Good Dog: Activities & Sports
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.
News: Shea Cox
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
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.
News: Karen B. London
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.
News: Karen B. London
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
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:
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:
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
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.
Walking a dog is a privilege and a joy—so let’s spread it around.
Wellness: Healthy Living
Looking for a fun project that will have your dog howling with delight? Put on your chef’s hat and try making a delectable treat for you canine pals. Is there a special occasion coming up … maybe a doggie birthday celebration? Join My Dog author Michael J. Rosen as he guides you step- by-step through this kid-friendly and dog-delicious recipe. For other youth-oriented activities, check out more videos from My Dog.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Welcome to Bark’s Kids & Dogs resource page—here you’ll find a host of valuable tools, tips and links to enable kids and dogs make the most of life together. Keeping a dog is a great responsibility and opportunity, a way for children to explore the world, stay fit and active, learn teaching skills and share the fun and excitement of best friends. First off, we want to get to know you and your dog, so we are inviting all of our young friends to take a photo of their pet pooch and send it to us. There’s some tricks to taking a good photo, and we have a primer for good picture-taking to get your started. Our good friend, Michael J. Rosen, author of the new book My Dog, has produced a handy video that guides you through taking a great photo of your dog. He’s also shared his favorite photo- taking tips in this list. Thanks Michael!
When you are done photographing your dog, pick your favorite picture and enter it in our “My Dog” contest here. You will be eligible to win some cool prizes including your very own copy of My Dog, fun canine toys and games, plus assorted treats. We’ll start an album of our favorite photos and post it online to share with all of Bark’s readers!
Once you have some photos of your dog, you can craft some fun projects—from a doggie placemat featuring your pal’s picture to a wall calendar showcasing your best friend through the 12 months of the year. Or make a handmade window book—all you need are some printouts of your dog’s photos, some scissors and a printer to print out a handy pattern that you’ll find here. It’s simple and easy, and makes a great gift! Check out the other great DIY (Do-It-Yourself) projects on our website, we provide instructions on making a cool collarette for your pup that recycles an old shirt collar, a handy tugger toy made with gloves, and for advanced crafters—a crocheted dog bed.
Any of you like to cook? Check out Michael’s video “Cooking for My Dog!” Learn how to make a yummy peanut butter carrot cake from scratch—a healthy and delicious treat that your dog will love. It’s perfect for your dog’s birthday surprise party! Do we have any future veterinarians in the crowd? You’ll enjoy the “60-Second Pup Check-Up”— a simple tutorial on monitoring your dog’s basic health. See how to examine your dog’s coat for hot spots, ears for redness and paws for burrs. Keeping your dog healthy and content is something you can share with your dog’s vet by doing these basic check-upsregularly.
Next time you’re in a bookstore, look up Michael’s book My Dog—you’ll find it chock full of helpful tips and facts—a kid’s guide to keeping a happy and healthy dog. Part primer, part owner’s manual, part field guide … it’s essential reading for every child who lives with a dog or has a canine best friend. Learn more about it here.
News: JoAnna Lou
Vets and shelters have a positive influence on tag usage
My dogs have microchips and identification tags, but I often take their collars off when they're in the house. I had one of my dogs' collars get caught on a piece of furniture, so I do it as a safety precaution. However, this could be a problem if one of my dogs escaped from my house.
The Journal of the American Veterinary Association reports that fewer than half of lost dogs were wearing tags at the time they went missing. Microchips are great because they're permanent, but an identification tag lets people know instantly how to get your dog back home.
Eighty percent of pet lovers believe it's important that dogs and cats wear identification, but only 33 percent put tags on their pets all the time. Many of those pets don't wear ID tags at all. A study published this month found that veterinarians and animal shelters can have a positive influence on this number.
Dr. Emily Weiss, vice president of shelter research and development for the ASPCA, and her team tracked 109 people and their pets who had been fitted with collars and tags during a vet visit or at the animal shelter. Before the study, only 14 percent of the animals studied had been wearing an ID tag, but two months later, 84 percent were still wearing the tags.
Given the success of Dr. Weiss's study, do you think that veterinarians should be responsible for making sure pets have identification? My dogs have microchips and identification tags, but they also have a rabies tag from the veterinarian that lists when they got their vaccine and the veterinarian’s contact information.
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