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News: JoAnna Lou
The Growing Pet Weight Loss Industry
Companies respond to the canine obesity problem

Human weight loss is a billion dollar industry, covering everything from books to personal training. When I first heard about a local doggy daycare’s canine “fat camp,” I thought it might be taking advantage of our obsession with shedding pounds. Activities at the camp include hikes, walks on a treadmill, doga (canine yoga!), and swimming. The marketing is certainly creative, but the camp is actually reflecting a nationwide epidemic.

According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, more than half of dogs and cats are considered overweight or obese. It’s a problem that veterinarians are calling the single most preventable health crisis in America.

The pet industry is responding by introducing products like canine treadmills, specially designed toys to increase activity, and dog running leashes.

Last year the makers of Science Diet introduced a line of meals and treats in pre-measured packets. And when Banfield found that veterinarians were hesitant to tell people that their dogs were overweight, the national veterinary chain introduced software to give pets a Body Condition Score.

Obesity can lead to a number of health problems, including diabetes and kidney failure. And research has suggested that a lower calorie diet can lead to a longer lifespan. So why are so many pets overweight?

First, most of us lead a pretty sedentary life these days, which carries over to our pets. Second, it can be hard to feed the right amount of food. I know my dogs would eat all day if they could and it can be hard to resist their cute faces. At my house, we replaced frequent treats with pieces of carrots and other vegetables.

According to Dr. Denise Elliott, a veterinarian and nutritionist at Banfield, the feeding directions on pet food packages can be inflated by as much as 25 percent.

Also, many people don’t know what normal weight looks like for a dog. Purina has a helpful chart on their website, but it’s a good idea to consult your veterinarian.

The pet obesity epidemic is a serious one, but it’s a problem that our pups are counting on us to figure out.

News: Karen B. London
Sometimes Only Dogs Bring Comfort
Dogs do what people can’t

“Sometimes only the dogs can make her feel better. They do what I can’t,” a friend of mine confided in me. He was explaining that after a year of marriage, he had learned that when he wife is particularly sad, the dogs have the best hope of easing her pain. Yesterday had been one of those really bad days, and she had spent much of the evening brushing their dogs, lying down with them and crying beside them. My friend was grateful to have the German Shepherd and Malamute in the family.

It’s well known that dogs can do so much that people can’t, with the most common examples usually related to sniffing out land mines or finding lost people. We all know that therapy dogs work miracles, and most of us receive tremendous emotional benefits from our own interactions with dogs. So it should come as no surprise that dogs provide emotional support that’s not just equal to what humans give, but sometimes far better.

Yet my friend doesn’t like most people to know what he just told me—that sometimes only the dogs can make his wife feel better. He worries that people will think he’s not supportive, that their relationship is troubled, and that his wife is strange, even though none of that is true. He told me because he knew I’d understand, which of course I do.

In what situations can your dog make you feel better when nobody else can?

Wellness: Healthy Living
Keeping Your Three-Legged Dog Healthy
Three legs to stand on

A really expensive car can go from zero to 60 in less than six seconds, but that car would have nothing on Harvey, a seven-month-old Mastiff/Husky mix, who went from being an $85 dog to a $2,000 dog in less than four hours. That’s how long it took Harvey to be adopted from the Tacoma Humane Society, perform a cursory inspection of his new home on the fourth floor of an apartment building in Seattle, race out onto the outside terrace to check out the dog house and vault over the surrounding hip wall. Harvey hit an awning, landed on the sidewalk and ended up in the emergency room with a badly broken right rear leg that later had to be amputated. “The vet said they usually try to pin the leg first,” says Lindsey Votava, who had fallen in love with Harvey on Petfinder.com, “but with the extent of Harvey’s injury it would have been like trying to put together a bag of potato chips.”

