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Monthly Archives: April 2014

In Praise of Difficult Dogs: Luce’s Story

lucesurveyWhen they say that pit bulls aren’t necessarily a great choice for first-time dog owners, they really do mean it. They’re very high energy, they’re smart, they’re demanding, and they’re frequently not good with other dogs. Oh, and they’re really really strong. But I fell in love with the breed anyway, and so when I was in a position to bring home my first dog, I went to the shelter and picked out a cute little young adult pit bull with silly bat ears and a charming snort.

Oh, I had no idea what I was getting into. Not a clue.

I took her home, I named her Luce, (Short for Eleusis, pronounced like “Lucy” without the y). I fell in love.

But oh, was I in trouble.

“Naughty” doesn’t even begin to cover what she was. The first thing she did when set loose in the fenced yard was check each individual board in the privacy fence to make sure it was secure. Not all of them were. She escaped. We fixed that board, she found a new loose one. She managed to crawl underneath the neighbor’s shed. I have no idea what she hoped to find there– adventure, perhaps. Or something to eat.

Her favorite game was to run like a maniac all over the yard and bite my legs on the way past. She was not being aggressive in any way– she was simply playing in a manner that works for playing with other dogs, just not for us tender-skinned humans. It hurt. She thought it was hilarious.

But the hardest thing to deal with was her extreme reactivity to other dogs while on leash. She would pull, she would scream (and I mean scream, not bark), she would lunge. It was scary and embarrassing.

I was completely out of my league, and I knew it.

I was left with the decision of whether to give up and return her to the shelter and an uncertain fate, or to enroll her in obedience class and try my best.

We started Beginner Obedience a few weeks later, and I had no idea that I was embarking on such an incredible and life-changing journey.

We started out our classes completely segregated from the rest of the group. Here is the first thing I learned: a dog who is freaking out (known in trainer-speak as “Over threshold”) cannot learn. Their brains are so busy freaking out that nothing else gets through. So when I was yelling and jerking her leash to try to make her stop carrying on, I was wasting my energy– she could not hear me anyway.

Food is good. Yelling is dumb.

Food is good. Yelling is dumb.

We were set up behind a barrier. Luce knew the other dogs were there, but she couldn’t see them. So while she was distracted, she was able, with the use of high value treats (hot dogs, cheese, meatballs) frequently delivered for the smallest bit of attention on me, so start to calm down and actually learn some stuff. Sit, down, stay, leave it– all those important Dog Skills.

(A note about rewards: They have to be highly rewarding TO THE DOG. While we like to think our dogs work for our love and affection, really they prefer food or toys. Each dog is different– a dog who goes nuts for cheese may not care about hot dogs. A dog who is not accepting a reward that he typically does is probably over-stressed and you need to take a step back in your training and find the place where he’s not stressing.)

The second important thing that I learned was that heavily rewarding the behaviors that I wanted was a whole lot easier and more effective than trying to punish out the behaviors that I didn’t want. It is much easier for a dog to learn a specific behavior to do than to try to figure out from many options what not to do. In this case, I was looking for attention on me.

For her to learn this, she needed to learn self-control.

Self-control is a really hard thing for a lot of dogs, but it is at the heart of so many behaviors that we want, from walking politely on a leash without pulling to responding to a “leave it” command instead of snatching a dropped pill off the floor. We did a lot of work with Luce lying on a mat on the floor (bathmats work great for this) while I rewarded her heavily with wonderful tasty food for being calm and staying on her mat as I gradually increased the amount of distraction..

So proud!

So proud!

The absolute best resource for this is Karen Overall’s Relaxation Protocol. There is also a handy audio version.

It is boring and it is repetetive but it works. Leslie McDevitt’s Control Unleashed program builds extensively on Karen Overall’s work. Although it was initially intended as a program for dogs who play sports, it has many “real life” applications, and many people with reactive dogs have had great success with it. The puppy book is a bit easier to follow and works great for adult dogs as well as pups.

It didn’t get better overnight. It took time, patience, perseverance. It took a lot of not giving up even when I wanted to. I took class after class and worked with Luce outside of class, and eventually there were very obvious results. My instructor started encouraging me to do rally obedience trials with her. I laughed and said they can have my leash when they pry it from my cold, dead hands. She said that conveniently, the first level is all on leash.

And so began my journey into the world of dog sports. At Luce’s very first trial, we finished in second place. Together we would go on to earn six rally obedience titles, 4 rally obedience championship-level titles, two traditional obedience titles, and two national rally rankings. She retired– she’s 11 years old now– with the alphabet soup of ARCHX Luce CD CD-H RA RLV RL3 RL2X RL1X CGC TT.

Wall of glory.

Wall of glory.

Not bad for a crazy little red pit bull that somebody threw away. I hope the journey was worth as much to her as it was to me.

