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Posts from the ‘health and diet’ Category

DIY Wobble Board For Your Dog

Birdie is doing well these days (knock on all the wood) and she’s been fully mobile for a while, so our new goal is to rebuild muscle in her leg. In order to do that, she has to learn that’s it’s ok to use it again, since she’s been avoiding putting weight on it for so long. (Need to catch up? You can read about Birdie’s ACL tear and rehab here and here)

One way to do that is to use a Wobble Board. At physical therapy, our therapist had Birdie stand on one as we gently moved the board around. This forced Birdie to shift her weight to the atrophied leg and activated those weaker muscles as she balanced herself.

I don’t have any photos of Birdie on the board because my hands are always full – I’m holding her in place so she’s secure, but you can see a Wobble Board in action here.

We wanted to keep this up at home, but money is tight, so I couldn’t buy a new Wobble Board. Birdie’s therapist suggested I make my own.

I found a piece of kitchen counter top from the 1950’s (check out that mid-century metallic flecking) sitting around the house and it practically screamed “I wanna rock your dog’s world!”. Who am I to deny an old kitchen counter a new life as physical therapy equipment for my dog?

And so it was born: The Kitchen Counter Weeble Wobble. Also known as the DIY project for people who don’t want to measure much or cut anything.

This is how you can make something similar at your house:

1. Find a piece of counter top, a table top, or get some plywood. It should be big enough that your dog can stand on it with all four legs.

wobble board

2. Next you’ll need a softball, an approx. 4 inch screw, and a couple of washers. Find the center of the ball and with a drill, screw that, uh, screw through the ball and into the center of the board. We stuck a washer between the board and the ball for good measure.

board back

3. Now you’ll need something to act as tread for your dogs. I used rubbery shelf liners. You can also use adhesive stair treads/strips or any variety of gripping, non-skid tape. To get my drawer liners to stick, I used Gorilla Glue (with rubber gloves because I prefer my fingertips with the skin on them).

board supplies

4. After I laid down the tread, I smushed it down real good. If you’re wondering, that’s exactly how Bob Villa describes this step in “This Old Wobble Board.”  And then I let it dry overnight.

board front

5. Done! Wobble it Baby.

board pinterest

Note: this is a pretty steeply angled board. I hold Birdie while she’s on it so she doesn’t hurt herself launching off of it. You can learn how to make a real deal, cut your own pieces of wood, lower wobble board here so you can do more rehab exercises like these.

Don’t want to make one? You can buy a Wobble Board. Check out this one from Fit Paws.

Not sure if you need one of these bad boys in your life? Here’s a few ways your dogs might benefit from the Wobble Board:

1. They improve balance, mobility, and joint strength.

2. If your dog wants to impress all the other dogs at Pilates, they’ll need one of these to work their core.

3. They can help boost your dog’s confidence. Shy dogs can benefit from from tackling weird stuff like this. Start slow and reward generously. Next thing you know, your shy dog will be boldly asking the head cheerleader to Prom.

4. They can help get your dog ready for the Teeter Totter in agility. This is a good intro to all moving thingamajigs.

5. They increase body awareness which can be helpful for just about any dog. Working with the board helps them to become more aware of all four of their limbs. Or two limbs.

 

In other Birdie-Busts-a-Move news, her physical therapist got a brand new, state of the art space ship  hydrotherapy treadmill which we got to try out for the first time last month.

birdie treadmill 2

Birdie, who is as excited about swimming as I am about doing my taxes, did much better on the treadmill than in the pool. I think she liked that she could keep her head above water. She walked at a good pace for 10 minutes. The point? To rebuild that skinny leg!

birdie treadmill

Wobble On!



No Surgery, No Problem: Treating Our Dog’s ACL Tear

Birdie graduated this month (from physical therapy, not Yale).

Turns out, we are doing pretty ok without that surgery she was supposed to get. Conservative Management has officially saved the day by taking care of Birdie’s injury and respecting our budget. Let’s discuss: 

First of all, I’m double-dog-daring myself to believe that she really is doing as well as she seems to be doing. The pessimist in me isn’t entirely convinced. Frankly, I’m afraid that as I write about how well she’s doing, Birdie’s leg is going to spontaneously combust. I have a fire extinguisher next to my desk, just in case.

Anyway, when Birdie tore her ACL this summer (a complete tear, not just a partial), surgery was the recommended course of action. For better or worse, we couldn’t afford it, so we had to explore other options. We landed on a conservative management plan. Here’s what we did: First we restricted her activity. No jumping on and off the couch, no running around in the yard. The goal was to restrict movement and allow stabilizing scar tissue to form. Birdie didn’t mind this lack of activity as her DNA test revealed that Birdie is indeed half Beagle and half a baked potato.

That being said, Birdie isn’t overweight. If she was, we would have had to put her on a diet. Extra weight is hard on injured legs. We did add a new heavy duty joint supplement, plus lots of stinky fish oil to her diet. After a couple of weeks on NSAIDs (which were too hard on her liver and kidneys to continue using them), she’s been off any and all medications. We also added non-slip area rugs around the house, so that Birdie wouldn’t slide on our hard wood floors and tweak her leg or back.

Most importantly, we started hanging out with our physical therapist, Gayle Hickok, a lot. We started with five visits in a row that first week post-surgical consult. At each visit, Birdie got some time with the cold laser, manual treatments and exercises, and then hydrotherapy in Gayle’s heated saltwater pool.

birdie swims

Ton o’ Bricks hits the high seas


Birdie was not interested in swimming – never, not once, not at all. She chose to practice nonviolent resistance by standing still on the pool’s ramp without budging or blinking. Birdie is the Rosa Parks of canine hydrotherapy.

