitate this variety.

According to Horowitz, it’s important that dogs have options and control. “Not to say that the dog is dictating the day, but that the dog has options to be social, to be with a person or by themselves. That would be the highest-quality day: a lot of things to do and being able to make choices about when and with whom to do it.”

Handlers perform a critical role in promoting fun and safety. Much like playground monitors, they pick up on individual behavioral cues — for example, noticing when a dog becomes anxious or has simply been playing for three hours straight and could use a change of pace. Fun can quickly disappear when a dog finds himself in an environment that conf licts with his own emotional state.

The often-overlooked aspect of dog daycare is, of course, learning. “An important factor to consider,” says Laura Monaco Torelli, director of training at Animal Behavior Training Concepts in Chicago, “is that dogs are always learning, even in the daycare environment.” Since most daycares do not explicitly advertise training, owners might not readily notice this aspect. But watch any dog, and you’ll find that various behaviors and emotional states are being reinforced, or not reinforced, over the course of the day by humans, other dogs or even the environment. Just as a toddler might return from preschool with his first painting of a flower and a bit of an attitude, so too might a dog return from daycare played out, but a bit jumpier and mouthier than when he went in.

Practical Considerations
At the end of the day, dog daycares are businesses; moreover, they are unregulated businesses. While daycare owners, managers and employees probably become involved in this particular enterprise because they love dogs and are interested in promoting canine welfare, it is an industry with no agreedupon set of “best practices.” Some might have learned the business from authorities such as Robin Bennett or Gail Fisher; for others, a random instructional DVD might suffice.

Some daycares highlight their facilities’ bells and whistles: climate control, dog cams, unique flooring or even a particular type of background music. Unfortunately, many daycare websites are silent on the less flashy ethological and organizational considerations that are most relevant to those concerned about their dogs’ welfare. For example, daycares rarely describe daily play and rest schedules, handling techniques, procedures for introducing new dogs to the group, criteria that determine how dogs are grouped, handler-to-dog ratios, access to outdoor space and staff first-aid training.

There are many ways to handle the daily influx of bouncing dogs, and at their best, daycares do this by viewing every dog as an individual. Some daycares rely on message boards to keep track of the different canine personalities gracing their establishments. Descriptors might read: “Don’t let anyone jump on Tiger’s back. Keep Sam from being overstimulated. Keep Janet from eating rocks or poop.” But how do daycares uncover these nuances?

A behavior assessment is the first step toward getting to know each dog’s unique ethological needs. Even if a dog has been comfortable in comparable settings, there’s no foolproof way to predict how he or she will feel in a novel environment. Each daycare provides a unique stew of sights, smells, sounds, movements and management styles, and any dog could be less than thrilled with the surroundings. Even dogs described by their owners as “social butterflies” or “happy players” do not necessarily thrive in every setting. (I am reminded of a therapy-dog certification class I once observed. The behavior of two of the dogs screamed out, “Umm, may I please be excused from this experience?” Their owners were surprised by their reactions.)

Assessments can also identify dogs who are not likely to be thrilled about daycare from the get-go. For some, discomfort with other dogs could spark aggression; others might be unable to de-stress in a group setting. With this information, daycares can evaluate whether they have the staff knowhow and facility design to admit such dogs. Dog owners not only expect their dogs to be having positive experiences at daycare, they also expect them to be exposed to suitable playmates. “I like that Huey had a behavior test, because that means the other dogs also had a test,” says Beth Windler, a Minnesota dog owner and once-aweek daycare patron. For Windler, this was particularly relevant after Huey, a happy-go-lucky Basset Hound, was injured at a dog park.

The behavior assessment is just the beginning of the story. John Squires, owner and manager of Wag Club in Brooklyn, N.Y., stresses that the daycare facility has an ongoing role in habituating each dog to its setting and rewarding good behavior. He has found that, unfortunately, not all daycares prioritize such methods. Some accept dogs who are completely unsuited for a daycare environment without taking steps to help them acclimate, which could lead to a dog spending most of his time in a kennel rather than interacting with others.

It’s easy to get caught up in procedures and forget about the people. Just as a love of children does not necessarily make someone a competent firstgrade teacher, a love of dogs doesn’t automatically equip a person to manage the behaviors and personalities of a group of them. “Is a daycare just looking for warm bodies who like dogs and can stay there for eight hours a day?” asks Miller. Christensen adds, “Is the staff trained [in] the basics of dog behavior as based on science, not popular wisdom?” Staffers’ ability to recognize stress and discomfort is just as important as their understanding of the complex set of movements that make up play. Play and aggressive displays share many elements, and even to a watchful, astute eye, meanings can change quickly. According to Monaco Torelli, “Observation of canine communication is a critical variable of proactive management in daycares.”

