life with dogs
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
When people don’t recognize evasive actions.
Out on a walk today with a sweet dog who is a bit fearful, I saw a man with two rambunctious, though also sweet, dogs headed our way. Knowing that the dog with me would be stressed by (and possibly react to) those dogs, I crossed the street. No big deal. Crossing the street while walking dogs to avoid any number of possible triggers—runners, bikers, skateboarders, scary lawn art, plastic window coverings flapping in the wind, children riding in red wagons, other dogs—is second nature to me after two decades of working with dogs with behavioral issues. Most people with dogs realize what I am doing, we pass by one another in peace, and that’s the end of it.
Today, we did not pass by one another in peace, and that was not the end of it. The man crossed the street, as I had, so we were now on the same side. That’s happened before, because occasionally when I am trying to get out of someone’s path, I end up going right where that person was headed. So, I did the obvious thing and crossed back over the side where I had come from, but then he did that, too. At this point, I didn’t know whether to feel annoyed (Is he so unaware that he doesn’t realize I’m trying to avoid his dogs?) or scared (I clearly want to get away, so why doesn’t he want me to get away?)
Here’s how our conversation went, starting with me.
“My dog won’t act well if our dogs greet. I’m trying to give her some space.”
“Oh, don’t worry! My dogs are friendly and love every dog!”
“I’m not worried about your dog. I’m concerned about mine, She’s shy!”
“Oh, they’ll be find! She probably just needs to socialize.”
“No, she needs more distance. I’m going to keep moving away. Please stop following me.”
And then we ran.
Thankfully, the guy with the dogs did not follow us, and we were happy to run for several blocks until he was no longer in sight.
The entire exchange was irritating. I’m trying to increase the distance between the dog with me and other dogs, and I even said so in very direct terms. Why must people insist on trying to close the space? I realize that some people have had the luxury of never knowing a dog who needs some space or tends to react to many aspects of the world, but that is no excuse for ignoring a clear request. I could not have stated my intentions or the needs of the dog any more plainly.
Have you had an issue with someone who refused to give you and your dog the space you wanted and needed?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
1. He needs a job. Dogs love to work. Well, some breeds do, and my Louis is a mix of many of them. He’s a rescue, some sort of Australian Shepherd/Border Collie/Terrier/lunatic cross. He’s tested our patience with his energy and psychological issues. But we love him and have always forgiven his youthful exuberance, assuming it would pass as he aged. It did not. A few months back, I dug out an old canine backpack and tried it on Louis. “You have a job now, son,” I told him. “Your job, if you choose to accept it, is to wear this pack. Time to leave that crazy behavior behind and set an example for the others.” He stood there for a minute wondering how he got hired, decided the pack felt okay and agreed to my terms. As we walked, he seemed more focused, stayed closer to my side, stopped tugging and pretty much changed how I feel about dog walking forever.
2. It calms him down. Something happened to this dog before we got him. Something bad enough to make him afraid of many, many things. Cars are number one on the list. Fight or flight? How about both? A car comes along, Lou tenses, trembles, starts lunging and barking, then—when he fails to pull off my arm—bites at my leg. A trainer helped me get him over the worst with a combination of Cheese Whiz, clicker training and sweet talk. But the pack is what really did the trick. Like a Thundershirt, a pack can make a dog feel more secure. I still talk Louis though every vehicle, but he’s 95 percent better.
3. He carries my stuff. I never have enough pockets on a walk. Gloves, hat, phone, extra baggies, rain jacket: they get zipped into the right pocket (right for “right side to put my things”) of the pack or tucked under the elastic webbing on top. My smallest dog runs leash-free on the trail and his leash now has a place to go besides around my waist (irritating) or neck (dangerous). On the way home, we pick up the mail. This is something I could never do before. Handling three dogs plus full poop bags plus mail would be doable, but throw in a squirrel and game over. The mail is in the road, the poop bag has busted open and I’m screaming in the street like a mad woman.
