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Wellness: Healthy Living
Six Tips on Caring for Older Dogs
We look at ways to make their lives easier.

In your eyes, your dog will alway s be a puppy, even if she’s getting up there in canine (and human) years, or her muzzle is beginning to gray. However, eventually the day will come when you notice that your pup is panting a little bit harder after a long walk and struggling to climb onto your bed. It’s time to start adjusting to the lifestyle needs of an older dog.

When a dog is considered a senior largely depends on breed. Smaller dogs (such as Chihuahuas or Terriers) don’t reach their golden years until they’re 10 or 12, while a Great Dane may attain senior status at the age of five or six. Beyond size and breed, genetics, diet and environment all have an impact on a dog’s life expectancy.

Just as modern medicine has extended the lives of people, with the right combination of attention and preventive care, it can also extend the lives of dogs. If you want your older dog to have a long and happy life, consider incorporating these strategies into your pet care routine.

Remember your dog’s teeth. Dental hygiene is particularly crucial as your dog ages. Regular brushing and professional cleaning can prevent painful dental disease and decay (and help your dog avoid the chewing problems mentioned earlier). If your dog doesn’t enjoy having his/her teeth brushed, consider dental treats and toys instead.

Watch your dog’s diet. Mature dogs often have food issues, including problems chewing, lack of appetite, obesity and digestive difficulties. Consult with your vet on the best diet and exercise plan for your aging dog. Dietary changes may include adding more fiber to aid with digestion or decreasing carbohydrates to maintain optimal weight. Supplements such as fish oil or glucosamine can be added to alleviate joint pain.

Exercise your dog’s body and mind. Like people, aging dogs experience pain and have difficulty performing physical activities they used to enjoy. However, exercise continues to be imperative to their health and well being. Take your dog on short, gentle walks and monitor his/her breathing and gait to make sure nothing is amiss. Your dog’s brain needs plenty of exercise as well. Stimulating toys such as food puzzles help keep your dog sharp.

See the vet more often. Take your dog in for a vet checkup at least twice a year. Just as elderly people need to be aware of health issues and visit their doctors more often, aging pets benefit from more frequent visits. Older pets may need additional blood tests, dental care and examinations. Additionally, many breeds have predispositions toward certain ailments, including arthritis, hip dysplasia, cancer and diabetes. Early detection can help catch these before they become major problems.

“Seniorize” your house. Just as you once puppy-proofed your home, you now need to provide your older dog with special accommodations. For dogs with hip dysplasia or joint issues, consider a special ramp or stairs so they can still get in the car or join you on the bed. Keep food and water in areas they can easily reach, especially if they are vision-impaired. Heated beds can soothe achy joints, particularly if you live in a colder climate. Finally, non-slip surfaces will prevent falls and help your older pet maintain traction when rising.

Pay attention. Monitor changes in behavior; appetite; weight loss or gain; dental issues; and any lumps, bumps or lesions and bring them to your vet’s attention. (A journal is a great memory aid.)

Taking care of an older dog may involve a little more work than you’re used to doing, but caring for a lifetime companion is a deeply rewarding experience. Your dog has been good to you (and for you) for years—now’s the time to return the favor!

Wellness: Healthy Living
Fighting Valley Fever
Chocolate lab sits on the dried grass. Discussions of Valley Fever in Arizona's research group.

Arizona genetics researchers are taking the unusual step of asking for dog lovers’ help in fighting a mysterious, potentially lethal infection that plagues both dog and man.

They are looking for dogs to be registered and potentially to have their DNA collected to help combat valley fever, a fungus-based disease once confined to the Southwest desert but is now spreading across the country.

Valley fever can be triggered by inhalation of just a handful of spores of a particular fungus. People, dogs and cats are susceptible to the illness that was once believed to occur only in Arizona and California. The disease is not contagious and is not spread from species to species.

The risk for valley fever increases as climates get drier, say California State University, Bakersfield researchers. Warmer temperatures and less rain basically kill off the fungus’ competitors for nutrients and thereby creating an ideal growing environment for the infection-causing fungus.

Valley fever is now being reported in states such as Michigan, Ohio and Minnesota, which never used to see the condition. And the states that typically see the condition are reporting more and more cases: The number of Valley Fever reports is increasing in more than a third of California’s  counties, putting more dogs at risk for a disease that can lead to lameness, extreme weight loss and coma.

