Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Eleanor and Milo: an online store that sells unique, eco-friendly dog toys!

Leopold as a puppy playing with toys from Eleanor and Milo!

When I first got Leopold, I bought a plethora of different types of toys because I wasn’t sure what he would be interested in playing with.  Some of the first toys I got for him were purchased from a small online business called Eleanor and Milo.  The business owner, Kate Butler, is a dog enthusiast with a creative soul and the skills to actualize her ideas and designs.  The dog toys and accessories she sells are all high-quality, one of a kind, and are hand-made from reclaimed fabrics.
I truly love the toys she makes (and so does Leopold!).  The toys are durable, delightful, chewable pieces of art!  And the cherry on top is that they’re also eco-friendly. 

Leopold has many toys from Eleanor and Milo and they are among his favorite toys.  I love watching the joy he gets from throwing around his stuffed ball or his toss toys.

To help you get to know Kate and her business a little better, I’ve included a short interview:

L- How did you get started making dog toys?
K- I have always been a maker. I have combined my passion for sustainability with my endless need to make things for as long as I can remember; early on that looked more like sculptures made of found metal, plants, handmade papers and woven vines. However, through getting a degree in Industrial Design, I developed a more holistic understanding of product research, manufacturing methodologies, and bringing a product to market. Eleanor and Milo began with my desire to dip my toe into that world… and I’ll be honest… my desire to have a GIANT box of toys for my dogs.

L- Why do you make them?
K- I make Eleanor and Milo dog toys because I love the idea of creating a product that will result in a tail wag… and maybe even a smile. When I hang out with my two dogs their joy and openheartedness is contagious. I find that one of the best ways to open my own heart is to interact with them - with intention and caring - and that giving them toys and treats is one way to do this. It’s just so good for everyone involved.
On a personal level, I adore spending time in my studio, behind my humming industrial sewing machine, with my dogs on the floor behind me and my music blaring in the background while I piece together one of a kind toys and accessories.

    L- How do you make them--what sort of qualities are you going for?  
    K- Simple – Sustainable – Fun
    Every toy is made with at least two layers – sometimes more – of heavy-duty repurposed upholstery fabric, and then stuffed with re-purposed strips of fabric and a squeaker protected in its own denim pouch. Every single seam is sewn with upholstery grade threads and an industrial sewing machine. I like to use pretty simple construction methods for both the simple aesthetics and because in general the fewer seams the stronger the toy is.

L- Where do you get the materials?
K- Every material in Eleanor and Milo toys, besides the thread and squeakers, is up cycled or reclaimed. The upholstery grade thread I use is made in the US. The majority of my upholstery fabrics are –unused– remnants from the furniture manufacturing industry in High Point, NC. For exciting fabrics, denim for the squeakers, and jersey for the cowls I have two local thrift stores that I frequent. Both thrift stores amazingly donate their profits to animal organizations. And then on top of that I donate 5% of all proceeds from the toys to Independent Animal Rescue each year.

Leopold tries to play with all the toys at once!
L- And is there anything else you might want people to know about your awesome toys?
K- My primary focus with Eleanor and Milo is to offer adorable toys and accessories that have a super small eco-footprint and encourage joy and lighthearted play. I think of each toy as a gift to both the people that order them and the pup that gets to play with them so, I gift wrap each toy in 100% recycled tissue and kraft paper then add a simple ribbon and note. I adore making Eleanor and Milo products, and hope that people continue to discover these toys and share them with others. Thanks!!

If you’re interested in purchasing some of Kate’s amazing toys for your own dog, check out her Etsy store front! I'd also like to mention that Kate does custom work, so if you don't see what you want, make an inquiry: click "request custom item" under shop info.

Monday, November 12, 2012

“Raisin” Awareness: A common food you might not have known is potentially toxic to your dog.

It seems a little random, I know, but did you know that grapes (and their dried counterpart, raisins) can be very harmful to dogs? I was surprised to find this out when I first got Leopold (and consequently delved into the world of dog knowledge!).

Grapes contain a toxin that can cause the kidneys to fail in some dogs, which will lead to death if untreated. This does not happen in all dogs and I’ve heard many stories about people who feed their dogs grapes all the time without observable consequences. I imagine that, just like humans, tolerance to certain foods varies from dog to dog. Unfortunately, some dogs have dangerous reactions to consuming grapes and raisins, and this fruit has been known to cause the untimely death of many canines. The risk is high enough that the general advice is to just not give your dog grapes and raisins at all.

What can happen if a dog eats grapes or raisins?
A dog might start to have some gastrointestinal upset including vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain, and in some cases lethargy and depression. Following that, a dog’s kidneys can start to fail (acute renal failure). Renal failure is very serious and will lead to death if left untreated.

Why does this happen?
As someone who is forever interested in the mechanistic components involved in everything, I’ve been looking into what exactly it is about grapes that are bad. Unfortunately, like many topics I research online, information varies. On the boards, I found some that say it’s only the seed (“My vet told me…blah blah blah”), some say it’s the skin. Many published resources say it is an “unknown” toxin. Basically, they just don’t know yet what about the grape causes the problem. What IS known is that sometimes grapes can cause a dog to go into renal failure and die. Personally, I’d rather not take the risk and I don’t ever give my dogs grapes or raisins. The way I see it, there are lots of other yummy treats available (blueberries, for example) that are known to be safe and even healthy. So why risk it?

What should you do if your dog eats grapes or raisins?
Take them to the vet! Right away! I’ve seen more than a few dogs come into the emergency clinic because they ingested raisins or grapes. When we have a dog come in that has eaten grapes or raisins, we generally try to induce vomiting if the grapes/raisins have been eaten within the past few hours. We once had a pair come in that had gotten into some holiday cinnamon-raisin bread (which was particularly disgusting because the cinnamon made the vomit smell delicious. Bleh!). We also sometimes feed the dog a substance that soaks up any toxins that might still be in the dog’s gut, and we monitor blood chemistry to help evaluate kidney function.

