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 A recent unpublished survey of 120 northern California veterinarians revealed the following: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.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
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.
Wellness: Health Care
Advice for counting calories and dealing with “the look”
Like so many pet owners, I am in the constant back-and-forth battle with “dimple butt” in my dogs, and there are many things that make a weight loss (or weight maintenance) program difficult. For me, it’s “thaaaat looook.” Yes, you know which one I’m talking about, and I just can’t seem to say no to those big, pleading (and I’m sure starving) eyes. As a guilt-stricken result, I end up sharing a portion of whatever it is I’m enjoying, contributing to that Dobie derriere.
There are countless recommendations, formulations and opinions with regards to which approach works best for weight loss. With all the options out there, I have found this “rough-edged” approach to work for our dogs and for our lifestyle. It is straightforward, it does not require a change in their normal food and allows for tasty “treats” to reduce their feelings of hunger. It may be a slightly less scientific approach, but it is one I have found to actually work each time I have recommended it.
Let’s break it down. I’ll start by teaching you how to determine your pets’ daily caloric needs and how to adjust their nutrition to meet weight-loss goals. Finally, I’ll offer some tips on how to make them feel less miserable in the process (after all, who doesn’t hate dieting?).
How many calories should my pet have each day?
Knowing how many calories your pet needs each day is the first thing you need to determine when approaching a weight-loss program. Food “guess-timations” are frequently incorrect because we often judge how much to feed based on how hungry our dogs appear to us. This is not the best indicator of caloric needs because many of our pets will eat whatever is placed in front of them. Animals also have a basic instinctual drive to look at us whenever we are eating, which we often interpret as hunger, leading to overfeeding.
There are many formulas for determining your pets’ daily caloric needs, which are known as Resting Energy Requirements (RER), but I find this one to be the easiest to “plug and chug”:
Daily calorie needs = 30 x (your pet’s weight in kilograms) + 70
For example, if your pet weighs 15 kg: (30 x 15) + 70 = 520 calories per day
To get your pet’s weight in kilograms, divide the number in pounds by 2.2
For example, a 33-pound dog weighs 15 kg. Here’s the math: 33 divided by 2.2 = 15
Next, look at your pet food bag to find how many calories are present. If you are having difficulty finding the calories per serving of your pet food, let me know the brand and I’ll see what I can do to find out for you.
If you home-cook for your pet, determining calories can be a little more complicated as you need to consider the individual elements that make up their diet. However, the concept remains the same, and an excellent resource for the caloric content of individual foods used in home-cooked diets can be found at Stombeck's Home-Prepared Diets for Dogs and Cats.
How to start a weight loss diet
I prefer the “low and slow” approach to weight loss (after all, it is unlikely that our pets are wanting to get into that little black dress by next month). For weight loss, simply feeding the calculated RER calories alone should be adequate for reducing weight over time with no further “diet modifications” needed. With this approach, most pets will typically loose 1 to 2 pounds per month, achieving their ideal weight in 6 to 8 months. The best thing about this approach is that you don’t have to change the diet or buy an expensive prescription weight loss formula.
Continue to weigh your pet every month until an ideal body weight is achieved. If there is no significant weight loss after 1 to 2 months on their calculated RER, then I recommend cutting back their total calories by 10 percent (most veterinary nutritionists recommend a 10–20 percent calorie cutback).
Continue to reweigh your pet every four weeks and continue to decrease the total calorie intake by an additional 10 percent until your pet’s ideal body weight is reached.
When they have finally reached their ideal body weight, simply continue to feed that amount of dog food daily, as long as they continue to maintain this ideal weight (meaning, no further weight loss or gain).
Two tips to ease the pain
When our babies are acting extra hungry, we give them a cupful of green beans, giving them a feeling of fullness and the joy of having been offered a treat, without adding many calories. This trick also works great if or when you need to decrease the food amount by 10 percent—just add in a big scoop of the green beans as “filler” each time you cut back the food. And because the calories are so minimal, you can get away with not having to calculate them into the daily caloric needs, which makes life easy. It’s kind of like Weight Watchers where you can eat all the salad you want for no points.
Here is a working example:
One final note: These recommendations assume that you have a healthy dog. If you have an older dog, I recommend you have a physical exam performed by your veterinarian as well as blood work to ensure that there are no underlying metabolic problems such as hypothyroid disease or Cushing’s disease, which can be the source of weight gain or an inability to lose weight.
