Friday, March 30, 2012

Dog harnesses: One big problem pug people should know about

Liam the pug in his harness is preparing to run
Preparing to bolt to the right....
Most veterinarians ask pug owners to use harnesses on their dogs. Pugs have very shallow eye sockets, meaning that those little eyeballs are barely held in there by muscles and tendons. It's possible that pugs could pop their eyes right out of the sockets if they wear collars and get a bit too much pressure on their necks. In addition, pugs already have difficulty breathing due to their short muzzles, so placing a restriction on their airways isn't a great idea.

Being a good dog owner who tries to follow the rules is sometimes hard.

A harness, as one of my veterinarian friends told me, is designed to let a dog pull comfortably. The dog feels no pain while pulling, and has no impediment to do so. A collar, by contrast, isn't comfortable when it's too tight, so dogs that pull on a collar have an incentive to stop. Since I don't use a collar, Liam has no incentive not to pull.

I've tried all sorts of harnesses to try and stop the pulling issue, but nothing has worked thus far. Some are designed to keep a dog from pulling you forward; the dog whips back around when the pull gets too strong. This would be fine if Liam always pulled from the front. Since he sometimes digs in behind, this harness does me no good. I can't seem to find a multi-directional, no-pull harness.

In the past, I've just complained about this and then moved on about my business. But, we're reaching crisis proportions now. A sudden dart off to my right the other morning, pulling my arm back, down and to the side, has resulted in a nasty back injury. It's time to take the gloves off.

Anyone have suggestions?

Thursday, March 29, 2012

How to prepare your pets for your dinner guests

Liam the pug cuddled with Lucy the blind cat
Even sweet pets like this can be terrors when guests arrive.
Everyone who has pets has to deal with this issue at one time or another: People are coming over for a visit and you know your animals aren't quite ready for the spotlight. Dogs may bark, cats may hide or either species may exhibit some other horrible behavior and make for some awkward moments.

It seems like everyone has their own preferred method for dealing with this issue. Typically, they fall into one of three groups:
  1. Banishment. The animals are put in some other room or outside until all the guests are gone. 
  2. Full disclosure. Guests are told about the animals in advance, and then the animals can do as they please.
  3. Prayer. Owners just hope this will be the one time the animals won't behave badly.
In the past, I've used all three of these techniques with moderate success. But this week, I decided to try something completely new. I like to call it "training."

When my guest arrived, Liam was allowed to have about 5 minutes of craziness, and then he was asked to stay calm and relaxed or get a squirt from the water bottle. Similarly, the cats were asked to come in for affection, or leave the room if they felt threatened. They would also face a squirt for yelling or scratching.

Amazingly, this worked. These guys know what they should be doing, but I suppose they were waiting to see if I was serious about making them comply. Once I got serious, they did the same. Liam stayed in his bed for most of the party, and even shy Maggie and Lucy emerged for some affection. No bad behavior was on display.

I'd never claim this technique would work for everyone, but it certainly worked for me. I had a lovely dinner party, with my lovely pets. I don't know why I didn't try this before!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Really cheap dog toys for a rainy day

Liam posing with a very cheap dog toy
Who needs toys when you have a plastic bag?!?
As I mentioned yesterday, it's been far too wet for Liam to take his customary afternoon walk. (It's even snowing here now, if you can believe it.) Since he won't go for a walk in this weather, I've been trying to come up with quick things he can do in the evening to burn up some energy. Sometimes this is pretty simple. I just wave my arms around over my head like a crazy person and he starts running around the living room like a wild man. After a few laps, he's done for the night. But when the arm-waving isn't enough, I must resort to more severe methods of supervised play. Last night's diversion came in the form of packaging materials.

This stuff is available pretty much everywhere, and it's far from the sort of toy you'd leave a dog alone with. The photo below demonstrates my point quite well.
Liam the pug tearing packing materials
Rip and tear! Rip and tear!
Left to his own devices, Liam would probably just eat this thing and off we'd go to the emergency veterinarian. But, with the proper supervision, this makes a fine toy.

Liam enjoyed trying to bite this toy, and tossing it over his head seemed to be great fun. He particularly enjoyed the toy when he was able to split it into three separate shells full of slobber. Then, he could run with a shell in his mouth, and play a good game of keep-away with me.
Liam the pug with a very cheap dog toy
How he can see around this thing is beyond me.
After 15 minutes of play with this "toy," Liam was spent and ready for a good nap. Well worth the price (which was zippo), if you ask me. Tonight we may try a variation with balled-up newspaper. Here's hoping I have the same level of success.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Springtime in Oregon = wet dog walks

Liam the pug looking pathetic wile on a wet dog walk
Liam looking pathetic at this time last year.
Springtime in Oregon means one thing: rain. From mid-February until mid-April, it's rare to see a weather forecast that doesn't include at least the minor possibility that it will rain. Gardeners like me don't mind the rain so much, as we know that all of our little plants are drinking up the moisture and preparing to be spectacular when the sunshine actually arrives. But for dogs like Liam, the rainy season is pure torture.

