Winter Walks: Keeping it Real and Safe

Having a Pit Bull (Or any other shorthaired breeds for that matter) and living through Minnesota winters can be a challenge. A short coat with virtually no hair on the underside makes for a cold dog in no time. Shivering is an obvious sign that a dog is cold, but what are some other signs to observe to determine if your dog is chilled and needs to get to a warmer temperature?

  • Dogs will appear to have a haunched over look; shoulders braced and rear end tucked under.
  • They will hold their paws up individually in the air, alternating between them.
  • Often times dogs will hold their tail close to their body or tuck it to conserve body heat.
  • They may slow their pace on walks and runs.
  • When given the opportunity, dogs may seek wind barriers; traveling close to buildings, cars, or trees
  • They will also likely have their mouth closed, again to conserve body heat.

For dogs with longer coats, it’s not always easy to tell if they are shivering so people need to watch for other signs, and also keep an eye out for snow and ice building up between the dog’s toe pads and/or clumping in their fur.

Walking dogs on city sidewalks and streets during the winter can be harmful for dogs’ feet. Places like Minnesota are well salted during the icy, snowy months and the salt can be very irritating for many dogs.

Safety tips for keeping your dog warm and healthy:

  • Use dog boots when walking in salted areas, and/or with dogs with long hair to prevent snow and ice build up on their paws. Or use a musher’s wax to create a protective barrier on your dog’s paw pads.
  • Outfit your dog with a coat or jacket; preferably one that is water-resistant or waterproof.
  • Keep your dog well hydrated during longer outings.
  • Find trails that are packed down or groomed so your dogs aren’t over exerting themselves in deep snow.
  • Always watch for subtle behavior or body language changes that will tell you your dog is getting chilled.

Emma loves running and playing in the snow, but I’m always diligent to watch for changes, since she can get cold quickly. Her knee surgery scars are prone to frostbite, since she has no hair protecting the scar tissue. These are the reasons she wears a full body windbreaker, an insulated coat over top and boots. By taking these measures, she is able to go on longer hikes and romp with her German Shepherd brother who wears none of these items!

Happy trails and stay warm.butt

 

Service Dog Registries

No_Pets“Register your Service Dog or Emotional Support Animal for Free & travel with your pet” is the ad campaign’s catchy headline that grabbed my attention when checking my Facebook account recently.

Curious, I looked up the website to see what it was all about. As advertised, people could simply register their dog with the organization and be listed on their Service Dog Registry. People could also pay to receive kits that included items such as: Laminated ID cards, Official Certificates, and dog vests.  Depending upon what items were included in the kit, the prices ranged from $49-$119.

As I toured the site looking for information that described the qualifications for a Service Dog, I found nothing. One could just register their dog and claim it was a service dog. There was a drop-down menu of disablity choices to choose from, but nothing else required in the way of proof that your dog was indeed a trained Service Animal. There were directions for people recommending that they have identification on their dog, or a vest to indicate that it was a working dog which would limit questioning by businesses. There was also legal information advising people of their rights: saying that under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) businesses can ask if a dog is a service dog, and what duties does the dog perform. They can not ask a person what their disability is, which I agree with. I’m concerned that people could easily abuse these registries by claiming their dog is a Service Dog, when really they just want their pet dog to accompany them everywhere.

True Service Animals that perform specific tasks for their person are highly trained, whether it’s a Guide Animal for the Blind, Impaired Hearing Service Dog, Physical Mobility Support Dog, Seizure Alert Dog, etc.. In many cases it takes months, if not  years, to get the animals to the level of training that would qualify them as a Working Service Animal. Under the ADA, these animals are considered working animals, not pets. Also, the ADA does not recognize Emotional Support Animals in the same category as Service Animals. In the case of Emotional Support Animals, businesses do have the right to ask for signed documentation from a Medical Doctor or Mental Health Provider that a dog is providing emotional support.

However, the advertisements really give the illusion to people that they can simply register their dog, and then have their dog with them everywhere; flying next them on the plane, staying in hotels, restaurants… One slogan reads “Register your Service Dog in just 2 minutes & Travel anywhere with your pet.”

I find this to be a huge disservice, as it has the great potential to harm those out there that do have trained, qualified, working Service Animals. People who truly do have disabilities, where dogs are assisting them and providing them with a better quality of life, don’t need to have the risk of that right being taken away because of someone’s untrained dog.

