Sunday, July 28, 2013

Searching for the elusive dog snuggle

Pug puppy Liam and senior Boston terrier Seamus in a snuggle
One of the joys of having two dogs involves snuggles and cuddles. There's just something intensely satisfying about seeing your furry pets sleeping in a pile. In fact, some of my favorite photos of pug Liam's puppyhood where taken when he was sleeping close to big brother Boston terrier Seamus. Even now, these photos have the ability to choke me up a little.

As Liam got older, he became more comfortable with the idea of snuggling with cats, and they found that he was an excellent source of heat and warmth. Soon, I had tons of really great photos of him sleeping in a pile with his cat friends.

Liam the pug and Lucy the cat in a snuggle

When I brought home Sinead, I felt certain that he'd quickly latch on to her and give me many more photo opportunities. The first night, all I got was this.

Liam the pug not snuggling with Boston terrier Sinead

She desperately wanted to cuddle, but Liam wasn't too eager about sharing his space. In the end, she had to be content to sleep on her own little blanket as close to him as she could get. And that's where we've stayed for many of the months that have followed. On occasion, if I am quick enough with a camera, I can catch a fleeting moment when Sinead crawls into Liam's bed for a cuddle. The shutter click typically marks the moment at which he walks away. The photos are cute, but they don't really show a persistent form of fondness.

On Friday, however, I caught these two in a cuddle that lasted for about a 1/2 hour. Somehow, Sinead seems to have convinced Liam that being close is a good thing, and he seems to be more comfortable with sharing his space and his body heat (even when it's over 90 degrees outside).

Liam the pug and Sinead the Boston terrier outside in the sunshine

I hope this means I'll have more cuddle pictures to share on the blog in the months to come!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Eamon's "senior cat" veterinary visit

Napping senior cats prefer to stay asleep

It's hard to know exactly when cats cross the line between being adults and being seniors, but most experts suggest cats older than 10 are creeping up on elderly status. Cats like Eamon with persistent health issues might even merit an older age diagnosis a bit sooner. Their bodies are under more stress, so it makes sense that they might need more advanced health care. This means that while he might be 12, his body might be more like 15. It's a sobering thought.

As much as I know about animals and animal health, I've never had an animal live as long as Eamon has. A veterinarian I once worked for chalked it up to an overactive sense of pity, suggesting that I had a deep-set need to take in the wee ones that no one else would want. In a way, he was suggesting that I had sick-pet radar, and that alone was responsible for the early deaths of my 3 beloved cats (1 due to cancer, 2 due to kidney stones) and 1 dog (due to cancer). I, on the other hand, have always thought it had something to do with me, that maybe I had done something that contributed to their illness and early death. Different food, more screenings, better environment, more training, could any of that have contributed? Call it the curse of the sensitive, but I was sure I could do something more and if I did, my pets would live longer.

So this week, not surprisingly, I whipped Eamon in for an exam.

He wasn't exhibiting any pain due to his degenerative disk disease. (I've kept him medicated, and when he seemed painful, I worked hard to eliminate the source of the discomfort. When he seemed overtly uncomfortable after wrestling sessions with the puppy, for example, I trained Sinead to leave him alone.) He also didn't have any skin problems (I use supplements), tooth problems (I brush his teeth) or parasite problems (we use Advantage). He also has no lumps, bumps or rashes (I check him weekly).

It was an awkward visit.

How do you explain to a veterinarian that all of your pets have died young? How do you ask for advice, when you're pretty much doing all you can do? How do you stave off a death that's inevitable?

In the end, we had a good visit about Eamon's medications, his diet and his activity level. We agreed that he didn't need vaccines at this point, and we thought he might need to gain a pound or two. We also agreed that he shouldn't be brought to the veterinarian over and over on a desperate search for illnesses that just aren't there. I should just keep doing what I'm doing, and remember that he's healthy and happy. Just because others have died doesn't mean he'll die early. And if he does, it won't necessarily be my fault.

We'll see if I can hold up my end of the bargain and do what I've agreed to do. I can't guarantee that I won't be worried and that the ghosts of pets past won't worry me with their stories. But I can try to do what's right for Eamon. I seem to be doing a pretty good job so far.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Puppy kindergarten or obedience class: Which is better?

