healthy living
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Getting Fit With Your Dog
Skip the gym!

A recent study in Great Britain found that people with dogs exercise more than those who work out at the gym. The difference was considerable. People with dogs exercised for an average of eight hours a week compared to the two hours a week of people going to the gym.

  The researchers speculate that the difference may be because more people (86 percent) enjoy the time that they spend walking their dogs compared with the 16 percent of people who say that they enjoy going to the gym. Perhaps the fact that walking our dogs is generally a positive experience accounts for the observation that people are more likely to walk their dogs when short on time than to go to the gym when similarly busy.   So, if you love walking your dog, but are not so crazy about going to the gym, you are in good company. The combination of lots of little walks and some longer walks during the week can really add up to a considerable amount of exercise.


Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Indoor Fun
Keeping busy when it’s cold outside

The freezing weather and snow have been making me and the dogs a little stir crazy lately, especially now that the holidays have come and gone. 

Here are some of the activities I have lined up to keep the pups busy until the snow melts.

Food Balls and Kongs
An easy way to occupy the dogs is to feed meals in stuffed Kongs or food balls, toys that can be filled with kibble and rolled on the floor to release the treats. 

My Sheltie, Nemo, has gotten quite good at getting kibble out of most treat balls, so I usually use the Nina Ottosson DogPyramid, which is more challenging. The beehive-shaped toy is weighted at the bottom so that it always returns to a standing position.

Nina Ottosson Interactive Toys
Speaking of Nina Ottosson, my crew got a couple of her puzzle toys from Santa this year. There are several different versions, each with varying degrees of difficulty. They require a little more thought than the food balls and are definitely more interesting for the humans to watch!

Tugging with your dog is a great way to get lots of energy out--humans included! (I’m always amazed at how tired I feel after a good tugging session). Check out my previous blog for instructions on how to make your own tug toy from an old t-shirt.

Shaping Games
Playing with the clicker is a great relationship-building activity that you can do together. You’ll be surprised how exhausted your pup can get from just using his brain! This doesn’t mean that you have to actively train a new behavior; often it’s better if you don’t have a set outcome in mind. If you’re new to shaping, try the 101 Things to Do with a Box game.

Do you have any favorite indoor activities?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Pets and Holiday Gatherings
Create a safe space to keep the pups jolly.

With the holidays approaching, the increase in good tidings unfortunately also comes with an increase in potential hazards. Earlier this month, Karen wrote on the dangers of poisoning, choking, and fires, as well as tips for holiday travel. 

If you’re hosting a holiday gathering at your home, don’t forget to consider your dog’s comfort though the commotion of visiting relatives and boisterous children. 

It’s important to set up a space where your dog can retreat to when the party is getting overwhelming. This might be a crate in your bedroom or a spare bathroom upstairs. Be sure to prepare some goodies like new chew toys or a stuffed Kong. I usually set up an exercise pen in the office with treat dispensing toys.

Doggone Safe suggests that an adult should be assigned to the dogs to monitor them for signs of stress and to protect them from unwanted attention from children. These signs include: 

  • Yawning
  • Licking their chops (without food present, of course)
  • Showing the white part of their eye in a half moon shape
  • Turning their head away
  • Walking away
  • Hiding
  • Freezing/standing still with their mouth closed (body stiff)

Don’t let behavior escalate; it’s better to err on the side of caution. Doggone Safe also has free coloring and activity pages that teach kids about good behavior around dogs. They can be downloaded and printed from its website. The pages make a great distraction to keep the kids busy until it’s time to open presents!

By keeping these guidelines in mind, you can ensure that everyone has an enjoyable holiday -- two and four legged alike.

News: Guest Posts
Walking Tall
More evidence dogs are great exercise buddies.

Researchers at the University of Missouri found that people walking shelter dogs versus people walking with other people were more consistent about walking and showed a far greater improvement in fitness. Tara Parker Pope reported on The New York Times’ Well blog that human walking partners often discouraged each other from getting out, while dogs, well, we all know how dogs feel about walkies.
Also, check out the reader comments on Well. One favorite: “It is true that when walking with a human companion you don’t have to pick up their crap -- instead you just have to listen to it!” from 2 Landeers. That’s something to think about.

News: Guest Posts
Buying Pet Insurance
Do you or don’t you?

Earlier this week, The Wall Street Journal ran a short piece on pet insurance. Mostly, it’s a primer on how to shop for policies. In a Bark story last summer, Nancy Kay, DVM, recommended considering pet health insurance as one of ten strategies for stretching your vet dollars (More Bark for Your Buck, May/Jun 2009). Everyone seems to think it’s the coming wave, even though only about one million pets in the U.S. are currently insured.

But I’m not onboard. I haven’t invested in pet insurance for my dogs, and I’m not entirely sure what’s stopping me since I figure I’d willingly mortgage the farm to treat anything that might ail them. Part of my problem is an uncomfortable feeling about pet insurance turning into the convoluted nightmare that is our current health insurance setup. As treatment for dogs and cats becomes more advanced, specialized and expensive, it’s easy to imagine that pet insurance will distort costs and decisions. If I only pay for 20 percent of my dogs’ treatment (a pretty common coverage level), won’t I demand more care? Won’t that drive up costs overall? And what will more treatment mean to my dogs, especially late in life? Medical interventions to extend a dog’s life, such as surgery and drugs, aren’t without risks, side effects and pain all born by an animal who can’t understand why he or she is being subjected to these measures. And I haven’t even raised the specter of HMOs—but once pet insurance is firmly entrenched, won’t the industry push back and attempt to dictate treatment? After all, there’s a precedent.