Further resources for dealing with reactive/difficult dogs:
When Pigs Fly Dog Training
DINOS: Dogs in Need of Space
Dr. Sophia Yin
Local behavior consultant Barb Demerest

 
 

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Why we recommend heartworm preventative for all dogs.

You might notice that we are starting to get more vocal about our recommendation that all dogs either be on monthly heartworm preventative year-round or tested for the disease annually. In the past, we’ve encouraged it, but we’ve kind of slipped a bit recently. It’s easy to get neglectful about preventative when you live in Pennsylvania– it’s not like we’re in The South where they have hundreds upon hundreds of afflicted animals. Heartworm has never been a huge risk in Pennsylvania, and it’s still not.

But.

It is a growing risk.

Heartworm disease is quite literally worms living and growing in the heart. heartwormThe larvae are passed from infected mosquitos biting and transmitting them into a dog’s bloodstream. From there, they spread throughout the bloodstream, and as they mature and grow they migrate to the heart and lungs, where they take up residence. Left unchecked, a heartworm infection can lead to severe heart disease, failure, and death. It is not a nice disease. It can be treated, but the treatment is expensive and somewhat risky depending on the severity of the infection. Often, the damage to the heart is permanent.

Check out this nifty interactive map on the Pets and Parasites website. Click on Heartworm and follow the prompts to check out the PA map. This map shows the number of reported tests and positives. There is not a lot of heartworm… but there is not no heartworm, either. We don’t know how many positive tests were not reported, and we also don’t know how many infected dogs are going undetected. This is the scary part, because these dogs form a reservoir from which heartworms can be spread. If a mosquito bites an infected dog and then later bites your dog, your dog can become infected. It happens as quickly and easily as that.

Our world is changing, and with it, the incidence and distribution of parasites and diseases such as Lyme disease and heartworm disease also changes. It used to be that heartworm disease was not a big concern because we get cold cold winters that killed off all the mosquitos. This past winter was cold, but unusually so. We have seen a trend toward milder weather, and mosquitos like mild.

Another big change is with the animal rescue community. We are seeing more and more small rescues which are rescuing dogs from poor Southern animal shelters and bringing them up here. These dogs frequently carry heartworm disease, and while they might be treated once they get here, they still bring that disease to the area. In addition, many of these rescue groups use a slow-kill method of treatment, which we are now discovering is leading to heartworms which are immune to all of the heartworm preventative drugs we have. Fortunately, this has so far been contained to the area around the Mississippi River, but it’s a scary scary thought.

katrinadogs

Dogs left in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Photo by Tom Fox.

All of these factors contribute to our goal of testing and protecting all dogs against heartworm disease. A monthly tablet (Sentinel) or chew (Heartgard Plus) can stop heartworm infections before they develop by killing any of the larvae your dog might have picked up in the last month. If you kill them off monthly, the worms never have a chance to grow and cause harm. In addition, our heartworm preventative medications help control many of the intestinal parasites which are more common to our area– things like roundworms, hookworms, and whipworms.

If your dog is not currently on heartworm medication, or if you’re not very consistent about giving it and you would like to schedule an appointment to have your dog tested, please give us a call at 717-665-2338. Our staff can give you the information you need and point you toward the test that would best fit your dogs’ lifestyle. We can also get your pup started on preventative to make sure he does not develop this horrible disease.

 
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Posted by on April 22, 2014 in Dogs, Health, parasites, Puppies

 

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Are retractable leashes a safe choice for your dog?

Ah, the ever-popular retractable leash, also commonly known as a Flexi leash. They seem like a great idea on paper– a plastic handle with a leash rolled up inside, giving your dog 15 feet of freedom to explore his world. A thumb on the button will lock the leash at the current length, but unlocked, the length of the leash is dictated by the dog.

Unfortunately, in the real world, the retractable leash isn’t always the best idea.

First and foremost is the concern for human safety.

Flexi-Lead-Warning

Have you ever looked at the special precautions and safety information attached to one of these leashes? Extensive and downright frightening! It is definitely user beware! Cuts, burns, facial injuries, even finger amputations!

According to Consumer Reports, in 2007 there were 16,564 hospital-treated injuries to humans that were associated with leashes. While the report did not differentiate between Flexi and non-Flexi injuries, it did state that “[t]he most common injuries reported were burns and cuts, usually sustained when the cord came in contact with skin as it rapidly paid out from the handle of a leash.” As no other leashes have cords that pay out from a handle, these have to be retractable-leash related injuries. (Do a quick Google images search for “Flexi Leash injury” if you’re feeling brave– there is some awful looking stuff out there!)

Unfortunately, far too often it is not the user of the leash who gets injured. Far too often, innocent bystanders are literally caught up in the leash and injured either by the cord itself or by the handle flying toward them when the dog-owner loses his grip. This is especially scary when you think of how easily a child could get caught up in one of these leashes, and how soft their skin is.

Secondly, there is the concern for the safety of dogs.

