Thursday, August 24, 2017

Murphy's failing health

Murphy sat staring at my desk this morning. Not unusual if I'm sitting at it. Unheard of when I'm not.

Murphy is 12 years old. His physical health is failing, as is his mental health. We've been together since he was 8 weeks old. I watched him learn and grow and loved having him as my partner. He taught many a client's dog that the world isn't a scary place. His calm demeanor and that sweet face have brought happiness to many.


A couple of years ago I noticed a slight change in his pace. At that point we had walked hundreds of miles together - him at my side, on leash. So I felt the change. Over the next week or two, the change grew more pronounced. After talking to my vet, I switched up the way and where we walked, making it a easier for Murph. That was first sign of the onset of old age for my boy.

During the last year, Murphy's hips have deteriorated. He can still walk but often has trouble standing. Occasionally he needs my help to get up and get his back legs under him. If he turns too quickly, he falls. I can't let him walk in rooms with hardwood floors or tile because he will slip and fall. He follows the dog trail that wraps around the perimeter of the backyard a number of times every day. Going out for swim therapy or anything else is not possible because he can't get into my car. The last time we tried - with a ramp - he fell. He's on daily pain meds that are keeping him as comfortable as possible.

Then there are the lipomas (noncancerous growths). He's riddled with them and some are huge (softball sized and bigger). He looks fat but isn't. The lipomas have changed the shape of his body. He's got them in his belly, sides, armpits, and neck. They can't be removed. And they scare the hell out of me. My roommate's lab died when a lipoma that had attached itself to the artery in one of her back legs detached. Tootsie bled out.

And the dementia, which manifests itself like this: Murphy will stand or sit and stare - like this morning - seeming not to understand what he's supposed to do next. Or maybe he's just lost in his own mind. He knows how to get from one place to another in the house and the yard but gets confused if his regular path is blocked. He forgets sometimes that he's just been outside and walks back to the door to be let out again. Habit is his friend. As is Fig, my year old lab. She's learned to be gentle with him and will often sleep next to him.

Murphy has hearing loss, too, and sometimes his breathing is labored. And though all of this is breaking my heart, it's a journey we're taking together.


Love you, Murph! Good girl, Fig!

Monday, July 3, 2017

Dogs & Fireworks

Will your 4th of July celebration include fireworks? You'll likely love the experience ... but will your dog love those bright lights in the sky or be frightened by them?



Fireworks displays can be absolutely gorgeous. But it is the noise they generate that may be a problem for your dog. Make certain this 4th of July is a safe and happy experience for him. First, if you're going to a fireworks display and don't know how your dog will respond, leave him at home.

If you think your dog will be frightened by fireworks that happen near your home, here are some ways to help him:
  • Close all your windows, blinds, and curtains. This will lesson the effect of the noise and bright flashes of nearby fireworks.
  • Leave the TV or radio on to help distract your dog from the noises outside. 
  • Play music specifically created to calm dogs like Through a Dog's Ear.
  • Put a Thundershirt on your dog the morning of the 4th. Leave it on until the morning of the 5th. 
  • If your dog has a place in your home that he runs to - say during a thunderstorm - make sure that safe place is accessible to him. Dogs can be drawn to the basement, under a bed, a closet or a laundry room. Dogs are smart - they know where they can go to feel safest. We shouldn't try to prevent that.
Here are more tips from the American Veterinary Medical Foundation.

Have a happy and safe holiday!

Monday, April 17, 2017

Keep your dog safe as the weather gets warmer

As the weather warms, get out there with your dog and enjoy yourself. Here are a few reminders to help keep your four-legged friend safe.
  1. Don't leave your dog in the car while you run errands or do anything else. What about if you park your car in the shade? No. Why? Because heat exhaustion, heat stroke, brain damage, and death can happen. Fast. If you see a dog (or a child) in a car alone during warm months, call the police.
  2. Is your dog afraid of thunderstorms? A dog who is anxious about thunderstorms can become afraid of other things, too. How can you help your dog cope? Dr. Karen Becker sums up a variety of possible solutions in this article.  
  3. Working in your yard? Plant food, fertilizer, insecticides and lots of other things can be fatal if your dog ingests them. Some plants are also toxic. Learn more here.
  4. Does your dog have an ID tag on his collar? If he has a microchip, does the microchip provider have your current contact information, especially your cell phone number? If your dog gets lost, you are likely to get him back sooner if he has these two forms of identification.
  5. Check with your veterinarian to see if your dog should be on heartworm preventative. Heartworms - transmitted by mosquitoes - can kill your dog.
  6. Another summertime threat: fleas and ticks. You can use a commercial flea and tick product or go natural. Here are a few options to consider.
  7. Dogs can drown in swimming pools, so make sure your dog doesn't have access to a pool without your supervision.
  8. Protect your dog's paws from hot pavement and sand. If a surface is too hot for you to walk barefoot, then it's likely too hot for your dog as well. Consider booties or a product like Musher's Secret. Puppy's pads are especially susceptible to burns from hot surfaces.
  9. Dogs can get sunburned. Yours may require sunscreen, especially if he has a light colored nose, which can make him vulnerable to sunburn and skin cancer. Ask your vet what to use to prevent sunburn.
  10. Hot weather can lead to heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Both are dangerous and can kill your dog. Signs of heat-related stress include heavy panting, glazed eyes, a rapid pulse, unsteadiness, a staggering gait, vomiting, and a deep red or purple tongue. If your dog becomes overheated, you have to start lowering his body temperature. If possible, move him into an air-conditioned car or building or at least into the shade. Apply cool (not cold) water over his body to gradually lower his core body temperature. Apply cold towels or ice packs to his head, neck, and chest only. Encourage him to drink small amounts of water or lick ice cubes. Get him to a veterinarian immediately. Learn more here.
Provide plenty of water and shade for your dog while he's enjoying the great outdoors with you. And this is a great time of year to take a pet first aid class. Also make sure you have a doggy first aid kit that goes with you everywhere you and your dog go.

