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Wellness: Healthy Living
Looking for Dr Right
Searching for the ideal vet

We don’t ask for much.

For starters, we want you to have the brains of Einstein, the compassion of Mother Teresa and the patience of Job.

In terms of medical skills, we’d like you to possess the sleuthing abilities of television’s Dr. House, the empathy of Dr. Dolittle and the bedside manner of Marcus Welby, MD (but not be so ancient that you remember that kindly TV doctor).

While we appreciate old-school wisdom, charm and values, we don’t want our dog’s doctor to be behind the times. Instead, he—or far more likely these days, she—should be a fairly recent graduate of a respected veterinary school, possess a search-engine-like ability to stay on top of all the latest medical developments and technology, and constantly be attending seminars, preferably without ever leaving the office.

As for those offices, we’d like them to have the accessibility of a ’round-the-clock convenience mart, the cleanliness of an operating room, the aroma of a gentle spring rain and the affordability of a dollar store. In your waiting room, we’d prefer not to wait.

We appreciate communication skills (including the all-important ability to close one’s mouth and listen). We want you to explain things clearly and simply, and lay out options—all while taking your time, with our dog and with us, so we don’t feel like we’re being rushed through an assembly line.

We want you to have confidence, but not such an excessive amount that you don’t seek input from others. We want you to admit when an educated guess is an educated guess, and refrain from predicting the unpredictable. Don’t give our dog needless and expensive tests, or vaccinate them unnecessarily. Don’t encourage us to prolong their lives at all costs. Don’t look at us with dollar signs in your eyes, even though we are the source of your income.

We want to be comfortable in your presence, and our dogs to be, too. We want to like you, and trust you. You should like us too, and be absolutely bonkers about our dog. You should be genuinely thrilled—don’t even try to fake it—every time you see him or her.

Validate, if you would, our parking, our dogs and us.

Remember our dog’s name, and ours, and be there for us through all the ups and downs, all the joy and heartache, right up to the end, maybe most importantly at the end.

At that time, we want you to treat our dogs, and us, as we’d hope you have all along the way: honestly, compassionately, straightforwardly and with dignity.

On second thought, we ask for a lot.

Our strong emotional attachments to our dogs lead us to have some pretty high standards—and go to some pretty great lengths—when it comes to choosing a veterinarian. For most of us, the nearest one won’t do. A competent one isn’t enough. We want the vet of our dreams.

As a nation, we’ve grown more dog crazy, and more dog savvy; on the road to becoming better-informed dog owners, we’ve also become more demanding ones.

Given all those factors, it’s understandable that we have such great expectations of veterinarians. But those high hopes are also an indication of continuing public faith in the profession. Part of the reason we’re willing to invest time and research in seeking Dr. Right is that we’re pretty sure he or she is out there—findable, accessible and maybe even affordable.

The day may come, if it hasn’t already, when our high regard for veterinarians—our view of them as altruistic sorts, on our side and not solely after money—starts to fade, just as it has over the years for lawyers, politicians and (though less drastically) doctors.

Medical care for our dogs is becoming more like the human system, which many might argue is no model at all, what with its exorbitant costs, its overly comfy relationship with pharmaceutical companies and all the corporate ordered protocols aimed at getting the most money out of ailing humans in the least time.

As with the human system, veterinary offices are becoming increasingly corporate. That tends to lead to more rushed and impersonal treatment; longer waits; shorter visits; and doctors who are prone (or ordered from above) to sell you and your dog on every imaginable diagnostic test, vaccination, medication, surgery or treatment.

At the same time, we and our dogs are hanging around the planet longer in part due to all those new drugs, tests and procedures. The longer life is prolonged, the more tough decisions we face, weighing questions about the promise of technology, risks and side effects, the quality of life, when to try to buy more time, when enough is enough, and how to afford it all.

Managing our dog’s health care seems well on the way to becoming as tortuous and frustrating a struggle as managing our own.

Many of the procedures and services once available only to human patients —once seen as unimaginable or frivolous when applied to canines (except to test on them first to make sure they’d be okay for us)—are now routinely offered for dogs. They are referred to specialists. They go to psychiatrists. They undergo chemotherapy. They receive bone-marrow transplants, and dialysis, and “bionic” prostheses.

Many of these carry price tags so frightening that increasingly, we’re turning to health insurance for our dogs. We fear that, just as with our own health, it would only take one medical disaster for our dog to bankrupt us.

Obamacare for dogs? It may be laughable now, but will it still be in 50 years? Truth be told, some old-school veterinarians have long been practicing a version of it (unofficially and without the aid of insurance companies or websites), charging clients, of all things, what they can afford.

With independent veterinary practices dwindling and facing more pressures, such kind-hearted vets are becoming harder to find, and are finding it harder to be kind-hearted. Veterinary care is becoming colder, more complex and more expensive, a big business that, if it’s not careful, may soon come across as looking that way—as being much more concerned with its bottom line than all those creatures great and small.

Between our high expectations and veterinary medicine’s changing realities, a shift in our generally favorable view of veterinarians wouldn’t be all that surprising. On the other hand, they help animals, and we love them—nearly unconditionally—for that. Maybe that’s enough to keep vets from falling out of our good graces and joining the ranks of other once-beloved professions.

In any case, a new era has clearly dawned for veterinary medicine, one that includes corporately owned mega-practices, pricey technology, life-prolonging treatments and its own almost-as-perplexing version of health insurance. It’s enough to make some pine, at least a little, for the days of James Herriott, the semi-fictional country vet who, though he never attempted anything as cutting-edge as stem cell therapy, could always be counted on to be gentle, to be considerate, and to be there.

For now, based on some nonscientific opinion gathering by The Bark, most dog owners still seem to think that while not all vets are perfect, the perfect vet is out there. We think we know what makes him or her perfect. And, based on comments solicited from readers, most of us still manage, eventually, to find him or her.

“Why is my vet perfect? He is knowledgeable and experienced … unfailingly gentle and kind with animals and courteous to their owners,” wrote a reader named Frances. “He always explains everything in detail and is never, ever patronizing or dismissive of anxieties … [He] always comes across as someone whose priority is the welfare of the animals in his care, not profits or kudos. If I had to choose just one criterion upon which to base a choice of vet, it would be trust—trust in their expertise, their advice and their ability to care for my animals.”

When The Bark asked readers to describe their ideal veterinarian, they responded in large numbers, and quite passionately. They seemed, nearly unanimously, to appreciate a vet who hears them out, realizing the value of their observations and opinions about their companion animals. Most veterinary clients would rather feel part of a team, as opposed to following the dictates of a vet who comes across as one not to be questioned.