Votava and her husband, Leif Dalan, were clear that having Harvey’s leg amputated would give him the best chance of recovery. Trying to save the leg would have doubled their vet bill and meant they would have had to immobilize Harvey for up to eight weeks, which would have violated several of the laws of physics. “Harvey walked up the stairs after his surgery,” recalls Votava, and never missed a beat. He maintains a wicked Frisbee schedule at the dog park and does everything a four-legged dog does, except “he can’t scratch his ear.” They give him glucosamine for his joints and try to keep him from overexercising so that he doesn’t injure his remaining limbs. “We have to think for him,” Votava says. “That jumping off the roof was how he is. He’s a totally go, go, go kind of dog.”

It’s not unusual these days for a dog to lose a leg, generally for one of two reasons: they suffer some sort of accident or trauma, like Harvey’s, or they develop bone cancer or other bone disease. The latter is what happened to Bernie, an eight-year-old Rottweiler whose left front leg was amputated in January. Bernie was recovering nicely from surgery to her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) when her guardian, Tom Tilden, noticed she was limping and not bouncing back as quickly as he had expected. An X-ray showed bone cancer. “The first vet we consulted suggested giving her painkillers until the pain got to be too bad and then having her put down,” says Tilden. “We found another doctor.”

Bernie’s situation is completely different from Harvey’s. Harvey is lean and lost a rear leg while he was still a puppy; he was able to adjust immediately. Bernie is a stockier breed and lost a front leg relatively late in her life. “The front leg accounts for approximately 70 percent of the dog’s strength and balance,” says Sheila Wells, a hydrotherapist in Seattle who works with Bernie several times per week. “That is why front-leg amputees often have a more difficult time adjusting to their new state. The rear can follow but the front has to lead.”

Keeping the Tripod Dog Healthy
Wells, who has been operating her canine hydrotherapy studio, Wellsprings, since 1995, has a special fondness for three-legged dogs. When she was a child, her uncle had a Border Collie, Trixie, whose front leg had to be amputated after she got into a jam with a poisonous jellyfish in Sooke Harbour, British Columbia. “My uncle’s veterinarian told me, ‘Swim her,’” says Wells. Wells saw the benefits of this type of therapy, and a career was born. “Trixie lived another 10 years, during which she raced around like the wind.”

Wells says that in her experience, most three-legged dogs are “very highly functioning.” Some dogs do better than others, depending on their size (smaller dogs have an easier time), age and other physical problems. “The biggest challenge a dog faces when it loses a limb,” says Wells, “is that it has to relearn proprioception, which means it needs to get a new idea of where its body is in space and how to balance; it’s like the bubble in a level.” The most important challenge for tripod-dog owners, she says, is to protect the remaining limbs; often people will let the dog overdo it, and that ends up putting undue stress on the dog’s joints, which can lead to injuries and arthritis. She recommends that owners observe the following checklist to keep the three-legged dog healthy for as long as possible:

• Protect remaining limbs
• Put a sock/pad on the “elbow” of the remaining leg (to prevent calluses and pressure sores)
• Keep the dog’s weight down
• Take care of the dog’s skin and pads
• Exercise the dog regularly (walking is good; swimming is best)
• Assist or monitor the dog on stairs
• Monitor the dog’s activity level and don’t let him or her overdo it
• Give glucosamine, fish oils and other anti-inflammatory supplements
• Maintain a good diet and good overall health
• For front leg amputations, use a car seat harness with wide chest bands
• Invest in a “wheelchair,” if necessary, to help with mobility

How Many Tripods Are There?
It would be impossible to determine how many tripod dogs there are in the United States, says Sally Wortman, hospital administrator of Pets Unlimited, a major veterinary hospital and shelter in the San Francisco Bay area, though she estimates they do two to three amputations per month. Pets Unlimited treats approximately 50,000 animals per year. “We take in animals from other shelters, animals that don’t have many other opportunities,” says Wortman.

One of those animals was Wortman’s Clover, a one-and-a-half-year-old Pointer/Border Collie mix who arrived at the shelter with a badly broken right front leg that had to be amputated. “She was up and running the day after surgery,” says Wortman. “She’s a very athletic dog. She keeps up with the Greyhounds at the park. She’s inspiring to everyone who sees her.” Wortman says that she has noticed that people’s acceptance of three-legged dogs is growing. “Before, perhaps, people would have thought it was sad that she was missing a limb. But that has changed. I was recently at the dog park and met a couple whose baby had a paralyzed right arm. They said to me, ‘I wish we could get a three-legged dog so our child could grow up to think it was okay to be missing a limb.’”

