Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Using the "off" command with dogs

Liam sitting on the floor looking sad
"Why am I down here while you're up there?"
Liam is a little pug, standing just a few inches off the floor when he has all four paws on the ground. Like most little dogs, his first response on meeting new people is to take those front feet off of the floor so he can reach up a bit higher in order to touch the hands and fingers he loves to lick. It's an understandable response, but it's pretty far from acceptable. In fact, it's one of those traits that most people who do not have dogs hate about dogs.

It all sounds easy enough to correct, but the reality is that it is incredibly hard to keep a dog from doing something that has become an ingrained, habitual behavior. The dog thinks it's reasonable, so the dog has no reason to change. And, I find that behaviors a dog can do suddenly are harder to train away than behaviors that come with reliable advance signals. It's easy to stop him from barking, as the barks are usually accompanied by long looks and raised hackles. It's hard to stop Liam from popping up into a jump, as it has no reliable warning signs. He just does it.

Liam reliably knows the word "Off." This command means that he should resume a four-paws-on-the-floor position, and when I use the command, he's 100 percent compliant. But, when people come over, all of that training seems to fly right out the window. So, out comes the squirt gun and an ignored "Off" results in a squirt.

Training a dog not to jump is the responsibility of the owner, but there are some things that guests can do to help:
  1. Firstly, if Liam jumps, don't tell me that you don't mind. Even if you truly don't mind, the next person will. Training a dog out of a behavior means never, ever allowing the dog to engage in that behavior. Dogs don't understand conditions ("I can jump on her but not on him."). If I let him jump on you, he'll jump on everyone. This is exactly what I am trying to prevent. So, therefore, he isn't allowed to jump on you no matter what you say. It's sad, but it is true.
  2. Next, once Liam is on the floor, please pet him there. He needs a reward for being good, and a quick pat on the head is the best reward around. If you stand stock still and don't reward the good, he's likely to jump again.

Over the weekend, we had two series of guests, and Liam managed to do fairly well on both occasions. Some guests got an ankle misting, but there were no prolonged bouts of jumping. Here's hoping the next trials will go even better.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Dog book review: Inside of a Dog by Alexandra Horowitz

Liam the pug resting in his dog bed
Liam demonstrating his remarkable ability to watch and wait.

This week, I'm reading "Inside of a Dog" by Alexandra Horowitz. Unlike some other dog books of the my-dog-is-cool variety, this book attempts to outline how dogs experience the world. While much of the information provided isn't exactly Earth shattering, especially for people who know about dogs and who have read dogs books before, there are some little hidden gems scattered about that make the book worth reading.

For example, Ms. Horowitz points out that dogs have evolved to use humans as tools. When presented with a problem, such as a missing cookie, a dog will often look to the human in the room for direction. Dogs look us in the eyes, and they believe we hold the answers to most problems they cannot solve on their own.

This might be why dogs seem to "fail" intelligence tests. When they're presented with a tough problem, they look to the test giver for assistance. This isn't a failure of intelligence, Ms. Horowitz says, as much as an adaptation. They look to the tool they know has been helpful in the past, rather than expending energy on making tools of their own. In a way, it's really quite smart.

While I might resent being thought of as a tool, I can understand why Liam might see me as a very useful creation. I'm taller, more powerful, more agile and more likely to solve a problem without breaking anything than he might be if left to his own devices. And, I do reward him with pets and cooing noises as he watches me walk from place to place or sits at my feet, asking for help with a misplaced toy or a cookie he can't reach. Knowing why he does these things doesn't make them less charming to watch. It does make them easier to understand, however, and increased understanding is always a good thing.

I quite enjoyed this book, and I'm hoping it will make working with Liam a little easier in the future. When I know what he's thinking, his behaviors might be a little less exasperating and a little more modifiable. If you need the same kind of help, consider giving this book a try. You might like it!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Warning: Do not rehome animals on Craigslist.com

Eamon the cat looking at the computer
Eamon helps with the proofreading.
I am consistently amazed at the number of people who use sites like craigslist.com in order to rehome their pets. They attempt to screen for good owners by asking for a rehoming fee (thinking that will keep the poor from applying), and they also may perform a cursory phone interview to make sure the new owner seems sound and somewhat rational. Then, when the money changes hands, off goes the pet to the new home and all is well.

Except when it's not.

According to this news report (link is no longer active), these people adopted a pit bull about 2 weeks ago from Craigslist. Then, they allegedly tied the dog to the outside of their Jeep, forgot the dog was there, and drove about 600 feet. As the dog was pulled along, he lost most of his nails and foot pads. The people only stopped driving when people on the outside of the Jeep began waving their arms and yelling.