She is also surprisingly strong for a small senior citizen and “Ton o’ Bricks” Birdie had to be lifted into the water, all dead weight, by her life jacket. Once she was in the water, Gayle would gently guide her through exercises. Birdie occasionally faked massive reverse sneezing attacks in order to escape the pool (we know she was faking because the reverse sneezing stop the second her paws hit the concrete. Also, she was laughing at us).

On the other hand, Birdie thought the laser and manual treatments were exquisite, since that part of the rehab required that she be hand fed chicken while lying down on a soft bed. That’s my girl. I was also happy that these treatments were addressing her whole body, not just her bum leg.

Over the past three months we reduced our visits to twice a week, then once a week, then just every other week. From the start, Gayle felt that we had made the right choice – conservative management – rather than surgery, and Birdie’s improvements have backed that up.

About a month into Birdie’s physical therapy visits, we also began using a product at home called the Loop which produces a Pulsed Electromagnetic Field around her injured bits.The Loop is supposed to reduce inflammation and pain and increases blood circulation. I can’t say for sure if it’s helped, but it does compliment the other therapies we’re doing and Birdie continues to be pain-med-free.

birdie loop

Birdie, wearing the Loop, looks sad because no one is feeding her chicken right-this-second.


Last week, Gayle said that Birdie was good to go for a month or more until our next visit. This worried me (my DNA test reveals I’m part Eeyore). But Gayle swore to me that Birdie’s leg is in great condition. She has full extension, is weight bearing and can walk and run around, plus she has no obvious signs of pain when her leg is being manipulated. She’s come a long way since our first visit when she was only using her leg about 50% of the time.

Birdie won’t be competing in a decathlon any time soon ever, but our hope was to reduce Birdie’s pain and help her get mobile again. It looks like we did it. She still has days where she’s a little gimpy, which could be the injury or it might be coming from her atrophied leg muscles. We’re working on rebuilding her muscle and strength in that leg. But most of the time, she’s doing fine.

It’s hard to say which piece of the puzzle had the biggest impact on her recovery. Our physical therapist isn’t sure either. She keeps reminding me that all of the therapies and supplements are playing a part in her recovery and are working together to support her overall health and well being.

That’s the funny thing about taking this approach – it’s clearly working, but there are days when I still doubt myself and the choices I’ve made for Birdie.  The surgical option, plus the recovery and physical therapy that would have followed it, seems so much more tangible and measurable. With the conservative management approach, it’s a bit more subtle and there are fewer vets involved. Things have been going so well, we haven’t been back to see a vet since our original surgical consult.

birdie cold laser

Birdie and Gayle: What’s a little laser between BFFs?


I’m not sure why it’s so hard for me to believe Birdie is really ok. Sometimes I get a little panicky with an internal dialogue that goes something like this: “What if she’s not really better? What if we were wrong and she really does need the surgery? What if her leg is only pretending to be a real leg, but it’s really made up of marshmallows and candy canes, which is why she’s always licking herself? Will we have to buy her a whole new leg then? What if? What if? What if?”

That’s why I have to keep reminding myself that when Birdie runs across the yard it’s the real deal. She’s not faking it so that I won’t worry about her. Dogs are a pretty honest bunch, which I really appreciate. They don’t put on a show for our benefit (They will do it for their own benefit. See: Birdie sneezing in pool).

Dogs don’t tell fibs or fake it to save us from feeling badly or worrying about them. If you give them a toy that they don’t like, dogs won’t play it. Or eat food they think it’s awful. Or sleep on a bed they think is uncomfortable. Dogs don’t tell white lies to spare our feelings.

So I’m starting to believe that Birdie really is as good as she looks. Her life is back to normal. Opting out of that surgery we couldn’t afford in the first place wasn’t such a bad choice after all. In fact, it might have been the right choice, even if we could have afforded the surgery.

It makes me wonder how many dogs would benefit from a conservative management approach as a first option, not a “that’s all we can afford” option. Based on your earlier comments, many people never hear a peep from their vet that conservative management/physical therapy might be an option. That’s a shame. Some dogs do need the surgery, of course, but depending on the individual dog and/or the financial situation of the owner, there are other routes to explore. Vets should at least mention it.

I don’t want to jinx anything – Birdie’s leg hasn’t burst into flames yet – so I’ll just end things by knocking on wood and sharing some resources for non-surgical options if you’re in a similar boat and want to learn more about what’s out there.

Mutt Knee Brace

The Loop

WoundWear

DogLeggs 

In Maine: Pawsitive Results K-9 Rehabilitation 

Whole Dog Journal: Alternatives to Canine Surgery

Whole Dog Journal: Laser Therapy for Rehab

Yahoo Group: Canine Conservative Management

If you know of others, please share in the comments!

Your Picks for DINOS-Friendly Veterinarians

Earlier this month on Facebook I asked Team DINOS (that’s you guys):

“Do you have a trusted veterinarian that goes above and beyond to create a positive experience for your fearful, anxious, or aggressive dog? Are they compassionate about your dog’s needs, rather than judgmental? Are they skilled at handling your dogs using low-stress techniques and/or knowledgeable about behavior modification? “

You guys did not disappoint. So many of you shared your faves that it took me a bazillion and half hours to organize, alphabetize, and link your responses. But I finally have a list to share!

I posted the whole thing over on the Dogs in Need of Space website so you can always find it:

vet capture


Go on over and check it out.

But keep this in mind: picking a vet is so, so personal. A vet that comes highly recommended by one DINOS family might turn out not be the best match for your dog. It happened to me.  One person loves a particular vet, the next person hates them. It’s just the way it seems to go. So, the list is a really great reference, but you won’t know if a vet is the right match until you meet with them. Annoying. I know.

Ok, now go and look!



