Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Excessive Jingling of Dog Tags
A pet peeve worth stopping

Large numbers of dog tags jingling on a dog’s collar drive me crazy and probably bother most dogs even more. For sound-sensitive dogs in particular, noisy tags may negatively affect their quality of life. Seeing dogs suffer the constant clanging and additional weight of wearing all that metal activates my pet peeve sensors like few other avoidable irritations. I even had a little rant about it recently on another blog.

We can minimize the number of tags by pitching expired ones and by getting a flat ID tag that is directly attached to the collar. That leaves just a city license and a rabies tag for most dogs, which cuts out a lot of the sound. Or, the jingling can be eliminated completely with The Quiet Spot’s Pet Tag Silencer that holds all the tags in one pouch. Less chic than the Pet Tag Silencer but effective and inexpensive is using some electrical tape to secure the tags into a single silent mass.

Dogs make our lives better in a thousand small ways each day. Lessening the irritation of heavy, loud tags on our dogs’ collars is one small way we can repay the favor.

Is your pet peeve quite different from mine? Do you have a remedy that will make all our dogs’ lives better?

News: Guest Posts
Taxi Cab Confessions
Exploring cultural biases against dogs—in Iraq and at home.

An NPR story this week reported that U.S. soldiers are teaching Iraqi security forces how to use bomb-sniffer dogs—with one particular challenge. “Sniffer dogs are universally recognized as the most effective means of detecting explosives," the reporter explains. "But in Iraq, as in much of the Arab world, dogs are considered unclean.” That's a challenge.

“The greatest tool you have in your inventory when working with dogs is love. A lot of dogs, that's what they work for, just your affection,” says Army Staff Sgt. Aaron Meier, an American adviser to the Iraqi National Canine Program. “Some of the people who have shown up are willing to play with the dog but they are not willing to go to the next step and really love the dog up. We’ve shown them that when they do that, they get better response from the dog.”

I know what Sgt. Meier means. I’ve seen—okay, felt—how affection motivates dogs to do a good job. With all Hanni does for me on a typical walk, can you imagine the bag of treats I’d be lugging around if I rewarded her with food?! Not to mention the pounds she’d put on—she wouldn’t be able to carry her own weight, much less pull me behind her.

Seeing Eye dogs, like bomb-sniffer dogs, work for love. I talk lovingly to Hanni as she guides me through traffic. “Atta girl, Hanni!”  She leads me around a pothole, and I tell her she’s sweet. I laugh as she glides me past garbage cans, lampposts and countless other obstructions. “You’re good, Hanni!” Every time Hanni stops at a curb, and every time she sits at the top of a set of stairs to let me know where we’re at, I crouch down to give her some love. “Good girl, Hanni!” She wags her tail in appreciation, and we carry on.

Except when someone impedes our progress. Cab drivers, for example.

Many of the cab drivers here in Chicago come from the Middle East, and just like the security forces in Iraq, they see dogs as unclean. I understand their cultural taboo, but hey, if these drivers are working in the U.S., they have to abide by American laws. Thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act, service dogs helping a person who has a disability are allowed in cabs.

I have taken two drivers to court for refusing to let Hanni and me into their cab. Both were found guilty. Each was fined $500 and each had his license suspended for 29 days. I do not dance with joy about winning these cases. Thing is, I really like cab drivers. They’re hard workers. I like chatting with them. I tip them well. I feel a sort of bond with cab drivers—many of them are minorities, like me. Many of them are qualified for other jobs, but they’ve had to settle for something else. Like me. I know driving a cab is their livelihood. I don’t like the idea of their licenses being suspended.

But I don’t like being refused a ride, either. I have a feeling that city cab drivers talk to each other a lot. I’m hoping word gets out that drivers are getting their licenses suspended for refusing a service dog. That way, maybe I won’t have to file complaints anymore.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Neutering Dogs with Shoes
ZAPP sells footwear on eBay to help strays in Mexico.

I’m never one to miss a shoe sale and recently I discovered footwear bargains that help out a great cause.

In San Felipe, Mexico, 92 percent of the area’s animals live on the street. For years, euthanasia by electrocution has been the method of choice to control the overwhelming population of 15,000-20,000 stray dogs.

