Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Lessons learned from a near-disaster
One crisp winter day, my friend Kate and I went walking on nearby farm land. The two of us had taken this walk many times over the years; that day, we had eight dogs with us. The four dogs in my charge were all “grand-dogs,” as were three of the four accompanying Kate.
After about an hour in the brisk, 20-degree air, we headed back to our cars. As we neared one of the farm’s three ice-covered ponds, Kate noticed that Philip, a Shih Tzu mix, was missing. Running ahead, she called his name. Then we saw him—he was walking on the frozen pond. Just as Kate called to him, the unthinkable happened: The ice broke and he fell in. She let out a shriek, and both of us ran. My Dachshund, Cindy Lou, wearing her warm red-plaid coat, dashed ahead of me onto the ice to save Philip. Instead of saving him, she joined him in the frigid water when the ice broke underneath her.
Circling the pond to get closer to where the dogs were trapped, Kate called them by name, urging them to paddle to shore. But there was no shore—there was only ice. Unnoticed by either of us, Kate’s other dog, Willy, a Terrier mix, had followed her and now he was on the thin ice as well. Little Willy, all seven pounds of him, fell in.
“No, I have three dogs drowning in a pond.”
“Where are you located?”
I knew the road I was on and the name of the farm, but not the exact address. It would have helped if I had. We were in the middle of 200 acres; there were three dogs drowning and three ponds on the property, but between my hysterical state and the 911 operator’s confusion, I wasn’t even able to tell her which pond it was, let alone the address.
Kate tore off her boots and socks and called out to me that she was going in. I told her no, that help was on the way. I told her emphatically that she would drown. But she ignored me. As I watched, my best friend walked onto the ice.
Just then, I noticed an old blue canoe hidden nearby in the brush. Calling to Kate, I asked her to come back and help me get the canoe. As she came toward me, I assured her again that the fire department would be there soon—I had also called Kate’s husband, who knew exactly where we were, and told him to come quick. I tried hard to not look at Cindy Lou or Philip or Willy as they continued to struggle to keep afloat. I knew I had to concentrate on the rescue.
I pushed the canoe onto the ice and Kate leapt in, barefoot and gloveless. This broke the fragile surface, and she and the canoe were in the water. I gave her a stick to paddle with.
I couldn’t look. I couldn’t look and see a blank space where Philip had been, or wet Willy or my poor Cindy Lou with her heavy coat, struggling to keep their heads above the icy water. I couldn’t look at anything but the dark water in front of me.
So I did the only thing I could think to do: I took off my coat and sweater and went in. Rosie, my Chesapeake Bay Retriever, followed me, then immediately turned and swam back. From the shoreline, the other three dogs barked relentlessly. As I reached the canoe, which was only five feet from the pond’s edge, I realized that the water was too deep for me to stand up, so I grabbed the ragged back of the canoe and kicked. It didn’t budge.
I became weak very fast. My breathing was deep and strained, my heart raced, and my arms and legs felt like lead. It felt as though I were having a heart attack. I told Kate I had to go back. As I slowly got myself back to the land, I felt like a complete failure. Once I was out of the water, it took me a while to catch my breath.
Finally, realizing that Kate was going nowhere, the two of us clumsily pulled the rusty canoe out of the water and relaunched it in another section of the pond. I gave her a tree limb and as big a push as I could manage.
In a burst of anger, she broke the ice in front of her and made it through to the center of the pond, where she found Philip still paddling for his life! Grabbing him by the scruff of his neck, she threw him into the boat, then did the same for Cindy Lou and Willy.
Wrapping them in her coat, she made her way back to me and the other dogs.
We put the shivering bunch close together. While I ran for the car, Kate lay on top of them to warm them up with her body heat. Then help arrived: Kate’s husband and son, the EMT and the fire department. We declined treatment and rushed the dogs to the veterinary hospital, where they were treated immediately. It was only afterward, at the vet’s office, that we realized Kate had cuts all over her hands and arms from the ice and the sides of the old canoe. She had also ripped a fishing hook out of her arm, a gash that required stitches to close—that first stick, it turns out, had been a makeshift fishing pole.