Searching for Answers: Pit Bull T-Shirts, French Bulldog Woes, and More Poop

The other week I decided to start giving search terms (one of my fave parts of blogging) their moment in the sun. If you missed it, here’s how this is gonna work.

Short version: you search for stuff on Google and a blog pops up in the search results. If you click on the post, then the writer of the blog will see the search terms you used to find their blog in the “search term results” of their blog’s back end.

The search terms are some funny stuff. And don’t worry – it’s anonymous. I’ll never know who searched “cannot commit to children and pets” and wound up on my blog. Not that I don’t have my suspicions. 

Anywhoozle, here are some goodies from the latest batch of search terms. Enjoy!

“Are there t-shirts designed to fit pit bulls?”

Aw yeah! Are there any other dogs on the planet that look better in clothes than pit bulls? This (clearly biased) lady thinks not. The fine folks over at Fit for a Pit agree and they know just how to cut a tee to fit our dogs. Behold:

fit for a pit tees

see all the tees here


p.s. I bet they’ll let you buy one of these sweet tees even if you don’t have a pit bull.



“Are French Bulldogs easy to train off lead?”

“We rescued a 2 year old French Bulldog. He beats up all dogs that come to our home. Can his behavior be corrected?”

“Do French Bulldogs have cellphone aggression?”

“My French Bulldog chokes on his own bile”

I like to imagine that all of these searches are coming from the same family and they’ve got one French Bulldog that’s driving them nuts.

Considering I’ve never written about French Bulldogs before I have no idea why this poor family winds up on my blog every time they search for answers about this piece of work dog of theirs. But they keep landing here, so allow me to take a swing at this:

1. “Are French Bulldogs easy to train off lead?” Depends. How good a trainer are you? No matter what breed your dog may be, just know that it’ll take time to build up a reliable recall (even if you’re a pro and your dog is made of genius) which is a key factor in allowing a dog off lead. And even if they have a great recall, always obey leash laws. No excuses.

2. “We rescued a 2 year old French Bulldog. He beats up all dogs that come to our home. Can his behavior be corrected?” Yes, you can stop bringing strange dogs into his home. Unless your house is a bus stop for hobo dogs and you are required by contract to let them wait for the bus in your living room. Then you might want to work with a trainer to help your dog feel more comfortable with all these hobo dogs entering his home. He may never like itthat’s ok and normal – but perhaps you can help him cope a bit better by giving him some new skills with the help of a professional trainer. In the meantime, manage him and the other dog by crating/gating/leashing, so everyone is safe and your dog can’t rehearse that naughty hooligan behavior.

3. “Do French Bulldogs have cellphone aggression?” Do French Bulldogs work in retail? If so, yes. They hate it when people talk on the phone while they’re trying to ring them up. But, if your dog isn’t in customer service, maybe he’s just freaked out by your Bell Biv DeVoe ring tone? (Get your BBD fix here.) One thing I know for sure: hating mobile devices isn’t a breed thing.

4. “My French Bulldog chokes on his own bile” Poor kid. He’s so worked up from all the hobo dogs talking on their cell phones while he’s busy working on his off leash recall, it’s no wonder he’s puking up his guts.

I hope your vet can help. That sounds like it’s no fun at all.


Final thoughts for this family (or any one else that thought their dog’s breed would make them immune to dog problems): French Bulldogs are hella cute. Hella hella hella cute. So lots of humans snatch up one of these four-legged smashed-faced yummy dumplings because it’s pretty much impossible to resist these dogs. If you put a French Bulldog in front of me right now, I’d stuff it down my shirt and run.

But - hold on a sec, I’m getting up on my soapbox – no matter how cute or where you got them from, French Bulldogs are still dogs. They need training, management, and responsible ownership like any other dog. They’re also just as susceptible to regular dog problems, like leash reactivity, aggression, fear, and general in-need-of-basic-training glitches as any other dog.

That’s because there is NO breed on the planet that you can buy or rescue that will behave perfectly all the time and requires no effort on your part. It turns out that when you get a dog, costume changes are only like 1% of the real day-to-day shit. OK, maybe 3%. No matter what breed or mix your dog is, be prepared to train, manage, and help your dog succeed. Even if they’re hella cute, dogs still need you to do the work. It’s a partnership with a living being after all.

I have no idea if that rant applies to the specific family searching for help with their Frenchy, but I wanted to throw it in for good measure. Now on to the poop.


“Turkeys with wet dark poop”

This is what I get for putting “turkey” and “poop” in the same blog post. I have no one to blame but myself for this one. And now I’m starting to feel obligated to get educated on turkey care. Is there a Dancing with Turkeys book I should be reading? The Way of the Gooble?


That’s it for this week folks. I’ll see you on the back end of the blog!

 

 

You’re Old and I’m Broke: Conversations With My Dog About Surgery

Remember that time my dog tore her cruciate from lying in the sun too hard? Yep, that would be Birdie. My 11.5 year old dog decided to go blow a ligament in her rear leg the other week. Super expensive surgery has been recommended. Beer, please.

Here’s the thing about working with dogs all my adult life: I’m pretty good at giving compassionate, reasonable advice to people who are struggling to make the right call for their dogs.

And here’s the thing when it comes to my own dogs: I am not very good at hearing the kind, reasonable, forgiving lady that lives in my head. She talks to everyone else, but clams up when I ask her to weigh in on my problems. Most times, I can only hear a weepy confused kid spinning around in panicked circles calling me a dick for not being a better dog owner. That kid is such a drag.

So during our recent consult with a very nice surgeon, I found myself suddenly fighting off hot tears when I forced myself to ask her what would happen if I couldn’t afford the surgery that Birdie needs. It made me feel like I was saying, “I don’t love my dog.” Which couldn’t be further from the truth.