Woofs, wags and happy trails!

Sunday, July 24, 2016

8 things you need for your new puppy

There's a ton of stuff you don't need to get your dog for his first day in your home. Here are a few things you DO need to get.
  • Crate; perhaps two if you're getting a puppy and you have an upstairs.
  • A travel crate if one fits in your vehicle. This is the safest way to transport a dog.

  • Food - the same kind he's been eating. After a couple of weeks in your home, change the food if you like but do it gradually over a week to 10 days to make certain the new food doesn't upset his tummy.
  • A bin for his food, large enough to hold a full bag of dog food. Here's why. The puppy in this video is trying to find a way into the two bins of dog food. She's unsuccessful. If these had been bags of food, she would have had a party.
video
  • Bowls for water and food
  • Leash and collar or harness
  • Poop bags 
  • Treats. I suggest you not buy them from the pet store. If you do, make sure they're not made in China. And like in processed human food, look for treats with a short list of ingredients. Personally, I use chicken (boneless, skinless chicken breasts) boiled, drained and cut into pea-sized pieces. I fill snack-sized ziplock bags with the chicken and toss 'em in the freezer, then pull out one at a time for training. String cheese is a good alternative. Both are healthy and easy on a dog's tummy.
And, of course, you'll want a few toys. But don't go overboard. Some puppies don't care a thing about tennis balls but love squeaky toys. Pick up an interactive toy or two. Here are some of my favorites.

Many more trainer tips are in my book, Puppies chew shoes, don't they? It's available in print on Amazon or email me and I'll send you the eBook.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Training Cora, the seizure assist service dog

Ryan is a husband and the father of two beautiful little girls. Seven years ago he had his first grand mal seizure. The severity of his seizure disorder is best explained by his wife:
"He suffers from numerous types of seizures but the grand-mal seizures are most debilitating. When he suffers from this type of seizure he often ends up in the emergency room because he always seems to be standing. When he falls, as the seizure begins, his head breaks his fall. He has had stitches, staples, concussions, and even a second neck surgery due to the falls."
Since there are dogs who can alert a person prior to a seizure, Ryan decided that if one could provide him with enough notice so he could sit or lay down before a seizure, he wanted in.

When Ryan contacted me to talk about training a puppy, I explained that we start the process by finding a pup with the right temperament. What does that mean? It means we're looking for a pup who has no anxiety, fear or aggression. It means a pup with moderate energy. We don't want a high energy pup who's always in motion or a lackadaisical one. It means a pup who loves people and is cool with other dogs. It means a pup who is curious and with any luck at all, food driven. Great play drive is a bonus. All of this usually translates into a dog who is very trainable, ultimately bulletproof, and with a little luck, an independent thinker and problem solver.

Ryan found his puppy. Her name is Cora. First training session: 4/8/2016.


All puppies, whether future working dogs or family pets, start the same way in their new homes. Week 1 is all about getting to know their new family and learning house manners ("no, you can't eat the rug, jump on people, or pee in the house"). Done right, potty and crate training can be accomplished that first week. Then there's tethering - the magic answer to creating a well mannered puppy, fast. Keeping a puppy on leash (attached to an adult human being) most of the time IN the house prevents things like: eliminating off in a corner somewhere, engaging inappropriately with the cat, cruising the dirty laundry for edibles, trash can diving, etc. Tethering also teaches the puppy about being on leash and collar - something she never experienced before. She learns that you weigh more than her so she's not going far when attached to you. She learns to get out of your way or she'll get stepped on. She learns that when you stop moving, she stops moving. And the human-canine bond gets off to a big, positive start. One last thing. She learns that a simple "sit" makes cool stuff happen. She gets petted, fed, played with - all kinds of positive attention. All she has to do is sit.

Ryan is doing all this and more. Every day he works with Cora. Every day the bond between them strengthens. Every day Cora provides the kind of comfort only a dog can. The first seizure Ryan had after he got the puppy was the week of April 18. She'd been with him a couple of weeks. He was home alone. When he regained consciousness after the grand mol, Cora was laying on him. That's nice, right? Oh but it's way more than that. It means that the puppy wasn't afraid of Ryan's seizure. Many dogs would have been. It's also key that she stayed with him rather than wandering off to play unattended in the house. This response by a very young puppy to a grand mol seizure is just exactly what I want to see in a dog who we hope will grow to understand Ryan's seizures so well, she'll react to them before they happen. You go, little girl!

Public access training at the mall


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Public access training at Home Depot


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Ryan teaching Cora the "under" and "down"


It is with Ryan's permission that I share his story. I hope it will help others understand the process of training one's own service. Stay tuned. We've only just begun!

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Is your dog itchy?

A friend texted me this morning about his Labrador retriever:
"Rogue's got some itchy skin for a couple days now. Could it be from swimming in lake/river or I think she just gets seasonal allergies. Or a combo of both. Bath with hypoallergenic or oatmeal type shampoo should make it better right? It shouldn't take away too much of her good or needed skin oil?"
Here in the southeast, allergy season is in full bloom. If your dog is itchier than usual, check out Dr. Karen Becker's blog post "If your dog is itchy or your cat is wheeze, you need to read this." 


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