Later, I learned from the EMT that when a person goes into ice-cold water, the body shifts into survival mode, closing down circulation to the arms and legs in order to keep the core warm and the heart pumping. This is why so many people drown when they break through the ice—arms and legs are the first parts of the body that stop working, and it can happen within two to five minutes. I didn’t know this, and neither did Kate.
What I do know now is that old blue canoe, which I had seen so many times before as we walked past that pond, saved all of our lives.
News: Guest Posts
Study finds Hormone-disrupting Chemicals Leach from Some Plastic Toys
The toy aisle is meant to be all about fun, but recalls, toxic imports and a dearth of regulations have left dog owners facing tough choices. Many toys are made of plastic and may contain chemicals that interfere with hormones.
A new study by researchers at the Institute of Environmental and Human Health at Texas Tech University shows that BPA and phthalates, chemicals that disrupt hormones, “readily leach” from plastic or vinyl bumper toys used to train retrievers.
Philip Smith, a toxicologist and co-author of the as-yet unpublished study, uses plastic bumpers to train his Labrador Retrievers, Bindi, age 11, and Huck, age 5. He wondered if the bumpers might expose them to hazardous chemicals.
In fact, the compounds are hard to avoid. BPA, the building block of polycarbonate plastic, is found in most food and drink cans; phthalates are common in food packaging, personal care items and vinyl plastics.
“BPA and phthalates come from many, many sources” besides pet toys, Smith says. So a dog’s “cumulative exposure may be significant.”
The study, conducted by graduate student, Kim Wooten, is one of the first to examine these chemicals in pet toys. In children’s toys, some phthalates have been banned in the U.S. and the European Union. In July 2012, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned BPA in baby bottles and children’s drinking cups.
Although their health effects in dogs are unknown, the hormones they interfere with regulate many biological functions.
Studies done mostly with rodents have linked BPA and phthalates to impaired development of reproductive organs, decreased fertility, diabetes and obesity, cancers, and behavioral and attention problems.
No, dogs are not mice. There are “species sensitivity differences” in regard to toxics, Smith says. For example, dogs are at greater risk than humans from eating chocolate. But while their sensitivity to synthetic chemicals may also differ, “we are unaware of specific reasons why they might respond in a significantly different manner.”
Available data suggests that the most vulnerable pets may be pregnant females “and perhaps young animals like puppies.”
According to a 2012 pet health report by Banfield Pet Hospital, some cancers and other diseases in dogs are increasing. “The rate of overweight and obese pets has reached epidemic levels in the U.S., affecting approximately one in five dogs and cats.”
The causes are unknown, but Smith says it’s possible that endocrine-disrupting chemicals, including phthalates and BPA, play a role.
Certain aspects of canine cancer suggest that dogs are sensitive to them, he says. For instance, exposure to estrogens raises the risk for mammary cancers. For metabolic disorders such as obesity and diabetes, researchers are finding that some hormone-disrupting chemicals appear to “affect metabolic endpoints, in addition to reproduction and behavior.”
For the toy study, the researchers tested orange and white bumpers from two unidentified makers, using artificial saliva to simulate a dog chewing a bumper. The amount of toxics released in a dog’s mouth couldn’t be determined due to the use of simulated saliva,
But what is a high exposure in dogs?
“We are not aware of any exposure guidelines pertaining to these particular chemicals and dogs,” Smith says.
They suspect the levels released from the bumpers would be very high, though, compared with children’s toys.
The study also examined BPA and phthalates from ordinary plastic pet toys sold in stores. The bumpers leached more, but the results suggest that the other toys might have released other hormonally-active chemicals.
Smith highlights the uncertainty that shoppers face, saying the bumpers might have been made from different materials, or perhaps the packaging limited the release of some chemicals before the experiment.
Or, the less affected toys may have involved “materials that are also used in the manufacture of children’s toys.”