Realizing that euthanasia would not solve the root of the overpopulation problem, Steven Forman founded the Zero Additional Pup-ulation Project (ZAPP) to help control strays humanely through spaying and neutering. It’s an ambitious program in an area where animal welfare is in its infancy. Forman estimates that 1,200 animals have to be spayed and neutered each month just to stop San Felipe’s stray population from growing. 

ZAPP, which relies exclusively on private donations, started Shoes for Spays to take advantage of pet loving shoe addicts hunting for bargains – a win-win situation. The program takes donations of new or gently worn shoes and resells them on eBay, which has raised enough money to spay and neuter an amazing 5,500 animals to date. 

Shoes for Spays has given me a new way to rationalize footwear purchases, but it also has me wondering about the potential of the many unworn shoes in my closet. Surely a great excuse to make room for new pairs!

Visit the Shoes for Spays website for more information on donating or buying shoes.

News: Guest Posts
Howl Contributor Heads to U.S. Senate. UPDATE.
Minnesota Supreme Court declares Al Franken the winner.

[UPDATE: At the risk of really upsetting the anti-Franken faction out there, we had to point out that our hopes that Sen. Al Franken's personal passion for dogs would translate into action are already being realized. He announced his first legislative goal --funding to train service dogs to assist veterans. Good for dogs and veterans.


According to a column in Star Tribune, Franken was inspired by a wounded Iraq war veteran he met at the innauguration. Franken writes: "Service dogs … can be of immense benefit to vets suffering from physical and emotional wounds. Yes, they provide companionship. But they can also detect changes in a person's breathing, perspiration or scent to anticipate and ward off an impending panic attack with some well-timed nuzzling. They are trained to let their masters know when it's time to take their medication and to wake them from terrifying nightmares."]


In a unanimous ruling, Minnesota's highest court upheld a lower court decision that Democrat Al Franken defeated Republican Norm Coleman in one squeaker of a race last fall. A mere 312 votes put Franken in the United States Senate, where we hope the freshman will proudly display a copy of Howl: A Collection of the Best Contemporary Dog Wit (from the editors of The Bark), which features his story, “Kirby.”


We figure it has to be good news for dogs that a guy who penned the line—“I have to be careful when I get home to kiss my wife before I kiss my eight-year-old black Lab”—is headed for Congress.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Why That Puppy?
Puppy choices and what they mean

I always ask my clients what made them choose a particular dog or a certain puppy. The most common answers I hear about choosing a puppy are:

“I didn’t choose him. He chose me.”
“I felt sorry for her.”
“He was the only one left.”
“The breeder felt that she was the best puppy for our family.”
“He had an adorable spot over his eye, just like my first dog did.”
“She was the only female and we wanted a girl.”

Check out what these answers might mean in a recent entry on dogbehaviorblog.com

Besides the useful information I receive, I just love the stories about how people chose their puppies. My all-time favorite comment was about a dog who never had any serious behavior problems. As the family left the breeder and just before they closed their car door, they heard one of the breeder’s kids say, “There goes psycho.”

News: Guest Posts
The Smell’s the Thing
Discovering the thrill of grass and other earthy delights with a guide dog.

Day One
If you spend as much time as I do with a dog (the only perk of blindness, eh?), you have the privilege of living a sort of dual citizenship. My yellow Labrador, Nira, and I fly together and go to classes together. We enter supermarkets and museums, amusement parks and churches (those yins and yangs of the spirit).

Now, I resolve that henceforth whenever Nira stops to sniff I too shall drop to the ground and follow suit. I hereby announce that I’m throwing off my anthropomorphic and shallow notions of “ergo sum” for a new kind of “cogito” driven by odor and fragrance and all the declensions in between.

Yes I’m going to learn about Nira’s world. I will keep you posted dear reader. And yes of course the pun is intentional. I shall hold nothing back. I will not fear gawking strangers. (Indeed the public “already” gawks at the blind guy anyway.)

I'm going to undertake graduate study with Nira who is, after all, a $45,000 dog.

Day Two
Yesterday I announced I’d follow my dog’s lead and drop to the ground, or lean in close, to know more fully the whirligig of doggy nasturtiums and nosegays. Clearly I’m having a vague and occupational dementia—the kind of thing that happens when it’s very hot. The Iowa sun has mastered my wits. And the dog is just a dog. She does not know I’m officially crazy.