“We always try to save the limb first,” says Thomas Mason, director of veterinary services at Pets Unlimited, “though sometimes this is much more expensive and requires more rehabilitation.” An amputation typically costs $1,200, while it may cost up to $3,000 to try to salvage the limb.

Before doing an amputation, a vet must decide if the dog is a good candidate. “We assess the animal’s overall physical condition. If the dog has arthritis in the other legs, for instance, he wouldn’t be such a good candidate. Amputation causes wear and tear on the other joints.” Many times, says Mason, a vet will end up taking off a dog’s entire leg, even if the trauma or the cancer is low down on the “ankle” joint. “Because of the way dogs walk, you end up with a lot of problems if you leave some of the limb. It would just get in the way. Most of the time, amputation is more cosmetically acceptable.”

Martin Kaufmann would like to see a change to this type of practice. Kaufmann, of OrthoPets.com, makes prosthetics and orthotics for both “two-legged and four-legged animals and any variation in the middle.” His goal is “to get the animal world up to speed with what we’re doing with humans.” He began his practice with animals four years ago, after a cousin’s Schnauzer suffered a stroke and lost the function in its right front leg. Kaufmann began studying animal anatomy books and learned that the muscle and bone terminology in dogs is almost exactly what it is in humans. Now, 30 percent of his practice is making artificial limbs and braces for animals, mostly dogs. “When three-legged dogs are brought to me, when they are amputated way up at the joint, there aren’t many options,” he says. Too often he sees animals who had cancer in the “wrist” joint.

“The vets tend to think of it as a useless limb and amputate way up at the top. That makes it almost impossible to build a prosthesis. We need at least one joint in order for the animal to be able to operate” with a prosthetic limb. Kaufmann explains that since this is a new field and he is one of only a few people doing this type of prosthetic work, not many vets know of this option. But he is trying to spread the word. “For limb preservation, it’s important to salvage as much of the limb as possible, or as many joints as possible.” If the limb has already been amputated at the top, he recommends having the dog use a cart to maintain the weight distribution on the leg that’s left. “Compounding forces on the remaining leg can cause arthritis from overuse. If the animal loses the remaining leg, what does it have left?”

Whether a dog loses a leg due to trauma or disease, most often he or she will bounce back and learn to adjust. As Sheila Wells points out, dogs don’t have the same stigma that we would have about losing a limb. “Some don’t ever notice their leg is missing,” she says. “Usually a leg that has been taken off has been painful for a long time and the dog is already used to not using that leg. When they get it removed, their whole demeanor changes because they can run around without being in pain. There’s no reason a three-legged dog has to be disabled.”

 

Wellness: Healthy Living
The Big Fat Truth About Canine Obesity
Changing our own habits can help our dogs live longer

Obesity in dogs could be considered a perception problem—a human perception problem. While a whopping 34 percent of dogs are overweight, only around 30 to 40 percent of the folks who put the food in the bowl for them know it. Canine obesity can cause or worsen musculoskeletal problems, exercise intolerance, cardiovascular problems and glucose tolerance imbalances. It also weakens the immune system and increases the risks of anesthesia; during certain surgical procedures, it can increase heat sensitivity.

 

Need more? The worst thing about dogs is that they don’t live long enough. Canine lifespan has been extended by as much as two years when the dogs are kept lean, and that’s the kind of life insurance we can all buy.

 

Why Are Dogs Fat?

What makes dogs fat? There’s the obvious answer—too many calories, not enough exercise—but that’s an oversimplification. Canine and human lifestyle issues, as well as human psychology, carry most of the blame, although hormone imbalances (see Balancing Act below), reproductive status and genetics play minor roles.