“We’re not really sure, but intend to pursue the question further.”
Good thing for pet owners.
“Given the extent of plastics in the human-canine environment,” Smith says, avoiding the chemicals entirely may not be possible.
But not all plastics are the same. When it comes to leaching of chemicals “each type is very different.”
“That is why studies on individual products are important.” Pet owners need the information “to make thoughtful decisions.”
Some pet toy makers say they use BPA-free plastics.
But owners may wonder why it’s even a question. Why should they have to worry about chemicals in toys or migrating from cans, even into “organic” food, to add to their dog’s exposure?
At least—at last—it is being studied.
Smith’s team plans to continue studying the exposure of pets to chemicals. “We think there is a great deal to be learned about potential pet and human health impacts from chemicals in the environment,” he says.
And as they learn, Smith says they hope to yield the data needed “to inform decisions about how we manufacture pet products, which ones we buy, and what we allow our pets to chew.”
News: Guest Posts
Daylight is quickly disappearing as we head into the long months of winter. When you live in the northern part of the country, the days eventually become so short that exercising our dogs in the dark is impossible to avoid. Add rain to the darkness, and something as simple as a stroll with our dogs becomes downright dangerous along city and rural streets, drivers barely able to see the road let alone you and your dog on the shoulder.
Lights—for your dog and you—make you more visible. There are several lights that attach to collars and harnesses on the market. Some flash, some strobe. There are entire collars that light up as well.
If you have a northern breed dog, or any dog with a very thick and long coat, you know that lights don’t work well for you. They get lost in all that fur. And drivers are often confused by small lights (if they notice them at all), not sure if they’re coming from a bicycle, a walker, or something else.
My solution? A reflective vest for my dogs, much like vests worn by joggers. I discovered VizVest Dog Safety Vest a few years ago, and love them. I’ve never found a better vest for dogs, and I’ve tried a few. VizVests are easy to put on your dog. Their broad overlapping Velcro closures across the back make them easily adjustable. They actually fit and are comfortable for your dog to wear—walking, or running. The vest covers the entire torso, so that, from the side, your dog literally lights up like a holiday tree in a car’s headlights or another walker’s flashlight. The vest also covers the chest, so that there’s a better chance of light reflecting on the vest from the head-on position.
Added bonus: the bright yellow color works well in daylight, for situations where you want your dog to be visible to you or others from a distance (like when I take my Alaskan Malamutes into Idaho forests, where I don’t want them mistaken for wolves).
The vest comes in small, medium and large. Each has lots of adjustment designed into it. The large size is perfect for my Malamutes. The medium size fits my 45 lb Aussie.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dog-specific GPS takes the worry out of exploring
Early one morning as I was running trails with my Aussie Finn MacCool and my friend Suzanne, the three of us rounded a bend and were greeted by a woman who said the words I always dread hearing: “Have you seen a dog?” We were in the heart of Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland Park outside of Seattle, a 3,100-acre protected area with 36 miles of trails winding throughout its thickly wooded and hilly landscape. The dog could be anywhere.
As we gathered details from the woman — the dog’s name (Boone) and description, if he was tagged with current contact info, where he was last seen, where her car was parked — Finn sat patiently beside me. Around his neck was a bright neon-orange collar with an antenna extending from it. It made him look kind of like an enormous bug.
Finn was sporting a Garmin DC 40 dog-tracking collar, which uses GPS to transmit information to my Garmin Astro 320. This snappy bit of technology lets me know where Finn is, whether he’s moving or stationary and, if moving, which direction and how fast — all via an on-screen display. While I didn’t pile guilt on top of the poor woman’s distress, I thought to myself, If Boone had been wearing one of these, she’d know exactly where he was.
Initially, the Astro seemed like just a really cool, high-tech toy, similar to the gadgets many of my running friends wear on their wrists to track their own mileage. Faced with the lost-Boone scenario, though, I realized its broader and more critical value for those of us who take our unleashed dogs out into the big world: being able to find them quickly if they become separated from us. Whether you’ve had your dog for years and she normally stays close, or you’ve recently added a new dog to your household and aren’t sure how he’ll react off leash, this “toy” can prevent hours, even days, of misery.