So, is doggie daycare a necessary part of life for every dog? The answer lies largely with the individual dog. Some daycares are better than others at maximizing fun and safety and decreasing fear and stress. At the same time, dog daycare is not the only game in town. Your dog might prefer a long walk, a training class, a trip to the dog park, an open window where he can take in the passing sights and sounds, or a small playgroup. Consider what’s important to and appropriate for your dog. Also consider how you might be able to build time for these extras into your schedule.

When thinking about our dogs’ quality of life, most of us inevitably ask the question, “What should my dog be doing all day while I’m gone?” If you think the answer for your dog involves daycare, then the next question is, “Which one?” A little due diligence on your part will result in a solution that’s right for your pup.


* Adler, Carina, et al. 2011. Social play behavior of group-housed domestic dogs (Canis familiaris). Journal of Veterinary Behavior 6 (2): 98.
** Horowitz, Alexandra. 2009. Attention to attention in domestic dog (Canis familiaris) dyadic play. Animal Cognition 12 (1): 107–118.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Bite Prevention Ed Needed
Study finds kids need to learn how to prevent bites

When my therapy dog, Nemo, visits the library for the reading program, the kids always seem to go right for the tail. Nemo is very forgiving and patient, but I always use it as an opportunity to teach them the right way to approach and pet a dog.

A new study published in the Journal of Pediatrics found that dog bite prevention knowledge is poor in children. The researchers surveyed 300 five- to 15-year-olds with dog bites and their parents at a pediatric emergency room. The child-parents pairs completed a survey and a test that evaluated their knowledge in dog bite prevention.

Forty-three percent of children failed the knowledge test, with older kids having a higher passing rate. More than 70 percent of the children never received formal dog bite prevention education, although 88 percent of parents wanted it for their kids.

Animal bites are the second most common reason for kids seeking medical care and the effects reach far beyond the initial injury. Over half of children who've been bitten have shown evidence of post-traumatic stress disorder one month after the injury.

It's clear that there's a need and hopefully this study will encourage schools and youth groups to incorporate formal dog bite prevention education into their programs.

Good Dog: Activities & Sports
Dryland Mushing
Have dogs, will run

Say “mushing” and most people envision a team of sturdy, excited dogs pulling sleds hundreds of miles along snowy Alaskan trails. Increasingly, however, urban dog lovers are learning that dog-powered activities are a great way to keep themselves and their pooches in shape while experiencing the joy of human-canine teamwork. Once temperatures turn cool and trail traffic thins out, your favorite non-paved trails are perfect for dryland mushing. You don’t need a lot of equipment, a team of Huskies or even snow.

Dryland or urban mushing refers to non-snow, dog-powered activities that involve one to two dogs, a human, and minimal equipment. In canicross, the most popular type of dryland, dogs help runners or walkers increase their speed, stride and endurance. It’s also a fantastic way to bond with your furry buddy. Once the principles of canicross are mastered, you may also consider bikejor (dog pulling a bike) or dog scooters. Whatever you choose to do, it is important to be absolutely comfortable with the apparatus you’re using so that you can focus on your dog’s experience of the activity.

Any breed can take part in canicross; all you need is a dog who’s healthy and loves to run. (Puppies, dogs with prior injuries or older dogs with arthritis should not take part in dryland activites.) If your dog hasn’t been particularly active, get him in shape first. Begin by walking and progress to running as his endurance improves. As with any new activity, check with your veterinarian before starting.

For canicross, in addition to a dog (or two), you’ll need a properly fitted and padded pulling harness; a padded belt for you; and a gangline, which connects you to your dog. Appropriate harnesses can be found online (search for “canicross equipment” for a list of sources), but be sure to read measuring guidelines closely to ensure a proper fit. Dogs rarely stand still for long, so measure your dog several times to get a reliable average.

The harness must distribute the pulling weight along the dog’s shoulders while avoiding shoulder joints, belly and spine. Many people prefer a shorter, “buggy style” harness for dryland because it gives a better pull angle, but you can also use a traditional X-back sled harness. Freight- or weight-pulling harnesses do not work well, since they’re designed for a load that’s much closer to the ground than the average person’s waist. Each harness maker designs a variety of fits and features to accommodate different breeds, sizes and activities. Most are very knowledgeable and are willing to help you find the right fit for your dog. You can expect to pay between $25 and $50 for a good harness. For the human portion of the canicross setup, a commercial skijor system with a belt and gangline will run between $40 and $70, and is often sold as a kit.

