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!

Convenient Product Link:


Nylabones: for dogs who love to chew.

What’s the deal with Nylabones?

Nylabones have been around for a long time and have sort of been a doggy staple around my house; I remember my childhood dog, Max, having one, and it was one of the first things I bought when I got Leopold and then Halo. If you’re a dog person, its very possible you're already familiar with Nylabones. But if you're not, then this is the perfect post for you!
Nylabone is a brand name that originally sold only synthetic bones. Though they now have lots of products, their original bone is made of a hard plastic that is supposed to be appealing for dogs to chew. The idea is that as the dog chews the bone, little burs are formed which then scrape the dog’s teeth, helping to keep teeth clean and healthy! For most dogs, the bone is hard enough that they can’t chew off more than tiny pieces at a time; the tiny pieces are safe for a dog to swallow and are safe to pass through the digestive system.
I like to keep at least one Nylabone around for my dogs. My dogs love to chew on them (especially Halo!). Not only do Nylabones do a good job of keeping my dogs’ teeth clean, it’s a good activity to keep them busy and happy. Nylabones are good for powerful chewers and last a long time (Leopold and Halo have been working on their most recent bones for a good month now and most of the bone is still intact!).

Think your dog would like a Nylabone?
You should be able to pick one (or more!) up at your local pet store, or you can get them here from amazon.com: Nylabone Dura Chew Giant Original Flavored Bone Dog Chew Toy

Halo and Leo's Nylabone after a month of chewing.

A word of caution.

There is a softer version from Nylabone that are advertised for puppies. These bones are not safe for adult dogs or even older puppies. If your dog or puppy is chewing off chunks of their Nylabone, take it away immediately! (That goes for regular Nylabones, also—I know there are some super powerful chewers out there that could possibly take off large chunks from regular Nylabones, too).
I learned the hard way that puppy Nylabones can make a dog very ill if consumed:
Halo was still young when we brought her home—I considered her a “puppy”. So naturally I bought a puppy Nylabone. I gave her the bone and let her chew on it a while; she was thrilled with her chew toy. When I went to check on Halo (I like to keep an eye on my dogs when they’re chewing things), I discovered that Halo was annihilating her new bone. There were chunks and bits of Nylabone all over the floor. It seemed that Halo was eating some of the pieces, too, so I took the bone away. I instead gave it to Leopold, who loves to chew things, but tends to spit the pieces out instead of ingesting them. I assumed he’d do the same with this chew toy. I was wrong. Apparently the synthetic bone tasted too much like food and Leopold instead consumed the pieces he was chewing off. I didn’t realize this until Leopold had consumed at least half of the bone. He became very ill and spent the next two days vomiting up pieces of Nylabone. Halo was also ill, though less so because she consumed less pieces. It was awful and I felt horrible for letting this happen to my dogs!
So learn from my mistake and be very careful when letting your puppy chew on a puppy version of Nylabone.

Happy chewing!

Convenient Product Link:

Training tips for some bad doggy behavior: Jumping

The bad behavior.
Leopold, at one point, was a jumper. He would get excited when we or other people first walked through the door and would jump up on us with enthusiasm. It’s true, we didn’t always mind and none of our guests got angry about the behavior (some would even explain that they have a dog and it was ok). But I was worried that someday Leopold, weighing over 65lbs, would jump on someone like say Grandma and knock her to the ground. Or what about a small child? I decided that the jumping behavior had to stop.

The training.
Jumping, it turns out, is one of the easiest bad behaviors to correct. Jumping is really an attempt by the dog to get attention, and any petting done by the human is actually a reward, making the dog successful and the behavior more likely to occur next time. So, to stop the jumping, you need to ignore the dog. Absolutely no attention. Turn your back and ignore the dog. You can even cross your arms and look up to really let them know you’re not paying attention to them. If the dog tries to walk around and jump on you again, you turn your back to them again and continue ignoring the dog. Don’t push the dog off with your hands, as that could be seen as “play” by your dog and might be encouraging rather than corrective. After the dog stops jumping or maybe even sits, THEN give them the attention that they’re after. You’ve just rewarded polite, four-paws-on-the-ground behavior! Using this method of behavior correction, Leopold stopped jumping up on people after only a couple weeks. We haven’t had a problem with him since. Instead, he greets us at the door excitedly wiggling his body in every direction, but his paws never leave the ground. We did the same training with Halo as soon as she joined our household and was trained out of the bad jumping behavior in a similarly short time.