Grapes may be a tasty treat for humans, but they’re best left out of your dog’s diet.

McKnight, Katrina. (2005). "Grape and Raisin Toxicity in Dogs" (PDF). Veterinary Technician: 135–136. retrieved 06.25.2012

Friday, November 9, 2012

Humpty hump and canine hierarchy.

I was at the dog park today during a time when it was hopping!  (Literally, as there were some dogs so happy to play that they were hopping around!)

One reason I love going to the dog park, aside from the satisfaction of getting to see Leopold and Halo be so utterly free and happy, is that I get to talk to other owners.  Dogs really do bring all sorts of people together, which I love.  Today on two separate accounts I witnessed owners remark on the significance humping—both owners commenting on the sexuality involved in the act.  One was saying that she had her dog neutered recently so she figured he’d stop humping, and the other owner assumed it was a male hormone-related behavior.

Humping is actually a dominance-related behavior (unless, of course, there is actually mating going on…).  But under normal circumstance, the humping behavior is just one dog telling another that they’re “top dog”.  Even females partake in this declaration of doggy hierarchy.  Halo has humped Leopold on more than one occasion to assert her dominance.  Because this sort of humping has nothing to do with procreation, spaying and neutering isn’t going to stop the behavior.  Leopold was neutered before he was even ten weeks old; and he humped at least four dogs today at the dog park. 

Though, I should say he tried, as I shooed him off all the dogs he was attempting to assert his dominance over…  I, personally, don’t like my dogs to partake in that behavior for a couple reasons.  The first being that it’s a little embarrassing because, come on, my dog is humping someone else’s dog…. And some owners don’t understand what the behavior really means and instead think my dog is being inappropriate.  The other reason is that some dogs REALLY don’t like being humped and get very angry at any dog that tries.  From what I’ve seen, it seems like humping is a very insistent assertion of dominance, and some dogs really don’t respond well to that.  Leopold has made a couple of dogs angry this way, which is never good.

Interestingly, asserting dominance by humping isn’t just a canine behavior.  Rabbits also partake in the activity.  I was once bunny-sitting for some friends and witnessed it first hand.  The smaller, female rabbit asserted her dominance over the much larger male by humping his head.  Ha!  It was quite funny to watch because the female was so much smaller.

Whether you want to shoo your dog off of others is up to you, but it’s good to know the motivation behind the humping behavior—as some dog fights can start when one dog over-steps its bounds when trying to assert its dominance over another. 

Friday, October 12, 2012

Train your dog and keep your fingers, too! Tips on how to teach your dog to take a treat nicely.

When I was at the AASPCA today, some of the dogs I was working with had yet to learn how to take a treat nicely from a person’s hand. I figured it would make for a good topic to discuss right here on my blog.

The problem.

I’m reminded of an owner whom was in one of the classes I was helping with when I was training to become a pet training instructor at Petsmart. Whenever the owner would offer her (huge) dog a treat, the dog would lunge at the treat (and the owner’s hand). The owner would then basically drop the treat and snatch her hand back; it was very obvious that she didn’t feel comfortable offering her dog a food treat for fear the dog would accidentally eat a little bit of her hand in addition to the treat.

If this happens to you, then this is a great post for you to read! No owner should have to be afraid that their dog is going to accidentally bite their hand. When you’re training your dog, you want to be focusing on the training, not on the safety of your hands.
So if you have a dog that doesn’t take treats nicely, the first thing you need to do is stop trying to train your dog to do anything else! Let’s get this problem solved first. It shouldn’t take long.

Why do you need to take care of this problem now, rather than later?

Because every time your dog lunges for a treat and is successful at getting it, the dog has been rewarded for the lunging behavior and will only continue to repeat this bad behavior in the future! Ah! That’s not what we want!

So from now on, the rule is: dogs don’t get treats unless they take them nicely.

The solution.

The first thing I do is I make sure to hold the treat in the flat of my hand—I sort of hold it between the sides of a couple of fingers. When I do eventually let the dog have the treat, I give it to them with the flat of my hand towards their face. I’ve found that this leads to fewer incidents of accidentally bitten fingers due merely to the fact that they can’t fit their mouth around my hand when it’s in this position.

The next thing I do is offer a treat slowly. As soon as I see the dog start to lunge for the treat, I pull my hand away. They know the treat is in my hand and will learn that the longer they hold still, the closer the treat gets to their face (dog: “yay!”) and closer to their mouth (dog: “yay!”). And eventually they’ll learn that when they sit still and don’t lunge, they actually get to eat the yummy treat. (dog: “YAY!”).

When I finally do give the treat to the dog, I prefer to (gently) pop it in their mouth instead of letting them take it from my hand (some dogs are just a little too rough with their teeth when they try to take the treat themselves).

My dogs both take treats very nicely these days (I’ve even had people comment on how nicely they take treats), and it’s because I follow this simple rule: dogs only get treats if they take them nicely!

Saturday, October 6, 2012

the Star Spinner toy for dogs: good for slowing down fast eaters!

I’m always looking for new toys to help keep my dogs’ minds active. I recently tried a toy called a Star Spinner Dog Toy Puzzle.

What is the Star Spinner?
The Star Spinner is a toy that is advertised as “a brain workout for your dogs”. It has two star-shaped levels of five chambers on each level. The levels spin, the idea being that the dog has to work spin the levels to expose treats or food that you put inside the chambers. Difficulty can be changed by tightening the spinning mechanism so that it’s harder to make the levels spin.
I’ve been using it for Halo at meal time. I fill the chambers with her kibble and let her go at it.