4. He carries his “stuff.” There is no better way to carry poop. Anyone who has ever felt the fat, warm slap of a full bag swinging against their leg knows that carrying it yourself is just totally unappealing. Tying the bag to a leash risks tangling or tearing (eww) and fastening it to the dog’s collar just seems humiliating. Colorful bags only do so much to disguise the disgusting, and forget about reusing those see-through produce bags. Even on an unusually productive day, Louis can carry all three dogs’ offerings, and he does it without complaining. Full bags go in the left side. (Left for “best left alone, there’s poop in there.”)
5. He looks great. Oh yes. His looks have always been number one on Lou’s short list of redeeming qualities. Now that Hollywood face has red-carpet style to match. He may still be a bad boy on the inside, but he’s a supermodel on the outside.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Think your daily commute is extreme? Then you may not have heard about two trips made by chemist, engineer and NASA astronaut Leland Melvin in 2008 and 2009: from Earth to the International Space Station and back. When it was time for his official portrait to be taken at Houston’s Johnson Space Center in 2009, Melvin was determined to have two of his biggest fans in the picture with him: his rescue dogs, Jake and Scout. Since NASA’s a dog-free workplace, getting them into the building required some fancy footwork. Once inside and dressed for the occasion in his orange spacesuit, Melvin was joyfully mobbed by his dogs, the photographer started shooting and the rest is viral history. Later, when asked about the photograph, Melvin said, “They were my boys. … It changed my life having those two dogs.” Read about Melvin’s inspirational career in his new memoir, Chasing Space, available in adult and young readers’ editions.
Wellness: Healthy Living
Pounds Off Pups
How many times has your veterinarian commented on your dog’s weight? How many times have you been told, “Here’s a bag of prescription diet food—if you feed your dog this and only this, he will lose weight.” But what if he doesn’t? And why should you care?
Clinical research has shown that losing just 10 percent of body weight will slow or prevent many life-threatening disease processes, including debilitating osteoarthritis and diabetes, and perhaps even some types of cancers. By taking a few simple measures, you may be able to add more quality time to your dog’s life, time the two of you can enjoy together.
Feed higher protein/lower carbohydrate foods (a 3:1 ratio); proteins and fats are converted to usable energy faster than starches and carbs. Think of this as the “puppy Paleo diet”! And even if you’re feeding a high-protein, grain-free variety, cut down on kibble. In general, all kibble has 60 percent more starch than canned food because starch is needed to maintain the kibble’s shape when it’s baked or extruded. Too much dry food equals too much starch, which breaks down to sugars and is stored as body fat. It’s easy to overfeed dry foods, especially if you follow the directions on the packaging.
Add water or broth to kibble to make it nicely soupy. The extra liquid will help your dog digest his food more easily and reduce his body’s need to pull water from his system to his stomach, which can contribute to dehydration.
Try gradually reducing your dog’s kibble ration by half, replacing it with more moisture-based foods such as lean meats, fish or eggs, and low-starch green and orange vegetables and fruits. I’ve found that companion animals do best with at least 50 percent of their diet fed as fresh foods—cooked, raw, dehydrated or freeze-dried—mixed with a significantly reduced volume of highgrade kibble. This keeps them satisfied and helps with the faster metabolic change that promotes weight loss. Another option is to feed him a low-carbohydrate canned food; these have less starch and more water, and therefore, fewer extra calories to stick around. Or, transition him to a complete and balanced commercial raw diet, which has very little starch.
Decreased fat content also helps with weight loss, but do not eliminate fats entirely, as they satisfy hunger; look for 4 to 7 percent fat content in canned foods. Also, avoid feeding excess insoluble fiber; among other things, it may interfere with nutrient absorption. Roughly 5 to 6 percent fiber is ideal. If stools become soft, add 1/4 teaspoon of psyllium to each meal. Make mealtime more fun with interactive feeding toys. These not only stimulate a dog’s mind, they make him work for his supper (or breakfast, or snack). Dogs eat more slowly and expend more calories. Google “how to stuff a dog-feeding toy” for helpful tips. The Kong is the granddaddy of dog-feeding toys, and there are other excellent options on the market as well, among them Nina Ottosson’s ingenious products.
Walk It Out
As your dog becomes stronger, try walking in water at the beach, up streams and against gentle currents. (The caveat here is to be aware of water temperature; very cold water can lead to achy joints.) Or, walk on sand, on grassy slopes, and up and down gentle inclines. Finally, when he’s ready for it, take him on longer hikes or try a doggie treadmill.