Of course, I know the argument on the other side—an unexpectedly sick or injured pet with a good prognosis, plenty of quality life ahead but owners’ with no money to pay for care. I haven’t stood in their shoes, and probably if I had, I’d be writing my check to VPI right this minute. How are Bark readers making this decision?

News: Guest Posts
Can I Make My Dog Sick?
Confirmed cases of H1N1 being passed from humans to dogs and cats

A couple weeks ago, my otherwise healthy 12-year-old Catahoula, Desoto, had a bad case of diarrhea--the kind that required running to the back door with him in the middle of the night. It lasted for 10 messy days (we couldn't always make it outside). I tried not to worry too much since his appetite was as big as ever. But it got me thinking about how the most wonderful time of the year overlaps with the sickest time of the year. Lately, I've had more students and their dogs call in sick to class. Is it possible for people to pass on their illness to pets?


When it comes to the H1N1 virus or “swine flu,” the answer is yes. Two Chinese dogs were confirmed to have contracted the infamous virus from humans. Closer to home, an indoor cat in Iowa caught H1N1 from its owner. Since then, four more American cats came down with the illness, two of whom died.


This is not to be confused with H3N8 or CIV (canine influenza virus), which was originally passed on to dogs from horses. The symptoms of both viruses are similar: loss of appetite, lethargy, fever, runny nose, coughing and labored breathing. There is a CIV vaccine that veterinarians recommend for dogs who spend a lot of time with other dogs, such as at doggie daycares or shows.


For the latest info on public health and your pets, go to the American Veterinary Medical Association website.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Fur Is the Best Medicine
Pet therapy helps to reduce the need for pain pills.

As a pet therapy team, my Sheltie, Nemo, and I have visited patients at the hospital and read with kids at the library. Nemo loves children, so he’s always excited about the reading program, although sitting in one place for 15-30 minutes can sometimes be a challenge! But my favorite place to visit is the hospital. I love bringing some canine sunshine into the dreary rooms and chatting with the patients about their pets at home. Many times I’m not sure who’s getting more out of our visits, me or the people we meet.

A new study, presented in October by Loyola University Health System Registered Nurse Julia Havey, demonstrates the power and potential of pet therapy on patients. The research, presented at the 18th Annual Conference of the International Society of Anthrozoology, showed that adults who participate in animal-assisted therapy while recovering from total join-replacement surgery required 50 percent less pain medication than those who did not. 

Julia and her fellow researcher, Frances Vlasses, a nursing professor at Loyola University, believe that animal-assisted therapy will one day become a standard part of healing. With a statistic like that, I’m hopeful that more animal lovers will be inspired to become therapy teams.

Do you have a pet therapy story to share?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Holiday Pet Safety
‘Tis the season

This time of year is filled with special foods, decorations and activities. I love the celebrations, but I am also cautious about them in some ways. At the risk of sounding un-festive, I always feel like shouting, “It’s all fun and games until somebody loses an eye!” (Actually, since becoming a Mom, this is actually something I HAVE said, and not just as a joke.) Perhaps because I have heard tragic tales of every type that relate to beloved pets, I am eager to share what I know about the dangers to avoid. I recently wrote about pet safety during the holidays for my local paper.

  For dogs, the main risks related to the various holidays celebrated around the time of the winter solstice are poisoning (plants, chocolate, grapes and raisins), choking (tinsel, ribbons, turkey bones, small ornaments and hard candy), and excessive fats (turkey and ham drippings). Fire is also a danger. Whether the candles in your house are kindled for eight days, serve as a reminder of the light that appeared in the east, or simply provide ambiance, open flames require constant tending.   Take care over the holidays. I don’t want to hear any sad tales this year about you and yours.


Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Preparing for the Worst
Bark Buckle UP offers free Pet Safety Kits for the car.

Recently I went to a pet first aid seminar presented by a friend and veterinarian. Ever since, I’ve been busy preparing the supplies that I might need in an emergency, particularly when I’m away from home at a trial or on vacation. 

One of the recommendations was to create an emergency card for each of your dogs to attach onto their crates in the car. The card lists basic information, allergies, important vaccination dates, and states that you will reimburse all medical expenses. 

In my quest to assemble all of the first aid kit supplies, I came across Bark Buckle UP, a group dedicated to educating and promoting awareness for pet safety while traveling.

To encourage pet lovers to keep safety information in their car, they’re offering a free Pet Safety Kit.

The packets include emergency information cards (first pet is free, additional pets are $1 each) and a first responder window sticker that directs emergency workers to the glove compartment for more information. 

Car safety extends beyond seatbelts and crates. As pet lovers do more traveling with their furry companions, efforts like Bar Buckle UP’s Pet Safety Kit are even more important to ensure our pups are cared for in the event of an emergency.


Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Got Leash?
Safely passing it requires care.

Leashes only function if one end is connected to the dog’s collar and a person is holding the other end. Over the weekend, I saw a dog running free (and fast!) trailing the leash with two people running after him. In an attempt to pass the leash, the first person had let go before the second person got a good grip on it, and the dog capitalized on this mistake. I helped them collect their dog before he had the chance to run into the busy road, but it was a scary time.

When handing a leash off to someone else, be sure that the other person has hold of it before letting go. I suggest that everyone do this, and I certainly teach my children to do it. Here’s a video (taken on Halloween—hence the poison dart frog attire) of my kids safely transferring the leash. My son holds onto the leash until he has asked his brother if he’s got the leash and received an affirmative reply. Only then does he let go.