When Charlie, a 75-pound Chocolate Lab, started coughing, it didn’t set off any alarms. But then he developed a fever and was diagnosed as having kennel cough, which can be easily treated by antibiotics and steroids. Then the symptoms returned and again it was misdiagnosed as pneumonia. More than two months passed before Charlie was given the correct medication; the delay in a correct diagnosis lessens his chances for a full recovery.

Charlie now spends most of his time sleeping off the effects of valley fever, instead of being his normal playful self.

There is no cure for valley fever. Currently treatments focus on helping dogs beat the symptoms. Vet bills can mount up since a dog may have to get medication for up to eighteen months; in some severe cases, a dog may be on medicine for the rest of his life.  It is estimated that Arizona dog lovers spend $60 million per year in caring for dogs with valley fever.

Seeing the increase in valley fever cases across the U.S., Phoenix-based Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) researchers are now asking for dog people to take a brief online survey about their pet’s breed, health history and lifestyle. After the survey, the dog may be selected to give a saliva sample.

Then after the swabbing is done, researchers will look for differences in the genes of dogs who are sick compared to dogs who show signs of exposure to valley fever but who aren’t sick.

“In certain dogs, a minor infection can progress to severe disease, and the reasons for this are unknown,” said Dr. Bridget Barker, assistant professor and head of TGen’s Northern Arizona Center for Valley Fever Research in Flagstaff, Ariz.

This information would be used to help develop new therapies for both dogs and people, she said.

For more information about TGen’s Valley Fever PAWS (Prevention, Awareness, Working for Solutions), visit us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/vfpaws, and on Twitter at @ValleyFeverPAWS.

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Not-So-Picky Drinkers
Is your dog bothered by foul water?

Dogs are famous for drinking out of the toilet. Though that does make me wrinkle my nose, it is far from the most disgusting water that I have seen dogs drink. I’m not talking about dogs who are lost in the desert taking in fluid from any source to stay alive. Even from my human perspective, that seems like an extremely rational choice.

I’m talking about healthy, well-cared for pets who think that a nearly dried up scum-covered pond that is more muck than water looks extremely appetizing. I’m thinking of dogs who pass up a freshly filled, clean water bowl to lick the muddy spots that melted off my snow boots and onto the kitchen floor. And I’m calling to mind those individuals who are drawn to the water that has run through the pot containing a houseplant and into the saucer below. Yes, I’m referring to the one that is coated with algae and has probably never been cleaned.

Amazingly, dogs tend to drink from the most unlikely sources without incident the vast majority of the time. Some weird water choices are usually harmless. If your dog licks the water off your legs after a shower, it’s unlikely to be a problem, especially if you rinsed well. However, their interest in fluids that we don’t want them to drink can be disastrous. There’s the obvious risk of exposure to serious water-borne diseases such as leptospirosis and giardia. Even more alarming is the risk to dogs who are attracted to antifreeze or windshield de-icing fluid because the ethylene glycol they contain can cause kidney failure and even death.

By comparison, the toilet seems like a reasonable place for the average canine to quench his thirst!

Does your dog have a favorite watering hole other than his bowl?

Dog's Life: Humane
11 Things I Learned Volunteering at an Animal Shelter
Shannon Kopp Rescue Dog (Puppy)

1. Every time you volunteer, you are fueled by love. And that kind of fuel is different from greed, or fear, or competitiveness. It will give you the strength to do things you never thought you could do. And then some.

2. Dress for the occasion, meaning wear jeans and a T-shirt that have seen better days. Leave your jewelry, especially dangly earrings, at home. Keep your hair in a messy bun (some dogs mistake pony tails for rope toys). Please don’t bother with makeup, it will inevitably be licked off your face. And for the love of God, no flip flops. The day you wear them will be the day you inevitably step in poop.

3. Don’t be afraid to talk to the animals. Tell them about the advice you give but cannot follow. Tell them your secrets and fears. And then let their tongues and thumping tails and clumsy paws remind you that there are still plenty of reasons to smile. That life is not as serious as it seems.

4. It is not a good idea to try posting pictures of dogs on Instagram when they are jumping all over you. Rather than typing, “Adopt Joey and Spot at the Department of Animal Services,” you will inevitably type “Department of Anal Services.” And then your post will go viral for all the wrong reasons.