Here’s what the surgeon said, “You should feel supported if you choose not to do the surgery.”

You should feel supported. Those are some good words right there.

And she went on to say it was reasonable for me to weigh all the variables, including my dog’s age, her activity level, and my financial situation when making the decision to opt for surgery – or not.

Surgery is how much? Just cut it off. I have three more.

Surgery is how much? Just cut it off. I have three more.

 

The surgeon also patiently answered my two million questions about Birdie’s pain levels and what would happen over time to her other limbs since they’d have to pick up the slack of her bum leg.

We ultimately agreed that this was not emergency surgery and it was reasonable to give Birdie four weeks of rest combined with cold laser treatments and hydrotherapy (with an awesome physical therapist  Birdie knows and loves). And then we’d revisit the idea of surgery.

 

Of course, four weeks from now, if the results from physical therapy aren’t what we hope they’ll be, it still won’t change the gist of the conversation I had with Birdie on the way home from the surgical consult:

Me: Your dad and I are broke.

Birdie: Phumpfh.

Me: You’re kind of old.

Birdie: Phumpfh.

Me: We’re broke and you’re old. I feel like maybe it’s ok to choose not to sink an entire line of credit into one of your legs. Right?

Birdie: Phumpfh.

Me: Birdie, listen. I feel like an asshole trying to figure out how much your leg is worth. I don’t want you to be in pain, but that’s a lot of money. If you want the surgery, I’ll rob a bank to pay for it (or use a credit card). Just tell me what you want me to do. I don’t want to make the wrong choice and have you suffer for the rest of your life. I hate the idea of putting a dollar sign on your leg. You deserve all the bionic legs a dog could ever dream of having…I’m sorry I’m not rich. Just tell me: What do you want me to do?

Birdie: zzzzz-phumpfh-zzzzzzz.

Me: Dammit.

Birdie on bed rest looks just like Birdie on every other day.

Birdie on bed rest looks just like Birdie on every other day.

 

I wish dogs could tell us what they want. One of the hardest parts of caring for our dogs is making decisions on their behalf and feeling badly that we’re not doing the right thing.  A lot of us are beating ourselves up and second guessing everything – from the everyday decisions about diet and training to the excruciating choices we need to make at the end of their lives.

It’s no fun being the one in charge of making the call. As humans we carry around all these conflicting, painful thoughts – about the various options available and what the future holds for the dogs we love so much. Luckily, our dogs continue living in the moment. Knowing stuff is our burden, not theirs.

You might think that those of us who make a living working with dogs would have an easier time making choices for our pets. We know all the questions to ask about quality of life and the different scales to help measure their good days and bad days. Plus we have tons of personal stories from clients and colleagues, etc. to mentally reference in order to help us put our own situations in perspective.

Turns out, when it comes to my own dogs, like most pet care pros, I’m in need of the same sort of outside perspective and compassionate counsel as everyone else. The situation isn’t life threatening (for the record, I’m grateful the diagnosis wasn’t something more serious), but I needed someone else to help me get my footing. And to tell me I’m not a jerk.

I really appreciate that the surgeon told me not to feel guilty for considering my financial situation. And I could have hugged her for saying I should feel supported in trying a non-surgical option first.

It’s what I would have told myself if the confused, weepy kid in my head wasn’t busy shouting about how I was turning into Cruella De Ville for allowing money to pop up when thinking about what Birdie needs. It’s what I would have told any of you, if you were in the same spot.

Thanks for the compassionate advice Doc.

We’re starting rehab next week. In the meantime, Birdie still seems to love me, despite the fact that I’m thinking about the value of her leg repair versus the potential span of her life divided by my credit line. Maybe that’s because she’s thinking about snacks and smelly stuff to roll in, not surgery. That’s my job.

 

p.s. if you’re interested in some alternatives to surgery, this article at Whole Dog Journal is really helpful.

 

Searching for Answers: Turkeys, Soft Poop, and Underage Dog Walkers

One of my most favorite things about having a blog (other than getting to hang out with you guys – seriously, thank you for being here gang!) is reading the search terms that lead people to my blog. For those of you who have better things to do with your time than hang out on the back end of a blog, search terms are the words that people plug into Google or other search engines. Sometimes the terms trigger my blog to pop up in the search results and then those poor innocent people are directed to my posts.


For example, here are a couple of common search terms that bring people to my blog:

“How to make flirt pole” or “Toy on a string for my dog” 

Then they get directed to this post. 

Makes sense right?


Here’s where the fun comes in: people plug in all kinds of oddball search terms that lead them to my blog, even though they’re clearly hoping for something non-dog related. Like:

“How much space do I give my girlfriend?” or “Tell that bitch to back off.” 


Then I get some that make me want to cry, like:

“My dog was killed by a loose dog” or “My dog got hit by a car and died in my arms.”  

These slay me.


But I also get a ton of questions in my search term results. It turns out that, in addition to typing in questions like:

“How do I get my dog to stop pulling?”

We’re also typing in our deep, dark, vulnerable questions, hoping that the Universe (aka Google) will guide us to the answers.


Questions like:

“Am I bad dog owner?” and “Does my dog hate me?”

And much more, much worse. Trust me.


Except it’s not Google/Universe getting the questions, it’s me. And every other blogger out there.

If you click on the blogs that pop up in your search results, then we’re the ones who see you in your most freaked out, desperate-for-answers moments.

Hi.


So I thought: What if I just answered the (anonymous) questions that lead people to my blog?

I feel like these questions and search engine terms deserve their moment in the sun. I’m gonna give it to them.



Here we go. Let’s start with a couple of funny search terms that have led people to my blog this week:


“Turkey Harness”

Do people walk their turkeys? It never occurred to me that they did. Are there TINOS out there? Do I need to start another website?