In addition to this dog, the people had cats, a snake and a rabbit in their Jeep. They appear to be living in the Jeep.

A quick home interview would have pointed out that these people had no place to call home. In addition, an interview might have indicated that these people might also have a few too many animals already, and might not be able to provide a loving home for a dog. In addition, these people might not have been able to produce proper veterinary references, which might also be a red flag that they aren't ideal owners. That could have also been part of an interview.

My guess is that no such interview ever took place.

I have no idea if the original owner of this dog knows what has happened. I also have no idea if that person is concerned about this dog. But I do think this little gem of a story should make more people leery of posting adoption adverts on Craigslist. How do you know who will take your dog? How do you know you're not subjecting your dog to torture? An interview might help, but people might even lie in an interview. Craigslist could be quick, but it also could be dangerous.

Breed rescues, on the other hand, do a significant amount of research on homes before they place dogs, checking references, doing credit checks and conducting home visits to ensure that the people are truly prepared for the hard work of owning a pet.

Ideally, people will keep their pets. But if you cannot, please let this story convince you that the world is full of crazies. Please use a breed rescue, not Craigslist, to rehome your pets.

Monday, May 21, 2012

2012 Pug Crawl Photos

Liam the pug in his Mitt Romney costume
Liam in his Romney carrier costume.
Yesterday was the Oregon Humane Society Pug Crawl, and at first, I thought we'd never make it. The weather here was rainy and cold, and I was sure Liam would never set foot outside in those conditions, even with the promise of a million pug buddies to play with. But, when the afternoon rolled around, the sun came out, and we were off! Here are a few photos of the pug costumes we loved. Many are political, befitting the theme of this year's crawl.
Pug wearing a costume decorated with American flags
Flag waver!
Pug wearing a presidential campaign button costume
Best use of an e-collar, ever.
Pug dressed like an American eagle
This year's winner, although she refused to walk in this getup.
Pugs dressed up in support of healthcare reform
Pugs for healthcare reform, complete with a patient, a nurse and a doctor.
Pug dressed up like Captain America
Captain Ameri-pug. (Check out the pink pug in the background, too)
Pug dressed like a flying monkey
Flying monkey.
Pugs dressed like Winnie and Tigger
Winnie and Tigger (prepared for rain, too).
Pugs dressed like Donkeys and Elephants
Donkey, with his buddy the elephant getting prepped in the background.
Pug pulling his person in the 2012 parade of pugs
Setting out for the parade!
Liam the pug with his tongue hanging out
"Boy, did I have a good time! See you next year!"

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Save Lennox! It's time to get involved



Liam the pug with an I Am Lennox sign


I peruse the animal-related news from time to time, looking for things I think more people should know about. For some reason, a story about a poor dog in Belfast eluded me until this morning. Perhaps because the dog is in another country, it's not covered here. Perhaps because the dog looks like a pit bull, no one really cares. I think more of us should care. Something must be done.

A good recap of the story can be found here. For those of you who don't have the stomach to read such a story, here's a recap. This therapy dog, who never showed any signs of aggression, was seized by authorities two years ago because he "met type." While he is not a pit bull (a banned breed), he met the measurements for a pit and was declared dangerous, even though he'd not done anything to deserve that reputation. Since that time, he's been held in an undisclosed location, and next week, he may lose his life.

In the past, I wondered about breed-specific legislation. Like many owners of small dogs, the big guys sometimes worry me. And, reading sensational stories on the news about pit mixes seems to fan the flames, making us fearful types even more likely to believe that all pits are loaded guns, just waiting to go off.

The sad case of Lennox should make us think again.

When breed bans go into place, dogs like Lennox can lose their lives for no reason at all. Families can be torn apart. A significant amount of suffering and trauma is the result. It's hard to tell a pit from a non-pit (as this story demonstrates). Heck, even I thought he was a pit, and I pride myself on knowing quite a bit about dogs!

The Lennox Campaign website, found here, has some good ideas about what people can do, right now, to help this poor dog get reunited with his family. I urge all of you to do what you can to help.

And then, I urge all of you to speak out against breed bans. Now that we know what will happen when these bans become law, we should all stand up and keep them from taking hold in our own communities.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

When it comes to dog beds, bigger isn't always better

Liam the pug in is very small dog bed
Liam snuggled in his new favorite bed.
When I go shopping for dog beds (which I must do fairly regularly, as this dog tends to shred the things he loves), I am always drawn to huge, luxurious beds. Perhaps I have a secret wish to have my own California king bed where I can sprawl out and not touch the edge of the mattress, and I'm sure that my dog would feel the same about beds I buy for him.