As a pug, Liam is very low to the ground, so he flicks water onto his belly as he walks. He hates getting wet, but he also hates being cold, so this flickup is particularly uncomfortable. Driving rain in Portland can also be problematic as it gets in his eyes and ears, which must be awful.

To express his displeasure, Liam hangs back on the leash throughout an entire rainy walk. Where he will happily walk beside, or just in front, of me during a sunny day, when it rains, he drops back to the end of the leash and he hunches his back and digs in his toes. His ultimate goal is to make me stop walking altogether.

I can't figure out why he believes this is a good strategy. If I am not walking, the entire adventure takes longer and he spends significantly more time in the rain. If I were Liam, I'd be pulling and running, trying to hurry up the slacker owner so I could get back home again. But as much as I try to explain this to Liam, he doesn't seem to get the message. Oh well.

I try to compromise by allowing him to skip the evening walks when the rain is coming down. The morning walks are a must, but in the evenings, I can throw the ball indoors to help him burn off a little energy, instead of taking him on a dragging walk. I think we'd both prefer to avoid that at all costs.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Weighing in on Romney and his dog Seamus

Liam the pug riding in the back of a car
This is where Liam rides when he's on a car trip.
In general, I try to avoid politics on this blog. There are so many other blogs that handle those topics so much better than I ever could, and I have always pictured my readers as animal lovers who'd rather look at cute photos than read yet another diatribe about the state of affairs in Washington. I have had a few people ask me about the Romney situation, however. This may be one of the rare times that this blog and politics really do intersect.

For those of you who have no idea what I am talking about (there must be at least one person out there who hasn't heard this story), I'll provide a quick summation. Decades ago, the Romneys went on a vacation in their station wagon. They had the car so packed with luggage and people that there was "no room" for the dog. So the eldest Romney allegedly strapped the dog on the roof of the car, surrounded by some sort of windbreak, and the family allegedly left the dog there on the 12-hour trip. At one point, the dog had diarrhea and down it dripped until one of the kids noticed. Romney allegedly responded by hosing off the dog and the crate, and then he kept driving.

As a result of this incident, some people are saying that Romney isn't qualified to be President of the United States. Santorum, Gingritch and President Obama have all used, or plan to use, this incident in their campaigns, claiming it is evidence of Romney's heartlessness and lack of compassion.

I'll admit that I find the whole episode distasteful, if it happened as it has been described.

No dog should be strapped to the top of a car for 12 hours. No dog should even be in a crate for 12 hours. It's not something that dog owners allow. In addition, dogs with diarrhea need more than a dance with a hose. It's a sign that something is wrong, and that the dog is either unhappy or unhealthy. A sick, wet dog hurtling down the freeway in a crate is not likely to get better. As a dog owner, I find this behavior pretty reprehensible.

But as a voter, I have so many more reasons not to like Romney. His attack on Planned Parenthood, his call to increase military spending and his apparent disregard for the working poor will cause me not to vote for him. So, this might be the one instance when I wish an animal cruelty issue would take up a bit less airtime. There are so many other things we should be attacking about Romney.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Encouraging your dog to chew

Liam the pug posing with his chew toys
Two chew toys are (apparently) better than one.
Like most little dogs, Liam loves to chew. When he's feeling anxious, tired or just plain bored, he grabs a handy chew toy and gets to work. Personally, I love to see him chew. I know it's incredibly good for him.

Little pugs like Liam can develop serious tooth issues. Their muzzles are incredibly compressed, and yet they have all of the teeth that a fully snouted dog would have. As a result, their teeth are incredibly crowded and crooked. Open up Liam's mouth and it looks like he's endured some earthquake beneath his gums. His teeth point every which way. When he chews, he's performing a form of brushing. The toys bump up against his teeth and his gums, removing tartar and stimulating the blood flow to the gums. It's pretty beneficial.

If all of this weren't enough, chewing is an activity Liam can do completely alone. I don't have to throw a ball or hold the other end of a toy for tugging, and he doesn't rely on other cats or dogs to chase him around. He can handle the task on his own. For this reason, I always leave Liam with one or two chew toys when I leave the house. I know he'll entertain himself while I'm away.

Now that you're sold on the idea of chewing, it's time to discuss what in the world you should allow your dog to chew on. 

Some people swear by rawhide chews. I'm not a fan. For starters, rawhide can become gummy pretty quickly, and a dog slobbery pile of rawhide can stain carpets and furniture.

I don't like Greenies, either. I've heard too many stories of dogs who tried to eat bits of Greenies whole, and they choked as a result. Since I like to leave Liam alone with his chew toys, I can't leave him with anything that he can choke on.

Dogs that don't chew now can sometimes be coaxed to pick up the habit with well-filled Kong toys. These toys are basically indestructible, and if you fill them with peanut butter, dogs will chew and lick for hours to get the remnants out. Liam also simply adores these keys made by Nylabone. These sets are made for puppies, but he seems to like their semi-soft consistency. I always keep plenty around the house.