5. When you tell someone that you volunteer at an animal shelter, and they say that they love animals—but it’s too sad, they could never do it—tell them that you once felt that way, too. Tell them how shocking it was to find out that you could in fact do it. And that sadness is not the enemy after all. The enemy is doing nothing. The enemy is fear beating out compassion and empathy and love.

6. Dog poop is gross, but not life-threatening.

7. In most cases, it doesn’t take much to make a tail wag. A yard of grass. Fresh food. A warm touch. A soft blanket. A ten-minute walk. Dogs appreciate the little things, and we can learn a lot from this.

8. The animals are seeking what we seek. They want to be warm, not cold. They want to be safe, not vulnerable and unprotected. They want to be seen and heard and loved, not invisible. They want to be themselves, not somebody else. They want to forget the pain of their pasts, but sometimes they can’t.

9. Learn to take care of yourself, even if at first, it’s for the sake of the animals. If you try to be everything to everyone, you will burn out. Set boundaries. If you don’t take care of you, you can’t take care of them.

10. Goodbyes are hard. Always.

11. Frequently ask yourself this: How might my life be transformed if I treated myself with the same love and kindness that I offer to the animals I care for? And then, every day, try to do it.

Wellness: Health Care
Acupuncture Can Help Dogs
Holistic Medicine
Back Problems / Acupuncture

Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD)—what some call a “slipped disc”—can smolder or it can strike full-blown, leaving your dog in excruciating pain and unable to walk. Initially, signs that a dog is afflicted can be subtle: a hesitation about going up or down stairs, paws that knuckle under or cross over, nail scuffing, an arched back, a tense abdomen. Dogs may shy from their food bowls to avoid bending their necks, or cry when picked up.

IVDD causes compression of the spinal cord and leads to weakness, pain and sometimes paralysis, and is divided into two categories: Hansen Type I and II. Type I often swoops in suddenly, usually in younger, smaller dogs ages three to six. The center jelly of the vertebral disc, called the nucleus pulposus, degenerates, then ruptures and presses on the spinal cord. Not surprisingly, the chondrodystrophic breeds (dogs with short legs and longbacks)—Dachshunds, Corgis, Lhasa Apsos, Shih Tzus and Beagles—are predisposed to this type.

Type II, which is typically seen in large dogs like German Shepherds, Labradors and Dobermans ages eight to ten, progresses more slowly. Though the disc doesn’t burst its center, it bulges between the vertebrae and impinges on the spinal cord, causing chronic pain and weakness.

To rule out fractures, bone infections and cancers, your vet will start with X-rays, but a contrast myelogram, CT or MRI (all of which are often done at specialty centers) is needed to visualize the spinal cord and determine the nature and location of the problem.

In addition to type, IVDD is described by level of severity. Roughly, grade I involves pain; grade II, unsteadiness; grade III, weakness that prevents standing or walking; grade IV, paralysis but able to feel deep pain when the toes are pinched; and grade V, complete paralysis with loss of deep pain.

Dogs with grades 1 through IV will likely be managed with pain meds, muscle relaxants and strict rest for up to a month, and are often referred for physical therapy or Class IV laser treatments. Depending on the duration of neurological deficits and amount of pain, surgery may also be recommended for dogs with grades II, III and IV. Because the disease can change quickly, even dogs diagnosed with lower-grade IVDD need sequential exams to ensure that the condition is not progressing.

When a dog is completely unable to walk, decisions have to be made swiftly. Dogs who stay in the grade V stage longer than 48 hours often remain paralyzed despite intervention, while up to 50 percent of those who have surgery in the first 24 hours may regain their ability to walk.

IVDD surgery removes compromised discs, hemorrhage and adjacent bone compressing the spinal cord. With severe disease, it’s the best chance for a dog to walk again. It does, of course, also entail expenses and risks that not everyone is able or willing to undertake. What other options do we have?

Thankfully, veterinarians have been studying other modalities to treat IVDD, acupuncture among them. In 2007, a team lead by A.M. Hayashi found that dogs of all IVDD grades recovered more quickly with electroacupuncture (EAP) combined with a standard Western medical approach than Western treatment alone (JAVMA 231[6]: 913–918).