A training hurdle and how to (politely) jump it.
Over the years, I’ve found that the hardest part of training a dog is actually training all the people who come in contact with the dog. A dog is going to learn a lot better if everyone who interacts with it is on the same page. It only takes one household member to ruin a dog’s training or at least severely stymie progress. In our house, Chris and I have discussions about dog “rules”—rules on how we are going to react when Leopold or Halo exhibit a certain behavior. Of course, it’s easier to be on the same page for members of the same household, but what about the rest of the world? For the rest of the world (ie, guests), we would explain to them before entering the house that we were in the process of training Leopold to not jump. I’d warn people he might jump on them, and that they should turn their backs and ignore the behavior—to act as if jumping dogs don’t exist. Guests were always obliging and their help sped Leopold’s training along.

Training a dog TO jump.
I’ve heard some people say “I don’t mind if they jump on me” but then yell at the dog when it jumps on other people. How can a dog tell when it’s allowed to jump and when it’s not? I understand that it can be fun to have your dog jump up and place its paws on your hips or belly and then give you kisses; it’s almost like being hugged by your dog. I allow my dogs to jump on me, but only after I’ve given them a signal that it’s ok. I make them sit first, then pat my hips and say “up”. When I’m done giving affection, I put my hands in the air and say “off”. If you want to train your dog to do this, it’s a good idea to wait until your dog has first learned to keep its paws on the ground. And if you see your dog start jumping on people without being given a command, go back to no jumping at all.

A fun dog activity: Newmans Own brand treats + Hol-ee ball!

When Leopold was a puppy, he was full of energy and curiosity. If he wasn’t busy with an activity I gave him, he’d find one of his own, usually chewing on things he shouldn't. I tried to find things for him to do that would keep him occupied (and out of trouble!), but also keep him mentally stimulated. Now that Leopold is older, he’s learned not to get into my stuff, which is great, but it means he gets bored and just sleeps all day if I don’t give him something fun to do. And while I'd love to spend the day playing with my dogs, I only have so much time that I can give them. It’s nice to have activities I can offer my dog that are fun and also keep them mentally engaged for a while.

Here’s one activity that I came up with. It involves a green stretchy, molecule-like ball, called a Hol-ee Roller, 3.5" (the balls come in other colors; it’s just known as “the green ball” around our house). The ball is great for stuffing treats into so that the dog has to figure out how to get the treats out.

I find this particular ball design appealing because it’s so squishy and is not likely to do much damage if the dog whips it around or drops it down the stairs. It’s also very bouncy, which my dogs love. I’ve experimented with stuffing different types of treats inside; most are too easy to get out because they’re long and thin or too pliable. I’ve discovered, however, that the Newman’s Own Organic treats fit perfectly into the ball! The ball has enough stretch to get the treat through one of the holes to the center, and the hart-shape of the treat makes it impossible for it to fall out on its own.  I also like the Newman's Own brand treats (I get the turkey and sweet potato flavor) because they're healthy and made with good ingredients while still being appealing to my dogs.

Think your dog would like this activity?
The Hol-ee Roller ball is sold at most pet stores, or you can buy it from amazon.com: Hol-ee Roller, Size 3.5
And here's the perfect-shape and sized treats: Newman's Own Organic Premium Dog Treats Turkey and Sweet Potato -- 10 oz 
Leopold is a pretty smart guy and it didn’t take him long to figure out that he had to squash his green ball with his foot or mouth to get to the treat inside; though it takes him a while to work the treat out. He loves playing with his green ball, and it makes me happy to see him being active instead of just sleeping all day. Halo has yet
to figure out how to get the treat out (she just throws it around and chews on the ball, completely missing the treat), but she spends a lot of time playing with it. And that’s what I want! If Halo is playing with her green ball, she’s not getting into trouble.

Both Leopold and Halo love playing with their green ball! They get to have fun, and I get to feel good about keeping my dogs’ minds active.

Convenient Product Links:


Halo graduates!