There is no shortage of stories about dogs getting into trouble while on retractable leashes. Dogs are hit by cars when they bolt after something and the owner doesn’t have the reflexes to lock the leash (or the locking mechanism fails) before the dog runs out into the street. Dog bites and fights are always a possibility when dogs are not really under the control of their owner fifteen feet behind them. Not all dogs appreciate a strange dog rushing up to them, and a dog coming around the corner far ahead of his owner can lead right into a dangerous situation. There is also the risk of damage to a dog’s neck and throat if he hits the end of the leash at a high rate of speed and is stopped dead by the collar around his throat. Ouch.

You also run the very real risk of a dog getting away from you and getting scared by the big plastic handle “chasing” them, causing them to run in fear and get lost or hit by a car or some other awful scenario. Dogs can also be hurt by the flying plastic handle recoiling toward them.

Most of these scenarios can be avoided by using care and paying attention to your dog, and by only using a retractable leash in appropriate environments.

Flexi leashes really are not appropriate for any place where you are near traffic or large numbers of people or dogs. This includes petstores and veterinary hospitals! The other patients waiting in a veterinary waiting room are likely stressed and not feeling at the top of their game. This combined with an unwelcome greeting from a friendly dog on a long leash can result in even more stress for a sick pet, as well as a dangerous situation. If you must use a retractable leash in these situations, it should be locked at a short length at all times. And keep your thumb off the button of temptation! In public, a traditional four to six foot leash is really a much better choice for keeping your dog safe, as well as keeping the dogs and people around you safe.

Retractable leashes can be a great tool in certain circumstances, however. For example, letting your pooch out to potty in an unfenced area, whether your own backyard or at a reststop or hotel while traveling. They are also a way to give well-mannered dogs the opportunity to explore and be dogs in open, secluded areas. They can be great for hiking on trails that are not heavily traveled. They can be great out in the gamelands when you need to keep your dog with you, but there’s nobody around that he is going to bother.

Hiking on a Flexi.

Hiking on a Flexi.

It’s always best to use a retractable leash with a harness in case your dog does take off on you. That way he does not risk damage to his throat or neck. It also differentiates for him when it is ok to pull (to extend the flexi) vs when it is not (on a regular leash attached to his collar).

Used thoughtfully, retractable leashes can indeed provide a benefit to dog and handler, but it is important to be aware of the risks and to always be careful and attentive about your environment and the impact your dog may be having on others with his Flexi freedom.

 
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Posted by on April 10, 2014 in Dogs, Health, Puppies

 

New weapons in the war on bugs!

Flea season last year was horrible. We saw so many clients with flea infestations who had never ever had flea problems in the past. It was frustrating and expensive for clients, and frustrating for us because they were so hard to treat. While we have an excellent step-by-step treatment guide for dealing with fleas, it seemed that no matter what people were doing, it just wasn’t working.

Recently, a few new products have come onto the market. One is just for fleas, the other is for fleas and ticks. White Oaks Veterinary Hospital is carrying both of them in order to give our clients more options when it comes to fighting the dreaded bugs that our pets can harbor.

The first one is for fleas only and is available for both cats and dogs. It is called Activyl, and we’ve been getting great reviews from clients.

Nobody wants fleas.

Nobody wants fleas.

We are only carrying the flea-only version of the product (the one that also kills ticks is toxic to cats), and it is currently only available for purchase as a pack of six, but at this point it does appear to be a powerful weapon against those dreaded blood-sucking, home-infesting fleas. If you have a kitten and you’re just looking for a general flea preventative, we would still recommend Advantage because it is a bit more gentle. If you’ve been using Frontline or Advantage and it’s working for you– fantastic! No reason to fix something that’s not broken. But we want to make you aware that we do have a potentially more potent option for the really tough flea problems.

Our other new product is something we’re pretty excited about– the first once-a-month ORAL flea and tick preventative called Nexgard.

nexgard

There have been other oral flea preventatives out there for awhile, but this is the first one that works against ticks as well. It is made by Merial, the makers of Frontline, and it has had extremely good reviews. It is slightly more expensive than Frontline, but it’s a terrific option for dogs who swim a lot, are bathed a lot, or have owners who dislike the oily patch that topical preventatives leave.

As with many oral medications, the most frequent side effect is vomiting, but otherwise this product seems to work very well. A number of staff members have tried it and liked it (I love it for my smooth-coated dogs– no mess!) and we are excited to see how it performs this flea season.

As always with tick prevention, checking your pet over after being out and avoiding high-risk tick areas is advised no matter what kind of preventative you are using (and even if you are having your dog vaccinated against Lyme disease because ticks do carry other nasties), but in the area that we live in, ticks are going to be lurking and for many people and their pets, unavoidable.

Nexgard is not available for cats. It is a dog-only product.

If either of these products sounds like something that you might be interested in for your own pet, or if you have any questions about what the right flea and tick preventative for your pets is, please do not hesitate to give us a call at 717-665-2338. We would be happy to help you figure out the best option for your pet.

 

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