Based on the comments (read them all at thebark.com/finding-dr-right), dog owners place a priority on reasonable rates, as well as accessibility and flexibility. Readers also seemed to appreciate the veterinarian who offers weekend hours and is willing to stay open late, or go the extra mile … or 15 … or 20.

A reader named Robin said she chose a veterinarian who exhibited superior listening skills and a high degree of dedication to her job. Because Robin’s pup, Ali, suffers seizures and gets stressed out by office visits, Robin made an appointment with a mobile vet. Despite some dauntingly inclement weather, Dr. Joan showed up.

“So there she was, on my birthday, when we had a surprise snow storm overnight, and the snow was approaching hip height,” Robin said. “And she backed her trailer up our driveway for a NAIL TRIM …”

While accessibility, technical know how and communication skills were among the qualities readers listed as most important in a veterinarian, compassion may rank even higher. Dog owners want a veterinarian with heart. They put a premium on empathy, and perhaps rightly so, given that a vet’s patients can’t talk. Dog owners get some reassurance when they see vets connect with their dogs in a non-verbal way.

A reader named Jen said the vet of her dreams has a good reputation for his surgical skills, and his office has low staff turnover, another good sign, she says. But “first and foremost” is “his genuine affection, care and liking for the animals he works with. He gets down on the floor and hugs them if they are comfortable with that, lets them lick his face and talks to them before any examinations or procedures …

“My most recent favorite Dr. Todd tale was when I took my dog, Inca, in for a checkup. The day before, she and my other dog, Domino, had discovered an old slug trap in the strawberries filled with sour beer and rotten slugs. Unbeknownst to us they (delightedly, I’m certain) rolled in it … When I warned Todd not to hug Inca this time and told him what she had done, and that we hadn’t been successful in getting the stink off her, he got down on the floor, hugged her, looked into her eyes and said, ‘Good dog, Inca!’ In other words, ‘way to act like a dog.’”

We don’t expect to feel the love when we go to our own doctor; we do at the vet’s office.

Why? In part, it’s because we’re jaundiced by our own medical experiences, conditioned to not expect the surest, swiftest, most compassionate and fairly priced service. Most of us wouldn’t dream of asking our family doctor to meet us after hours at the office, much less grant us a same-day appointment, make a house call, cut us a break on the price of treatment or let us run a tab. We don’t require our pediatricians to “ooh” and “ahh” over our human babies, or to pat them on the head or toss them a treat. But a vet who treats our dog aloofly may be on the way to becoming our former vet.

Rightly or wrongly, we tend to see veterinarians as a warm-hearted bunch —people who got into their field not for the money, but because of their deep and abiding love for animals. We’re not so sure that a love for humans is what motivates most doctors.

Maybe that’s one reason veterinarians in the past decade have generally shown up above doctors in polls ranking professions for honesty and ethical standards. Dr. Nancy Kay, recently retired from veterinary practice, and author of the books Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect from Your Vet, is among those who sense that a shift is under way in the public’s perception of veterinarians.

“Maybe we’re still held in higher regard than medical doctors, but not by very much,” she says. “It used to be veterinarians were revered and given the benefit of the doubt.” Now, she says, it’s more common to hear criticism from people who feel vets are “not embracing enough of a holistic approach” and are “out for the money.”

Kay also says that, in some cases, the criticism is merited.

The average vet school student graduates with $150,000 worth of debt, according to Kay. They go into a job earning maybe $50,000 a year. Meanwhile, clients are turning elsewhere for some of the products and services that traditionally brought in profits for veterinary practices—to low- or no-cost clinics for spaying, neutering and rabies vaccinations, or to Wal-Mart and online discount stores for prescriptions.

Add in the high cost of keeping up with technology, and conditions get even riper for questionable behavior, such as a vet recommending a procedure or test that might not be necessary.

Kay says vaccinations are a good example of that.

The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) revamped its list of recommended vaccinations, and the intervals at which they should be administered, 11 years ago. But, Kay notes, some vets still routinely over vaccinate based on the old recommendations. Many a client, after receiving a cute reminder postcard in the mail, still brings his or her dog in annually for distemper and parvovirus vaccinations, even though the AAHA now recommends those vaccinations be given at three-year intervals.

The AAHA also now recommends that vaccinations for parainf luenza virus, bordetella and leptospirosis be administered only after looking at an individual dog’s risk of exposure. But some vets—either not up on the changes or not wanting to pass up potential profits—tend to take a more blanket approach to vaccines.

“Some vets either don’t know better or they want the money,” Kay says. “They over-vaccinate to subsidize their other services, disregarding the potential risks to the animals, and people are catching on to that.”

As they do, suspicion can spread and public faith can erode, just as it can in any occupation. A few bad apples, uninformed apples, careless apples or greedy apples, can—especially in the Internet age—taint how the public sees the whole barrel.

So how do you find Dr. Right— that vet who’s the perfect combination of compassion and clear-headedness; one who, when it comes to finding answers, isn’t wholly holistic or wholly high-tech; one who exhibits not simply heart, and not simply brains, but that much-desired combination of the two?

Two things to keep in mind: First, one pet owner’s Dr. Right may not be every pet owner’s Dr. Right. Second, you might have to go through a few Dr. Not-Quite-Rights along the way.

Let your own head, and your own heart, be your guide.

Do some research. Get input from friends. Get input from strangers. Pick the brains of your fellow dog-park denizens. Ask people not just if they like their vet, but why they like their vet. Volunteer at your local humane society, and see whom they trust and turn to. Check into complaints filed with state veterinary boards or Better Business Bureaus. Go online and read customer reviews, but take them, like everything else on the Internet, with a grain of salt. Visit and interview vets. Chat up the support staff. Bring a notepad. Ask vets where they got their training. Do they have a dog? Do they do any pro bono work, such as helping homeless dogs in the community? Are they, when it comes to technology, up on the latest or living in the past? See if you feel a connection, and—as perhaps you might do with a potential suitor—let your dog give them a sniff and offer an opinion.

Some vets might be smooth talkers who say all the right things but fail to make a connection with your dog. Other vets might have a near-magical ability to empathize with your dog, but no people skills at all.

One paradox of veterinary medicine is that many of those who go into it do so because they prefer dealing with animals to dealing with people. They find out pretty quickly—year one in most veterinary schools—that it’s not going to work that way. While they examine animals, they have to communicate with humans—often, anguished, demanding or sobbing ones.

“What all vets have in common is we love animals, but the majority of our time is spent dealing with their humans,” says Kay, who spent 32 years in private practice. Some veterinarians are better at that than others.