Keep your dog on his feet and improve his balance with some fun exercises. To work his gluteals and hamstrings, have him take several steps backward. Stepping sideways tunes up his adductor and abductor muscles. Navigating cavaletti (small hurdles set at uneven heights); threading through poles or cones; or walking on cushions, an air mattress or a thick foam pad will help him with balance and proprioception (knowing where his feet are). Sit-to-stand and lie-to-stand exercises strengthen hip and knee muscles.
Weight-shifting is another way to help your dog’s balance. Hold one of his legs off the ground for three to six seconds at a time, or have him stand with his front feet on a stair step to eat. To loosen his neck, shoulder muscles and upper spine, lure him into stretching his head back toward his body with a carrot or small lean meat treat.
So, here’s the proverbial bottom line: One—paraphrasing Michael Pollan—feed your dog real food, feed him less of it, and include a variety of protein sources and dog-safe fruits and vegetables. Two, strengthen and improve his muscle tone, balance and stamina with condition-appropriate activities. He’ll have a sleeker physique and you’ll thank yourself for making the effort.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Whistle (and bark) while you work
This Friday marks the annual Take Your Dog to Work Day—created by Pet Sitters International to celebrate the great companionship dogs offer and promote their adoption. Since its inception in 1999, TYDTWDay® has brought awareness to dogs in the workplace and help encouraged the practice. Today, being able to bring one’s dog to work is a bonafide perk—right up there with great health benefits and a gourmet lunchroom. In speaking to companies who welcome dogs, some best practices jump out. If your company is considering instituting a dog-friendly policy or looking to tweak their existing program, take note …
Best practices employed by dog-friendly companies
It is common practice to require a 2-week or 1-month trial or probationary period to see if the dog (and people) work well together. It is only after the trial period that the dog is officially granted “office visits” status. This lets people know that nothing should be taken for granted and that people and dogs have to be on their best behavior. This is a practice recommended to offices rolling out a dog-friendly policy.
Some companies required dogs to wear work ID badges, photo and all—including dog’s name, office location, owner’s name and telephone … it comes in handy more than you’d think.
The main points of responsibility to get across to people is that dogs should never be left by themselves or permitted to wander. Any issues of aggression or even high alertness (ie. barking when somebody enters a room) should be addressed. A dog doesn’t need to growl and bare his teeth to be disruptive.
Over time, there will probably be dogs who are so well adjusted and mellow, that they may be able to wander the office or hang out at various (sunny) spots on the premises. Most dog-friendly offices have these kinds of “roaming” dogs. But you don’t start out that way. Abiding by rules and agreed upon structure are essential when rolling out a program.
Like any other new program that requires employees to have ownership, it might help to put together a small group of workers, dog owners, management and non-dog owners to work out the rules and regulations. Trupanion, the Seattle-based pet insurance company has a great program that is led by a committee who meet quarterly (or when needed) to review policies, mitigate issues and develop dog-related programs.
Dog owners need to understand that having a dog-friendly office is a privilege and not a right— so everybody needs to be committed to making it work.
Autodesk (San Rafael, CA) is one of the first software companies to allow employees to bring their dogs to work back in the early 1980s. According to company lore, programmers worked such long hours that they began bringing their canine companions to the office so they didn’t have to run home to feed and walk them. Recognition of a dog-friendly workplace is so key to the company culture, that it is even written into Autodesk’s corporate bylaws. About 5 percent of the company’s 9,000+ employees take advantage of this benefit. Other perks include offering a dog insurance group plan and dog training classes scheduled during lunchtime.
Autodesk shared their ten-point rules for a successful dog-friendly work environment:
1. Dogs are to be kept on a leash when inside company facilities.
2. Dogs should stay with their owner or designated watcher at all times and should be in the employee’s office when the employee is there (in cubicles baby gates are often employed or dogs are tethered).
3. Dogs with fleas are not to be brought to the office.
4. Dogs are not allowed into bathrooms or into the café serving and seating areas.
5. Dogs are not to brought into meetings.
6. Employees are responsible for cleaning up after their dogs should the dog have an accident inside the facilities.
7. Employees are responsible for cleaning up after their dogs outside the buildings. All receptionists have “doggy bags” for this purpose.