The truth is that small, snuggly dogs often like small, snuggly beds. They can stay warmer in beds like this, as the beds tend to trap body heat. They can also use the side of the bed like a pillow on which to rest their weary heads. And, the beds make twirling around before lying down a bit easier to accomplish. In a big bed, Liam does at least 10 circles before lying down. In a small bed, he only does one or two cursory loops. Perhaps he just has less ground to cover so he feels fewer loops are needed, although he won't share his reasoning with me.

In a multi-ped household, small beds also have another important role to play. Large beds seem to invite other pets to come in and join the snuggle. Small beds really only have enough space for one pet. Since Liam is often beset by small, cold cats that want to snuggle up to him for warmth, he finds this small bed very appealing. The cats may hop in, but since there is absolutely no way they can lie down in such a small area, they hop right back out again. He can have the whole bed to himself.

In a way, this is a sort of pet California king bed. No sharing means more room. My dog might be smarter than I thought.

Friday, May 11, 2012

What we can learn from the death of Meow the fat cat

Lucy eating her cat food
And oldie but a goodie of Lucy noshing.
I heard about Meow, the 39-pound cat, several weeks ago. Frankly, I couldn't believe that a cat could possibly get this big and live. At the time, I was tempted to blog about this, but also, I was afraid to jump on the owner-bashing bandwagon. It's really easy to look at this gigantic cat (photos are here, for the curious) and start rattling sabres and claiming the previous owners should be charged with feline abuse. In fact, many people do just that in the comments sections of articles about this cat. Since I didn't know anything about these owners, I didn't feel that I had the right to speak up.

I'm choosing to do so now because poor Meow has died. And that cat's death was totally preventable.

Cats are not designed to weigh 39 pounds. Period. Very fat cats like this are not healthy. They need medical supervision, and they need assistance. Meow's parents may have taken him to the vet and they may have gotten clear screenings for diabetes and thyroid, but this only means that he wasn't fat due to a medical problem. Instead, he was likely fat because he was provided with the wrong kind of food in amounts that were too large. A clear screen doesn't mean a clear bill of health. These owners should never have walked out of this appointment with the understanding that their cat was healthy, and the care they were providing was appropriate.

If these people looked at cartoons of cats, however, they may have told themselves that his weight was acceptable or even cute. He looked like Garfield, the epitome of a healthy cat. This is not the way a cat should look, however, and we all need to know that. Cats should be slim and trim and lithe. Fat cats soon become deathly ill cats, and that is certainly not cute. 

Now, Meow's parents had some serious health issues, and it's understandable that they made mistakes as a result. They need our compassion, not our judgement. But, until we, as a culture, agree that cats should not be fat, and we all try to keep our cats slim and healthy as a result, more Meows will certainly come.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Pet food recalls: They happen often (and you may never hear about it)

Liam the pug with an empty food bowl

In 2007, when a significant amount of pet food was recalled after it began to sicken and even kill pets around the country, news outlets rushed to cover the story. I heard about it on the radio, on the web and in the newspaper, all in the same day. In addition, when I went in to my neighborhood pet store, I saw a huge sign indicating that the food had been recalled.

At the time, I thought this was how all pet food recalls were handled. As it turns out, this isn't quite true.

Today, I stumbled articles about yet another pet food recall. The list of banned items includes some low-cost brands such as Kirkland, but it also includes some high-end pet foods that I've used in the past, including Wellness, Natural Balance and Canidae.

While the state I live in is not impacted by this recall directly, this is the first time I've heard about the recall. Pets are being sickened, but it seems that the news about the danger lurking in food bags isn't being shared extensively. And, I'm almost positive that some people who feed high-end pet foods may think they're safe from manufacturing problems, due to the price they pay for the food. It seems they're sadly mistaken.

What is a responsible pet owner to do?

For starters, it pays to search for information on your pet food on a regular basis. A quick search, performed several times per year, can help you spot recalls in the making, and allow you to make good decisions about the food you provide for your pets.

In addition, it pays to develop a close relationship with one pet food provider. People who buy products from grocery stores, or who scour the web looking for good prices and therefore make purchases from multiple sellers, may be solely responsible for tracking recalls. By using the same sales staff, who knows what you buy and how often you buy it, you can share the load for recall awareness. When you come in to buy food, you can share any recall information you've found. And hopefully, your sales staff will do the same and notify you directly if any food you've purchased there is later recalled.