Halo graduated from beginner level school on Tuesday night at PetSmart! The evening started off with an exam: Halo had to show off all that’s she’s learned, including sitting on command, coming when called, and walking nicely on a leash. I’m pleased to say she passed with flying colors!  Of course, the real students in this type of training class are the humans.  My boyfriend, Chris, took lead of taking Halo to training classes and learning how to work with her at home.  Of course I helped, but Chris led the charge and he did a wonderful job with her!
I am a huge advocate for training classes. Whether it be a puppy, newly adopted dog, or old dog you’ve had a long time, I believe that training classes are always beneficial.
For dogs you’ve already had a while, training classes are just a lot of fun. They’re a chance for your dog to get out of the house and do something interesting and new; its good mental stimulation, which will help your dog stay sharp and be happy.  It might also be a chance for you and your dog to work on some of the bad habits they might have developed over the years.
For new dog owners, taking your dog to training classes is a great way to bond with your new furry friend. Training classes are fun—for you and your dog, and are therefore a positive experience that will help form a positive relationship. Training classes will also give the dog owner some understanding of dog psychology and behavior, providing insight to how your dog’s mind works and why it’s doing the things it does. Understanding your dog and helping your dog to understand you is a great foundation on which to start a doggy-human relationship. Training classes may seem like they might just be a way to teach your dog “tricks”, but what you’re actually learning is how to communicate with your dog and how to teach your dog to communicate with you.
Halo receives her certificate of graduation!
Now, I’ve been through beginner classes with Leopold.  And not long ago I even started training to become a pet training instructor (before landing my job at the emergency vet clinic), so I feel confidant that I can teach a dog a thing or two on my own. However, I insisted that we take Halo to training classes despite. I insisted on classes because Halo needs socialization, and doggy school is a great way to help socialize a dog. Being in a class with other doggy students means a chance to interact with those dogs (and their owners!) in a positive setting. Better yet, taking classes in a busy store (we took Halo to PetSmart) means that there are also a lot of other people and dogs around besides those in the class.  When class is over, you can walk around and continue to meet new people and their pets.
Training classes may seem like a lot of money for some, but I find the money to be well spent.  Its a small price to pay for a happier, better-behaved dog!

Pet insurance. It exists! And can be a life saver for pet owners who can't afford emergency vet bills on their own.

I see a lot of very sad things working at an emergency vet clinic.  It's just a part of the job.  But I’ve managed to stifle my tears and carry on in the face of dead and dying animals and their mourning owners. That is….until recently.  Earlier this week presented a case that struck a cord with me in a way that required I go spend a little time by myself because I couldn’t help but cry. A puppy came in that was very sick. It was in and out of the clinic for a couple days before it came back one last time in such a state that the kindest thing to do was humanely euthanize. And while the puppy was in a physically terrible state, the real problem was that the owners didn’t have enough money to pay for the treatment needed to help the puppy get better.

This little puppy is not the first animal that I’ve seen put to sleep because the owners didn’t have money to pay for treatment. Surgeries can cost thousands of dollars, x-rays alone can cost hundreds. And while the doctors at the emergency clinic try to work with and help out those for whom money is an issue, there is only so much we can do while still staying in business. It breaks my heart to see animals for which the only financially viable option is humane euthanasia. Watching this happen to a puppy, which had barely begun to live its life, was very hard for me. All I could think was, life is just so unfair sometimes.

And so I’d like to talk a little bit about Pet Insurance.  Many people don’t know such a thing exits, but it does and there are many companies from which you can purchase policies.
When I first got Leopold, I knew that I could afford food, training classes, routine vet visits, and other doggy supplies. However, the idea of a trip to the emergency room scared me. Emergency bills add up quickly, something I know now more than ever as an employee at a vet emergency clinic. And while emergency vet bills do not always reach the thousands, they can—especially if surgery is needed. So to help ease my mind, I looked into and purchased a pet insurance plan for Leopold. It was incredibly affordable (less than $200 a year) and would provide up to $12,000 in treatment for an emergency situation. The premium goes up a little ever year because Leopold’s chances of needing emergency care for illness or injury increase as he gets older. However, it’s still affordable. And while Leopold has not yet needed to visit the emergency room, it’s nice to know that I’d be able to pay the bill if I had to.
If you’re interested in finding and purchasing a plan, here’s a website I found helpful: http://www.petinsurancereview.com/dog.asp
I, myself, got a policy with PetPlan, which is one of the higher user-ranked, but still affordable companies. The plan I got was good for emergency situations.  But there are many companies that have many different plan options. There are even companies that offer plans, for a higher premium of course, that help pay for routine vet visits and vaccines.
I recommend pet insurance to anyone who doesn’t have thousands of dollars that they could potentially drop on treatment for their animal. Paying a little bit now sure beats having to euthanize your fury little friend because you can’t pay for treatment when bad luck stumbles their way.