You can also design your own system; make sure it’s comfortable, keeps you safely connected to your dog and has some sort of shock absorber (such as an interwoven bungee) between you and the dog to prevent jarring injuries. The line should be long enough to keep the angle as low to the ground as possible, yet not be an obstacle to other trail users. Most skijor lines have about eight to 10 feet of quality polypropylene rope between the waist belt and the dog’s harness. This allows the harness to properly distribute the load and the dog to have more forward power.

Initially, some dogs are more willing to pull than others. The most important thing to remember when getting started is to give dogs fun and positive experiences so they end their training sessions craving more. If you’ve worked hard to train your dog not to pull, never fear! You can maintain your dog’s leash-friendly behavior by conditioning him to know that wearing a harness means it’s OK to pull. Be consistent: if a dog is wearing the harness, he needs to be pulling something. Start off with something small—a little log, a milk jug filled with water, a small wheelbarrow tire. Go on your normal walk, but put the harness on your dog and have him drag the object. Once he’s used to having weight and movement behind him, you can gradually increase the load to about 25 percent of his body weight.

As your dog becomes comfortable with pulling weight, start positioning yourself behind him while he’s pulling to get him used to the idea that you will be behind rather than next to him. Now, you can introduce some commands. Traditionally, “gee” means turn right, “haw” means turn left, “whoa” means stop, and a cheerful “hike” means “Let’s go.” However, you can use any set of terms you wish as long as you use them consistently and they are distinct enough to not be confusing for your dog.

Always say the turn commands as you are making the turn. If your dog starts down the wrong direction, stop, give a verbal correction (I use “Ah!”) and repeat the turn command. The moment your dog looks down the correct trail, give a happy “Good dog!” and start moving. Be patient and make sure you don’t give an incorrect direction. A dog will naturally learn that the correct direction means the walk continues.

Another important command is “on by,” which means “Continue straight through that intersection or past that distraction” (squirrels, other dogs, kids). While your dog is working, you want him to continue down the trail and not stop to visit along the way. Be sure to give him lots of praise at the end of each session.

Once you and your dog are working as a team, start increasing your speed and distance. Try new trails. Add some challenge by going to an area with lots of turn choices; when it comes to team-building experience, mental workouts are just as important as physical.

If you’re lucky enough to live where there’s snow on the ground, a pair of cross-country skis (no metal edges) will allow you and your dog to try the Scandinavian sport of skijoring, gliding along snowy trails together. As you get more proficient, check out local mushing clubs to see if there are any events in which the two of you might participate. Before you know it, you and your dog will be working as a unit, enjoying the cool days and staying fit through the winter.



Wellness: Health Care
Football Party Sends Pup to the Hospital [Updated]
Rethinking paper products with Super Bowl approaching

Just when I think I’ve seen it all...

Paper towels? Causing an obstruction in the intestines? There’s no way! Those were my first thoughts as I started to read about a dog named Sydney, who recently ended up at the Pet Emergency & Specialty Center of Marin. A surgeon there saved the life of the 13-year-old Australian Shepherd/Chow mix with an intestinal resection, during which she remove a wad of paper towels that Sydney had apparently swallowed during a football party. [UPDATE: Here's a link to the original PESCM story.]

I have officially headed into my eleventh year of practicing emergency medicine, and I just when I think I’ve seen it all, I promptly get schooled in the possibility of the seemingly impossible. I frequently receive calls from worried pet parents saying that their dog ate some toilet paper or a paper towel containing irresistible food tidbits. I go on to say in a reassuring manner, “That should pass right on through with no troubles, just keep an eye out for any vomiting or diarrhea.” 

Well, I suppose you can still teach this “older” dog a new trick! Although paper towels should pass without difficulty, I have never (until now) taken into account the invention of industrial strength paper towels. You know, the kind that soak up a gallon of liquid and still safely work as a hammock for two. The new breed of towels with “cloth-like durability” has opened up a whole new way for canines with indiscriminate eating habits to get into trouble. These industrial strength paper towels are essentially cloth, which can get stuck in the intestines and cause an obstruction, because they don’t “break down” in water (or stomach fluids) like weaker paper products.

I can now say one thing with certainty: the quicker picker-upper can turn into the quicker problem-maker, so please take extra precautions with these commercial-strength products should you use them in your home. And while we can’t prevent messes from happening, we can choose how we clean them up, so may I suggest using recycled paper products, such as Seventh Generation. Made from recycled paper, these towels are not only better for the environment, but they will break down into passable pieces should our furry pals sneak a piece while we are not looking!