As with medical doctors, veterinarians generally adopt one of two styles of communication. In the paternalistic model, the doctor is clearly in charge, does most of the talking and, generally, keeps some emotional distance. Under what’s called the relationship-centered model, the vet looks at the bigger picture— the dog and the dog owner, and the bond between them. Clients are encouraged to share facts, express opinions and help decide on a course of action.

What leads a vet to become one or the other is probably a mix of factors, including personality type, sociability and the training they received in school. Some might assume that, under a paternalistic style (with the doctor taking the reins) clients can be shuttled in and out more quickly and efficiently. Kay says studies have shown that’s not the case.

Readers who shared their thoughts on what makes for the ideal veterinarian seemed to prefer the relationship centered style, even if they didn’t call it by name. They want a vet who comes across as warm, and a vet who listens. “No vet can possibly know as much about my dogs as I do, from living with and observing them closely day by day,” said a reader named Lynda. “That’s okay—I don’t expect the vet to know that—but I do expect the vet to listen to me and take my observations and instincts into account in the diagnosis.”

That, she added, “requires a third characteristic—not too heavy on the ego, please. I don’t want a vet who tries to play God or take over my primary responsibility for my dog’s well-being. I want someone who doesn’t feel threatened by my input.”

“A good vet is a professional who outright would let a dog lick her, a cat be her hissy self [and] a pet parent speak about their furry four-legged child before coming up with conclusions,” said a reader named Carmen. “A vet should love what she is there for, the pets …”

Several commenters said the ideal vet doesn’t let rules or protocol trump compassion, and isn’t so wrapped up in cutting-edge technology that he or she gives no credence to more natural treatments.

“I appreciate a vet who is willing to work with me and consider both clinical and alternative healing, which includes holistic and palliative care in certain circumstances,” said a reader named Marilyn. “I believe my companion animals, much as humans, want to be with their loved ones and not in a hospital cage during their final days/ hours. I think vets are, at times, too wedded to vet-school protocols to the exclusion of the human-animal bond. Pity.”

A reader named Susan in Tucson said she’d never forget how her veterinarian let her lay on the floor with her dog Luka as he received IV fluids in a last ditch effort to save his life.

“Her heart is so big that she knew if I could do this myself, it would mean the world to my big mama’s boy, and it would mean everything to me. He was very ill with chronic kidney disease, which [had been] diagnosed the day before, though [he was] only six years old. The next day, I had to make the hardest decision ever, and I’d not have been able to do it without her. I spent another couple of hours in a private room, talking quietly to Luka, my Malamute, and then we did have to let him go.”

Several commenters said they seek veterinarians who feel a connection with the dogs they treat, the humans they encounter and the community they’re in. A vet who volunteers his or her services to help less fortunate dogs is seen as one who likely has the compassion and dedication they’re looking for.

“Two things stand out for me,” wrote Tom. “I want a vet (and have one, thankfully) who knows about all the shiny new diagnostic tests s/he can perform, and who doesn’t recommend them just because they exist … Second, I want my vet to be active in animal welfare. Frankly, I think the veterinary community at large has been strangely, sadly absent from the humane movement— at least in any organized way. At best, that’s a huge lost opportunity to improve the conditions of the companion animals whose brethren they treat, and to end unnecessary shelter euthanasia.”

A reader named Nina echoed those opinions: “I look for someone who defines what they do as a service rather than strictly a business. They show compassion and respect for all animals and their families. The vet volunteers his or her services at an affordable clinic; they board and protect pets of abused women while [the women] are looking for a new, safe home; they get involved in community fundraisers … This way of seeing and operating in the world informs everything they do— from hiring staff who are knowledgeable, kind and efficient to encouraging their clients to make informed decisions about issues such as vaccinations and other treatments.

“One of the vets I frequented for almost 20 years I am leaving because they are changing their paradigm from service to business,” she added. “The front desk is no longer attended by caring staff, and making money seems to be the major concern. Needless to say, they are losing clients, including me.”

Call a medical doctor when you’re seriously ailing and, with some luck, you’ll get an appointment—say, three weeks from Thursday. Call a vet about your seriously ailing dog and you’re likely to hear “bring ’em right in.”

Visit that medical doctor—arrive 30 minutes before your appointment, please—and the receptionist may or may not issue a friendly greeting, and may or may not make eye contact before handing you multiple forms to be filled out while you wait, 45 minutes or so, before being shown into an exam room, where you wait some more.

Visit that vet and you and your dog will more likely be greeted with some excitement, get a pat on the head, maybe get a treat, and have but a brief wait to see not just an assistant, but the actual doctor—all of which sometimes happens, unlike with human medical care, even before the question is asked: “How are we going to be paying for this?”

In some ways, at least from a consumer perspective, human medical care could benefit by becoming more like traditional veterinary care.

From all indications, though, the opposite is happening.

With large corporations running a growing percentage of veterinary practices, with those practices becoming larger, with treatments becoming more sophisticated and expensive, with pet insurance creating more hoops to jump through, with everybody running to keep up with technology, there seems less time for niceties, or empathy.

The way things are heading, one often doesn’t get to choose a veterinarian these days as much as a veterinary practice. You might find the veterinarian of your dreams, but then actually get an appointment with the one who’s available. As pet health insurance slowly catches on, you might find the practice of your dreams, only to learn it doesn’t honor the particular brand of pet insurance you’ve purchased.

And, as veterinary practices become more like big businesses, that quality time you spend with your vet might dwindle—maybe at that vet’s choice, maybe due to corporate orders.

“It’s not the profession I went into 25 years ago,” says Nick Trout, a staff surgeon at Angell Animal Medical Center in Boston and a contributing columnist for The Bark.

Traditionally, Trout says, vets have been seen as “having an animal’s best interest at heart rather than being out to make money.” Given that their patients can’t talk, vets spend more time examining them, “as opposed to the seven minutes you seem to have with an MD who’s watching the clock and having to crank through on the cases.” Vets, generally, have been seen as more accessible, patient and understanding than the average medical doctor.

Trout, who has authored three nonfiction books, has also written two novels. In the first of those, The Patron Saint of Lost Dogs, the main character, Cyrus Mills, a veterinary pathologist whose career has kept him in the laboratory, takes over his father’s small town veterinary practice and, through connecting with dogs and people, finds his life changed for the better. In its sequel, Dog Gone, Back Soon, slated for release this spring, Mills copes with pressures stemming from what Trout calls the “corporatization” of veterinary care.

While the book is fiction, the trend is real, and global.

For example, Trout says, “Small mom-and-pop practices no longer exist in Sweden; they’ve all been bought out by corporations” that operate under a “colder, more clinical” business model. “What worries me is that takes away that one-on-one, that ability to put in more time with an individual … When you’re accountable to a bigger business model, you’re not going to get away with that.”