I hope this approach to weight loss and management offers easy guidelines to help your pet reach its ideal, healthy body weight. Please feel free to ask questions if I can help in any way.
Wellness: Healthy Living
What do your toothpaste, your athletic socks and your dog’s bed have in common? They most likely contain triclosan, a powerful anti-microbial chemical incorporated into a broad array of consumer products. Triclosan is also turning up as a contaminant in rivers across North America, and in the bodies of more than three-quarters of Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Should we care? The FDA evidently thinks so. On April 8, the agency launched a safety review of this now ubiquitous chemical. “Animal studies have shown that triclosan alters hormone regulation,” the FDA press release states. “Other studies have raised the possibility that triclosan contributes to making bacteria resistant to antibiotics.”
Triclosan belongs to a class of synthetic chemicals that scientists term endocrine disruptors, for their ability to interact with organisms’ hormone systems. A 2006 study found that even in extremely low doses, triclosan interferes with thyroid function in frogs and leads to premature leg growth in tadpoles. Evidence now strongly suggests that hormone-mimicking chemicals like triclosan effect similar outcomes in all animals with backbones — frogs, dogs and humans alike. They can interfere with everything from insulin regulation to brain function.
Since its first use as a medical scrub in 1972, triclosan has infiltrated all aspects of our everyday lives. It’s the germ-killing chemical of choice in soaps, cosmetics, clothing, kitchenware, toys and, not least, dog beds. If you own anything that advertises itself as antimicrobial, antifungal or antibacterial, there’s a good chance that triclosan is the magic ingredient.
It’s magic we can do without. Although “antimicrobial” sounds like a useful property in trash bags and cutting boards, there’s no evidence that household use of triclosan keeps us any healthier (with the possible exception of toothpaste, where it can help prevent gingivitis).
The soap industry has already begun to mobilize against any hypothetical regulation of triclosan, and the famously slow-moving FDA may take years to act. Still, this latest announcement gives us cause to think twice before stocking up on antibacterial chew toys.
Good Dog: Activities & Sports
The ABCs for your first runs together
You like to run, your dog likes to run. It seems like a no-brainer: How about the two of you running together? While you might be concerned about your dog’s ability to run a reasonable distance, the most common hindrance to sharing this passion is your dog’s ability to stay at your side.
Start with a hands-free set-up such as the Buddy System, or with a regular four- to six-foot leash that you hold while keeping your bent arm at your side in normal running position. You can also use a head halter or a harness with a front connection to help guide your dog. Whatever approach you choose, the leash should be long enough to hang in a U when you’re standing next to him. Have some kibble or small treats and, with your dog sitting at your side, give him several treats in a row until he’s in a stable sit/stay. Then, move forward at a power-walking pace so it’s clear you want him to come with you.
When he’s walking next to you and looking at you, reward him. If his feet get ahead of yours, stop before he gets to the end of the leash. If you’re holding the leash in your hand, be sure to keep your arm glued to your side rather than extending it forward. When he reaches the end of the leash, he’ll likely pull and pull. Stand stock still and wait him out. When he turns to look at you, lure him back into a sit in front of you. Give several treats in a row until he’s focused just on sitting and looking at you. When you’re ready, move forward again at a brisk pace. Repeat this every time he charges ahead, until he understands that getting in front of you causes the walk to stop, and sitting and looking at you causes the walk to resume.
Next, work on about-turns and U-turns to train him to stay by your side. For the about-turn, walk forward in a straight line, turn 180 degrees to your right so your dog is on the outside, then head back on the same line. Do this randomly when he gets even one foot ahead of yours. Make the turns more fun by jogging a few steps and then rewarding him when he catches up and looks at you.
Rules of the road
Keeping your dog hydrated
Knowing when to stop
So, that’s the recipe for creating a great canine running partner: Start with training, maintain good manners, follow the rules of the road, stay alert to your dog’s condition and, when in doubt, take a break. Now, get out there and run!
News: Guest Posts
New survey reveals the extent of the problem
Oh, this isn’t good. Nearly one in five respondents to AAA/Kurgo survey admitted to taking their hands off the wheel to keep dogs from climbing in the front seat. Fifty-two percent of those who travel with a dog admitted to taking their attention away from the road to pet their dog, and a scary one-quarter used their arms or hands to restrain a dog while applying the brakes.
What difference does it make? The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that looking away from the road for only two seconds doubles your risk of being in a crash. And, for an unrestrained dog, a crash can mean serious injury and even death.