News: Guest Posts
Pet Therapy of a Different Sort
Stuffed dogs and cats provide comfort and raise funds for Alzheimer’s patients

My name is Michela and I am senior in high school. For my senior project, I’ve joined forces with Memorable Pets, a new company that sells specially made stuffed animals to educate the public about Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, while raising money to fight Alzheimer’s disease.

Memorable Pets sells adorable stuffed-animal dogs and cats, carefully selected for people with mid-late stages of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. The stuffed animals may resemble patients’ old pets or simply be a new friend to nurture. They allow patients to express love and care and also give them something constant to rely on. [Read more.]

Memorable Pets gives $2 per pet sold to support Alzheimer’s care and research through the Alzheimer’s Association. I am hoping that you will help me support the cause by either spreading the word about Memorable Pets or purchasing a pet to donate or for someone you know. Pets can be purchased online at memorablepets.com.

While a Memorable Pet is a small gift, it can have a huge impact on someone’s quality of life by providing a constant source of comfort. These animals make great gifts! Thank you so much for contributing to my project.

Remember for those who cannot.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Grieving a Dog’s Death
Easing the sadness isn’t easy

My brother-in-law, sister-in-law, and two nieces said good-bye to their dog today. Lizzie was almost 14 years old and in heart failure. They thought that they would lose her last October, but she survived for months more than they expected. That doesn’t make her death any less sad. Though it’s great when a dog reaches old age, it doesn’t take away from the fact that the lives of dogs are far too short relative to ours.

There are many ways to prepare for and handle the pain of losing a dog, all of which honor the dog’s life and the relationship that you shared.

If you know that the end is near for your dog, and she is able, take her to her favorite place, whether it’s the park or a place where she can swim. Treat her to her favorite foods and give her special items to chew on, so you can make her happy and provide yourself with fond memories of those last days. Take photos of these moments so that you can look back and know that the end of your dog’s life was filled with kindness.

Tangible reminders of your dog can be wonderfully therapeutic after your dog has passed away. Photos are helpful for many people, especially if you have some good shots of your dog over the years doing the things you’d most like to remember—running through the woods, looking through the window as you come home, playing with a favorite toy. Even one of the many times she got into the trash can be a treasured memory after she is gone. A photo of your dog misbehaving in this way can be fun to look at, even if it was never fun cleaning up the mess. Many people like to make collages or memory books of their dogs with photos from all stages of life.

Other ways to create memories of your dog include putting together a record of your favorite stories about her. Write down what your dog most loved to do, how she changed over the years, the biggest trouble that she ever got into, and some of the happiest times you shared. Some people like to save a little lock of fur.

It can be healing to make a donation in memory of your dog to a shelter, rescue group, or any other organization that works on behalf of pets, as a way to pass on the joy that your dog gave to you.

Though it’s challenging, refuse to allow anyone to give you the “it was just a dog” treatment or try to trivialize the pain you are feeling. It hurts to lose a family member no matter what the species, and you need time to grieve, even if not everyone understands what a big loss you have suffered.

There’s no way out of the pain when a dog dies but to move forward through it. My hope for anyone who loses a dog is that over time, the sadness fades and the happy memories linger.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Walking Dogs for Friends in Need
This small act can be a big help

Normally, they take their dog out for long walks and runs daily, so she’s used to hours of vigorous exercise. Today, that wasn’t going to happen. The husband was in great pain recovering from surgery following an accident. The wife had been up all night attending to him and had worked all day at a stressful job trying to catch up after taking two days off following the accident.

They are very together people and capable of handling life’s speed bumps. Yet when I offered to swing by later that day and take their dog for a walk, they were most appreciative.

In tough times, something has to give, and it’s common for the dog to suffer a bit in the short term. That’s not a criticism—it’s just how it is. No matter how much we love our dogs and how responsibly we care for them, sometimes life sneaks up on us. Whenever anyone has a disruption in life, attention paid to the dog can decline. It happens when people move, when they are ill or have any serious medical complication, or even when they start a new job. It certainly isn’t the best week ever for most dogs when a new baby joins the household.

Offering to walk a dog can often relieve people’s guilt that they can’t do it. It may also prevent the dog from acting crazy, barking, chewing or performing any other behavior that is no help to a household that is already under stress.

It’s hard to know how to make life easier for people who are going through a rough time. My first thought is that perhaps I can assist with some dog care because I know how to do that. I also remember how grateful I was when a neighbor walked our dog and spent some time being with him when I went to the hospital to give birth to my son and our official dog sitter couldn’t make it until much later that day.