Technology is playing a big role, too. Keeping up with it can require large investments—the kind that small, independent veterinarians are hardpressed to make.

“Pet owners demand higher technology,” Trout says. “The days of a single general-practice vet being the only one you’re going to need are getting lost. We as humans demand specialization, and pet owners are not different … We kind of want it both ways. We want the James Herriott style, but we want the state-of-the-art technology.”

With veterinary schools packed and graduates competing for jobs, Trout says, many will find that, to get a job, they’ll need to put a lid on their idealism and toe the corporate line: “You will work for us in the way we work— you will do this test, this test and this test,” Trout says.

He doesn’t think this bodes well for the profession.

“We’re losing that personalized touch, that one-on-one, that sort of relationship you get between a dog and a vet and an owner—that sort of love triangle that goes on through the animal’s lifetime.”

To many of us, the search for the veterinarian of our dreams involves a lot of the same considerations as our search for a mate: it’s largely, but not entirely, a matter of the heart.

We want someone we can trust.

We seek kindness, sensitivity and compassion. We avoid those with angry streaks, those who are unpredictable or who might just be after our money.

We value honesty, dependability and dedication, and we like someone who, while keeping up with the times, still has some good old-fashioned values.

We prefer them to be, if not tail-waggingly happy, at least pleased to see us come through the door.

We want a good communicator, who knows how to listen and isn’t distant or aloof—someone who, when he’s there, is actually there and when he’s not, is only a text or phone call away.

And once we have found them, we tend to never let them go—at least, not until we have to move to a new town and start all over again.

We don’t require our vet to like long walks on the beach at sunset, but we do appreciate one who will be there when needed—not to lecture, dictate or nag, but to be supportive and help us solve the problems that come up in life.

And, it goes without saying, they must love dogs.

News: Guest Posts
Pet Loss Research:
How Does the Loss of a Dog Impact the Wellbeing of other Dogs in the Household?

I recently came upon the link for a pet loss survey through social media. My summer of 2013 had far too much pet loss. Curious, I went to the website, which is sponsored by the Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine. I met the study criteria: over 18 years of age; have lost a pet from my household due to death, temporary or permanent absence; and at the time of the loss, had at least one other pet that is still in my household today.

I took the survey, a process of about twenty minutes. Many questions were quickly answered by filling in the appropriate multiple-choice bubble; others could be answered with additional detail typed into a box.

I was impressed with the topics covered by the survey; having so recently lost two of my three dogs, I felt they were spot-on based on my experiences. Clearly the study delves into questions and concerns that many of us have about how our pets grieve but presently have no real answers for. We simply hope we’re doing the right thing for them.

I lost Maia, the oldest of my three dogs to old age last June (she was 14). Then quite unexpectedly I lost Meadow, age 12, to bone cancer just six weeks later. I found myself in troubling new territory with no guide. How do I help the surviving dogs through their grief? How is their grief impacted by my own? Was Finn, my youngest (age five) and now sole remaining dog going to be traumatized by losing two housemates in such quick succession? What could I do to make the losses easier for him, even while I was a wreck from grief?

There are websites addressing the issue of pet loss. Believe me, I visited several last summer. There are suggestions about helping us handle loss, helping children grieve, or responding to family, friends and co-workers who don’t understand why you’re a wreck and say, “It’s just a pet.” A few websites offer suggestions for helping other pets grieve, but there’s no research, no science behind the information. I didn’t want to make things worse for my dogs. I remember struggling mightily with whether to let the surviving dogs/dog see and smell the departed dog’s body. I searched for answers online, but couldn’t find anything concrete. I decided to let them come into the room after their housemate was gone. I only hope I made the right choice. It would be nice to have some research saying I did, or if not, what to do differently in the future.

Leticia Fanucchi, DVM and a Ph.D student, is working to bring us the science that will help us help our pets through the dying and grieving process when they lose household members (animal or human) to which they’re attached. As Dr. Fanucchi notes, there’s been some anecdotal data about the grieving process of other animals—elephants, apes, chimpanzees, marine mammals—but no systematic research regarding them or our companion animals. She aims to correct that, conducting controlled studies to help us and our vets better understand pet loss and grieving. Dr. Fanucchi describes this research as her career-long project.

Dr. Fanucchi currently has two surveys going—the pet loss survey I took, and a control survey for pet owners who aren’t experiencing loss. The data she collects will form the basis for the next stages of her research: measuring changes in behavior and diet when a pet loses another pet or a person in their household, and whether the grief of the owner impacts the grief of the pet. To gain early data during the next stage, Dr. Fanucchi will observe in the lab the brief separation (two minutes) of two pets sharing a household, to determine if the pair are attached or not. “If they are attached, then I can assume they will grieve.”

Eventually her research will involve finding pets actually going through the grieving process. The WSU College of Veterinary Medicine sees many animals that are old or have cancer or other life-threatening diseases. “Eventually, sadly, we lose animals,” said Dr. Fanucchi. “They will be the samples we study.” Dr. Fanucchi will seek owners willing to let her visit the pets and family in their home, observing and video-taping behaviors and measuring eating before and after loss to detect changes and influences.

Dr. Fanucchi anticipates analyzing the current pet survey data this summer and publishing the results by the end of this year, although the surveys will stay up all year. Thereafter, as she moves forward through research stages and collects additional data, she will try to publish annually so that new information is shared regularly. So far, some 700 people have responded to the pet loss survey, and another 500 to the pet behavior without loss survey.

You can help this important research by responding to whichever survey applies to your household:

Pet Loss Survey: www.opinion.wsu.edu/petloss

Pet Owner (without loss) Survey: www.opinion.wsu.edu/petbehavior

Participation is voluntary and anonymous. If questions make you uncomfortable, you can leave them blank. If the pet loss survey causes any distress, counseling services are available through the WSU College of Veterinary Medicine Pet Loss Hotline (website and phone numbers provided before you enter the survey).

I urge you to take the small amount of time needed to complete one or the other survey. The more data collected, the better the results and subsequent research, leading to information that, sadly, we will all need at some point in our lives shared with animal companions.

 

Dog's Life: Travel
When Your Dog Can’t Go with You
Care and boarding alternatives.

If chartering a private plane so your dog can see the world with you seems reasonable, you’re either very wealthy or really love traveling with your pup. Since most of us don’t have a Learjet at our disposal, eventually there will come a time when we’ll have to leave our dogs behind while we embark on extended travel (a week or longer).

The best way to ensure that your time away is fun and stress-free for both you and your dog is to have a good game plan in advance of departure. Though dogs have very different personalities, maintaining a sense of normalcy and routine during owner absences is beneficial for every type of dog.