Sinead the Boston terrier crashed out on a pile of dog toys
Sinead relaxes/passes out after her class
on a comfy bed made of dog toys.
When I got Sinead, she was already 5 months old. Instead of pulling her right into class on Week 1, I chose to spend a little time bonding. I gave her rules and limitations, of course, but I didn't take her directly into a classroom setting. Once I felt ready, she was nearly 7 months old, and I had a tricky choice to make. I could have enrolled her in puppy class, or I could have skipped that session and moved right into basic obedience.

It's not an easy decision.

Puppy classes provide dogs with basic obedience training. They learn how to sit, stay, come and lie down. In some classes, they even learn how to do just a little bit of heeling work. Some classes also introduce dogs to agility tools, so they can learn how to jump over a hurdle or clamber through a flexible tube. But the classes really focus on bonding and socialization. Dogs get to play with one another at the end of most classes like this, and dogs who can't conform to the rules aren't really criticized for their laziness. In general, the classes are just a little bit loose and lackadaisical.

In an obedience class, however, dogs have an opportunity to really stretch and learn. The courses emphasize form, and dogs are expected to get each motion and each action perfect, almost every time. They learn all sorts of advanced moves, and they're also expected to hold their positions for long periods of time. There are few socialization opportunities in classes like this, as some dogs enter these classes due to their bad behavior and/or nervousness. In some of these classes, letting the dogs interact could mean letting them fight. Instead, handlers are encouraged to view the other dogs as distractions that must be ignored. The focus is on the handler/dog relationship, not the dog/dog relationship.

As a 7-month-old puppy, Sinead could use some socialization. She's not always confident around other dogs she doesn't know, and she hasn't had many opportunities to meet and greet other dogs. She also has a fairly short attention span, and long tasks tend to bore her. Put these two factors together, and I have a good reason to keep her in a puppy course.

She's also just very SMART, however, and she's a little impatient with some activities she finds boring. Put her in a puppy class, I thought, and she'd learn the motions in minutes and then want to go home. I'm not sure she likes to socialize and play, either, so I wasn't sure she'd enjoy her time.

In the end, I enrolled her in an obedience course. She is learning so much, and our relationship is much stronger, but we do have to take precautions in class. She is much smaller than her companions, for example, and some of these big dogs want to snack on her. As a result, we always work in the center of the room or on the edges, far away from the big dogs. She also needs a potty break in the middle of the class, so she can regain her focus. But tomorrow, we're going to audit the puppy class, too, so I can see if that might be a better fit for her size and her mental capacity. Could be that I didn't make the right choice for her.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

A stylish dog birthday party

Liam the pug and Sinead the Boston terrier in dress clothes
Liam the pug turns 6 this month, and while I could have bought him a few toys and called that an appropriate celebration, I wanted to do a little bit more. After all, he has a little sister now, so why not let her get into the act? So I pulled out the costumes and dressed the kids up for a little party.

Then, the search for an appropriate treat began. Many of the things we'd serve at a human birthday party, including chocolate, beer and ice cream, aren't good for dogs at all, and the snacks made just for dogs aren't the sorts of treats I'd like to eat.

In the end, I made the dogs a version of frosty paws, using a recipe I found on this website. There are some dairy-based ingredients, so I won't give the dogs more than one serving per day, but they are tasty little snacks that don't contain a huge amount of calories. I put one blueberry on the top, just for decoration, and used a sprinkle of hot dogs for a garnish. Liam had a full disk about the size of a hockey puck, but Sinead only got about a fourth of this amount. She's much smaller, after all.

Frosty paws treat surrounded by hot dogs

Liam and Sinead aren't allowed to eat unless they've been given the "all-clear" signal from me, and I thought I'd have trouble making them stay in the sit position while their treats were on the ground in front of them. I was pleasantly surprised at how well they sat before eating. I guess all that training is paying off!

Liam the pug and Sinead the Boston terrier waiting to eat

We all enjoyed our little snack, although I think Liam finished his in about 30 seconds. (Sheesh.) And yes, these are treats good enough for humans to eat. They're served right out of the freezer, so they're cool and refreshing, and the yogurt has a nice bite to it. I served mine without the hot-dog side, however.

Happy birthday, Liam!