GPS-enabled dog-tracking devices aren’t new; there are several types on the market, all designed to do one straightforward thing: help you find your lost dog. But with most of those products, you pay a monthly fee (roughly $15, depending on the product) to access the GPS signal, and the only information you’re given is where your dog is at that specific moment.
The Garmin Astro 320, on the other hand, will track both you and your dog (up to 10 dogs, actually), recording tons of fun data along the way. It logs distance, speed, stopping time, elevation change and map coordinates — as well as a number of other optional variables that you can program in — all while creating a track, or map, of your movements. You can toggle back and forth between your own information and your dog’s while the two of you are out walking, hiking, horseback riding or cycling (you, not the dog), or running. Then, after saving the tracks, you can upload them to your home computer and view them either in one of Garmin’s programs or in another, such as Google Earth (which is free). The Astro 320 retails for $599, but you never pay a monthly fee for GPS signal access. In three years of use, the unit will pay for itself over the other GPS tracking options.
The Astro is also more reliable and accurate than smartphone GPS apps, which rely on a combination of cell towers and satellites. Garmin Astro’s 12 parallel channel receivers quickly lock onto satellites, and they maintain those locks even in dense foliage or urban settings with tall buildings. Also, smartphone GPS apps have an accuracy of about 50 feet, while the Astro’s is generally accurate to within three feet. I tested this out while running with a friend; he used his smartphone app and I used the Astro. My distance data closely matched the Green Trails topographic map of our route; my friend’s data was off (short) by about 20 percent. (Besides, the smartphone app can’t track your dog.)
Back to the question I really wanted answered: How far does Finn actually travel? I was surprised to learn that he typically runs only 10 to 20 percent more than I do, which was much less than I expected. Apparently, training him to stay close has been successful. But I was even more surprised by the difference in our respective elevation gains. I’ve always joked that Finn is part gazelle, and it turns out I might be right. According to his GPS data, on a run during which I cover 6.7 miles with 1,399 feet of elevation gain, Finn covers 9.0 miles with 5,651 feet of elevation.
The brain of the device — the GPS receiver — is housed in a small black box from which a long, thin VHF antenna extends and transmits signals to the Astro hand receiver. The antenna curves with the collar so that it’s positioned above the dog’s neck. Finn, a small Aussie, weighs about 45 pounds, but the collar and its antenna don’t bother him or slow him down as he crashes through thick undergrowth in enthusiastic pursuit of ever-elusive squirrels and chipmunks. He associates the collar with fun!
The Astro 320 is designed for use with hunting dogs, and it took me a little while to get used to the terminology. For example, when I start a run, I select “New Hunt” and mark the starting point as “Truck” (although I could change that if I wanted to take the time). The factory default settings include various alarms to let you know if, for example, your dog has stopped moving; the first time I used the Astro with Finn, the only settings change I made was to customize it with his name. Another bit of hunting terminology came up after a run with friends, as we returned to our cars. My well-trained friends always offer treats to the dogs in the group. Hearing a chirping alarm on my Astro, I looked at the screen. It said, “Finn MacCool has treed his quarry!” Indeed: His quarry was Tracy, who was holding out a treat!
“When the GPS has said ‘Pukka has treed quarry,’ I’ve been able to bike over to where he is and spy on him: lying on a friend’s deck waiting for them to come out and play fetch; over at Buck’s house, taking a snooze; or at the Kelly Café, hoping for a handout from the tourists.” (Ted’s new book, Pukka’s Promise: The Quest for Longer-Lived Dogs, is due out February 2013.)