Also, a confident, happy dog will have a much easier time with an extended absence than one who has had little socialization—one of the many reasons training and socialization are beneficial for dogs and humans alike. A visit to a familiar dog park will reconnect your dog with well-known scents, activities and other canine friends.

Recently, we spoke with Abbie Mood, Canine Behavior Science and Technology diplomate/owner of Communicate with Your Dog in Westminster, Colo., who offered some useful insights.

Mood stresses the importance of maintaining a routine with your dog. “Anyone who has a dog likely wonders how the dog knows when it’s time for dinner, for a walk, to go to sleep. It’s because your dog has a routine. Keeping this sense of normalcy is a good way to help your dog stay on schedule and feel a bit more comfortable in your absence. For some dogs, especially those with separation anxiety, the preparation and the leaving ritual themselves can induce anxiety, so varying your [pre-trip] routine can be helpful. The best thing you can do to prepare your dog is to set up the logistics ahead of time so you aren’t rushing around at the last minute, and staying relaxed yourself.”

When it comes to care, the best-case scenario is one in which the dog remains at home with a trusted friend or family member; second-best is a pet sitter. As Mood notes, “Being able to be in the home environment is the best situation. That being said, a dog who is distressed or shows anxiety while you are gone (tearing things up, urinating or defecating indoors), will probably do better staying with a friend or family member who is home more often, or even at a doggie day care, where [he or she] will be around other dogs and people all the time.”

Clearly, having an established network of trusted, responsible pet sitters can make your absence much easier on your dog. Familiar human and canine friends can greatly reduce a dog’s anxiety, especially if the dogs already share a bond. For this reason alone, it’s worth volunteering to watch your friends’ dogs to help establish your own dog’s sense of comfort with being part of another “pack” for a time.

Whether your dog is staying at your home or a friend’s house, making a list of detailed instructions is very important. “If a pet sitter is coming to your house, make a list of phone numbers— the vet, poison control, closest friend or family member (think about the list you would create for a babysitter). Also, write out instructions for feeding, exercise, special requests/requirements, or any reminders that might be important (don’t let the dog meet other dogs, the location of the closest dog park and so forth),” suggests Mood.

Dogs have incredible scent memory, so it also can be helpful to provide a shirt, blanket or other article of clothing with your scent. Some people even leave a “fresh” used shirt to be introduced at some point through their time away. Boarding at a kennel is another option, and for some dogs, the chance to play with other pups all day is as fun as it gets. However, it’s best to give your dog a few nights at a trusted kennel before your trip so the change isn’t as abrupt.

Whether your choice is pet sitter, day care or kennel, do your due diligence before making a decision. Mood says that while she asks candidates “tons” of questions, the most important relate to discipline and training policies. “If they are going to be walking your dog, how do they practice looseleash walking? What happens if two dogs get in a scuffle? Can you handle my dog with anxiety/dog-dog aggression/door dashing? Other questions might include, can you administer my dog’s medicine or accommodate a special diet? For a doggie day care (or kennel), always tour the entire facility—they shouldn’t have anything to hide.”

A trusted friend, family member, pet sitter or kennel staff member, or other friendly face will keep your dog in good spirits, as will mingling with canine friends. While your dog will, of course, notice your absence, extra attention or longer walks can help. And once you’ve found reliable and trustworthy pet sitters or other services, stick with them.

Sometimes being apart is tougher on the human than on the dog. Luckily, technology gives us ways to deal with this. “Regular check-ins with the pet sitter, getting photos from family or friends, or even Skyping or Facetiming with your dog can help the person,” says Mood. “Some doggie day cares have [real-time] video, or at least post pictures throughout the day, which can put your mind at ease. It is important to find someone you trust so you don’t have to worry about your dog’s safety and well-being. If you are trying a new sitter/day care/kennel, do your research ahead of time, and trust your instincts. If there’s anything you don’t like, find a new source!”

Finally, establish a budget in advance, not only to pay for care but also to provide cash on hand for emergencies or if supplies run low (though you’ll be stocking up on food, treats and pick-up bags before you leave).

While parting with your dog can be such sweet sorrow, having a system to keep him or her happy and healthy in your absence will make your travels much easier. Yes, it’s quite normal to miss your dog, but don’t let that overwhelm you. Plan ahead and look forward to a joyous reunion upon your return—oh, and be sure to bring home treats!

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Run for Your Quality of Your Dog's Life
Strategies for both you and your dog.

My favorite wooden salad servers are decorated with Bugsy’s teeth marks. Excluding unprovoked attacks on innocent squeaky toys and the occasional disemboweling of one of his stuffed animals, he wasn’t a destructive chewer by nature, and never damaged anything else. When I came home from work and saw him enjoying these Costa Rican souvenirs, I could hardly blame him, and felt no irritation whatsoever. I understood: it was hunting season.

Because we had a strong aversion to being mistaken for deer and accidentally shot, our exercise was severely limited during the 10 days that hunters roamed the area. Instead of two daily off-leash romps in the woods around our 150- acre farm, we took leash walks down the road. It was clearly not enough for Bugsy, who compensated by chewing on the wooden “sticks” that were conveniently lying around. Every time I use the salad set, I’m reminded that even with well-trained dogs, exercise matters if you want good behavior.

Training obviously helps with problem behaviors, but it’s not the only way to avoid trouble. Dog trainers have long valued the role of exercise in minimizing irksome canine activities such as barking, chewing, jumping around like lunatics, being unable to settle down or sleep well, digging, whining and relentless attention-seeking.

One casual experiment supports these views: a group of dogs was divided in half; one half worked on formal training while the other half had their exercise increased to two 30-to-45-minute sessions a day. After six weeks, the dogs who had additional training showed improvements in both their responsiveness to cues and their problem behaviors. The dogs who had extra exercise also exhibited problem behaviors less frequently, although their responsiveness to cues had not improved.

The relationship between exercise and behavior is complex and sometimes surprising. For example, Schneider et al. (2013) reported that more exercise was correlated with lower levels of fear, less aggression towards familiar dogs and reduced excitability. Jagoe and Serpell (1996) found that dogs acquired for the purpose of increasing their owners’ level of exercise have a lower incidence of certain types of aggression, including possessive aggression and socalled dominance aggression. Lindsay (2005) hypothesized that this is due to the general physiological effects of exercise. So, how does exercise affect behavior through physiological means?

Endogenous chemicals (those produced by the body) may play a role in the effects of exercise on physiology and behavior. Like people, dogs can achieve an emotional state described as the “runner’s high,” which may be why the chance to go for a run is greeted with enthusiasm by our canine companions. It may also be why so many people believe the old saying, “A tired dog is a good dog,” though the admirable behavior exhibited by dogs who are well-exercised may be due more to chemistry than to fatigue.