In 2009, A. Laim et al. reported that dogs receiving EAP and pain medications after surgery for acute IVDD were less likely to need higher doses of pain meds during the first 12 hours than those who received meds alone. These patients also had significantly lower pain scores 36 hours after treatment (JAVMA 234[9]: 1141–1146).

A 2010 study compared three options for IVDD dogs with severe neurologic deficits of greater than 48 hours’ duration: decompressive surgery (DSX), EAP, and DSX followed by EAP (DSX + EAP). The study, led by J.G.F. Joaquim, showed that EAP was more effective than DSX + EAP, and that DSX alone was the least successful. These dogs had severe, long-standing IVDD in the thoracic and lumbar (thoracolumbar) spine, and in the past, their prognosis would have been dismal. (JAVMA 236[11]: 1225–1229).

How does acupuncture work? While there is some debate over definitions, it’s generally accepted that acupuncture points (acupoints) concentrate clusters of free nerve endings, small blood and lymphatic vessels, and mast cells, part of the immune system. A veterinarian certified in acupuncture inserts small, sterile needles into specific points to stimulate muscles, nerves, circulation and the immune system. For IVDD, one needle may be placed at the top of the spine by the shoulders, and a second above the pelvis, which moves the qi and stagnated energy caused by the disc disease.

Functional MRIs reveal that acupuncture activates pain-associated brain stem regions. The specific mechanism of acupuncture on IVDD has not yet been fully explained, but it’s surmised that it reduces local swelling, inflammation and pain; decreases cord compression, scar formation and tissue oxygen deprivation; and restores damaged nerves.

When compared to the use of needles alone, EAP has been found to increase the body’s response to acupuncture. In EAP, needles in the skin are connected by metal clips; electro-impulses move between the clips and into the needles, producing sensations that range from a tingling to a vibration. Frequency and intensity are determined by the type of condition being treated. Sessions usually last from 10 to 30 minutes, and dogs often fall asleep during treatment.

EAP has a cumulative effect and is typically prescribed as a series of treatments, every one to two weeks for at least a few months. Appropriate Chinese herbal formulas are often prescribed at the same time to reduce pain and enhance the effects of acupuncture. Dogs then proceed to maintenance acupuncture at one- to three-month intervals to prevent recurrence.

Ideally, your dog will never go through the pain of IVDD, and you won’t have the worry. But if you do find yourself up against a down dog, it’s good to know that adding acupuncture to the treatment repertoire may help your friend get back on all fours.

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Time Apart Can be Beneficial
Dogs may need a break from each other

“I haven’t been more than 30 feet away from him in almost nine weeks!”

That was my older son’s answer when I asked the kids why they were uncharacteristically cranky with each other. It was a fair answer because it was almost literally true. When we spent all of last summer in Europe, it was a lot of family time. Only my husband, whose work was the reason for our travels there, spent some time away from the rest of us.

I know better than to allow that degree of excessive togetherness between dogs in the same family, and I was a little chagrined to realize I had made such a mistake with my human family. Oops. Even dogs who adore each other and are truly the best of friends benefit from some time apart. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Unless your dogs are the rare exception because they are emotionally incapable of being away from one another, some quality time apart can be advantageous.

It doesn’t have to be a lot of time; I’m not suggesting you adjust your life so that your dogs have hours of separate activities each day. Even one walk or activity a week, or a couple of separate 15-minute play sessions can go a long way. It only takes a short break to prevent small irritations from building up. Those little stresses may not be obvious to us, but dogs can still get on each other’s nerves. Most dogs adjust and there is no problem, but we can help them enjoy life just a bit more with a change of pace involving time away from each other.

Many people swear that their dogs hate to be apart, but in many cases, the issue is not being apart, but being left behind. If more than one person lives in your home, it’s easier to work through this by having each person take one of the dogs to do something at the same time. If you are the only human in the family, then a good plan is to leave something fun and tasty to chew on with one dog while you go somewhere with the other dog.

If this is a challenge for your dogs, it’s a good idea to start with very short separations so that you can teach each dog to be comfortable being left alone. It’s a good skill to have in just case one dog becomes ill or injured and you have a forced separation on your hands.

If you have a multi-dog household, do your dogs have time away from the other dogs in the family?

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Influencing Travel Decisions
How does the idea of leaving your dog behind matter?