I don’t know where you get a turkey harness, but I do know that if a dog can get out of a harness, so can a turkey. So, to all you turkey wranglers out there, always use a carabiner for back up. Safety (gobble) first.

Why bother with a harness when turkeys can clearly drive themselves to town? (source)

Why bother with a harness when turkeys wearing cool headgear can drive themselves to town? (source)


“Don’t get mad when a girl cares too much. Worry when she stops caring.”

True that.  Except if caring too much means pulling a bunny boiler ala Fatal Attraction. In that case, go ahead and worry. Go ahead and call the cops actually.


And here are a couple of questions that people have plugged into the interwebz, hoping for answers:


“I have begun a dog walking business. But will people be surprised that I am a kid?”

Maybe. How young are we talking here? When you roll up to a new client’s house, how many wheels are on your bike? Do you have enough facial hair to convince them you’re not a 7th grader?

Depending on how slick your website is, some people will be really surprised that you’re not an adult. If, on the other hand, you made homemade fliers with construction paper and glitter, people might not be so shocked that you’re 10. And they might be fine with hiring a kid to walk their dog. Sometimes kids can be OK dog walkers. And they’re cheap too.

However, lots of families want to hire an adult that is a real pro and for good reason. You’re too young and too full of magic unicorn dust to understand liability issues, but sadly adults are not. Due to stuff like liability, geezers like us may prefer to hire someone that considers dog walking a full time profession and has significant dog handling experience under their belts.

They should know in advance that you’re not an adult.

I'd be surprised if this kid showed up to walk my dog. I'd also be time travelling. (source)

I’d be surprised if this kid showed up to walk my dog. I’d also be time travelling. (source)

Going forward, make it clear how old you are in your advertisements. It’s a waste of your time and theirs for you to show up for your first meeting and have them discover then that you’re 6. Plus, it’s gonna be super awkward. Especially when you have to excuse yourself mid-consultation to have a juice box and take a nap.

Also, be upfront about your handling skills when you’re talking to potential clients. Don’t overstate your skill level. Being a good dog walker – at any age – means recognizing how much people are relying on you being honest and trustworthy. Don’t get a relationship started in a lie (of omission). Admit your newbie-ness and get your feet wet by walking easy, laid back dogs. Or stuffed dogs on wheels.

Please recognize your limits kiddo, even if your clients do not. No one under 18 should be handling other people’s dogs who are fearful, aggressive, or reactive. If something goes wrong (it will) you need to be experienced, insured, and have access to a car or cab to get to a vet asap. Or be able to get yourself to the ER. There are some dogs that really are adults-only when it comes to taking them out in public.

Good luck in your new business. Be proud of who you are – you’re a hardworking kid that digs animals and wants to earn money providing a valiant (if not poop covered) service.  That’s exactly what some folks are looking for, so don’t be afraid to strut your wee stuff.

 

“How come my poop came out like soft serve yogurt?”

Dude. I know why it happens to your dogs (see this), but I’m so sorry you wound up on my blog when what you really need is WebMD or some other site that deals with human #2.  I want to help you, but after reading this page with one eye closed (just in case there were photos), I’m going to throw this one back at you and Google/Universe.



There are hundreds more. I purposely left out the sad ones this first time, but I’ll come back around and answer them sometime in the future. It seems like the people who are throwing those painful questions out into the universe are most in need of a little anonymous support.

Until then, keep asking questions. One day, you might just get an answer!

Our Love Smells Like A Hot Tuna Melt

This past weekend we celebrated Birdie Day at our house. Five years ago we brought Birdie home to live with us (her full adoption story is coming…stay tuned!) and she’s been making our home a much funnier place ever since. Mostly because she farts really loud while watching us eat dinner. It never fails to make us laugh. We are a simple people.

Birdie is the world’s easiest dog to live with and has been since the day she arrived. Because she lived the first six years (that’s right YEARS) of her life at a shelter, Birdie gets to do whatever she wants. That’s the deal. If she had any issues, we’d certainly work with her on them, but she doesn’t, so we don’t. Birdie is polite, sweet, likes naps, and doesn’t poop in the house. My dream dog.

And now she’s 11 years old. So what do you give a silver fox(y) lady like Birdie on her 5th Gotcha Day and approximately 11th Bird-day?

Hot Tuna.

Thanks to our friend Teri who runs Canine Kinship here in Portland Maine, we happened to have the world’s stinkiest dog treat recipe on hand. It took just minutes to whip up these uber-smelly tuna treats.

Here are the deets:

Tuna Fudge

(2) 6 oz cans undrained tuna (or salmon or mackerel)

(2) eggs

1 and1/2 cups of flour

1/4 cup Parmesan cheese

Tuna Treats

Mix all that greatness together, then press it into a greased 9×13″ pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.

tuna fudge

Let cool. Cut into strips, then dice. Makes approximately one ton of treats.  Give or take. Refrigerate or freeze treats.

tuna treats

Super easy, super cheap, super stinky. Birdie thought it was an excellent Birdie Day gift.

Especially because I let her lick the bowl.

birdie licks the bowl

These treats came in handy for the Nose Works class Birdie and I have been taking recently at Canine Kinship. It’s our Girl’s Night Out and Birdie thinks it’s thebestthingever since all she has to do is wander around smelling stuff and eating treats. Stinky treats like Tuna Fudge. What more could a Birdie Dog want?

birdie finds the treat tube

Our pal Nola is also in the class (read her blog here) and was gracious enough to sample our treats this week. Nola gave them a snarf of appreciation.

So there you go: two out two dogs in our class give these treats their drool of approval.

p.s. more on how awesome Nose Works is later. If you’re not doing it with your dogs yet – sign up. It’s a hoot.