My opinion of this toy.
In terms of mentally stimulating a dog, this toy is on the right track, but I don’t actually think it does a good job of keeping a dog mentally entertained for any length of time. It’s way too easy to figure out.
In terms of difficulty, the instructions say “Continue to challenge your dog by adding more treats inside more chambers”. I do not agree with this. The makers also tried to give the toy different levels of difficulty w/ the tightening mechanism, which is a good design element, but it doesn’t actually make the game more mentally challenging. It makes it more physically challenging, encouraging the dog to scratch at the toy more.
It’s the overall design that makes this puzzle too easy. As soon as the chambers are revealed on a level, they’re all revealed and the game is over for that level. There are only two levels, so the game ends quickly. Halo, who really isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer, figured out this puzzle very quickly. It only takes her a couple of minutes, even on the “difficult” setting, to get at all of her food.
I think it would be better if some of the chambers became covered at the same time as some of the chambers were opened. I also wish it had at least one more level, maybe even two. Additionally, I wish it was a domestic product (it’s made in China and I prefer to buy domestic products if I can).
I think this toy has a good foundational idea, but the design needs some work if they want to be able to honestly advertise it as “a brain workout for your dogs”.

A good use for this toy.
While I don’t think this toy is particularly successful at being a mentally-stimulating toy, I do think it does a good job of slowing down a dog that tends to almost inhale their food because they’re eating so fast. Halo scarfs her food down as quickly as possible, and this toy did a good job of slowing down her eating a bit.

the star spinner in action!  :

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Walkin' Easy with the Easy Walk Harness

Walking your dog is an easy enough concept.  But I’ve learned that going for a walk with your dog is not the same thing as going for a pleasant walk with your dog. 

Most dogs do not know how to walk nicely on a leash at first.  It takes time for them to learn and there are many things you, as an owner, can do to help your dog on his path to walking nicely on a leash.  Ultimately, what a dog really needs is training, but how can you train your dog if you can’t control him to begin with?—this is of particular concern for large, powerful dogs. 

Leopold and Halo are large dogs.  They’re not gigantic, but together they weigh more than I do.  That’s a lot of pulling power—and their strength gives them the potential to pull me all over town if they wanted to.  But they don’t.  If I’m walking the dogs by myself, I take them both out at the same time and we all go for a pleasant walk together.  So how do I manage?
One key to my success in walking two large dogs at once lies in the type of restraint I use: the Easy-Walk Harness.

I was first introduced to the Easy-Walk harness years ago when I was volunteering at a humane society in Madison, WI.  Easy-walk harnesses were pretty standard at the shelter because of their humane-ness and effectiveness.  The clever Easy-Walk harnesses allowed all volunteers to manage dogs of any size.

What is an Easy Walk harness?
an Easy Walk Harness
First, I’ll tell you what its NOT.  It is not a regular harness:  On a regular harness, the leash attaches to a ring somewhere on the back.  In terms of physically restraining and controlling your dog, these normal types of harnesses are the worst thing you could possibly put on your dog because they actually make it easier for a dog to pull their owner around.  When the dog pulls, its entire strength is “caught” by the harness, the force of which then transfers to the back, which is attached to a leash, which is attached to you.  Regular harnesses, while they prevent choking, are best used on dogs that have already learned how to walk nicely on a leash.  They are for trained dogs.

The easy-walk harness, however, is a great tool to help you maintain control of your dog so that you can successfully work on training.

The trick of the Easy-Walk is that the leash attaches to a ring on a loop on the chest.  (I’ve seen knock-off brands that have a similar design; but they don’t use a loop—and the loop is key!).

How does an Easy Walk harness work?
It was explained to me by staff at the humane society years ago that the easy walk harness works so well because of the loop.  When a dog pulls, the loop pulls the two sides of the harness together at the chest, which causes a bit of constriction.  The dog’s movements are restricted just enough that it can’t continue pulling so hard.  The manufacturer (Premier) claims that the Easy Walk works by causing gentle pressure across the chest and shoulders that steers your dog to the side and thereby redirects its attention back towards you.  Whatever the reason, the Easy Walk Harness works.  And from my experience, it seems to work better the bigger the dog is (I think this has to do with the angle that the loop is being pulled).

I’ve tried many different kinds of restraint devices including regular harnesses, gentle leaders, choke chains, and prong collars.  Nothing I’ve found works as well as the Easy Walk Harness.

At this point my dogs are trained to walk nicely on a leash and normally don’t actually need physical restraint anymore.  However, I still like to use Easy-Walk harnesses because occasionally they decide it’s important to chase a bird or enthusiastically greet another dog, and they are difficult for me to control (especially both of them at once) without the harnesses on.

If you're interested in trying out an Easy Walk harness, I've seen them sold in most pet stores.  I would recommend actually taking the harness out of its package while still in the store and trying it on your dog.  Most pet stores are ok with you doing this and will probably even help you get the fit right.

The easiest way to get one of these things on.

The ins and Outs of an Easy Walk 
Getting a dog into and out of an Easy Walk is very confusing for people at first.  I’d like to give a few tips to help make it easier. 

First, leave all the clips shut except the one that goes under the belly (the manufacturers have cleverly used a different color of webbing for the strap that goes on the belly for the user’s convenience).


If you only unclip the belly strap, the loop that’s left is the one you slip over your dog’s head.  Hold onto the strap that does not attach to the leash and slip it over your dog’s head.  Then reach under and behind the legs to clip the belly strap on. 

I keep my hand under the clip so I don't pinch my dogs' skin.

Be careful not to clip your dog’s sensitive armpit skin in the harness!  We’ve accidentally done this to both dogs (poor Leopold and Halo!), so now I like to keep my hand between the clip and my dog’s skin when I snap it shut.

You may notice in my photos that Leopold's Easy Walk harnesses look a bit different from ones you’d see in the store.  I’ve added some fleece to areas of the harness that were rubbing his fur off.

Want to get started walking your own dog with an Easy Walk Harness?  I've seen them for sale at most major pet stores, or you can get them from amazon.com here: PetSafe Easy Walk Harness for Dogs  Most pet stores allow you to take the harness out of the box to fit it to your dog; when I worked at Petsmart, we would help customers fit the harness to their dog right there in the store to make sure it was the correct size before they purchased it.  If you get the harness online, refer to the size chart on the product page.