Traveling with dogs has become much more common in recent years, but there is no doubt that it’s a challenge to include our best friends on all excursions. Whether there are restrictions at hotels, restaurants or spas, or if the transportation on trains, buses or planes is the deal breaker, there are issues related to traveling with our dogs. Sometimes it’s as simple as them not being welcome at the friend or family member’s house where you will stay. Perhaps there’s a wedding that is a human only event or another person is bringing a dog who is not compatible with yours. There are countless reasons that can prevent us from bringing a dog along on our travel adventures.

Sometimes, the issues that come up if you must leave your dog behind are compelling enough reasons NOT to make the trip at all:
 

  • There’s the obvious problem of missing your dog and not wanting to be separated.
  • Paying for someone to take care of your buddy makes the whole trip more expensive.
  • Concern for your dog when he is not under your care can be a big factor, particularly if your dog is quite young, very old, or needs special care like multiple daily medications.
  • There’s certainly a hassle factor, because if it is hard to make arrangements for your dog’s care, or plans fall through at the last minute, the stress can ruin the fun for you.

Many people take their dogs on most of their vacations, perhaps limiting themselves to trips that involve driving instead of flying. Other people don’t travel much or at all because that would require them to leave their dogs back home. Does having to leave your dog behind inhibit your travel or prevent you from taking certain types of trips?

Culture: DogPatch
State of the (Dog) Nation
Message from the Editor

The first issue of what would become The Bark came out in 1997, which makes this our 19th year. It’s hard to believe we’ve lasted this long. In the beginning, Bark was a humble community newsletter drumming up support for an off-leash area in Berkeley. We had no intention of transforming it into a full-fledged magazine.

But, as they say, timing is everything. While publications aplenty focused on what’s called the dog “fancy,” there was a noticeable gap in the larger area of everyday life with dogs—what has come to be called dog culture. Bark stepped in to fill it and, in many ways, defined it.

For dogs and the people who love them, things have evolved in many interesting directions over the last 19 years. Most of the changes have been for the better.

On the science front, researchers across a number of disciplines are expanding our understanding of the canine mind, the domestication process and how our two species co-evolved. More humane and science-based training methods have come to the forefront, as have increasingly sophisticated and well-informed behavior-modification strategies. Advances in veterinary medicine and health care include an increased validation of alternative modalities.

Then there’s food, which always provokes a lively discussion. In the commercial food sector, a greater variety of ingredients can be found, along with different delivery systems —dehydrated, freeze-dried, raw-prepared—many of them healthier than they were 19 years ago. The industry also has paid attention (to some extent) to consumer’s post-2007 food-recall concerns, but there is a still a long way to go on that front, and greater transparency is still needed. In the DIY sector, there’s a growing interest in angst-free home-prepared meals that can be as balanced and nutritious as packaged varieties.

Many of Dog Nation’s greatest strides have come in the increasing social acceptance and understanding of the role of dogs in communities—not just in the lives of dog lovers, but in the lives of people in general. For example, we’re seeing more dog-friendly housing opportunities (some with amenities), dog parks, off-leash recreation options, day care centers and professional services. There’s a canine sport for every type of dog, and people are actively interested in supplying dogs with enrichment activities. Hotels and resorts are eager to attract the growing number of people who travel with their co-pilots. In literature, a flood tide of books, both fiction and nonfiction, explore our oldest friendship, and filmmakers and other inventive artists recognize and pay homage to our favorite muses.

In another healthy sign of progress, there are fewer dog race tracks, which are now legal in only six states. This bodes well for Greyhounds, who can retire and live their lives as the elegant companions they were meant to be.

In the digital world, Petfinder and similar sites have revolutionized the way we locate the dog of our dreams and, by extension, meet up with others of similar dog-centric interests. A plethora of apps and gadgets promise what seems like hands-free pet care, and a few may prove to be helpful in enriching the lives of workday-home-alone dogs.

Dogs have many talents, more of which are being tapped for a wider variety of guide and assistance work; many jobs can’t be done—or done as well—without them. It’s also inspiring that canine rehabilitation and training are taking place in unlikely venues, such as prisons and juvenile institutions.