What happens when a pet dog is falsely represented as a Service Dog and is taken into a business establishment where dogs are not normally allowed, and then that dog reacts aggressively towards someone, or towards an actual working Service Animal? Will true Service Animals end up suffering because of other people’s negligence and selfishness?

Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to take my dogs with me everywhere, but I know they are not welcome at all businesses and establishments, and for good reason. Not everyone loves my dogs like I do. I also understand that my dogs wouldn’t always be on their best behavior in all situations, and I wouldn’t want to risk my dogs getting harmed, or anyone else getting uncomfortable or even injured because I wanted to have my dog keep me company, or felt sorry for leaving my dog at home.

Even if we could take our dogs everywhere with us, would we want to? I ask this because I bet, in many cases, the dog would not be comfortable outside the confines of their home and routine stomping grounds, and would end up becoming more of a distraction for the owner than an aid. Many pet dog owners do not understand common dog body language, and end up missing subtle signs when their dog is feeling uncomfortable or anxious. It’s not until the dog is lunging, growling, or biting that they realize there is a problem, and by then it’s to late.

Until establishments openly accept companion animals to accompany us into their places of business, we better be sure the Service Animals we’re bringing inside with us are providing an actual service, are trained for the task, and are well-mannered in all situations.

 

Independence Day: Pet’s Nightmare

In my town, the annual fireworks show doesn’t happen on the 4th of July, it happens about a week or two before when Winona’s Steamboat Days wraps up. Why Winona chooses to do it that way, I’m not sure…but it means I get to experience the repercussions of firework displays twice; since most people still enjoy celebrating on the 4th, as well, with their own neighborhood home shows.

On June 23rd when many of Winona’s citizens, including myself and several friends, went to the river to watch the fireworks show, I was horrified by the amount of dogs I saw in attendance with their people. In fact it was so distracting, I really didn’t enjoy watching the show because I was to busy watching the dogs and their obvious signs of discomfort and anxiety. The next day word spread quickly that someone’s dog pulled away from them and ran off during the show. A few days later the dog was found dead on the railroad tracks near the site of the show. So very sad, and it so easily could have been prevented!

Please do not take your pets to firework shows–it’s not entertaining for them, it’s scary and loud–animals are much more sound sensitive than people are, and if they happen to be deaf, the vibrations and light from the fireworks can still negatively affect them.

Tips for Keeping Your Pets Safe During the Holidays:

  • Leave them at home, preferably indoors.
  • If your animals must be housed outside, be sure they are secure. I recommend tethering dogs within fenced yards or better yet leave them in a garage, since many dogs will jump fences when they are scared-even tall fences they’ve never attempted escaping before.
  • Have every animal equipped with a collar or harness, and proper ID. Be sure collar and harnesses are properly fitted as well, not to loose where pets
    may slip out of them.
  • If you haven’t updated your pet’s microchip, do so now. Be sure the phone number and address are correct.
  • Turn on music, or the television, or supply some sort of white noise when fireworks will most likely be sounding off.
  • Pull your blinds and shades shut to reduce visual stimuli as well. If your dog is crate trained, keep them crated to avoid them rushing past a door and getting outside.
  • For cats–keep them contained in a room within the house–provide music, white noise, or the television sounds to mask the fireworks. Again, this helps reduce escape.
  • Give your pets enrichment– food-stuffed toys, catnip toys, dental chews–something to occupy their time and give them a distraction.
  • If you know your pet is sound sensitive–there are holistic options for calming them such as the Thunder-shirt, body wraps, pheromone collars, diffusers, and sprays, calming tablets, and music engineered to calm pets.
  • Talk to your vet about meds to reduce anxiety, but be aware that Acepromazine and Chlorpromazine, can actually enhance noise phobia. See video where Dr. Karen Overall discusses this.
  • Acknowledge and be forgiving of your pet’s behavior. When animals are scared, fearful, stressed and anxious, their inhibition and threshold to withstand stressors dwindles-meaning they have a shorter fuse.
  • Don’t reprimand them for being fearful, and don’t force them to be near the “scary noises” in hopes they’ll “get over it”, This will only make matters worse and may elicit aggressive behaviors as they try to protect themselves.