This morning Nira plunged her head and shoulders into brush that grows along a stone wall in my backyard. It was early and there was dew on the grass and drops of water fell from the disturbed leaves of the bushes. Nira’s whole body was in lockstep with her nose, her broad back trembled and the long leash whipped back and forth in my hand, all the motion driven in accord with the dog’s nostrils. There is not a word in the English language for attenuated motion driven by a dog’s nostrils. I imagine the Swedes have a word for this, something like “hundt-flenken” and I’ll have to look it up at some point. If the Swedes have such a word it will likely prove to be ancient. All the important words are ancient.

So, Nira was really in there and “working it,” as they say at the gymnasium. Her nose was alive and wide open like the soul of a Sufi dancer. She was receiving news of something bosky and yet plangent—a thing both rich and low, a thing dark and yet still capable of flight. I could feel the intelligence of Nira’s nose deep in my hands. “The thing” behind the wall of sylvan camouflage was alive and breathing. Its exhalations were going straight into the dog. The dog was zithing like a wire. “God Almighty,” I thought. “Now I’m going to have to go down on all fours and scent this trapped but living fragrance for myself.”

It’s not so easy to muscle your way into the shrubs alongside a quivering dog but I did it. I was suddenly at the heart of a Mexican standoff under the folds and spills of the elderberry and lilac bushes. I knew I had to be fast. Dogs don’t think twice about scenting living things. This wasn’t a formal affair with multiple forks and knives: I had to plunge and sniff. I was aware that my ass was sticking out of the leaves. My brain was oddly fast and slow. I was simultaneously throwing my blind, naked face into the dank unknown while worrying that the neighbors might see my “plumber’s crack” pointing from a wall of greenery. I tried for just a second to concentrate on my shorts. Were they up? Yes, they were up. No plumber’s crack. The only thing my neighbors could see (supposing they were positioned in accord) would be my khaki shorts shining like a bleached sail far away on the sea.

I had to go faster. Forget my shorts. Nira was snuffling like a torn accordion. The thing was right in front of me. I inhaled and tried to ignore the scratching sounds. The thing was at the wall. It smelled like a wet haystack. It smelled like a moldy rug. It smelled like leaves in a dead fountain. That’s when it began to dawn on me. Yes friend, the dawning was starting to happen. It was moving from my nose to the richly folded and tiny nautilus of my brain’s odor center. The odor brain knew what was going on but the cross circuits from the scent district to the conning tower were out of shape. Yes, the dawning was taking too long. Wet haystack, clogged aqueduct—what “was” that scrabbling thing?  All the important words are ancient.

It so happens I know the Old English word for “the thing” that Nira and I were smelling. You can look it up in the Oxford English Dictionary if you wish. The word is out of use these days.

Yes, my friend, we (man and dog) were smelling a “fud”—a rabbit’s rectum.

Getting out of the bushes was harder than getting in. Nira didn’t help. She was undergoing some kind of transfiguration and I left her to it.

I staggered to my feet. My Neanderthal Man’s nose was getting reacquainted with the post-modern language center.

I owe it all to my dog.

I shall take thought for this canine-centric exercise anon.

Day Three
Kind friends have written to check my sanity. Bill points out that his Labrador has an affection for cat feces—a matter that is presumably tied to the olfactory predilections of canines. My pal “Bibliochef” points out the sheer improbability of the word “fud” but I swear that’s what we were smelling yesterday and I further swear that that’s the word for the hindmost netherpart of a rabbit. I am, of course, a fool. But to further split the point, fools can be sane. Shakespeare’s fools are invariably the sanest people on stage. So in truth I must declare (as if we were in a court of law) that I knew full well what I was doing when I proclaimed I would follow my dogs nose wherever it may point. The thing is: Fools can and “do” take vacations. Again, if you look to Shakespeare you’ll notice that the fools never get run through with poisoned swords or undergo a serious splitting from nave to chaps. Nope. Your true fool knows when to get the heck out of Dunsinane.

Accordingly, I let Nira nose her nose this morning and I kept to the upright, stolid, Lutheran posture that my Finnish grandmother would have approved. When Nira checked out the jetsam and flotsam of the roadside I thought of Cotton Mather. I thought of Duns Scotus. I kept a fierce detachment. I held my nose aloft like the late William F. Buckley interrogating a Liberal. I was just another dog walker moving slowly among the red winged blackbirds and the yellow finches.

If I had a moralistic streak I would say something about the wisdom of letting fuds hide in the buds. But the fool in me knows better. Life is life wherever you find it.