A runner’s high is caused by chemicals called endocannabinoids, which signal the reward centers of our brains. Endocannabinoids lessen both pain and anxiety as well as create feelings of well-being. Running triggers higher levels of these compounds, which is why running makes us feel good.

If you just snorted derisively and thought that running makes you feel terrible and you can’t imagine why people put themselves through such misery on purpose, you aren’t alone. Though most dogs are excited about running, the human species, outside of a small percentage of fanatics of the sport (or weirdoes, as we are sometimes called), isn’t interested. Yet, the potential to activate the chemicals that cause a runner’s high exists within all of us. The capacity to experience that rush of good feelings is shared by dogs and people, even if we aren’t all dipping into it as frequently as our long-ago ancestors, for whom running long distances was part of daily life.

A study by Raichlen et al. (2012), “Wired to run: exercise-induced endocannabinoid signaling in humans and cursorial mammals with implications for the ‘runner’s high,’” investigated the phenomenon. The researchers predicted that running would result in chemical reactions in the brain associated with pleasure in species with a history of endurance running, but not in species whose natural history does not include running. They studied three types of mammals—humans, dogs and ferrets—and found that the two with distance running in their evolutionary pasts (humans and dogs) exhibit elevated levels of one particular endocannabinoid (anandamide) after running on a treadmill. Ferrets, noncursorial animals, had no such chemical response.

Both canine and human brains are made to enjoy running, but this pleasurable, rewarding quirk of chemistry is not universal among mammals. Ferrets, as the study showed, derive no pleasure from it. (Friends who despise running have expressed alarm at the results of this study—it makes them wonder if they are part ferret.)

The behavioral benefits to dogs of running may be related more to contentment than to fatigue. Perhaps, what we call “tired” is actually better described as “happy,” “relieved of anxiety and pain” and “experiencing feelings of well-being.” If so, exercise may indirectly benefit dogs’ behavior because it elevates mood rather than simply makes them too worn out to misbehave. Since endocannabinoids lessen the anxiety that can be a source of problem behaviors, it’s easy to see how exercise could help.

Running is also associated with the production of other chemicals that reduce anxiety in mammalian brains. Schoenfeld et al. (2013) reported that mice given the opportunity to run handled stress and anxiety better than sedentary mice. The study observed the brains and brain activity in both groups of mice and found that runners had more excitable neurons in the ventral hippocampus, which plays a role in anxiety, than did sedentary mice. However, the active mice also had more cells capable of producing the calming chemicals that inhibit activity in that area of the brain, which lessens anxiety. The study supports the idea that for mice, at least, running improves regulation of anxiety through inhibitory activity in the brain. It is possible that the situation is similar in dogs, though without studying them specifically, we can’t know for sure.

Of course, behavior and physiology, and the links between the two, are never completely straightforward. There is evidence that cannabinoids can cause hyperactivity at low doses, even though they have calming effects at higher doses. What does this mean for our dogs?

Age, breed and individual differences play a role in the amount of exercise required to keep dogs’ halos on straight and prevent them from sprouting little horns, behaviorally speaking. Some thrive on small amounts of exercise. For others, the same amount of exercise— perhaps a leash walk at a leisurely pace—has the opposite effect. It invigorates them, and may actually induce hyperactivity. (That’s a bit discouraging for those of us whose goal is rarely, if ever, to pep dogs up, though some who compete in canine sports try to do exactly that.)

Recently, I was concerned that I might be inadvertently energizing a dog my family was watching. Super Bee, a Border Collie, belongs to professional runner and Adidas Ultra Team member Emily Harrison. Emily often trains with her dog, so Super Bee typically runs 60 to 70 miles a week. To say she is extremely fit is an understatement along the lines of me saying I sort of like dogs.

While Super Bee was with us, we made exercise a top priority. She went along on all of my morning runs, and my husband ran with her in the evenings. We supplemented this activity with long sessions of fetch; luckily, neither our kids nor Super Bee became bored with this game. Still, knowing that despite our best efforts, we would be unable to give Super Bee her usual amount of exercise, I worried that the shorter sessions would just amp her up.

Despite that risk, I never considered not exercising her, and I’m certainly not advising skipping out on getting a little bit of exercise if that’s all you can do. Exercise and the outings involved in getting it have benefits well beyond those provided by elevated endocannabinoids. There’s value in understanding the effects of various amounts of exercise on our dogs; various types of exercise, from hiking to swimming to playing tug, may have different effects as well.

Though we did not exercise her as much as Emily does, we made a good effort. Super Bee even seemed tired (or should I say contented?) a couple of times! It didn’t last long, but we’re still proud of our accomplishment. It probably contributed to Super Bee’s model behavior while she was with us.

Besides the well-known physical benefits of exercise, its psychological and behavioral benefits are profound and contribute to a high quality of life. The reduction of annoying behaviors and the good behavior that arises directly or indirectly from exercise certainly make the beautiful relationship between people and dogs that much better. What more could we want for our dogs than the highest quality of life, minimal anxiety, the most elevated feelings of contentedness and the best possible relationship with us?

Good Dog: Activities & Sports
How much exercise does your dog need?

A tired dog is a good dog. No matter the size of the dog, every pup needs a physical outlet to expend extra energy and maintain health and fitness. Regular exercise can improve your dog’s mental health and reduce some behaviors done out of anxiety or boredom. It is important to note that each animal is an individual and you need to modify your program. We must make adjustments for age, injury and be mindful of environmental conditions too, such as extreme weather.  

For a general guideline to exercise, dogs can be divided up by their breeds, or breed mixes, and what they were originally bred to do. However, remember to tailor your program to your dog’s needs.

Herding and Sporting Dogs

Both groups have very high exercise needs and should get at least 60-90 minutes of higher intensity exercise daily, twice daily is even better. These are working dogs so are easily bored, so make them work their brains! Intersperse training sessions with physical workouts to keep the routine fresh and interesting for both you and your dog.

Terriers

From the little Cairn to the larger Airedale, these dogs are generally bouncy and charismatic pooches. Although they have significant exercise requirements, these dogs are smaller than the herding and sporting members, and can get a fair amount of daily exercise around the yard. But they should get a minimum of 60-minutes exercise daily.

Hounds

This is a very diverse group that encompasses the sight hounds and scent hounds. Sight hounds like Greyhounds may have lower exercise needs, they are sprinters that release energy in quick bursts. Allow them a couple of harder sprint workouts per week. Scent hounds have higher exercise needs, similar to the herding and sporting dogs.