Birdie w/the treats in Box

Well, that’s all for now kids. It’s just this one thing: I love this dog.

And our love smells like a hot tuna melt.

Thanks to Teri for the treat idea and to Nola’s mom Danielle for snapping some photos of Birdie working hard in class!

The Inventor of Spray Cheese is My Hero.

Today I splurged and bought myself a veterinary house call.  It was time for Boogie’s annual exam and we’ve been searching for a new vet, so I figured that since we’re switching vets anyway, why not upgrade to an in-house visit?

Last year’s vet visit was a disaster (see: 2011 stink-a-thon) and we figured a visit at home would not only help Boogie feel more relaxed, but it would nice for us too: we have 5 pets and I’m tired of airing out my car for three months after my cats explode in their crates from car sickness. Dude, have you ever tried to get cat pee smell out of a car’s upholstery? Years. It takes years.

The vet was just here this afternoon, so I figured I’d give you guys an update, for anyone following the saga of the wee Boogie.

We didn’t take this vet visit lightly. Prior to today, we’ve been practicing different restraints and approaches to see what’s most comfortable for Boogie and trying to counter condition him to some stuff, like blood draws. Many fearful dogs prefer a blood draw from their rear leg, because it’s scary having people up front, near their heads, but after a lot of counter conditioning (per Sophis Yin’s great resource), Boogie wasn’t getting any more comfortable with it. So we knew we needed to practice restraints for a front leg and maybe a jug draw.

Earlier today, as the clock ticked closer to lift off, I gave Boogie a wheelbarrow of calming treats and exercised him for an hour right before they arrived.

Ok, so picture this: the vet pulls into the driveway.  We started off out in the yard. Boogie was freaked out when the vet and the vet tech (Hi Denise!) arrived. This is something we used to deal with a lot, but in the last year, thanks to lots of practice, he’s started to enjoy meeting new people in the yard. So it was a bummer that it was a rocky start. I’ll chalk it up to being in a new house, since we just moved in a couple of weeks ago and these were our first visitors. 

To let him cool off, we let him hang out with his ball and focused on our other dog, Birdie, for a few minutes.  Birdie loves meeting new people and wanted to show the vet the new cyst she grew on her head. She was really proud of it.

Then we went inside and put Boogie’s basket muzzle on. Boogie needed vaccinations, a blood draw, and a lump inside his ear examined. While he was lying on his bed, getting fed a steady stream of Easy Cheese by me, the vet looked in his ear and gave him one shot, then I picked him up (he was too nervous to leave his bed, but we had to get him on all fours) and placed him between my legs. I loosely restrained him and gave him some distracting-noogies on his forehead while the vet gave him another vaccination in his hip.  Lastly, we restrained him for a front leg (!) blood draw. I rubbed his forehead a lot, feed him more cheese, and told him he was a champ. 

 

Did I ever tell you, you’re my hero?

 

Did Boogie growl during the exam? You bet.

Did he struggle or try to get away? Nope.

Did he eat half a can of cheese? Oh yeah. I heard the nozzle sputter and cursed myself for not having a spare can of cheese on hand (rookie mistake). Luckily I had a Lickety Stick handy. Mental Note: don’t cheap out on the spray cheese next time. Buy a case.

After the examination, we took Boogie’s muzzle off and he approached the vet and vet tech with a wagging tail. Not a bad way to end the visit.

Wanna know one of the very best parts? Start to finish, I think they were here for 15 minutes. Normally, going to the vet takes 2 hours (packing them up, driving them there, waiting in the car, the exam, and return trip. Plus post-car vomit, poop, and pee detail.  And then a stress-induced coma nap.

So the fact that I’m writing this to you all right now, while my husband picks up some Thai food, is a victory in and of itself.

But back to Boogie. I really appreciated that, rather than scold Boogie for growling, the vet just kept examining Boogie while I fed him treats. Hopefully, that approach will begin to change Boogie’s emotional response to being handled by a vet. One of these days, Boogie will need more vet care than just an annual exam, and I’m hoping we can start making it a more positive experience for him.

What was the most helpful thing we did in preparation for the visit?  Hands down it was teaching Boogie to love his muzzle.

All the other stuff helped a wee bit, but the most helpful counter conditioning that we did, prior to this visit, was teaching Boogie that his muzzle is the best thing ever. We started by letting him use it as a giant ice treat (aka the Kuzzle), then had him wear it for very short periods, and then eventually for longer lengths of time and during pretend exams, all while being hosed by Easy Cheese.  We’re talking many, many weeks of cleaning cheese out of his muzzle. It wasn’t overnight.

So the end report: Home visits are super great. Get one. It’s like going to spa, only there’s a stool sample involved. And this new vet is welcome back any time. Most of all – muzzles are really handy. Teach your dog that it rains cheese or peanut butter or liver when they wear one.

Oh, and now for the really good news: tomorrow we leave for a  family vacation with the dogs. Boogie earned it and we can’t wait to take him swimming. Here he is on last year’s summer vacation:

See you all in a week!

Step by Step, Oh Baby*

Hey! Did you guys know that you can buy an affordable 30 day online pass to read Dr. Sophia Yin’s Low Stress Handling, Restraint, and Behavior Modification of Dogs and Cats?

I didn’t! I’ve been pining over that book and dvd set for months – but at $150 it was a little steep for this needs-a-new-washer-dryer gal to spend. So there I was, sad that I couldn’t read her book, which I was sure would help me to help Boogie feel more at ease at the vet. And little did I know there was an affordable online version. Did anyone else miss this option? Go check it out!

dr. yin

This book is heaven for me because my little man Boogie is a scaredy-dog. Most new stuff, situations, and people freak him out. With a little time and a game of fetch, he’s good to go, but he needs a soft touch, especially at the vet. We’ve been lucky in the past and had a wonderful vet that understood how to approach and examine Boogie. But then she left for maternity leave and we lost her. After that, we had a really unpleasant experience in our search for a new vet for Boogie – despite good recommendations, multiple advance emails and discussions with the new clinic about Boogie’s needs – it was a disaster.