The best development of all, however, is that mixed-breeds are now number one in the nation, most of them likely to have been adopted from a rescue group or shelter. People are beginning to understand how important it is to be part of the solution by adopting rather than buying, to opening their homes and hearts to shelter dogs. Shelters also have come a long way since 1997, with many of them offering state-of-the art care and accommodations and paying greater attention to enriching the lives of their charges: organizing play groups and innovative volunteer, foster and walking programs, and working collaboratively with local rescue groups. Burgeoning rescue and sanctuary movements, including the transport of animals both within the country and internationally, are inspiring to behold.

As editor-in-chief of The Bark, when I look back at the past two decades, I can truly say that there have been more positive advances in Dog Nation than in most other areas of our society. But while we celebrate these developments, I must also caution that there is a still a long way to go. The number of Beagles and other dogs being bred for and used in labs—living out their entire lives in cages—remains a blot on the landscape; there really has to be a better and more humane alternative. And there must be an end to the needless deaths of animals in shelters, and to animal abuse and cruelty.

That being said, I’m proud to be in a position to keep tabs on these situations, and to report on them to you. My hope is that by chronicling what’s going on, and shining a light on areas that still need work, we (the magazine and our readers) can inspire policy- and decision-makers to step up and make the changes needed to push that progress along. We would love to hear your thoughts on this.

Good Dog: Activities & Sports
Entertainment Options For The Home-Alone Dog
Boredom Be Gone!

If you feel guilty about leaving your dogs home by themselves while you go to work, join the club. Most of us dislike it, though, truth be told, the majority of dogs do just fine. Many of them simply relax and sleep for a good part of the day while we stress out at work.

I say “many of them” because I’m absolutely not including dogs who are too young to handle a lot of time alone, or those who are struggling with separation anxiety or some other condition that makes being at home without you truly traumatic, somewhat upsetting or even just unpleasant. I’m talking about typical, behaviorally healthy dogs who really don’t mind the daily rhythm that includes your regular workday absence (though obviously, they would rather you stayed home).

Along with making sure that their basic needs are met, what do we owe the dogs who hold down the fort while we’re gone? Some dogs are fine with a cozy place to snooze, and some may be satisfied with a compatible dog buddy or some toys. Others need a little help in finding interesting ways to stay occupied while we go out and earn the money to support them in the style to which they have become accustomed. A great way to help these dogs is to provide them with multiple activity stations around the house.

Activity stations are just what they sound like: places for dogs to engage in activities that can be done alone. Setting up different activity stations in distinct areas of the house allows dogs to make good choices and to have fun even when they’re on their own.

This kind of enrichment won’t cure separation anxiety or help a dog overcome a fear of traffic, airplanes, passersby or the sound of sirens, and it’s not a cure for excessive barking or destructive chewing. What it can do, however, is make being alone more fun.

Deciding what sorts of activity stations will work best for your dog requires you to give some thought to your home’s layout and your dog’s interests and abilities. But basically, they are really only limited by safety concerns and your creativity.

Some stations are extremely simple, involving nothing more than a tug toy attached to the wall with a carabiner and a sturdy hook. Dogs who love to tug often do best if the toy is a little stretchy to compensate for the fact that nobody is on the other end giving it life and motion. The toy must be safe—no chance of the dog choking on it, becoming entangled in it or shredding it. A tug station is not suitable for dogs who would either become obsessive about it or frustrated by it. To interest your dog in it, shake the toy a little to make it move; once your dog has hold of it, let him tug on his own. Putting peanut butter on the toy makes it more enticing and helps many dogs engage.

A related activity station is for dogs who like to bat at toys rather than tug them. As long as the dog won’t become entangled in the toy or attempt to ingest it, this sort of station can occupy those who love to use their paws in play. Toys with multiple hanging parts often appeal to dogs who like to play this way.

Another activity station with simplicity in its favor consists of providing your dog with something safe to chew or eat. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to buy hundreds of new items. Rotating your dog’s durable favorites, supplemented by an occasional new treat, keeps this from costing a fortune. You can also use stuffable toys such as Kongs, or toys that the dog has to chase around or otherwise manipulate for the food to be dispensed —for example, the PetMate Wobbling Treatball, Kong Wobbler, West Paw Design Toppl or Buster Cube.

Make sure you are not giving your dog anything that poses a choking hazard or other dangers. Avoid rawhides and rope toys, and check with your vet about what else may be dangerous for an unsupervised dog. All dogs need to learn to enjoy an activity station is that it provides good things. For safety and convenience, site the station away from areas that are off limits to the dog, such as the counter or where kids store their toys.