8. If a dog has three accidents inside the building the dog will need to stay at home at least until the owner can demonstrate that the dog has been through some kind of training program to mitigate the issue.
9. Any incident of aggressive behavior by a dog is unacceptable and the dog may not be brought back to work. Loud, repetitive barking or eating another employee’s food is also not acceptable.
10. Employees with allergies to animals may ask a dog owner not to bring a dog to the office if that dog makes it difficult for the allergic employee to work.
Dog's Life: Home & Garden
Canine amenities include pet beds, crates, bowls, washing stations, doors and even a designated pet water bowl filler
As our lives revolve around our beloved critters more, we need to make space for them. If you have at least a medium-size laundry room, or a combined laundry room-mudroom, it’s prime real estate for dog needs. Pet-washing stations can also double as a place to rinse off muddy boots and rinse out laundry. And if well-planned, these rooms can also provide space for pet beds and crates, food and treats, toys and leashes. See how some people are outfitting their laundry rooms to work for their dogs too.
Grooming. Pet washing stations can be quite handy, and the laundry is an ideal place for them. A dirty dog doesn’t make it past the mudroom before cleaning up, and they are also a good place to clean off muddy cleats and let snowy boots drip dry.Photo by mdt design - Look for laundry room pictures
An elevated dog bath is a good option for those with bad backs and knees who have small to medium-sized dogs. It can also double as a utility sink. But the main reason I absolutely had to include this photo is because the dogs in the photo match the dogs on the wallpaper.
Wallpaper: ThibautPhoto by Harrison Design - Look for laundry room design inspiration
Beds and crates. Rather than lower cabinets, these built-ins incorporate a dog bed. Yellow and white stripes and beadboard make it a cheerful design asset as well.
The designers did a great job of maximizing this laundry room wall to fit in a pet washing station and bed.Photo by Woodshapers - Discover laundry room design ideas
These clever Murphy dog beds fit right in with the rest of the cabinetry, then flip down for nap time. Though narrowness doesn’t appear to be a problem in this laundry room, this is a clever solution for a tighter space. You can flip the dog bed up if you need the room to access a front-loading washer or dryer.
Built-in dog crates are another good option. Cabinetmakers can trick out cabinets to serve as dog crates for a seamless look.Photo by Wood-Mode Fine Custom Cabinetry - Search laundry room design ideas
Pet food. Keeping pet food close to where the pets eat makes mealtime easy. Laundry-mudrooms are often a convenient place to set this up.
The space under a utility sink is prime for a domesticated version of a trough. Pet bowls slip right into custom holes for easy filling. They stay in place rather than sliding all over the floor when a hungry dog is going to town on them.Photo by Jenkins Custom Homes - Look for laundry room pictures
Easy entering and exiting. This laundry room has a motorized pet door. The door opens when the pets wearing their power door collars want to go in and out, thanks to directional ultrasonic detection circuitry.
Electronic pet door: High Tech Pet
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Enhancing the neighborhood one house at a time
I love my neighborhood because it is unpretentious, the wide streets have sidewalks and it’s full of dog lovers. Besides the large number of dogs out on walks, the most obvious sign of that is the popularity of dog-themed welcome mats. My favorite is the one that says, “We’re so excited to see you we don’t know whether to pee on the floor or tear up the couch,” though the classic “Wipe Your Paws” is a close second.
My next door neighbors recently purchased the fashionable, “Ask not for whom the dog barks, it barks for thee.” Around the corner I just saw a doormat that reads, “Please remove your shoes. The dog needs something to chew on.” I got a chuckle when I visited a neighbor who was just putting out a new mat that reflects the state of things in her house: “Our dog flunked out of obedience school. He’s back, living here at home.” I laughed a little harder when she told me that she almost bought the one that said, “Ring the doorbell and let me sing you the song of my people. –The Dog”.
We’ve come a long way since the only dog-related expression one saw outside of someone’s door was “Beware of Dog”. Today, you are far more likely to see a welcome mat that says, “We like big mutts and we cannot lie” or “It’s all fun and games until someone ends up in a cone.” It’s quite common to welcome people into a house with a mat that says, “Welcome Diversity” and features a graphic with dogs of different shapes and sizes. Another option I’ve seen multiple times is the one that lets people know the inhabitants value “Peace, Love & Muddy Paws”.