The vet visit last year went something like this: The vet throws Boogie treats for a few minutes while standing near him, stares at him, then, just as he’s starting to relax (sort of), she puts him on a metal rectangle on the ground and flips a switch so the table rises out of the floor. Boogie and I were both shocked. I had thought it was clear that she would examine him on the floor. Instead, she took a scared dog and put him on a moving metal monster. Then, standing behind him, she tried to examine his abdomen. No surprise here: Boogie growled at her, a lot.

I was doing my best to redirect his attention, asking him to look at me and giving him amazing treats, but every time he growled the vet sternly told him “NO” and scared him more. I was so stunned that I was having trouble advocating for Boogie (I still feel bad about that). But I kept trying to work with him, so she could finish the exam and then we could get the hell out of there.

Then this doctor stopped the exam to chastise me – she told me I had to stop rewarding him for growling and start telling him “NO” too. And that’s when I lost it. I told her I would never correct my dog for telling someone he was uncomfortable – that correcting away a growl was dangerous because we’d be taking away his attempt to communicate his fear and that leads to dogs biting without warning. If he’s scared, then the approach needs to change. She told me I was rewarding his bad behavior by treating him. I told her she was going to take him off the table that very second and examine him on the floor. She did. Then we left. I was pissed.

So now it’s time for his annual exam again and we’ve decided to try a vet that does home visits. This is good fit us for a lot of reasons:

1. we have five pets, so we have to go to the vet a lot. It would be nice if someone came to us instead of us schlepping our rag-tag zoo across the state.

2. one of our cats gets disgustingly car sick and poops his pants, then rolls in it in his crate while I drive. So every time I get to the vet, I run in yelling, “I need a room for Gus! He’s covered in poop!” and then I spend 30 minutes trying to clean up my 18 pound cat’s poopy pants.

3. Vet waiting rooms are stressful!

4. Boogie will feel more comfortable at home, where he can meet the vet outside and play ball with him before the exam. To top it off, the vet tech coming over is an old friend of mine who worked with me at the shelter and knew Boogie when he was there on the adoption floor.

In preparation of our upcoming visit, I’ve been doing a few things: getting Boogie more comfortable wearing a muzzle, doing lots of ear, teeth, and paw touching to mimic the exam, and trying to find some detailed help for preparing fearful dogs for exams. I found Dr. Yin’s book, but I couldn’t afford it. Behold my amazement when my speed reading eyeballs slowed down long enough for me to see the tab that said ‘online version’ and realized:

I could buy 30 days of online access to the book, videos, and handouts for just $25.

I couldn’t pay fast enough and spent all night reading the book and watching the videos. If you have a dog (or cat) that is fearful or aggressive at the vet or in any scenario, go do the same. While there is a ton of general advice out there on the interwebs for helping your dog get comfortable at the vet, it’s just that – general advice that’s pretty universal: stop by often, go slowly, lots of treats, etc.

But this book gave me exactly what I need: specific instructions on how I can restrain my dog for various procedures and how to train him, prior to the visit, so that he’s more comfortable getting injections, blood draws, ears cleaned.

 

Since I’ve worked in shelters, I do know how to restrain and vaccinate dogs. But no one really taught me how to do this – I just learned on the fly. So I wanted detailed instruction on the various holds, all with the goal of making the experience as low stress as possible, while still keeping everyone safe – and this book delivered. The chapter on “difficult dogs” was especially juicy and delicious.

I’ve been talking with my pal the vet tech, so I know that she plans on doing Boogie’s blood draw from his back leg. Wouldn’t you know it? Dr. Yin outlines how to do this exact procedure, specifically on a fearful dog. It involves a wall, my leg, a head harness, and a lot of calm stroking and head rubbing. My husband and I will practice these moves with Boogie prior to the exam. It feels really good to have such clear, easy to understand instructions – with lots of photos – to guide us.

If your dog is stressed at the vet, the groomers, at home during nail trims, or just fearful of things like novel objects or car rides, you’ll want to read this book and watch the videos. It’s just super user-friendly. And I’m pretty sure that even those of you that have a lot of experience with dogs will still pick up a new trick or two for handling dogs and cats – like different ways to roll them on their sides or how to use a gentle leader to control a dog’s head while you examine them by yourself.

I wish more people who work with dogs professionally were required to read and implement these techniques. I don’t know about you guys, but I often encounter vet techs that have great handling skills, but they work with vets that are as graceful and comforting as Dr. Frankenstein:

These vets have all the book smarts, but no bedside manner. That would be fine, just book smarts, if they never had to touch the dogs and the vet techs could do all the handling, but vets have to touch the dogs. So why aren’t more of them taking a few hours here and there to read this book and get educated? Why isn’t it a priority for vets to learn how to properly handle dogs and cats in order to make the experience a positive and safe one for everyone involved? I’m kind of peeved it’s not on everyone’s must read list.

If you work in a shelter and you need to do vet rounds, please ask your boss to buy you this book.

 

If they won’t, sign up for the 30 day online version. Not only will it help you do the medical tasks you have to do as part of your daily work, but it has great tips for stuff like: entering/existing kennels, how to safely approach and leash fearful dogs at the back of kennels, and how to avoid using a rabies pole. I wish I had this resource a few years ago when I was at the shelter.

And can I just say that I’m even more annoyed at the vet from last year after reading this book? It addresses the exact scenario I encountered: someone who thinks it’s wrong to reward a dog when they are afraid. This video shows how using treats can change the emotional response of the dog, even while they’re growling.