News: Guest Posts
Adopt-A-Pet’s “Social Petworking”
Inspired use of the Internet or peer-pressure with a downside?

On the Internet, good ideas (and I guess, lousy ideas, as well) spread like viruses. In the January issue of The Bark, we wrote about how Dogs Trust in the United Kingdom found a home for a shelter dog using only a brief message on Twitter, the social networking service. It was the first Twitter-assisted placement for Dogs Trust, and maybe a first-ever.

That was followed in February by a Tweet Blast masterminded by Animal Rescue Online—24 hours of  Twitter messaging (no more than 140 characters each) all aimed at finding homes for homeless companion animals.

But these were mere flashes in pans compared to Adopt-A-Pet.com’s new scheme, cleverly branded as “Social PETworking.” The idea is to encourage regular MySpace, Facebook and Twitter users and bloggers “to advertise adoptable pets to their friends as a way to help homeless pets get seen and adopted.”

The campaign kicked off at the beginning of June, with a goal of networking at least 30,000 homeless pets in the first 30 days. Essentially animal lovers find and share Adopt-A-Pet profiles of shelter animals (dogs, cats, rabbits, horses, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish and more) with friends who might provide good homes or who know others who might.

When I checked the site on June 12, more than 35,000 links had been shared. That’s definitely something. Whether it leads to successful adoptions remains to be demonstrated. I hope it doesn’t increase impulse decisions. It’s one thing if someone who understands the responsibilities of adoption and is looking for a new friend learns about a wonderful animal in need of a home. But I know how hard it is to resist the sweet mug of a doleful puppy with a sad story. I worry that this sort of widespread friend-to-friend “advertising” inspires people to commit to animals when they aren’t ready.

Am I just being a buzzkill? 

News: Guest Posts
King of the Dogs
Must-watch Iggy Pop "dog" video!

If Iggy Pop had a dog, what would it be? As a fan of the shirtless punkster this is not a question I have ever asked myself—despite my passion for his rocking anthem, “I Want To Be Your Dog.” And so, I was surprised, not only to discover that he has a dog, but that—not unlike fellow lapdog-loving, tough-guy Mickey Rourke—he’s head-over-heels for a small fry, more precisely, a 12-pound Maltese named Lucky.

“He’s all dog,” Iggy Pop told Terry Gross in an interview earlier today. “He’s got a butch attitude. He’s fearless and very strong for his size, but he’s still 12 pounds.”

The revelation of his lil’ canine co-pilot came as part of the promotional tour for a new album, Préliminaires, which features a knock-it-out-of-the-dog-park original called, “King of the Dogs.” Before you read on, you have to watch the delightful Patrick Boivin-directed video.

This jazzy tune was inspired by the character of a little white dog named Fox in The Possibility of an Island, a novel by Michel Houellebecq. Iggy Pop is a fan of the novel and wrote the music for a documentary about Houellebecq’s effort to translate the book to film. “King of the Dogs” describes “how cool it is to be a dog and how much it beats human life.” When Gross asked the 62-year-old rocker what it is about dog life that captivates him, he answered:

“I enjoy watching all the things animals do that are just like the things I like to do, such as, I don’t like to wear shoes, I hate wearing clothes. I didn’t even take a shower before I came over to do this interview, why should I? … Sometimes I see animals and I wish I was them … because they are free and because they can be satisfied and happy. That’s not possible for a human…it’s fleeting, hard to achieve.”

It’s a delightful moment in the interview when Gross sort of lets the comment hang out there—I suspect she’s not a capital-D dog person—she doesn’t offer her quick, encouraging “uh-huh” of recognition. But I totally get what Iggy is saying. And I’m guessing most of you reading this do too.

News: Guest Posts
Tip Sheet: Choosing a Daycare or Kennel
Eight questions to ask before leaving your precious pup with strangers.

The world is not a dog’s oyster— unfortunately. The majority of offices, restaurants, hotels, museums and even national parks fail to welcome our canine companions with open arms. Until a major paradigm shifts, we’ll have to leave our dogs behind, sometimes, for work and travel. Happily, many dog-loving entrepreneurs are creating wonderful boarding and daycare environments for our furry friends. There are many and they aren’t all created equal, so we’ve pulled together some questions to help guide your selection process.