Does your welcome mat pay homage to the canine members of your family?
[What We Are Reading]
There was a very interesting piece in a recent Washington Post advice column by Carolyn Hax. With a headline of “My girlfriend is crazy (maybe literally?) about her dog”, you can probably guess where this one is headed. A 32-year-old guy writes about the girlfriend he loves and hopes to marry but is complaining about the attention she is paying to her beloved 10-year-old dog who has an incurable kidney disease. But instead of having her dog put down, she is, as he writes:
“… spending insane amounts of money every month on “supportive care” (specialty vets – yes there is such a thing, meds, supplies, etc.) and plans to keep him alive as long as his “quality of life” is good.” She is even “she has to give him fluids under the skin every day, cook him special food and so on.”
And according to him, he thinks her level of care is misapplied, because, as he believes, he can’t help “but think of all of the worthwhile things she could be doing with that money rather than throwing it away on her dog, who as I said, is going to die anyway.”
And he then asks the advice columnist if girlfriend Amy has her priorities “screwed up” or if he is being insensitive.
Carolyn’s response was spot-on, leading off with “You’re going to die anyway. Should anyone cook you special food? Sorry. Couldn’t help myself.”
She then explains that the same argument for putting this level of care into a dog can also apply to discussions surrounding human health care. Why have palliative treatments or hospice care, if in fact someone is about to die? These are ethical questions that can apply to both species. She then explains that the compassionate relationship many people have with their dogs is based on the responsibility to provide care for them, in all phases of their lives. Some people, like Amy, take that responsibility and commitment very seriously.
And she explains that Amy “has her priorities, you have yours. A crucial area of compatibility is in respect for each other’s priorities where they differ. If you can’t, then you and Amy can’t.”
She wisely continues in analyzing his rather binary position—he had suggested that perhaps Amy was loving the dog more than she loves him:
“Instead of looking at it as a place to be right or wrong, try looking at the possibilities for acceptance. Is there room in your relationship for both of you to be right in your own ways?"
Love certainly is not a zero-sum game, in fact, many experts believe that opening your heart to loving animals can make us more accepting to loving and being loved by others. We don’t have a limited supply of “love” and expressing compassion and care just expands our ability to love and to be empathic. I do hope that Amy’s boyfriend took this wonderful advice to heart.
What advice would you have added? Have you experienced something similar yourself where a friend, lover or family member thought you were too over-the-moon for your dog?
News: Guest Posts
The importance of evaluating the responses
Kids are taught to ask permission before petting a dog with some variation of “May I please meet your dog?” This simple question has the potential to avoid unpleasant interactions, but only if kids are taught how to interpret the possible answers, especially those that are nuanced. The answer might be a simple, “Yes.” It could also be a straightforward “No” for any number of reasons: it’s not safe to pet the dog, the dog will feel uncomfortable if the child attempts to interact, or even that someone is on a tight schedule and doesn’t have time for a meet-and-greet. The person may also seem hesitant but not actually say no, or give an answer that conveys serious concern.
The clear “Yes” answers are easy to figure out. It’s common for people to reply to a request to meet a dog with some variant of “Sure, she loves people!” “He would love that!” or “Absolutely, thanks for asking!” In that case, there is a good chance that the person expects a positive interaction between a child and a dog. They might be wrong, but there’s no sense of worry or concern being expressed, which is encouraging, and it makes sense for kids to approach the dog.
Similarly, a definite “No” from the person is also clear. If a person declines the request, kids should respect that and not approach the dog. Common ways that people prevent an interaction are by saying, “I’m sorry, but she doesn’t like kids,” “She’s too shy, it will upset her,” or “I think not because everything scares her.” They might even say, “No, because she’ll try to bite you.” People who answer in this general way know that the dog can’t handle it and that it would be a mistake to let a child meet the dog.