 

For most overweight dogs, the real culprit is a combination of free-feeding, boredom and not enough playtime. And then there’s the psychological component. No, don’t call the doggie shrink, because it’s not the dog’s psyche; it’s the psyche of the person who’s responsible for leaving a big bowl of dog food available all day and cutting the half-hour walk down to a five-minute backyard potty break.

 

Furthermore, although dogs of any breed (or mix) can be overweight, research shows that dogs of certain breeds are more prone to being overweight than others, which suggests a genetic component. These breeds include Cocker Spaniels, Labrador and Golden Retrievers, Basset Hounds, Shetland Sheepdogs, and Dachshunds.

 

Does spaying and neutering make your dog fat? Of course not. But there is a connection between how many calories a dog requires and reproductive status. This doesn’t mean that being altered “makes” your dog fat; it means that spayed and neutered dogs, as well as older dogs, generally require fewer calories and/or more exercise to maintain a healthy weight. As your dog ages, and after altering, you need to be especially aware of weight gain, and act immediately to reduce caloric intake and increase activity levels if necessary.

 

Healthy Weight Loss

While healthy, permanent weight loss in humans is hard to achieve, it’s much easier with dogs. They don’t eat a container of Ben and Jerry’s after a stressful day, and they rarely hit the drive-through instead of making a healthy dinner. As long as the human in the relationship manages not to overfeed and under-exercise the dog, weight-loss programs for canines are surprisingly successful.

 

Before getting started, head to the vet and make sure your dog doesn’t have medical issues that might be affected by a weight-loss and exercise program. Than ask your vet to help you calculate a reasonable caloric intake for your dog. Aim for a loss of no more than 1 to 2 percent of body weight per week.

 

There are a number of ways to determine a starting caloric level for healthy weight loss. Your veterinarian can use formulas known as Maintenance Energy Requirement (MER) or Resting Energy Requirement (RER) to give you a basic caloric level for your dog’s diet. Other practitioners simply restrict food below current levels by a specific percentage. While different methods may result in different figures, these differences aren’t important. Trial and error is required to determine your actual dog’s metabolic requirements, but any of these methods give you a place to start. If your dog doesn’t lose weight, or loses weight too rapidly, that particular caloric level is not right for that dog and should be adjusted up or down as necessary.

 

Knowing how many calories a given commercial food contains in a serving can be confusing. Sometimes the calories are given per cup, and other times per gram, and sometimes both. A cup of one food might weigh more or less than a cup of another food, so buy a food scale and measure the food by weight, not by volume. Don’t just follow the feeding guidelines on a bag of food, as they are almost always too generous to support weight loss. If feeding a home-prepared diet, simply calculate the calories in the ingredients as you would for your own diet.

 

In addition, restricting calories too severely—especially for very obese dogs—can backfire, and can also result in nutritional deficiencies that can impair wound-healing and immune function. When it comes to healthy weight loss, patience is a virtue. Loss of more than 2 percent of body weight in a week can lead to the loss of lean muscle instead of fat. Don’t rush things; if your dog has a lot of weight to lose, decrease his or her caloric intake in stages, and realize that most dogs will lose ounces, not pounds, at a time. As long as the scale keeps moving downward, slow is better than fast.

 

One of the biggest culprits in canine obesity is lack of exercise, and not just because exercise cranks up the metabolism and burns calories. It’s also because our sedentary pets are bored, and eating is one of the things they do to alleviate boredom. If we leave food available to them throughout the day, as is extremely common, they will eat more than if we feed them on a schedule and then pick up any uneaten food after a fixed amount of time. So let go of the convenience of free-feeding, feed your dog two or more small meals a day at regular intervals and make your dog’s life more active and interesting with longer walks and increased playtime.

 

It’s Up to Us

A study at Ohio State University found that weight-loss programs for dogs were extremely successful as long as the people involved stuck with them. Being lean can add years to your dog’s life, and being obese can cause a myriad of health problems and significant joint pain. Our dogs can’t join a gym or eat better on their own; it’s up to us to make healthy choices on their behalf.