This might not be such a big deal if dogs in cars were an infrequent occurrence, but a side effect of our great love affair is that our dogs are in our cars a lot. Fifty-six percent of the respondents to the survey conducted by the venerable Automobile Club of America and the manufacturer of pet travel products (including restraints) said their dogs had been in the car at least once in the past month.
Read more about the report including why people say they travel with unrestrained dogs and the benefits of pet restraints.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Going the distance
I should have realized right away that something special was going on in a group dog-training session last spring. When I asked the participants to call their dogs to come and then run away, they all did, and with Whippet-like speed. Most people need lots of encouragement to run, and even then — looking sheepish — they tend to take a few half-hearted jogging steps at most. This was no ordinary group, but rather, some of the world’s best distance runners, athletes so good they are sponsored by the likes of Adidas, New Balance, Nike, Mizuno, Brooks and Reebok. They’re living and training in Flagstaff, Ariz., in pursuit of their Olympic dreams because this mountain town’s high altitude, abundant trails and sunny weather provide the perfect conditions for distance running.
Since that day, I’ve worked with other local elite runners, helping them teach their dogs to conquer fears of unfamiliar people, cars and leashes; stop chasing bikes; greet visitors politely at the door; walk nicely on leash; perform tricks like crawl, high-five, shake, spin and roll over; and continue running rather than be distracted by other dogs. The successes they have as trainers have everything to do with their success as athletes: they take what they already know about training to be world-class runners and apply it to training their dogs. The following principles apply equally to dog training and running.
Value consistent practice.
It’s not how fast you run in training, it’s more a consistency, those back-to-back 100-mile weeks.
Recognize that progress is incremental.
In dog training, there can be 100 steps from the starting point to the end point. Step one in recall work may be calling your dog to come when you’re standing in your distraction-free living room holding cooked chicken. Step 100 is calling your dog to come when he is chasing a rabbit with his best canine buddy. Small changes over time lead to success — a familiar concept for runners, who take years to build the fitness, technique and strategy required to race successfully at the international level.
Each workout seems to be building on the last.
Be goal oriented.
I often ask clients what they think success would look like. Do they want to be able to walk their reactive dog on leash through the neighborhood, or are they hoping to turn their little firecracker into a therapy dog? Do they want their dog to do a downstay when people enter the house, or is any behavior that involves keeping all four paws on the floor acceptable? Runners set goals, whether it’s running a personal-best time, following their race plan or winning an Olympic medal.
Setting an ultimate goal and stepping- stone goals help you to commit and make the ultimate goal tangible in your mind, which reflects in your daily actions, leading to success.
Welcome coaching and ideas for improvement.
Part of my job as a dog trainer and canine behaviorist is coaching — suggesting ways skills can be improved. I remind people to say a cue only once, help them with their timing, instruct them on modulating the pitch of their voice and guide them on giving clear visual signals. Coaches also give advice on modifications of everything from running form and breathing to when to make a move in a race. Athletes are accustomed to responding to their coaches, so they easily respond to my coaching, too.
Having a coach makes all the difference in the world, to offer outside advice with inside knowledge.
Know that little things matter.
Attention to detail, making sure to do all the little things right, is at a premium.
Understand that every situation is different.
Training Lucy is a lot like training for a big race that doesn’t quite work out. Training her one-on-one always goes really smoothly, like running a workout I’ve done a dozen times. In practice, everything goes fine, but race day can be a different story.
Accept setbacks as part of the process.
Progress is not always smooth. Setbacks teach us what we need to do to move forward. Accepting this as part of achieving goals is a trait these runners carry with them from their professional lives into their other pursuits, including dog training.
Setbacks are bound to happen, but if you approach it properly, I think you can come away much stronger and much smarter.
Elite runners love to win and hate to lose. In dog training, as in all endeavors, actively pursuing success makes its achievement more likely.
Times are nice, but I want that first place, that gold medal!
It’s a joy to associate with people who are so talented and willing to sacrifice so much in pursuit of their Olympic dreams. Yet, what I love most about working with elite runners is what I love about working with all of my clients: they love their dogs. “Many of the athletes and all of the coaches have dogs that we love like children,” says Trina Painter, assistant coach of Team USA Arizona, which includes many of these athletes. “They protect us, love us when we’re happy and sad, greet us with licks whether we’re sweaty or clean. They run with us and play with us. They keep us laughing with their silly faces and tricks and speak to us with their expressive eyes and body language. They are, for many of the runners, their best friend and source of unconditional love each day, and a wonderful warm and furry positive distraction from running.”
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