Happy walking!

Convenient Product Link:

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Xylitol toxcity: Some sugar-free chewing gum and foods may be toxic to your dog

I learned something new last week at work that I would like to share. 
We had a dog come in as a toxicity case.  It had consumed xylitol. 
Xylitol?  I had never heard of it.  Which is crazy because it was first identified in 1891 and has started to make an increasing appearance in food and oral care products since the 1970s.  Apparently I just haven’t been paying that close attention to some of my sugar-free foods.
I did some quick research (thanks google!) and found out that I actually consume xylitol on a near daily basis.  Xylitol is a very common sweetener used in chewing gum (and other sugar-free foods such as mints, chewable vitamins, oral-care products, and some baked goods). 

What is xylitol?
Xylitol is a naturally occurring sweetener often used instead of sugar because it has significantly less calories.  It is a part of a group of sweeteners called “sugar alcohols” that also include things like sorbitol, mannitol, glycerol, etc. 

Where is it found in our lives?
Xylitol is increasingly being found in sugar-free snacks and many dental products due to the discovery that xylitol provides some dental health benefits.  Xylitol is in many sugar-free gums, including Orbit, Trident, Dentyne, and many “dental” gums.  Xylitol is also available to buy in a granulated form for baking purposes. 

What does it do to dogs?
Studies have shown that xylitol, while being safe and potentially has health benefits for humans, is toxic to dogs.  It causes a release of insulin; the increase can lead to hypoglycemia (lowered blood sugar levels).  Very high doses of xylitol intake can also potentially lead to liver failure, which can be fatal.

Why does it cause problems in dogs?
Xylitol is absorbed very quickly in dogs; their bodies are fooled into thinking a bunch of sugar just entered the body, so their body reacts by releasing insulin, which helps the body absorb sugar from the blood.  As a result, the blood sugar goes way down—and fast.  It is reported that blood sugars can plummet in only half an hour.

What should you do if you discover your dog ate some xylitol-containing food?
Take it to the vet right away!  Don’t wait for symptoms.  There might be time to induce vomiting and puke up the gum/food.  If the problem is caught early, the dog can be monitored and treated until the problem is gone. 

According to the ASPCA poison control website:

Initial signs of toxicosis include vomiting, lethargy and loss of coordination.  Signs can progress to recumbancy and seizures.  Elevated liver enzymes and liver failure can be seen within a few days.

How much is a toxic dose?
Research suggests that more than 0.1g/kg can lead to hypoglycemia and more than 0.5g/kg can be much worse and lead to liver failure.
That means, for example, that Leopold (who is 31 kg [69lbs]) would have to consume 3.1g of xylitol to be at risk of hypoglycemia, and would have to consume 15.5g of xylitol to be at risk for liver failure. 
In terms of chewing gum (the most likely source in the average home), one source recommends that if your dog ate gum with xylitol listed as the first sugar alcohol ingredient, then base the dose on the total amount of sugar alcohols; this will result in an over-estimation (but better safe than sorry, right?)
If your dog ate gum with xylitol not listed as the first sugar alcohol ingredient, then assume 0.3g of xylitol per piece of gum.  Also, I cup of powdered xylitol = about 190g.

I chew gum on a regular basis, so I'm glad I learned of this information.  I plan on making sure to keep all gum and other xylitol-containing goods well away from my dogs.


Dunayer, Erik K. (December 2006). "New findings on the effects of xylitol ingestion in dogs". Veterinary Medicine 101 (12): 791–797. Retrieved August 20, 2012.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Fun activity for dogs who like to "disembowel" their stuffed animal toys.

Does your dog like to do this:

Leopold has always liked to "disembowel" his stuffed toys.  I used to stop him before he could completely ruin them and then repair any damage done.  The toy you seen in the photo was repaired probably ten times before I gave up and let Leopold do what he really wanted to do: tear every piece of stuffing out!  What a mess.  But at least he had fun.
Since then I've come up with an activity for Leopold that works with the same general principle (tearing out stuffing!), but is re-usable and easy to clean up.

             * * * WARNING!* * *  
This is not an activity you want to give to a dog that is prone to swallowing pieces of fabric (or other things they shouldn't be eating for that matter!).  This is an activity I would never give to my other dog, Halo, as she thinks fabric is delicious and likes to eat it.

Though remember that it's always a good idea to supervise your dog when it's playing with toys (especially when its playing with pieces of fabric).

MATERIALS you need for this activity:

- Hol-ee Roller Dog Toy, 5"
- pre-cut pieces of fleece fabric
- treats (I often use Zukes Mini Naturals)
- a dog who loves to play!

I like to use the Hol-ee Roller because it's very durable and doesn't do a lot of damage if my dogs accidentally whip it at something.  For a game I like to give my dogs that uses a smaller version of the Hol-ee Roller ball, check out this post.
I use fleece fabric because its a thicker fabric and is also washable!  I've cut my pieces into various sized strips.

HERE's what you do:
Stuff the ball with the pieces of fleece!   Then stuff some treats in the ball.  You don't have to add treats, but it can help make the game more fun for the dog.
I like to actually roll up small treats in some of the pieces of fleece.  Then Leopold is not only more interested, but because the treats are rolled up in fleece, he has to work a little harder to get the treats--this is good mental stimulation as it requires Leopold to figure out how to manipulate the pieces of fabric to get at the tasty bits. 