Toy Breeds and Brachycephalic Dogs

Many breeds fit into this category, including Poodles, Chihuahuas and Maltese. Even though these cuties are smaller than the rest, they still need exercise! They have a propensity toward obesity and often do not get the level of daily activity that they require.  They can, however, get a significant amount of exercise in a much smaller area.

These squash-faced dogs, like the Pug and Bulldogs, were not created for marathon running. A shortened muzzle and wrinkly face might be irresistible, but they impede airflow and put these dogs at risk for overheating and oxygen deprivation.

Weather Considerations

Weather conditions are an important consideration for all dogs, not just the Brachycephalics. Dogs too can be victims of frostbite or heat stroke. If you live in the snowy areas make sure you clean your dogs’ paws after an outing to remove snow and salt buildup. Dogs with thin hair coats may benefit from a nice dog coat or hoodie in the colder months. In the summertime, paws can also be damaged on hot asphalt or abrasive surfaces like the sandy shore. During any weather, it’s important to keep your dog hydrated. Bring along a compact dog travel bowl and fill it from your own water bottle.

Suggested Activities

Physical activities: There are a variety of different ways to wear out the over-energized dog. Fetch is a fabulous way to exhaust a dog with minimal output of your own energy and using a tennis racket gets even greater canine wear down. Swimming is a fantastic way to reap the benefits of exercise without the dangers of repetitive impact. You may also want to start out with a dog life vest, especially if you are far from shore, it is important to always use a vest when boating with your dog.

Mental exercises: A good brain game can be almost as tiring as a long hike. Some dogs enjoy a food toy. These toys require the dog to knock the toy around to make food fall out of small holes. They can be filled with small, low calorie treats or even pieces of kibble. If your dog is scent driven, she may enjoy searching for bits of food or treats hidden throughout the house.

Exercising with your pooch helps control her weight and maintain a healthy body and mind. Remember to tailor your program to your pet, to meet her needs and maintain safety. Keep her engaged, body and mind, and you will find that you share your home with a fulfilled best friend.

 

News: Karen B. London
Dog Lifespans by State
Where are dogs living longest?

It is hard to decide which of the many wonderful qualities of dogs is the best one, but it’s easy for me to say what is the worst thing about dogs: They don’t live long enough. We all wish dogs lived longer and most of us are hungry for information about which factors may give us more time with our dogs. It’s possible that where our dogs live is one such factor.

A state-by-state analysis of dog lifespan shows Montana and South Dakota at the top with dogs living an average of 12.4 years. Other states with long-lived dogs include Oregon, Colorado and Florida where the dogs are typically living over 11 years. In contrast, Mississippi and Alabama have an average lifespan of just over 10 years.

These data come from Banfield Pet Hospital and only include those states in which they have facilities, which means that Wyoming, North Dakota, Maine, Vermont and West Virginia are not included. It also means that the data may only reflect the specific dogs seen in their practices rather than fully representing each state’s dogs.

However, there are a number of reasons that lifespans may vary from state to state. These include nutrition, exercise opportunities, rates of spaying and neutering and the types of disease prevalent in the area. The breeds and sizes of dogs that are most popular in those states may matter, too.

Wellness: Healthy Living
Seniors Dogs & Humans
Companionship Through the Ages

Whether his correspondence comes via snail mail or email, Duncan, my father, closes it with love, and always includes the names of his dogs sending love my way. When I was younger, this sentimental touch made me laugh and sometimes embarrassed me. But over time, I came to appreciate this sign-off—an endearing reminder that a family is always the sum of its individual members, be they human or animal.

That’s why the real impact of Sasha’s demise didn’t hit me until I read an email ending in a simple “love, Mum and Dad.” Sasha had been 14, a good age for a Labrador, and now Duncan, 71, claimed he had finally reached a bad age to be thinking about another dog. Had the man who seemed incapable of a future without a dog by his side finally hung up his leash?

Many of my elderly clients crave the companionship of a dog. They love the responsibility, the reason for getting up in the morning, the easy conversation and the unparalleled emotions these creatures draw from us. But they fear not being physically able to care for a dog and not providing sufficient exercise. Most of all, they worry about who will look after their dog when they pass.

Connie Schultz, a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist, is a columnist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. When I contacted her regarding this dilemma, she was brimming with ideas. “What if middle schools and high schools had a program to train young people how to help the elderly care for their pets? Everyone wins. The elderly get help walking and feeding their pets. The young people get to cuddle with the dogs and feel useful. Throw in school credit, cross-generational friendships and you’ve got a terrific way to generate a sense of community in our increasingly isolated lives.”

Given that my father lives in rural England, I went with a different approach. “Why not adopt an older dog?” I asked. “Unlike a new puppy, what you see is what you get. They’re already housetrained and ready to go for walks.”

Truth is, older shelter dogs are always looking for good homes because they are more difficult to adopt. People see an older dog and wonder if they’ve been relinquished because of behavioral or expensive health problems. Connie had another great idea.

“What about a national registry for elderly pet owners? They could register when they adopt, alerting family and friends so that when they pass, there is a system in place to find new homes. This way, future adopters would know the reason for the pet’s abandonment.”

In fact, Dogs Trust, the largest dog-welfare charity in the UK, already has a free service known as the Canine Care Card, whereby they guarantee to take on the responsibility of caring for and rehoming a dog should the worst happen to its owner. Even if they cannot find a suitable home, they promise to look after the dog for the rest of its natural life.

How did I find out about Dogs Trust?

“You read my mind, son. There’s such a large hole in my life without Sasha. I still go out alone for our walk, talk to her, imagine she’s with me, but I hate walking alone. An older dog would be grand. Mind, she’d have to be good around sheep.”

There’s always been a period of mourning, time for my father to let the world know he was grieving a significant loss. Still, there’s hope for another dog in his future, a female no less. I wonder how long before a new name finds its way to the last line of his letters.

Good Dog: Activities & Sports
Canine Yoga
Downward dog, anyone?

Yoga leaves dogs more flexible and focused, less prone to injuries, and calm; it also increases their bond with their humans.

The lights are dimmed and the candles—strategically placed on the agility equipment pushed to the room’s perimeter—are lit as people and their pups (ranging from pampered purebreds to rescued Pit Bulls) make their way to a circle of cushions. Here at Andrea Arden’s training facility at the Animal Haven shelter in Manhattan, yoga is about to begin. The instructor is agility legend Chris Ott, though most of those in attendance don’t know her reputation; they’re just here for their dog’s yoga class.

Ott’s accomplishments include representing the United States on the USA/AKC Agility World Team, holding a Guinness World Record for weave poles, and numerous appearances and wins at national championships. Her experience extends beyond the agility arena, however. Most recently, she brought her three decades of dog training know-how to the creation of what she calls Four Paw Fusion yoga. The class, originally designed for high-level performance competitors and their handlers, was so successful that Ott modified it for pet dogs.