Many people have a hard time accepting help for themselves but will accept it on behalf of their dog. That means it can be more helpful to offer dog walking services than to bring food over, to help with the house work or to run errands.

Has anyone every helped you out by caring for your dog when you were struggling?

Wellness: Healthy Living
Communicating with your vet
Email etiquette

The internet, which has become a remarkable healthcare tool, is also changing the way veterinarians and their clients communicate with one another. These days, many folks want email access to their vets, and why shouldn’t they? Email communication between patients and their physicians is increasingly the norm, and many human health-care operations are fishing for new customers by marketing “email my doctor” programs. Kaiser Permanente leads the charge in this regard, and a recent study of thousands of their patients documented that those who communicated via email with their physicians enjoyed better health outcomes.

Do I think being able to email your vet is a reasonable expectation? You betcha! People who are comfortable communicating with their veterinarians become better medical advocates for their pets.

However, while the expectation of electronic interaction with your vet is reasonable, not all vets are on board quite yet. A recent unpublished survey of 120 northern California veterinarians revealed the following:
• 58% communicate with their clients via email.
• 62% of those using email are selective about which clients are given access.
• 26% of those using email set ground rules that describe when and how email is to be used. (Interestingly, of the remaining 74%, many indicated a desire to set email ground rules, but have not yet done so.)
• 95% of those using email reported it to be a mostly positive experience.

Vets responding to the survey commented on the convenience of email communication. Not only can it be less time-consuming than telephone tag, they like having the option of responding to email at any time of the night or day. I can certainly relate to this. I sometimes don’t finish up with my patients until well into the evening, at which point I’m concerned that it may be too late to return client phone calls.

Vets unanimously reported that email is great for simple, non-urgent communications, emphasis on nonurgent. Just imagine every vet’s worst nightmare: an email sent by a client early in the day — but not read until evening — describing a dog who is struggling to breathe. Oh, and by the way, the dog’s gums are blue. Here are some of the ground rules vets using email want their clients to abide by:
• Email is not to be used like instant messaging.
• There’s a one- to -two-day turnaround time for responses.
• No urgent matters.
• No “What’s your diagnosis?” questions.
• No “cutesy” emails (photos or stories that the sender deems to be funny or adorable).

Survey responders who aren’t using email reported a variety of reasons for not doing so, including poor word-processing skills, too much time needed to carefully edit their “written words,” inconvenience of transcribing the email communication into the medical record and a concern about clients abusing the system.

I happen to be a speed demon when it comes to word-processing, and I would love the flexibility of communicating with my clients at any time. That being said, why haven’t I fully jumped on the email bandwagon? So much of what is perceived during communication has to do with body language and voice inflection, neither of which can be transmitted in an email (though, God forbid, I suppose I could begin Skyping with my clients!). Using email, I worry that I will miss out on what’s going on with them emotionally. When I invite clients to email me, I’m clear that the questions should be really simple, such as: “When am I supposed to bring Lizzie back in to see you?” or “Is it okay to give Radar his heartworm preventive along with the other medications you prescribed?” Anything more complex and I’ll be on the phone in the blink of an eye.

If emailing your dog’s doctor appeals to you, I encourage you to ask about it the next time you visit your vet clinic. Anything that enhances communication between you and your vet is bound to be a good thing for your dog, and nothing’s more important than that!

News: Guest Posts
Is There a Dog Who Needs You to Grab her Leash?
Try something new for National Walk Your Dog Week

Really? This is National Walk Your Dog Week? Will we never stop setting aside days or weeks or even months for the obvious? Isn’t walking your dog near the top of the dog-care list after feeding them and keeping them safe?

Of course, there are dogs out there who don’t get walked much or at all—and no lazy pet parent is to blame. Some shelters don’t have the resources to make sure every dog gets a daily constitutional. Breeding dogs in puppy mills or dogs used in experiments might never feel lawn or pavement under their feet. Even well-cared-for-pets can hit a patch of inactivity when their people are busy or, worse, sick.

So this week, why not take a look around and see if there’s a dog you can help to some fresh air and exercise.

  • Do you have time to volunteer at a shelter to walk dogs on a regular basis? Check with local animal control and nonprofit organizations or find a fit through Volunteermatch.org.
  • Do you have a neighbor, relative or a friend who could use some backup on patrol?
  • Can you get involved in the effort to stop the use of dogs in scientific experimentation? PETA has long protested animal testing.
  • Join ASPCA's fight against puppy mills?

Walking a dog is a privilege and a joy—so let’s spread it around.