Want to get started on making your own dog a stuffed Hol-ee roller ball?
You can purchase the ball at most pet stores, or just get it from amazon.com: JW Pet Company Hol-ee Roller Dog Toy, 5-Inches (Colors Vary)
And here's the treats I often use: Zuke's Mini Naturals Dog Treats

[Edit, Jan2014: I put a warning at the beginning of this post, but here it is again in different words. 
Please supervise your dog when playing this game.  If you choose to roll up treats like I do, please please please supervise your dog to make sure they don't eat the whole roll.  I supervise Leo every time.  If you're watching your dog and see them chewing on the whole roll, then you'll be able to stop and correct the behavior immediately and/or take away the game before they consume the rolls and end up at the E.R.]

Now the ball is all ready to be torn apart! :-D

Here's a video of Leopold playing with his ball:

Leopold gets to have fun over and over, and the carnage is easy to clean up:

Hope your dog has as much fun with this game as Leopold does!

Convenient Product Links:


Friday, August 3, 2012

Dog potty training tips: try a crate!

There are many ways to potty-train a dog. I know one common method is to paper-train the dog first. This involves teaching the dog to only go to the bathroom (in the house) on newspaper or puppy-pad diapers. This method makes it easier to clean up messes in the house and requires fewer trips outside—after the dog has learned to go to the bathroom on the paper. However, this method makes it much harder to eventually teach the dog to only go to the bathroom outside. By using this method, you’re initially telling your dog it’s ok to go to the bathroom in the house; under certain conditions, yes, but still. I never recommend that people potty-train their dog this way.

I believe it is less confusing for the dog if the rules don’t change part way through their development and training—no poo or pee in the house at all from the beginning! I believe the best way to accomplish this is to crate-train a dog. Crating works because dogs will not go to the bathroom where they sleep. Keeping a dog in its crate whenever you’re not around or can’t supervise it will help the dog learn to hold their bowels and bladder; this is an important thing for dogs to learn if you ever want to leave them in the house unsupervised in the future. Any occurrence when your dog goes to the bathroom in the house and is not corrected is an instance where the dog doesn’t know it did a bad thing. And you can’t correct a behavior you don’t see happening, so these accidents will only slow down the potty-training process.

The trick to using a crate to potty-train your dog is to always take them outside as soon as you let them out of their crate. If they have been holding it, then they’re more likely to go to the bathroom in the correct location (outside!), which means you can then praise them and let them know that they did a good thing. You can even give your dog a tasty treat as a reward for going to the bathroom outside! Rewards, whether praise or a tasty tidbit, will help reinforce to the dog that going to the bathroom outside is a good thing.

It’s important to remember that very young puppies cannot physically hold their bladder or bowels very long; a good rule of thumb is that a puppy can go one hour for every month of age (though I’m sure there is some variability depending on the dog!). Leopold was ten weeks old when I first got him, which meant I had to take him outside every three hours—otherwise he’d have an accident (in his crate if that’s where he was!). This meant I had to get up in the middle of the night to let him out of his crate so that he could go outside and go to the bathroom, but that’s all a part of owning a puppy.

Potty training can be a trying task, but I believe crate-training can help the process go faster and reduces frustration.

I used a crate to help potty train Leopold.  Here he is at ten weeks old.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Remember to keep your dog cool in hot temperatures!

Around here right now it HOT! Bleh! And we’ve been seeing heat-stroke dogs at the emergency clinic lately because of it—peeing blood, vomiting blood, and pooing blood. Not a good thing. In fact, it's really awful!  Don’t let this happen to your dog!

Just a reminder that dogs can’t tolerate high temperatures the way humans can (and we can’t always tolerate the heat well either!). Dogs have minimal sweat glands; instead, they pant to help reduce their body temperature, but panting only works so well. Therefore, it’s not a good idea to leave your dog outside for long periods of time in these high temperatures. I only let my dogs out for maybe a half an hour at a time, and never during the hottest time of the day (which is actually later in the afternoon, not mid-day; here’s a good explanation of why). Access to water is more important than usual as well.

Also remember that leaving your dog in the car even for ten minutes at these temperatures is incredibly dangerous. Studies have shown that a car can heat up almost 20 degrees in only ten minutes. And over 40 degrees in half an hour. And cracking a window doesn’t help.

If your dog has been outside for a while (or in a hot car) and is suddenly lethargic, vomiting, has diarrhea, and/or generally looks like crap, it might be suffering from heat stroke, which is incredibly serious and life-threatening. The best thing you can do is hop in your car with the air conditioning blasting and hurry to the closest emergency vet clinic. If you’re very far from a vet clinic, you can also try running cool* water all over your dog—make sure it gets down to the skin and doesn’t just run off the fur.  You’ll still want to get your dog to see a veterinarian as soon as possible, however, because heat stroke damages the cells inside the body and your dog will most likely need to be treated.

* Why cool water and not cold?
A veterinarian that I work with told me that a common misnomer is that you should try to cool off your dog with cold water.  In fact, you should use cool water. 
If you use cold water (ice cold water or ice), the blood vessels under the skin will constrict and get thinner (this is called "vasoconstriction").  This restricts the passage of blood to these surface vessels, thereby keeping more blood and therefore more heat in the core of the dog's body--this is a bad thing for a dog experiencing a heat stroke! 
Cool water will work to reduce the temperature a dog because its not cold enough to cause vasoconstriction, but is a cooler temperature than the dog, so it will be able to carry some of the dog's heat away as it washes over its skin.

Running with Leo and Halo: the perfect running buddy sometimes takes time and training!

I love running with my dogs!  I love that I get to have some company, the dogs get to be out of the house and move at a pace more to their liking, and we all get exercise. Both Leopold and Halo love to run and are wonderful running buddies. However, running with my dogs did not start out being an enjoyable experience.