When I emailed the old clinic to ask for Boogie’s records, they wanted to know why I was leaving and if I was unsatisfied with my experience. I was too shaken up last year to say much – I truly felt like I had let Boogie down by allowing him to be handled so badly – but now was my chance to calmly explain why I was unhappy. This is what I wrote:

The vet techs at XYZ were really terrific, but I’m looking for a vet with better behavioral and handling skills.

I prefer a vet that is willing to alter their approach in order to help my dog feel more comfortable – for instance, sitting on the floor with him, rather than putting a terrified dog on a moving table and standing behind him, correcting him loudly with a “no” every time he growled.

Correcting a scared dog with a firm “no” every time he growls, as this vet did and asked me to do, only suppresses the growl, it doesn’t change how the dog is feeling – that they are uncomfortable with how they are being approached. Teaching a dog not to growl is extremely dangerous and leads to biting without warning.

Although I tried to explain that I was treating my dog after asking him to “look” at me, the vet misunderstood that I was rewarding him for growling. I was not. I was rewarding him for redirecting his attention to me (and trying to make the experience positive). I was deeply unhappy that she didn’t understand this and that she insisted I tell him “no” for growling. We have never had such a stressful exam.

I’d suggest she look into Dr. Sophia Yin’s Low Stress Handling Techniques: http://lowstresshandling.drsophiayin.com/

Hopefully, this vet will check out Dr. Yin’s resources. More professionals need to make this sort of continuing education a  priority. In the meantime, I’m studying the exercises we need to practice in order to make our home visits at the end of the month a more pleasant experience for Boogie. I’m sure it’ll still be a humdinger of a visit, but we’re going to try our best to make it less stressful for our wee man. Wish us luck and stay tuned for an update in September!

* You bet your sweet tuckus that’s a New Kids on the Block reference. Oh baby, gonna get to you girl.

The Vet’s Office: Waiting Room or Dog Park?

I love going to the doctor. It’s my absolute favorite place to meet new friends.

I especially like meeting new friends at the doctor’s when I feel really sick or have a painful injury. I like to shove the icky, hurty part of my body in stranger’s faces, so they’ll poke at it, while slapping me on the back.

Sometimes I’m just there for an annual check up and I feel fine physically, but I’m nervous. I’m worried that I’m going to sit in the waiting room all day and be late for work. I’m anxious that I’m going to get a mean doctor that will pinch me and talk to me about my BMI again.

When I’m really stressed, that’s when I like to look around to see if there are any people I can make friends with in the waiting room. And when I feel this way, there’s nothing I enjoy more than when other patients run up to me and ask me to do a few Zumba moves with them before it’s my turn to see the doctor.

 

 

Yep, I love being sick and nervous, in a tiny space, with no way out, and meeting new friends at the same time.

And see that quiet lady in the corner who’s nervously eating a 100 calorie pack of almonds and trying not to make eye contact with me? I asked her to arm wrestle while I was waiting to pay my bill, but she said “No thank you”.  The nerve!

So you know what I did? I turned to the receptionist and I said, in my best stage whisper, “Some people are so MEAN. I guess that patient’s not friendly, huh?”  I sure showed her how rude she was for telling me no.

SCRREEEEECH! Hold the phone. This is bananaballs, right? No one wants to do group aerobics in the waiting room at the doctor’s. No one goes to the doctor’s to meet a new BFF.

So why are so many people doing this with their dogs in the waiting room at the vet’s office?  If there’s ever a place where dogs need space from each other and the dog owners need to ask permission before their dog approaches another, it’s the vet’s office.

Seriously, why do I have to even explain this? But I do, because this happens constantly, every day, to DINOS owners at the vet.

Lots and lots of people seem to think that socializing at the vet is a good thing and dogs who can’t do that are “bad dogs”. Is it me, or do we have some totally out of whack expectations for dogs when they’re at the vet?

Dogs at the vet are sick, injured, anxious, stressed, or just plain don’t wanna play. Almost every dog at the vet is a DINOS (at least temporarily). It’s not the dog park. It’s a doctor’s office for dogs (and other small animals stuck in their carriers).

 

 

Next time you’re at the vet, keep in mind how much you would hate it if every time you went to the doctor’s office, you had to deal with a parade of “friendly” people who invaded your space, touching and poking at you, and talking non-stop. You would hate it and rightly so.

Common sense rules for the vet:

Keep your dog on leash when entering, leaving, waiting, and paying. That’s everything except the exam room.

Lock your flexi-leads. Don’t let dogs wander around, scaring cats and upsetting other dogs.

Ask permission before you allow your dog to approach another dog.

If they say “No”, just accept it.

Don’t call the other dog owner or the dog “mean”.

Don’t passive aggressively whisper about how “unfriendly” that other dog is.

News flash: When you do that, YOU’RE THE MEAN ONE. People go home and cry about how mean you were to them and their struggling dog.

To the staff at the vet’s office: please require and enforce the rule that all dogs must be on leash. Require that all small animals be secured in carriers. Stand up for your clients when other’s treat them badly by reminding everyone that the waiting room is not a dog park and there are sick, injured, and stressed pets in the room – they have a right to their personal space. It’s just safer that way.

And a final note to DINOS families: If you can, wait outside or in the car with your dogs. Ask the staff to let you know when a room is ready, then go directly into the exam room. Ask if there is a back entrance (there usually is) that you can use, so you can avoid the waiting room entirely. Let the staff know ahead of time that your dog needs space – there may be a particular time of the day when it’s slow and you’re less likely to run into crowds.

Fair enough, right? We can do it folks. Respect, compassion, manners – we’ve got that.

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