On a related note, you can also keep your dog occupied by making the whole house (or at least a room or two) a place for food-searching activity. Hide treats while your dog is in another room, say “find your treats” and then head out for the day. (If your dog is sure to follow you, tell him/her to stay, or close a gate or door while you hide the treats.) Teaching your dog to search for food in response to the cue “find your treats” is not hard, but it’s critical to start by making it easy and gradually working up to greater challenges. Start with the food in full view and point to it or tap your toe by each treat until your dog gets the hang of it. You can also hide treats in canine puzzle toys that are specifically designed for this purpose.

A basket of toys is a great activity station, but for most dogs, it’s only appealing if the contents change frequently. To maintain your dog’s interest, rotate toys in and out and add new ones regularly. That way, your dog will never know which toys will be available on a given day. If your dog has a couple of favorites, make sure they’re always on hand. The purpose of rotating toys is to prevent your dog from becoming bored, not to take away toys just for the sake of removing them periodically.

For dogs who like to fetch, independent play may seem harder to provide. However, some dogs can be taught to fetch on their own using a ball and a ramp or an iFetch. There needs to be enough space for them to chase after the ball without injury to themselves or to your furnishings. It takes practice and patience, but once dogs get it, they are able to play on their own.

To teach dogs to use a ramp at a fetching station, start by placing the ball on the ramp and letting it roll away. This accustoms dogs to fetching a ball that has been “thrown” by the ramp. Then, teach them to drop the ball at the top of the ramp themselves. Once dogs realize that they can make the ramp work for them, many really enjoy the activity, though I’ve yet to meet a dog who didn’t prefer fetch played as a social game outdoors. (Caution: this activity station is not suitable for dogs who are so obsessive about fetch that they would play all day and drive themselves mad.)

Again, the safety of the stations and their elements is critical. Don’t use anything that could in any way strangle or trap a dog. Only use toys that can handle serious chewing, the level of which varies from dog to dog. Avoid rawhide or rope toys that a dog can choke on. If in doubt, put the toy away before you leave.

Don’t expect dogs to automatically be interested in activity stations just because you’ve set them up, however lovingly. The statement “If you build it, they will come” rarely applies. Dogs have to be taught what to do and to understand that the stations have entertainment value before they will engage on their own.

Activity stations can be antidotes to the boredom dogs may experience when left home alone. Providing them with something constructive to do can improve their quality of life, even though they may be fine with being alone. The stations can also help us fulfill our responsibility to make sure our dogs are happy, stimulated and entertained (not to mention relieve our guilt!) when we leave the house without our dogs, as most of us must do daily. Above all, they’re a wonderful way to change our dogs’ daily alone time from “fine” to “fun”!

Good Dog: Activities & Sports
Barkie Birkie
Dog Powered

For two decades, Michelle Flanagan- Haag competed in the Elite Wave of the American Birkebeiner—aka the “Birkie,”—the largest, and one of the longest, cross-county ski races in North America, which draws 10,000- plus skiers to Cable and Hayward, Wisc., annually.

Last year, under pressure from her husband, Mike Haag, who planned to compete in the Barkie Birkie 5K skijoring event with one of their dogs, Mr. Finn, she agreed to partner up with their other dog, Brewster, for the event. She thought she’d take it easy, but Brewster had other ideas.

Whether he was inspired by the cheering crowd on Hayward’s main street or by thoughts of catching up with Mike and Mr. Finn, Brewster took Flanagan-Haag to second place for women in 2014.

“I wasn’t competing at all, but Brewster sure was,” she laughed. “He was hell bent on getting to his brother. I was just waterskiing.”

You never know quite what to expect with the Barkie Birkie. Dogs as small as Toy Poodles and Dachshunds all the way to big Leonbergers show up at the start line. Some run behind their owners, some sit down, some trot alongside, but they all seem thrilled to be there.

“Spectators love that race,” says organizer Connie Mack. “It’s a fun way to get your dog out exercising.”

Up to 100 teams can compete in the 3K (sport) or 5K (expert) races. Two teams go out at a time, 15 seconds apart, which, as Mack says, adds to the fun.

The Barkie Birkie starts, appropriately enough, near Sophie’s Dog Bakery on Hayward’s Main Street on February 18, 2016.

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