In 2007, Maggie ate some of that contaminated food on a regular basis. While she didn't develop any long-term problems, she did develop urinary problems at the time, likely due to the contaminants in the food. It just takes one episode like this to make an owner leery of recalls and food safety. I know I'm wiser as a result of the incident. Here's hoping this latest recall will not cause any long-lasting problems in any of the pets (and their owners) who have been exposed to the tainted food.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

5 ways to make life easier for your disabled pet

Lucy the blind cat snuggling with her toys
Lucy snuggling with the dog toys.
Apparently, today is Disabled Pets Day (or, to be politically correct, Differently-Abled Pets Day). I've seen several sites today discussing the need for tolerance and acceptance of our furry creatures that may not have all of their original functional parts, and a lot of it has been amazingly touching, even for people like me who aren't always comfortable with the my-dog-is-brave-because-he-can't-see business.

Anyway, this got me to thinking about what sorts of strange, unusual, out-of-the-ordinary tips I might provide for people who are thinking about living with a blind cat. Some of these might be Lucy-specific, of course, but they might be helpful for the one person out there who has a blind cat as strange as mine is. I could think of five tips. Here goes:
  1. Preserve the scent trail. In the past, I would put all of the dog toys in the washer at once, and scrub them clean. Lucy, however, finds the stinky dog toys oddly comforting, and she would become distressed when they were all clean and shiny. Now, I wash in rotating batches, so she always has something smelly to snuggle with. 
  2. Look for alternate senses. I had thought Lucy could find the food dish due to the smell of her meal, but I think the smell might be overwhelming. She can tell food is in the area, but she can't specifically target its location. She can, however, find a rattle of kibble with amazing precision. Once I knew scent was out of the question, finding another sense to hit helped a ton.
  3. Talk a lot. Trying to pet a blind cat without a verbal warning often results in hissing. They need to know you're coming to help them, or they'll assume you're trying to kill them. I have no idea why this is the case, but there it is. 
  4. Never speak or react when an accident occurs. Much as I try to prevent it, Lucy is always running into things. The door, the chair, the dog toys, other cats. If I react with a noise, that noise might be a little loud, and she tends to startle when presented with loud noises, which means that she runs, which usually results in another collision. It's best to pretend it never happened. 
  5. Don't underestimate the power of curiosity. Lucy has been on the table, on the banister, in the basement and outside. All of these things I thought she would be much too scared to do. Turns out, she's not afraid of basically anything, even things that could get her killed. Blind cats need cat-proofing. Period.
If you want to see some more photos of disabled/differently-abled pets, check out this photography website. This Portland artist has done a series of photos of pets with a variety of different issues. The photos are pretty amazing.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Creating a dog costume for the 2012 Pug Crawl

A pretty pug in a red dress
A contestant from last year's pug crawl, looking adorable.
Today, I realized that the Oregon Humane Society Pug Crawl is just weeks away, and I haven't even thought about Liam's costume yet. Yikes!

Last year, Liam went to the event with just a spangled dog collar, and I felt a little silly. We were surrounded by hundreds of pugs, and while many of them were not dressed in clothing that related to the theme of the show, all of them had on at least some sort of costume. And, most of them were in handmade costumes that the owners had clearly put a lot of time and thought into preparing. Just check out this guy dressed like a Voo Doo Doughnut. Made me look like a slacker.
This pug is dressed like a Voodoo donut
Note the hat doesn't sit on his head. Very clever!
This year, I promised myself that I'd make a costume for Liam, and that we'd walk in the Parade of Pugs with pride. Now I just have to figure out what to make. The theme is Pug Nation (vaguely political), so coming up with a concept won't be hard. It's making the concept work that will be a bit tricky.

Pugs are remarkably tolerant, and they really don't mind wearing costumes, but there are a few guidelines to keep in mind when dressing an active guy like Liam:
  • The costume can't trap heat. Coats, sweaters and things made of plastic are likely to cause him to boil right over. He must have a costume that allows his skin to breathe.
  • He will pee. As a male dog, peeing is a bit of a hobby for Liam. Suits that don't take this into account are likely to get soggy. 
  • Pugs tussle. He'll probably wrestle a time or two, so his costume will need to come right off when the need to play strikes. 
  • Other pugs might snack. No edible components should be included.
At this point, I have two costumes in mind, and I'm planning to make them both within the next week. Then, I'll have Liam wear them about the house, and get used to them. My favorite idea may not fly, as he might not keep it on, but I'll be sure to take pictures of both sets and pop them up here.