Have great ideas now? I hope so. (And you're welcome!)

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Luxury cat beds: Do your cats really need them?

Eamon and Lucy the cats are snuggled up in one bed
Look closely. There are two cats in this image.
There are literally hundreds of websites out there that are selling so-called "luxury" cat beds. Manufacturers are making beds with memory foam, heating elements, elevated bases and built-in toys. And, of course, each entry is provided with a requisite photo of a cat looking blissfully happy on this bed.

In the past, I've fallen for this stuff and I've paid way more than I should have paid for fancy beds. Now, I don't even bother. It seems that the most popular beds in my house are the beds that cost next to nothing at all.

Currently, the primo sleeping space is located to the left of my desk, nestled right up against the wall. The base of this bed is pink, and it used to be an entire bed, until the dog tore the stuffing out of the bed and made it an uncomfortable flat piece of fabric with high and fluffy sides. Since I can't stand to throw anything out, I filled this ruined bed with a towel and scraps of sheepskin I had floating around. It seems this ghetto bed is incredibly comfortable.

Lucy was the first to stake a claim, and this isn't really surprising. She has always enjoyed spending time in my workroom. But soon, Eamon decided that he, too, would like to try out this bed. He's a flopper, known for hogging up the entire bed if given half the chance, so he leaves no room for anyone else. Lucy compromises by just settling down on top of him. He works as an extra cushion, I suppose.

So no more "luxury" beds will enter this house. If my cats love the cheap beds, I love them all the more for it and I'm all too happy to oblige.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Why animal protection laws in Oregon are so important

Liam the pug resting on the couch
I can't imagine smacking an innocent dog like this.
Apparently, other people can. 

I have (inadvertently) been listening to the news quite a bit lately, and I'm struck by how many republican candidates are claiming that small government is the answer to the world's problems. Here's a snippet from Ron Paul that demonstrates this idea: "Personal liberty is the purpose of government, to protect liberty, not to run your personal life, not to run the economy, and not to pretend that we can tell the world how they ought to live."

Now while I understand that a smaller government may have its place, I also have a small bone to pick with this idea. Small government depends on a public that behaves well. We could all mind our own business if there weren't other people around us that behave reprehensibly. And when it comes to animals, I think a strong governmental stance is absolutely essential. 

Consider this case I read about this morning: A Gresham woman is accused of causing a skull fracture, rib fractures and a cheek fracture in her 3-month-old puppy. She denies the charges. Police report, however, that this woman has also been accused of similar crimes in the past.

If we all chose to look the other way, with our small government ideals intact, people who were accused of hurting animals could simply walk away without punishment. Our laws would be designed to protect individual freedom and keep costs low, not to protect the most vulnerable in our society. I shudder to think what that would mean for these animals. 

One reason I love to live in Oregon is that we do have strong laws that protect animals, and those laws allow prosecutors to step in and charge people with felony counts when they're accused of egregious animal abuse. I'm glad that my tax dollars go toward animal protection. This is good government, even if it is big government, and I support it wholeheartedly.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The dos and don'ts of caring for an older cat

Eamon the cat is demanding his lunch
Older cats like Eamon seem a tad more demanding....
Article after article discusses caring for a young kitten: how much play they need, how many calories they should eat and how to train them properly. Finding articles on aging cat behavior is a bit more difficult. In fact, most of the articles I found talked exclusively about health issues in older cats and said nothing at all about behavior.

Eamon turned 11 this year, and while he certainly has some health issues we're working through, he is more than just a bundle of assorted medical problems. In fact, he has emotional needs that seem to go quite deep.

I find that older cats can be much more demanding when it comes to attention issues. When they want to be petted, they cannot be shooed away just because it isn't a convenient time for you. This photo was taken, in fact, when I was working on a deadline and didn't have a moment to spare. Eamon sat here on the corner of my desk, willing me to ignore him. I ended up compromising, meeting my deadline with a purring cat on my lap. Older cats will not be ignored.

In addition, I find older cats to be more inflexible about routine. They like things to happen in the same way at the same time, and it seems to cause them distress if the schedule is disturbed for whatever reason. Eamon will, once again, respond with the death stare if I am off schedule around lunchtime, and if that doesn't work, he responds with yelling.

Personally, I like the cantankerousness of older cats. They have strong personalities and deep preferences, and they have no qualm about sharing them with you. I like that in a cat. Also, I find it gratifying that I've had this same cat for 11 years. I've liked watching him grow old, and I like the idea of watching him grow yet older. We know one another well, Eamon and I, and that's the sort of relationship that doesn't come in just a few weeks or months.

As a quick spin through adoptable cats might indicate, however, I am a bit of a rarity in this regard. There are many, many senior cats out there looking for good homes. If you have space in your heart for a cat that won't keep you up at night with playtime but will tell you exactly what is needed and when you should do it, an older cat is just right for you. Consider heading to your local shelter and giving one of these cantankerous critters a home. You won't regret it!