The first time I tried running with Leopold, I discovered the experience was not as amazing as I originally imagined it’d be. Leopold wanted sniff at things and so would suddenly stop, nearly yanking my arm out of its socket, to put his nose to a particularly interesting smell. I also had trouble getting him to run past other dogs without trying desperately to stop and play. Leopold also seemed to have a low tolerance for being tired. Or bored. I could never tell. If he decided he’d had enough, he would stop dead and lay down in the grass. During one run, we were more than a mile from home when Leopold decided he was done with running and wanted to instead lie down in the grass. We turned around right away and headed back, but he continued to lay down in the grass every few minute or so the entire way home. Passer-bys found this to be quite funny and in retrospect, I suppose it is. At the time I found it to be very frustrating (stubborn dog!) and was a little worried (maybe he’s over-heated??).
Over time, however, Leopold has become a much better running companion. He now only stops when he has to do his business, which is perfectly fine. And I’ve learned that I can’t run with Leopold on warmer days because he doesn’t get far before the grass looks more inviting than does the run.

My experience with Halo as a running partner has been, quite literally, a more painful one.  When I first started trying to run with her, she ran like a crazy dog: Halo would weave all over the place and would incessantly pull me to go faster. I tried to get her to run by my side, but was having difficulty getting her to understand. But persistence paid off with Leopold, so I kept making an effort with Halo. At the time I was trying out a new running technique commonly called “bare-foot running”, and was wearing toe-shoes during my runs. During one run, Halo was weaving more than usual, and ended up tripping me a couple times, almost making me fall. This was irritating, but the cherry on top of this awful run was when she ran in front of me and I accidentally kicked her leg in such a way that her entire leg smashed between my toes, snapping my pinky toe out.  I slowly hobbled home, each step sending a shot of pain through my foot. (Who knew such a little toe could hurt so much?) And if the cherry is the broken pinky toe, then the whipped cream was when Halo accidentally stomped on my broken toe as I was trying to get her into her crate back at the house.
I stopped running with Halo after this incident. Partially because I stopped running for a while to let my toe heel, but also because I decided Halo was too unruly of a running partner. It was suggested by Halo’s pet training instructor that first she learn to walk nicely and then we could work on running. Chris and I spent a lot of time working with Halo and teaching her how to walk well on a leash. The next time I tried running with her, she was the perfect running buddy!

I’ve come to learn that successfully running with a dog doesn’t always just happen right away. Dogs aren’t naturally inclined to run directly at your side, suppressing the desire to stop and sniff everything and everyone. It was worth the time and effort to teach my dogs how to run with me though, as we now all benefit from the experience of running together.

How to deal with some bad doggy behavior: playing tug with the leash while on a walk!

Leopold has always been a sweet guy, but when he was younger he would occasionally have outbursts of energy during a walk—he would go bananas. As part of his outburst, he would often grab his leash and start to play tug with it. These instances were incredibly frustrating. And embarrassing. I tried lots of ways to get Leopold to stop playing tug with the leash, but nothing I did worked. The behavior was always rewarded with what Leopold considered play because I couldn’t just let the leash go.

I looked for solutions online and came across a suggestion that worked wonders. The suggestion was to walk your dog with multiple leashes. Brilliant! I started walking Leopold with two, sometimes three, leashes. This way when he started to play tug with one of the leashes, I could drop the one he was tugging, thereby not taking part in the game and not encouraging the behavior. Leo would become bored as soon as he realized I wasn’t playing tug with him and he would drop the leash that was in his mouth and go for another leash that I was holding. I would then pick up the one he dropped and drop the one he just grabbed. It was a bit of a juggle at times, but it worked. Over then next month or so of walks, Leopold would give up trying to play tug with me faster and faster until he didn’t even initiate tug anymore. Woo-hoo!

We still play tug in the house sometimes and he loves to play tug with other dogs, but I’m very happy to say that it’s been a very long time since Leopold has tried to play tug with his leash while on a walk!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Happy training for happy tails: "Don't Shoot the Dog" discusses the merits of positive reinforcement and clicker-training

If you’re a person who is interested in training, whether it be training your dog or training in general, I recently finished a book that I recommend you read.

It’s called Don’t Shoot the Dog and is written by former dolphin trainer and clicker-training enthusiast Karen Pryor. You might have heard of the book—it’s been out since 1984 with a revised edition in 1999. If you haven’t read it yet, it’s worth checking out.

What’s the book about?
Don’t Shoot the Dog discuses training methods in general, but emphasizes on and argues for positive reinforcement as a more successful training method in most situations. The book also discusses what’s been come to be known as “clicker training” and the methodology behind it.

This book is fun as well as informative due to the many interesting examples described. Did you know that you can train just about any animal using positive reinforcement? Dogs, fish, chickens, horses, cats, and even we, ourselves, respond well to this method.

Some other interesting things I learned from Don’t Shoot the Dog are that people have been known to improve their own squash game just by positively reinforcing themselves whenever they made a good play, and brushing off instances when they made bad plays.  I also learned that you can teach creativity to animals. Positive reinforcement tends to encourage animals to figure out what we want of them, which gets them to think and try new things.

I love the idea of fast and effective training methods, but what really got me excited was when I read that animals trained using positive reinforcement tend to be happier. The author gives an example of a police dog that was clicker-trained and now wags his tail the whole time it’s on patrol and out catching “bad guys”.
When Leopold was in puppy school his teacher talked of clicker training.  Up until I read this book, I dismissed the use of a clicker because I didn’t like the idea of having to always carry around a clicker—it just wouldn’t be possible! This book cleared up that qualm, though, stating that the clicker is only important during the initial training of a behavior. The clicker is basically a tool to help communicate with a dog (or other animal). After the clicker has been “loaded” (you have first teach the dog that the “click” sound means they did something good), it is a very fast and precise way to reinforce your dog’s behavior. And since timing is important to the success of positive reinforcement, the clicker is an ingenious way to maximize both you and your dog’s effort.

What exactly is a clicker?
It’s a small plastic box w/ a piece of metal inside that makes a loud “click” when you push it. It’s a very simple device and you can pick one up at most pet stores for cheap.  You can see one in the photo at the top of this post.