Companion dogs who take part in Four Paw Fusion enjoy many of the same successful outcomes the performance dogs experience, including increased flexibility and decreased rates of injury. Ott says that she was most surprised at “how quickly the dogs took to it and how much they enjoyed it, right from the beginning.” Yoga leaves dogs more flexible and focused, less prone to injuries, and calm; it also increases their bond with their humans.

Like all yoga instructors, Ott leads participants through a series of stretches. But unlike yoga for humans, in Four Paw Fusion, participants lure their dogs into place with treats and praise, enticing them to hold the position for optimal stretch. Some of the positions start with the dog on the ground, while others utilize pillows and FitPAWS Balance Discs (inflatable rubberized cushions originally developed to help humans tone and increase balance) for support.

Because dogs are gently lured into position, even those without extensive training can be very successful in the class. Ott says that, much to her surprise, the dogs who are anxious and struggle to relax are often the biggest beneficiaries of the course. “The dogs we see the most dramatic improvement in are those who start out stressed and are described by their owners as ‘difficult’ to live with and train. To see a dog who was previously uncomfortable with any kind of touching now able to lie on his back in his owner’s lap while doing stretches is a wonderful experience.”

Ott punctuates her calming instructions with lessons in canine anatomy; descriptions of what a particular stretch is designed to achieve; and important reminders about not pushing a dog too far, which could cause injury. Similar to human yoga classes, everyone works at their own pace.

As the session goes on, the dogs visibly relax, and by the end of the twohour workshop, even dog-park warriors who require marathon games of fetch are panting. Although the dogs aren’t running around or doing activities that on first glance seem strenuous, they leave class happily tired.

And it isn’t just the dogs whose attitudes are changed. Even the most distracted human participants—those who entered class sipping lattes, texting and chatting with one another— pocket their phones and turn their attention to the eager dogs, influenced by Ott’s gentle demeanor and the energy she creates. Although the class is designed for canine relaxation, the peace, tranquility and connection that develop between dogs and their people are delightful side effects. The stress of big city life falls away, and they’re able to refocus on one another—what could be better?

Wellness: Healthy Living
Fetching Germs
dog in the mud

Dogs are great at bringing nature—bits of flora, fauna, dirt—into our homes. Now studies have shown that they also fetch a treasure of bacterial diversity “nesting” in their fur. This is not a bad thing. In fact, having a diverse microbiome environment can be very good for us.

North Carolina State University biologist Rob Dunn and colleagues are studying the microbes in home environments and found that the one variable that made the biggest difference in a home’s bacterial diversity was whether or not the family had a dog.

“When you bring a dog into your house …you are introducing a suite of dog-associated [microbe] taxa directly into your home…some of which may have direct or indirect effects on human health,” they write in PLoS ONE.

Other scientists have speculated that an exposure to greater numbers of microbes keeps the immune system from turning on the body. Plus, children living with dogs had fewer allergies and were healthier overall. Dunn added that, “Our study provides evidence to robustly support this assumption.” So do as Michael Pollan suggested: “wash your hands when pathogens or toxic chemicals are likely present, but maybe not after petting your dog.” Good news for dogs, and for us too

Wellness: Healthy Living
Dog Washing Tips
Best practices for self-serve dog washes.
dog wrapped in towel

If you want to save money on dog grooming, learn to do it yourself. Since the groomer’s biggest task is bathing the dog, that’s a good place to start. In many areas of the country, pet stores now offer self-service dog-wash facilities. The store usually provides shampoo and towels, but to get the most out of the experience—and the most for your money—you need to have a plan.

Scope out the facility and talk to the manager. Appointments are sometimes taken, but most are “first come, first served”; weekends are always the busiest, weekday mornings are the slowest. Look for non-slip surfaces (including ramps or steps to the tub), tie-downs and general cleanliness.

Cost it out. Verify how much time you get for your money; some allow all the time you need for a set price, others charge by the minute. Be realistic about how long it will take. Your Chihuahua could be spic and span within five minutes. Your double-coated Rough Collie or Poodle mix might take an hour.

Find out if there’s a groomer on site. If you can’t do it yourself, you’ll want the groomer to cut your dog’s nails and possibly do a sanitary trim (very important for fluffy, lowshedding dogs).

Give your dog a thorough pre-bath brush. Before heading to the dog wash, make sure your pup is totally brushed out and mat-free. Washing matted fur is counterproductive. Among other things, it’s almost impossible to dry it completely, which sets the stage for skin infections caused by bacteria and mold. Brush from your dog’s rear legs up, against the grain (the direction the hair grows) toward the body to the head. If you have a Pit Bull, this won’t take any time at all. If you have that Rough Collie (or Chow, Alaskan Malamute, Golden Retriever or Afghan) it will obviously take you longer, but you’ll save on tub time because it will be easier for the water to penetrate the coat. In any case, it makes sense to either brush out or cut off hair you don’t want to end up washing.

Check your supplies. If the dog wash doesn’t have your preferred shampoo, take your own. Ditto for towels. And, because the aprons stores provide aren’t always up to the job of keeping you entirely dry, bring a rain poncho.

At the site, use the force blower before getting your dog wet. Blow out the loose hair you may have missed when brushing. Force blowers aren’t dryers; they work by velocity and are really effective.

Wet your dog from the bottom and rear up, then apply shampoo. Here’s a tip: rather than lather it on with your hands, brush the shampoo through your dog’s coat. For slick types, such as Pit Bulls or Labs, a rubber curry will do. For a double-coated or low-shedding dog, a slicker brush is ideal. And remember, more shampoo doesn’t get your dog cleaner. It’s the ingredients and the agitation of the shampoo against the fur that do the job.

Rethink crème rinse or conditioner. If your dog’s coat is prone to tangles or you want to cut static, they can help, but they work by retaining moisture, which will make your dog more difficult to dry. A better solution is an after-bath antistatic, like The Stuff or Ice on Ice.

Thoroughly rinse your dog and squeeze out as much extra water as you can (then stand back when he shakes off). After towel drying, use the blower/dryer to finish up. CAUTION: if you have a drape-coated dog, like an Afghan or Lhasa Apso, the velocity of the air will cause the hair to tangle. Go very slowly and hold the dryer at a distance. (This is why groomers sometimes partially crate-dry these types of dogs, and have a low-velocity dryer on a stand. It’s pretty labor intensive to blow dry a long-haired dog.)

It takes a bit of practice to get it right and become efficient, but it’s time well spent. You’ll save some money, your dog will smell swell and your bathtub will still be clean: a real win-win, as they say in business school!

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