 

News: Karen B. London
Dogs at Work Lower Stress
New study confirms long held belief

According to a new study “Preliminary investigation of employee's dog presence on stress and organizational perceptions,” having your dog at work lowers stress levels. This may not seem like news to most of us, but this is actually the first study to quantify the effects of bringing a dog to work on stress levels.

The study took place at Replacements, Ltd. over the course of a week, and involved having 20 to 30 dogs at work each day. Throughout the study, people had dogs with them on some days, but not on others.

Researchers found no difference in stress levels at the beginning of the day between people who had their dogs with them, people who left their dogs at home, and people who do not have a dog at all. Later on in the day, however, the stress levels for those people whose dogs were with them went down, while the stress levels of the dogless went up. People’s stress went up on the days that they left their dogs at home, but did decreased on the days their dogs accompanied them to work.

If you are able to bring your dog to work, do these findings mirror your experience?

Culture: DogPatch
Treat Your Nature-Deficit Disorder with Your Dog
Inhaling Vitamin N
Walking with dog

Dogs have been our boon companions for at least 32,000 years—pretty close to forever. They were our first nonhuman pals (domesticated cats came along 23,000 years, and horses 28,000 years, after dogs), hunting partners and all-around nature guides. Joining forces with such a remarkably capable species gave us a leg up on our rivals, sped up the pace of our evolution and today, provides us with a vital connection to the natural world.

As it turns out, we sorely need such a connection. In 2010, the average American spent 28 percent of his or her waking hours involved in some form of electronics-related activity: 26 hours per week online or watching TV, and another 5.8 hours on mobile devices! These digital-age habits contribute to a new malady: nature-deficit disorder.

What is nature-deficit disorder? Richard Louv coined the term and described its characteristics in his groundbreaking book, Last Child in the Woods, in which he proposed that modern childhood ailments and health problems, including attention and behavioral disorders, anxiety, depression, and even obesity, can be attributed to the lack of nature in children’s lives. In his newest book, The Nature Principle, he extends this analysis to adults, and prescribes a number of remedies (in addition to spending less time with our digital tools). One is to increase our dose of Vitamin N — “N” for nature, or the mind/body/nature connection.

From Bark’s point of view, the best way to get a daily dose of Vitamin N is to walk with our dogs in natural settings, where there are trees aplenty. Parks and forests are not only wonderfully calming places, they also have a restorative effect on our immune function. Scientists have discovered that phytoncides, airborne chemicals emitted by plants to protect themselves from bacteria, fungi and insects, contribute to stress reduction in others. These same researchers suggest that time spent in plant-filled environments lowers our pulse rate, blood pressure and concentration of cortisol (which is released in response to stress), among other things. Add that information to studies that have found similarly beneficial effects from the company of dogs, and dogs’ joyful inspiration to be more regular in our nature-walking habits, and we have an easy way to obtain a true V-N high.

Even better, getting out and exploring the natural world gives our co-pilots a chance to exercise their ancestral senses — a reminder of the time when we first started out on our amazing shared journey.

News: JoAnna Lou
New Tick Prevention Developed
Fungus-derived pesticide promises to safely ward off ticks

Ticks drive me crazy. I love hiking with my dogs, but I hate the ticks that come with our fun outings. Fortunately, I don't have a problem in my backyard, but I have many friends who are forced to use chemicals to keep the pesky bugs away from their pets and kids.

So I was excited to learn that scientists in Connecticut have been developing a pesticide that uses a strain of fungus deadly to ticks. Best of all, this natural treatment promises to be safe for pets and beneficial critters, like bees and earthworms.

Synthetic pesticides, which have an 85 to 100 percent success rate, are still more effective than the fungus-based pesticide, which is about 74 percent effective. However, it's great to have an organic option that works well. The product will be commercially available in 2014 under the name Tick-Ex.

Apparently tick research is severely underfunded, so it's great to see safer prevention options developed and brought to market. I really hope that one day we'll have an effective organic alternative to topical tick prevention treatments.

What strategies to you use to keep the ticks from taking over your backyard?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

News: JoAnna Lou
Bite Prevention Ed Needed
Study finds kids need to learn how to prevent bites

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

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

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

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

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

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