Want to know more?  
Grab a copy of Don’t Shoot the Dog if you want to know more on the ins and outs of how positive reinforcement and clicker training works, or if you just want to read something interesting. Check out your local library to see if they have a copy, or you can always buy your own copy on amazon.com here: Don't Shoot the Dog: The New Art of Teaching and Training.  Or if you live near me, you can just borrow mine ;-)
You can also check out Karen Pryor’s website at www.clickertraining.com

And if you want to give clicker training a try, you can pick up a clicker at most pet stores, or you can just get one from amazon.com: Petco Dog Training Clicker.  (At the time I made my links, the Petco brand was the cheapest option, but prices seem to fluctuate over time, so look over your options!)

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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Communicating with dogs: making “sense” of things.

Humans tend to largely use sounds when it comes to communicating with each other. One person talks, another listens (ideally, anyway). So it’s no wonder that we often try to verbally communicate with our dogs as well. “No!” “Sit” “Come here” “Don’t eat that!” and so on. And while dogs are smart enough to eventually pick up on some of the sounds we humans make at them, a dog’s primary means of communication is not based in sound. Yes, dogs do bark, but they tend to get their information from other dogs (and their world) by smelling first, seeing second, and hearing third.

It makes sense to me to try to communicate with a dog in a way that they’re most apt to understand. Unfortunately I, just like all humans, have a relatively awful sense of smell and therefore I have absolutely no idea how to communicate with my dog that way.  I’m left with visual and audio means of communication. Dogs, relying more on sight than sound to communicate, actually tend to understand visual commands better than verbal commands.  To help your dog learn a command even better and faster, double up a verbal command with a visual command.

Some common hand signals in the dog world are:

SIT—hand flat, palm upSTAY—hand out, palm to dogDOWN—point down to floor
WAIT—form a sort of “C” with hand and move it from left to right

Of course, you can always make up your own hand signals. I taught Leopold to bark on command using a hand signal—making my hand into a “mouth” and snapping it shut.
I also use a sweeping motion towards me to mean "come", and I hold my hand, palm up, down and out when I want my dog(s) to give me a paw.

You can see me use some of these signals in this video:

Knowing this, adopting deaf dogs isn’t such a daunting task. Because dogs understand hand signals so well, communicating is easy. When I worked at the SPCA back in the fall, we had a deaf dog. Whenever I introduced the dog to interested, potential adopters, I would demonstrate that the dog knew how to sit using the hand-signal; some people thought I was doing magic! But it wasn’t magic at all—just sign language.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Paper towel rolls: a cheap and fun activity you can give your dog!

*** Caution: this is NOT for dogs who tend to eat and swallow things that they shouldn't!! ***

Leopold loves to shred things. When he was little, he would sometimes try to shred things that he shouldn’t, like my file folders and their contents. Yikes! As a way to stop him from shredding my stuff, I tried to keep my shreddable stuff out of reach (a dog can’t get into trouble if there’s not an opportunity to!). When I did catch him shredding something that he shouldn’t, I told him no and then redirected his shredding behavior onto something that was appropriate. I would give him paper towel rolls instead! By redirecting his behavior onto something he was allowed to shred, I kept him from going off to look for other things to do (ie, finding something else of mine he shouldn’t be chewing on) while also encouraging him to be active and have fun! Another perk is that paper towel rolls are one of the cheapest toys I’ve every come across.Paper towel rolls are now one of Leopold’s favorite toys. When I hand him a fresh paper towel roll, he takes the roll from my hand with an excited gleam in his eye and then prances off to his room, tail wagging the whole time. (Sometime Leo accidentally hits the door frame with the tube as he passes by and the sound makes me laugh every time!).

This activity does make a bit of a mess, but I think the pieces aren’t too much of a pain to clean up—I even still recycle the cardboard as I normally would! For me, taking two minutes to clean up a small mess is worth it for Leopold to have a little bit of fun.

This activity is not for every dog. Leopold is very good about spitting out every little piece that he tears off the paper towel roll, so this activity is safe for him. I wouldn’t recommend giving your dog paper towel rolls if they have a tendency to eat things they shouldn’t. I never give Halo paper towel rolls to chew on because she likes consume anything and everything—she’s like a little vacuum sucking up every little piece of paper and plastic on the floor. You know your dog(s) best, so help them play safe! And if you’re unsure of your dog’s eating behaviors, supervise them very closely during activities such as shredding paper towel rolls until you do know. Although, as always, it’s a good idea to supervise your dog regardless.

Happy shredding!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

What's in a name? Treats of course! Here are some training tips on how to teach your dog its name!

From my experience, most dogs tend to pick up on their name after a while. But if you want to speed the process along, have a thick dog, or want to change the name of a dog you adopted from a shelter (sometimes starting a new life calls for a new name!), teaching a dog its name is an easy thing to do.

What you need:
- yummy treats
- a name that you want your dog to respond to by giving you its attention
- a dog

The training.
step 1: Say your dog’s name, then immediately put a treat in their mouth.
step 2: repeat step 1 over and over (maybe ten to fifteen-ish times?) per session.
step 3: have a few sessions over the next few days or as long as it takes for your dog to consistently give you their attention when you say their name
step 4: after a while, try some sessions where you say your dog’s name, and then wait for them to give you their attention (chances are it will be quick), then reward with a treat. Move to a new location (just a step away is fine) and repeat.

What’s going on.
Your dog is learning to associate its name with a treat at first. Name = treat. Treats get their attention because they’re yummy and desirable. Then they’re learning that when you say their name and they react by giving you their attention, they get a treat. Eventually you can phase out the treats and the name, itself, will just get their attention.  Though, I still like to reinforce the behavior every now and then, just to make sure.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Putting your dog on a "belt" can be helpful when you need your hands free.