If You Find or Loose a Pet:

  • Contact your local animal control or police dept right away to file a report.
  • Also contact any local humane societies, shelters, and vet clinics; many people take found animals to those locations.
  • Contact the local newspaper and radio stations, since many have a Lost/Found section.
  • Also, use social media sites, such as Facebook to post missing/found animals as well.
  • You can also post a sign in your yard–saying you Lost or Found an animal, so people driving in your neighborhood can see where their animal may be, or where an animal belongs.

Again I can not stress enough how important it is to leave pets at home in a secure environment. Fireworks are fun for us, but not for our furry friends!

 

Rocket Recall; Teaching a Dog to Come: Part I

Rocket Recall; Teaching a Dog to Come: Part I

Having a dog come to you when called is one of the most important cues for any dog to know. This cue can save a dog’s life. Yet, many dogs have what we like to call “selective hearing”; they come when they want to. The reasons behind a dog refusing to come when called depends upon the competing motivators and the dog’s previous experiences. For instance, if you are at a dog park with your dog and you call for your dog, you have the competing motivators of the other dogs around him. Plus, if the only times you call your dog to come to you is when it’s time to leave, which is no fun for your dog, you have previous experiences that your dog perceives as negative. He’s going to continue to play with his buddies and ignore you. We have to reinforce coming HEAVILY at the start and always make sure we’re keeping it fun for the dog.

Here are some pointers to follow when first teaching a rock-solid recall:

  • Do Not call your dog away from something that is fun for them. (e.g. playing with other dogs, eating a meal, chasing a toy etc…)
  • Do Not call your dog to you to do something they don’t like or is non-fun; such as: nail trims, bath time or being crated.
  • Instead go and get your dog, because you’ll probably have to anyway if they haven’t had proper recall training up until this point. We don’t want to poison the cue.
  • Always have reinforcers on you when you’re working on recall training. Reinforcers are what the dog likes, not what you think the dog likes. Food is always a great choice because it’s a primary reinforcer for all animals.
  • When practicing in open spaces, always have your dog on a long-line for safety.
  • I do not advise using shock collars or other aversive training devices, since many dogs develop behavioral issues when such items are used on them.

Your dog should know his name well, which is the first step for recall training. Practice the Name Game with your dog to develop a strong association between their name and good things happening!

Name Game:

  • Grab some treats or do this at meal time and use your dog’s kibble.
  • Toss a treat to the floor, once your dog eats the food, say his name once, when he turns his head to look at you, say YES! and toss another treat to the floor.
  • Continue this game until your dog is whipping his head around to look at you.

The next step is to only say the word Come when your dog is moving towards you. (Note: If you’ve been using the word Come in the past for your dog and he hasn’t  responded, I suggest you start teaching the recall using a new cue word, such as: Here, Front, Pronto, Hurry etc…)

  • Again you can toss a treat, only a little further away this time.
  • Your dog will go out after the treat.
  • This time as he finishes, say his name, when he gives you his attention, take few steps backwards whilst kissing to him or patting your leg, encouraging him to follow you, when he does, say Come.
  • When he gets to you, say YES! and directly hand feed him a treat.
  • Then repeat.

Check out the whole series:

Rocket Recall: Part II
Rocket Recall: Part III

Pets, Independence Day and Safety

Picnics, fireworks, outdoor games and family festivities is what usually comes to mind when 4th of July arrives. Although this holiday is often a fun time for humans, it can be a very scary time for our pets. Here are a few tips for making your holiday weekend less stressful for your pets.

  • Take your dog for nice long walk before festivities begin to exercise them and tire them out.
  • Keep your pets indoors, do not take your dog with you the fireworks show.
  • Give your pets a safe zone away from noisy activities, such as a nice bed in the lower-level of your house.
  • Use D.A.P. or F.A.P. in your pet’s room to help soothe them. (Dog Appeasing Pheromones and Feline Appeasing Pheromones)
  • Use Thunder Shirts or T-Touch wraps to ease your dog’s anxiety.
  • Turn on a fan or some classical music to help muffle the sounds of fireworks outside.
  • Cover the windows, close blinds and shades to cut down on visual stimuli.
  • Please make sure you have a fitted collar or harness on your pet with proper I.D. Tags on it in case your pet escapes and flees.

Have a safe and happy 4th of July everyone!