Keeping the peace: a lesson on dog body language.

There are a couple of miniature poodles in our neighborhood who we often see out walking (with their owner of course)—cute little things that are probably each the size of Leopold’s head. Well… maybe more like his head and neck.
In any case, Leopold and I saw the poodles on our walk this morning. At their approach, Leopold lowered his head, pulled back his ears, crouched his body, and then lay down on the path completely. The owner asked me if Leopold was stalking, as if his poodles were the prey. Not at all! I explained what was really going on, and afterwards it occurred to me that there are probably more people out there who don’t know what it means when a dog lowers his body or even lays down at the approach of another dog; so I thought I’d write a quick post about it.
What was really going on was that Leopold was trying to preemptively keep the peace. He lay down as a show of submission to let the approaching little poodles, which were clearly formidable forces, know that he meant no harm. He did this before they got close enough to start a scuffle so that he could greatly reduce the chance of a scuffle happening when they actually met on the path.
I have to admit, it’s a little annoying that Leopold does this sometimes. It’s awfully hard to be walking when my dog is lying down… And aside from trying to pick him back up, there’s not a lot I can do but wait for him to get up again. But at the same time, I’m glad Leopold is trying to keep the peace.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Bone chewing: Remembing why its important to supervise your dog.

While I was sitting in my room writing the previous post, something else happened that reminded me of another doggy lesson: it’s always a good idea to supervise your dog when they’re playing with and chewing on toys!
Halo was engaging in one of her favorite activities, chewing on a bone, when I heard a CRACK! I turned around to find that she had snapped a huge, sharp chip off her bone! I immediately took the bone pieces away, and seeing as the bone is now too sharp for her to safely chew on, it is now destined for the trash.

Bone chips can cause serious problems if swallowed. The pieces can get stuck in a dog’s throat or windpipe or anywhere along the digestive tract; if they don’t get stuck, they can scrape the linings of the digestive tract and/or be painful and hard to pass. Halo unfortunately had this happen to her not long ago after ingesting small bone chunks from a large, smoked knuckle bone. We learned too late that Halo had chewed the bone in half and had, unknowingly to us, consumed relatively large pieces of the bone. She got sick a day or so later and had to strain to pass the bone chunks. She was lucky that the bone bits didn’t cause more damage. From that experience, we learned that Halo is a little too good at chewing on bones and that closer supervision is needed when she’s enjoying a good chew. It’s also clear from both the knuckle bone incident and today’s cracked bone that Halo should only be allowed to chew very thick bones or antlers so that she can’t break off more than a tiny bit at a time.  Her jaws are just too powerful!

Cleaning Halo's ears for the first time.

Halo had her first ear cleaning not long ago. I was petting her when I got a whiff of a funky, yeasty smell. I’ve smelled such a scent before… on dogs with ear infections. Upon a closer sniff, I learned the smell was, indeed, coming from her ears. At that point the smell wasn't too bad, barely noticeable really, so I just kept an eye on it for the time being. If the smell got worse, it would have been time for Halo to go see a vet. The funky smell went away but reminded me of the importance of checking a dog’s ears every now and then, and the importance of cleaning them if they look (or smell) dirty!

I know that there are all sort of ear cleaning products out there and sometimes they’re necessary (especially for dogs that are prone to ear infections like cocker spaniels and golden retrievers), but I’ve found that just cleaning out the gunk and debris every now and then with dry cotton balls seems to work. I use cotton balls for two reasons: they’re large enough that there’s no way they’re going to go down the ear canal (never insert anything into the ear canal!), and they can be squished easily and gently into all the grooves of a dog’s ear without my finger being squished into the groove also (which I imagine might hurt or at least be uncomfortable for the dog).

I’ve been handling Leopold’s ears since he was a pup; he’s very used to an occasional ear cleaning (and frequent ear checks!), so he’s very good about sitting still while I clean out all the gunk and dirt. But dogs don’t start out feeling comfortable with you squishing cotton balls into their ears. So how do you clean a dog’s ears for the first time? I’ve found that it’s important to always keep these types of things positive for the dog. To keep the experience fun and interesting, I let Halo sniff the cotton balls periodically throughout the process (for some reason dogs seem to really like to sniff the gunk that comes out of their ears!). I also gave her lots of praise and reassurance and used as little restraint as possible—it was more like holding her hear steady than restraint. I also kept the session short and gave her a small treat afterwards!

Halo sniffs at a cotton ball.