A couple weekends ago Chris, Leopold, Halo and I were at the SPCA Walk for the Animals running the Chesapeake Taste booth. We had a great time, and Leo and Halo had a blast meeting lots of new people and dogs! While Chris and I were setting up and taking down our booth, we needed our hands free but had no where to put the dogs; we did an old trick that I learned when Leopold was a puppy. What were we doing? We were making what Chris and I have termed “dog belts”. We fed the leash through the leash handle, making a loop, and then slipped the loop around our waist like a belt. This way our dogs couldn’t run off, but we could have our hands free. Someone from a nearby booth said that it was clever trick and they would pass on the trick to a friend who had a dog. This made me think that “dog belts” might be a nice thing to do a quick post on!

As I said above, “dog belts” are something I learned when Leopold was a puppy. I read about it somewhere and found that a “Leopold belt” was a great way to keep him close to me so that I could better keep an eye on him to keep him out of trouble or correct a bad behavior when it happened (you can’t correct a behavior that you’re not there to see!). Eventually Leopold learned what he should and should not chew on and play with. I continued to occasionally keep him on a “belt” though, because before he learned that he shouldn’t go to the bathroom in the house at all, he learned that he shouldn’t go to the bathroom in the house when I was around. He would sometimes slip around a corner and do his business out of sight because he knew that I scolded him every time he did it when I was there to see. Clever dog. So if he was in a room where he would be able to slip out of sight, even for a second, I put him on his leash and put the leash around my waist. This was a good way to make sure he couldn’t slip around a corner but still allowed me to have my hands free to do whatever it was I was doing.
Making a “dog belt” has continued to be a useful trick for situations in the house (we made “Halo belts” quite often after Halo moved in with us) and out.

Tips on brushing your dog's teeth.

When Leopold was a little pup and I took him to the vet for the first time, it was recommended to me that I brush my dog’s teeth as often as I could. I was a little taken aback because I don’t remember my family ever brushing our dog’s teeth when I was a kid. We would give Max bones and he had a “dental” tug rope, but that was the extent of it. I was told, again, by Leo’s training instructor that it’s a good idea to brush your dog’s teeth, and the more I thought about it, the more it made sense to do so. Dogs can get cavities and tooth decay just like humans, so why wouldn’t I want to help keep my dog’s teeth clean?
I have since been brushing my dogs’ teeth as often as I can remember with the goal of brushing them once a day.  Here’s what I’ve learned about brushing a dog’s teeth.

The toothbrush.
There are special doggy toothbrush products out there. The most common brush I’ve seen is one that has a large brush on one end and a small brush on the other, both angled in a way that is supposed to be ideal for your pet’s mouth. I’ve seen three-sided tooth brushes and little rubber brushes that fit on the end of your finger.
I don’t use any of these.

I’ve found that human toothbrushes work just fine and are often cheaper than the special-made, dog toothbrushes. The criteria I use when selecting a toothbrush for my dogs are based on the fact that Leopold likes to chew on the brush while I’m brushing his teeth.
Right off the bat, that means the finger brushes are out. I’d lose my finger for sure if I tried to use one of those things on Leopold! It’s possible that there are dogs out there that the little finger brushes work well on, but I personally don’t want to risk having my finger chomped.
Leopold’s chewing behavior also means that I want his toothbrush to be sturdy, so I look for brushes that have a harder plastic base. Before trying human tooth brushes, I once bought some very inexpensive “dog toothbrushes” only to find that the plastic was way too soft, and they barely lasted through one teeth-brushing session. You get what you pay for, I guess.
Here's a cheap set of three toothbrushes you can get from amazon.com: Colgate Extra Clean Toothbrush, Medium, 3 Count (at the time I made my link this was one of the cheapest options I could find!)

The toothpaste.
Dogs need special toothpaste because they will swallow it. Never use human toothpaste, as human toothpaste can make dogs (and humans!) very sick if swallowed. That’s why we spit our toothpaste out. Dog toothpastes are specially formulated, using enzymes to help remove plaque while being safe to consume.
I’ve tried many different brands and flavors of toothpaste. Leopold has sneered his lip and subbed all but one brand. The brand is C.E.T. I use the poultry flavor and Leopold loves it. So if you’re having trouble finding a toothpaste that your dog likes, try C.E.T. Unfortunately this brand doesn’t seem to be sold in pet stores. I have seen it for sale at a couple vet offices, but I usually just order mine online from amazon.com: Virbac C.E.T. Poultry Toothpaste

Brushing Leo's teeth is a fun experience for me because its a fun experience for him!
Starting out.
Believe it or not, Leopold loves to have his teeth brushed. I ask him, “Should we brush your teeth?” and his ears perk up and he gets very excited. For him, teeth-brushing is a wonderful treat. So how did that happen? I started slow and kept things positive and fun. The very first time I “brushed” Leopold’s teeth, all I did was dab a little of the toothpaste on his nose so he could be introduced to the taste. He licked it off, I praised him, and that was that. The next time, I dabbed some toothpaste onto his teeth with the toothbrush, and then praised him. Next time, I brushed just a few teeth lightly, keeping the session short, and then praised him. Over time the sessions have gotten longer and he now allows me to actually scrub his teeth with the brush.  I’m still in this beginning stage with Halo. It’s been hard to get her to sit still, but she’s gotten better about that, so I’ve been working more on getting her used to teeth-brushing sessions.

How I brush my dogs’ teeth.
Gently holding Leo's head.
I never use restraint (this is part of keeping the experience positive!) so I first ask them to sit, because a sitting dog is more likely to be a calm dog. I let them sniff the brush and sniff the toothpaste. At this point Leopold is usually flipping his tongue out like a snake in anticipation of the yummy toothpaste. Then, because the toothpaste doesn’t foam up like human toothpaste, I like to smear it on as many teeth as I can before I start to scrub. I use my other hand to gently guide my dogs’ head into a position that is easy for me to work with the brush. I let them chew on the brush a bit (not too much, because I don’t want to go through toothbrushes too quickly!), but enough that they work the bristles into some of the crevasses in their teeth.  And when we're done, I always tell then what a good doggy they are!

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