One note, while dog daycares and kennels serve different functions, we combine them for this tip sheet because they have many issues in common, several facilities offer both daycare and boarding options, and it all comes down to the same difficult decision—where to leave your best friend for a few hours, days, or longer.

1. Does the facility pass the sniff test? Follow your nose. A kennel will obviously smell doggy but it shouldn’t be stinky nor should it smell like a bleach spill. Daycares and kennels should be disinfected routinely. Ask about cleaning procedures and products, especially if your pup is sensitive.

2. What about the non-negotiables? In addition to a sanitary environment, there are a few other essential criteria for leaving your dog in the care of others. Dog daycare expert Robin Bennett, CPDT, says facilities should require proof of up-to-date vaccines; provide enough space (70 to 100 square feet per dog for off-leash play); segregated areas for large and small dogs; and employ knowledgeable employees and enough of them (around one person for every 10 to 15 dogs). She also recommends asking if employees have education in behavior, positive training and first aid. (Read Bennett’s advice for The Bark, “10 Things to Look for When Selecting A Dog’s Daycare.”)

3. Can I observe and visit? Don’t just hit and run; hang around. Drop by when you aren’t expected, and be sure you have a chance to observe your dog in the mix. Most facilities require trial runs and some sort of temperament evaluation if dogs will be mixing. If they don’t, that’s not a good sign.

4. Is the joint escape proof? You’re leaving your dog behind, and he may want desperately to get back to you. Some dogs can be ingenious about launching their own incredible journey. The Pet Care Association of America recommends looking for sturdy, well-maintained fencing, gates and dividers between runs. Don’t rely on staffers to realize Houdini has special skills. If he’s an escape artist, fess up so they can take extra precautions.

5. How did my dog perform? Engaged supervisors will be happy to provide a report when you pick up your dog (and they’ll pay more attention to your dog in the future). You’ll learn a lot about attentiveness based on what they tell you and you might discover if something is amiss. Some facilities will send emails while you’re vacationing with information about your dog’s status.

If your dog just isn’t herself in group-play or when she returns home—something might be going down when you’re not looking. Bark columnist Karen B. London, PhD, says bullying can be a problem in off-leash daycare and boarding environments, especially if supervision is lax. Learn to recognize the signs and sources of bullying in “Daycare Difficulties,” The Bark, May/June 07.

6. What do other clients say? Phone or Internet directories are just a starting point, you need more information than a listing or an advertisement can provide. Some facilities are accredited by the Better Business Bureau, which is a good start. You can ask for references, but honestly, is a daycare going to give you the name of someone who might report a bad experience? Your best bet is asking your friends in Agility, obedience class, at the dog park, your pet supply shop and so on. Also, tap other folks in the know via Twitter and Facebook.

7. What’s my emergency plan? Line up your kennel before you need it. Don’t make such an important decision when you’re under pressure. Also, if you know you don’t have friends or family who can help you out in a pinch, it’s good to be ready with a local kennel you’ve thoroughly checked out in case of emergency. If you need to leave home quickly, the last thing you need to fret over is this important decision.

8. What do I need for my peace of mind? A color TV and ocean views may not really matter to your dogs, but they matter to you. It’s perfectly normal to want your dog to have the just-like-home experience when you are boarding them. These days, kennels go the distance to alleviate your worries, especially about whether your dog is getting enough human touch. You might find (and pay a little extra for) bonus options, like “cuddle services,” massage and bedtime stories. (Read more about the frontier of high-end boarding kennels in “The Suite Life” in The Bark, July/Aug 2007.)

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Pets Are Expensive
Some animals are more costly than others.

Money is on everyone’s mind lately, and that interest extends to pets. A few months after starting to write a weekly animal column for my local newspaper, I asked the editor if there was anything particular that he wanted me to cover. His first request was a column about the expense of having pets, which we both agreed was relevant in these troubled times.

For people who have had certain types of animals for years, the costs of buying and maintaining them come as no surprise. However, it’s easy to be startled by the expenses associated with animals that we have not had the pleasure of having in our lives. For example, unless you’re experienced at keeping birds, it may be news that you can easily spend thousands of dollars on housing for your avian companions. Similarly, unless you have competed seriously in Agility or know someone who has, it might be hard to fathom the way money flows in torrents from each paycheck, going directly to lessons, equipment, matches and travel.

What’s your biggest canine expense?  Have you figured out strategies to trim your budget without compromising your dog’s quality of life?