Unfortunately, there are two general categories of answers that can be ambiguous, and too few children have been taught to understand them. The first set of such answers is generally positive with mild reservations. These usually indicate that the people are not concerned about their dog being aggressive, but they feel embarrassed about some aspect of their dog. These replies are along the lines of, “Okay, but she’s very excitable,” or “Yes, but she may jump on you.” Sometimes people just offer a warning that is not behavioral, such as “If you don’t mind getting a lot of fur on you!” In most cases, these responses are not deal breakers for a meeting, but it does depend on the size of the child as well as the size and enthusiasm level of the dog. If the person expresses that their dog is unruly or shedding, it’s okay to answer, “I don’t mind dog hair,” or “I don’t think jumping up will put a dark blot on her character!” as long as the dog is not so powerful or out of control that someone could get knocked over. This requires a judgment call, and the most conservative approach is for kids not to meet dogs after such replies. At the very least, kids should proceed with caution.
Another set of answers can be more worrisome, and kids need to learn that they should not pet a dog if the people say things along the lines of, “That would probably be okay,” or “Well, she’s shy, but we can see how she does,” or “If she’ll let you. I’m not sure because sometimes she can’t handle it.” All of these replies show that a person is in the hope-and-fear zone. (“I hope it will be okay, but I fear that it will not be.”) There is a great risk that the interaction could be troubling for the child or the dog. Kids should be taught that the correct action upon hearing such remarks is not to approach the dog. A simple, “Oh, that’s okay. I wouldn’t want to upset her, but thanks anyway,” is a good phrase to teach kids for such situations.
There are endless possible answers when a child asks, “May I please meet your dog?” The “Yes” and the “No” replies are easy to understand. The former tells you it’s likely to be a positive interaction and the latter lets you know that the person knows the dog can’t handle it and has clearly said so. It’s those intermediate answers that require more careful interpretation. I’m always in favor of avoiding risks and erring on the side of caution when it comes to meeting dogs whose people seem hesitant about having anyone—especially a child—approach. If the answer gives any hint that it might not go well or might distress the dog, it’s best to decline.
Of course, all of this general advice assumes that people have the right read on their dog, and that is not always the case. They may think the dog loves all people, even when the dog’s body language reveals that the dog is terrified and wants a child to go away. That’s why it’s still important for kids to learn how to tell that a dog is behaving in a fearful and/or threatening way. The people’s responses to a request to meet a dog are only one stream of information we can use to decide whether to approach a dog. Still, there’s often a lot of truth in what they say, which is why children should be taught to evaluate those responses and act accordingly.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Diesel the Chihuahua steals everything
To say that Diesel is one of those dogs who is toy motivated is an understatement, as is saying that he is interested in all sorts of objects around the house. Since he was a puppy, this Chihuahua has been taking things from the other members of the household and stashing them where they can’t find or reach them. His guardians call him a hoarder, and that is one way to describe his behavior, which involves taking toys, soda bottles, holiday decorations, socks and underwear, bills, credit cards, flip flops, towels, plastic bowls and gardening shears.
I’m more fascinated by the people in this video than the dog. Yes, this dog is at the high end of the spectrum for dogs who steal and stash “treasures”, but I’ve met quite a few dogs over the years who are similar in that way, and some of those were also quite aggressive over their possessions. In all cases, the people were exhausted by the endless hassles of living with a dog who constantly took everybody’s stuff and were desperate to change the dog’s behavior.
Neither of Diesel’s guardians believe that anyone could change Diesel, and they are fine with that. His mischievous ways amuse them, and they appreciate the excitement he adds to their lives. Though they both recognize that his stealing is bad behavior, they consider him a wonderful dog. He makes them laugh and they enjoy him. They love Diesel for who he is, and don’t want to change him. That’s pretty remarkable because living with a dog like Diesel can be a real headache.
Besides the general irritation of having your stuff regularly go missing (including your towel when you need it after a shower!), there is the concern that Diesel will take something that could harm him. Anything sharp, breakable or toxic could cause serious trouble, and it’s a real worry with dogs who constantly pilfer items that are not theirs. Another cause for worry is the quality of life of the other two dogs in the house. They are mugged by Diesel with such regularity that I imagine they are rarely able to enjoy a toy or something to chew on for more than a few moments.
If you’ve ever lived with a dog who regularly helped himself to whatever he wanted, how accepting of the situation were you compared to Diesel’s family?
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