While my passion is trail running, there are many uses for GPS with dogs — driving to and touring new places, geocaching, even kayaking, for example. Cecil Moore, who works for Garmin and cheerfully answered all my questions, said he once put the Astro GPS collar on his small dog Jack at the start of a 5K race and handed the receiver to his wife. Because his family knew exactly when Cecil and Jack were nearing the finish line, they were able to jump in and run the last several yards together. He also uses it on family vacations to the Lake of the Ozarks State Park, a large area where dogs are typically allowed off leash in campgrounds and on trails.
Finn wore the Astro during a recent session of my Maian Meadows Dog Camp, which offers a weekend’s worth of off-leash fun: hiking, swimming, lots of games, stick-chasing and playing. Campers were intrigued by the Astro, and impressed that the collar was waterproof (although the GPS antenna on the collar will lose satellite reception if it’s totally submerged). The final tally at the end of the weekend: I covered 10.9 miles; Finn covered … 54.3! Each morning, we did a hike of about 3.8 miles to a nearby lake. Romping with the other dogs and fetching sticks in the lake meant that Finn covered nearly four times my distance. No wonder he’s tired. Finn’s “route” on Google Earth from that weekend of dog camp looks like a child’s wobbly drawing of a lollypop (swimming and playing in camp) on a stick (the morning out-and-back hikes). Garmin, headquartered in Kansas, is known for its personal product support. Friends who use Garmin’s running and mountain-biking products rave about its customer service. I found that also true with the Astro, which has lots of bells and whistles. Availing yourself of their customer service will help you get the most out of it (plus, they love dogs at Garmin).
And Boone? Within half an hour, a hiker found him and called the phone number on his tag, and the woman’s husband drove to the park to pick him up. They were very lucky. With the Astro, I can relax while running through the forest with Finn, knowing that if one day he disappears after a deer, I can at least track him until we’re reunited, eliminating guesswork, worry and dependence on Boone’s sort of luck.
For more info on the Astro 320, go to sites.garmin.com/astro
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
New products for dogs and their humans.
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Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Chic, Green and Giving
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Adopted Dogs Only
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Dicky Bag, Poopy Packs and Shortomatic Custom Board Shorts
Shortomatic Custom Board Shorts
Home Works: Best picks of domestic design
“They live in their hometown”
This eyecatching and inventive clock by Korean designer, Dongjin Byeon, does not employ numbers and hands to show time, instead, the figures of an elderly woman, her granddaughter and a fast-moving, dog represent hours, minutes and seconds respectively.
The figures move through the scenes of daily life that are arranged around the circumference to indicate hours. For example, when the grandmother sits on a bench, it is about 7:00 am/pm with the assumption that she would take a rest on a bench looking at the sunrise/sunset. According to Byeon, his clock also “suggests the daily patterns of our lives but it also implies our aspiration for a simple life."
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Ten things to look for when selecting your dog’s daycare facility
1. Cleanliness. There should be minimal offensive odor and immediate clean-up of accidents, and the other dogs should be healthy-looking.
2. Playtime provided for the majority of the day. While a two-hour “naptime” is common, during the rest of the day, your dog should have time to play with staff members and other dogs.
3. Proof of current vaccinations. Distemper, parvo, rabies and bordatella vaccinations and/or titers should be required.
4. Adequate supervision. Staff members should be physically in the rooms with the dogs at all times; supervising through a window or a gate is not enough.
5. Safe staffing levels. A good daycare facility maintains an approximate staffing goal of one person for every 10 to 15 dogs.
6. Assessment of a dog’s suitability for the daycare environment. An incoming dog should be tested to ensure that she enjoys the company of other dogs, and should be acclimated to the group slowly and safely. She should be placed in a group of dogs with play styles and energy levels similar to her own.
7. Safety arrangements. Small dogs and large dogs should be segregated.
8. Size of the facility appropriate for the number of dogs. Ideally, each dog needs approximately 70 to 100 square feet of space for safe off-leash play.
9. A staff with experience and knowledge in animal group behavior. Look for staff members who attend seminars, belong to daycare groups such as the American Boarding Kennel Association daycare division, or have experience working with dogs in groups.
10. Appropriate control measures. Avoid daycares where the staff controls the dogs by routinely punishing or physically manipulating them. These control measures include interrupting the dogs by calling them away from a potential conflict, giving short (2-3 minute) time out periods, or redirecting the dogs to more appropriate behaviors.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Eyes in the Sky can help find your dogs
Does your dog suffer from wanderlust? Or during those long summertime hikes, do you worry that she might follow her nose just a little too far and turn up missing? Or would you like additional peace of mind while exploring the backcountry with your dog? A Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking device could help allay those concerns. There are now at least five products on the market that can help you track down your pooch. Three require monthly service charges beyond the initial purchase (Globalpetfinder, Pocketfinder and Zoombak), while two employ handheld tracking devices and have no monthly charges (RoamEO and Garmin’s Astro Dog Tracking System).
All of the units, with the exception of the Astro, work by having you set a virtual fence by either walking around the desired perimeter or, in the case of Zoombak and Globalpetfinder, logging the zone size into their system; you are then alerted if your dog, who is wearing the GPS unit on her collar, breaches those limits. (Note: these units do not function as electronic or “invisible” fences.) The units vary as to how the alert is sent and received as well as how the live action of your departing dog can be followed and charted.
Pocketfinder’s PetFinder, the newest ($130, $15/month), uses the nifty Microsoft Virtual Earth platform for its mapping interface. When your dog moves beyond the allowable zone, you receive an alert via a text message or e-mail—meaning you have to have your cell phone or be near a computer to receive it. A prototype was recently tested by a Los Angeles Times writer, who noted that the alert came minutes after his dog had left the zone, and that the map had a slow refresh rate (five minutes).
Zoombak ($200, $15/month) works in a similar manner, but you set the boundary by logging it into their system on a computer. Its mapping interface might not be as refined as Pocketfinder’s, but the device can be refreshed manually, so the wanderer’s location can be established in a matter of seconds. Globalpetfinder ($290, up to $19.98/month) also uses cell phones, PDAs and computers for the alert. You can create a virtual fence of any size through their online command center, and up to five fence locations can be stored. The easiest way to use this device is in its “Basic Mode,” which does not entail setting up a zone; all you do is dial F-O-U-N-D from an account-activated cell phone, and you will be told your dog’s location.
Two cautionary notes: Since many areas have unreliable, or nonexistent, cell phone coverage or less-than-ideal Internet connectivity, be sure your area can be serviced by these systems. Also, almost all of these devices are for medium to large dogs, as the size and weight of the units are likely to overwhelm the small guys.
The two products that use hand-held receiver devices and do not rely on cell phone coverage to track the dog should be more popular with outdoors enthusiasts. The Astro (about $642) by Garmin, one of the first manufacturers of GPS devices, has a range of five miles, and claims to even be able to tell whether a dog is on point (or perhaps sniffing a gopher hole!) or running. The wireless receiving transponder is worn either on a collar or on a harness that holds the antenna upright. The dog’s location is radioed to a handheld unit, which has a compass showing the precise distance and direction your dog is moving.
For those who are less than adept at compass reading, it also has a map page showing nearby roads and other landmarks; the location alerts update every five seconds. With the RoamEO GPS Pet Location System ($400), the radio unit is mounted on its own rechargeable collar and your dog can be detected at a distance of up to one mile; plus, it allows you to set up a virtual fence (making it adaptable to home use). Like the Astro, you can also clock the speed of your dog; up to three dogs can be monitored by one unit.
One of the most attractive features of any of these systems (except for the Astro, which mainly functions as a tracking device) is the alert you receive if your dog strays out of her allowable space. Nothing is better than having a well-trained dog with spot-on recall skills. But for some, knowing that those “eyes in the sky” are watching their wandering pup could provide that extra bit of comfort.
A. Garmin’s Astro Dog Tracking System
D. Pocketfinder PetFinder (Location Based Technologies)
RoamEO GPS Pet Location System
C. Zoombak Advanced GPS Dog Locator
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