Saturday, May 23, 2009

Swimming Pool Safety

A dip in the pool can be a great way for our four-legged friends to beat the heat this summer! Since we can't outfit them with water wings, it's important to teach dogs safe pool manners in order to keep everyone happy and healthy all summer long. Consider the following tips:

Step Right Up!
Teach your dog only to enter and exit the pool via the steps. This helps prevent human pool guests from unexpectedly becoming victims of a canine cannonball as the dog launches himself in from the side of the pool. More importantly, it cements the idea of the steps in the dog's head, which helps navigate him back there in order to safely exit the pool. Sadly, many dogs, even accomplished swimmers, have drowned while trying unsuccessfully to claw their way out from the edge of the pool.

Swimming Lessons Aren't Just for People!
It's true! Many dogs benefit from a swimming lesson or two. While all dogs know to instinctively paddle when submerged in water, their initial technique rarely wins them a spot on the Canine Olympic Swim Team! Inexperienced swimmers often concentrate their efforts on using the front legs, forgetting to start-up the rear end! Front-end-only swimming is ineffective and uses a tremendous amount of energy. It results in the dog being near-vertical in the water, with lots of splashing. It looks a lot like our friend, Hooper, pictured to the right. Getting in the pool with the dog and supporting his back end as he swims a short distance is often a great way to prompt him to begin doing more with his back legs. As the dog gets the hang of using his front and back ends in unison, the body evens out and the splashing disappears. The most effective swimmers can enter the pool and swim a lap without ever getting the top of their backs wet! (Note: No Hoopers were drowned in the taking of this picture! It was his first day dock jumping. He had a blast and appears to have a great natural jumping form. He's still perfecting his butterfly stroke, but he'll get it.)

Check out a story I shot in 2007 with KNBC's Jennifer Bjorklund, on this very topic. The water-crazed Golden is my dog, Quiz. The Lab, also seen above, is Jen's dog, Tommy. The Aussie is Taxi, who belongs to Janelle, a very talented Jr. Handler who trains and shows Taxi in agility and conformation. The star canine is Toby, a Shetland Sheepdog and longtime client of mine. Toby and his family recently moved to Chicago. We miss them terribly.

Specific Needs of Different Breeds
Keep in mind that heavily muscled breeds are less buoyant compared to their average build friends. Bully breeds in particular come to mind. For these breeds, consider desensitizing them to a dog life jacket to provide an extra layer of safety during their poolside adventures. Also, not all breeds will like the water. Sighthounds are notoriously known for their disdain of anything wet. You may want your dog to become the next Michael Phelps (well, minus the pot-smoking, and all...) but he may feel otherwise. Never force your dog into the water when he's showing an extreme reaction. Your dog needs to know he can trust you.

Easy Does It
Swimming is a great way for dogs to burn off excess energy, stay in shape and even shed some unwanted pounds! When swimming an overweight dog, be sure to check with the veterinarian first and be careful not to overdo it. The more overweight the dog, the quicker he will tire out. Start slowly and gradually increase the amount of time your dog swims. Similarly, when dealing with dogs who lead traditionally sedentary lives, avoid the Weekend Warrior Syndrome of too much of a good thing. Dogs, like people, experience muscle soreness and stiffness, and they're counting on us to lookout for their best interests.

Pool Covers: Tragedy in the Making
Unless your pool cover is solid and strong enough to support your weight, do not leave it on when your dog is unattended near the pool. Countess dogs, even accomplished swimmers, have lost their lives following an unexpected tumble into a covered pool. Once they're in, the cover is disorienting, the dog gets stuck under it, and it's almost always impossible for a dog to find his way out.

Landmark Up Ahead!
Speaking of disorienting, it's often helpful to keep a large visual marker, such as a backyard umbrella or large potted plant near the vicinity of the pool stairs. This can help orient your dog in the proper direction, and is especially helpful for dogs who may not enjoy the water, but accidentally find themselves in the pool. Remember: All dogs who will potentially be left unsupervised near the pool should be taught to safely find the stairs, even if they don't swim recreationally.

Watch Out for Unintentional Pawticures
Canine pool enthusiasts can quickly ware their nails down to the point of bleeding as they excitedly race around the pool's exterior. Keep a watchful eye on the pads of their feet as well. Repeated launching from pool steps can tear up paw pads; especially on dogs who spend most of their time on grass.

Know When to Say When
Dedicated swimmers often forget they're dogs, not ducks! Keep a close eye on your dog and be sure to get him out of the pool for a break as soon as you see signs of physical fatigue or over-stimulation. Watch the rear. The lower the rear in an accomplished swimmer, the more tired he is.

Learn to Wait Your Turn!
It's also important to teach your dog to remain calm when others are swimming and he has too stay back at the cabana. Many dogs want to excitedly race around the exterior of the pool, barking madly while watching their favorite humans take a dip. It's hard for dogs to not be right smack in the middle of all the fun! If you don't want him racing around the pool in bark-fest mode, try not to ever let him practice. When you wish to have some dog-free pool time, consider confining your dog indoors where he can't see the pool activity, and be sure to give him something wonderful like a favorite chew bone or other consolation prize. Additionally, set up training sessions where one person works the dog (leashed, with wonderful treats in-hand) while another casually enjoys the pool. Reward generously for calm poolside behavior.

Good Enough to Drink? and Water In, Water Out!
Pool water belongs in pools, not dogs! Avoid letting your dog drink excessively from the backyard pool. The same goes for rivers, ponds, lakes and the ocean. Always keep an ample supply of fresh water on hand during outdoor activities. Keep in mind that your dog will likely unintentionally ingest larger-than-normal amounts of water while swimming. Be sure to give him lots of opportunities to relieve himself when the fun is over (and expect him to "go" more than normal) to avoid possible accidents in the house.

Post-Swim Doggie Spa Treatment
Be sure to rinse off your dog following an outdoor water adventure. Chlorine and other pool chemicals can easily dry out a dog's coat and skin, and swimming in natural environments can result in a dirty dog. Avoid letting your dog sit in a wet collar, as hot spots can develop. Be mindful of other areas that may remain damp for longer than normal: ears, groin and armpits, as they can quickly develop moisture-induced irritations or infections.

With a little pre-pool training and planning, you and your dog will share many happy summer memories. Last one in the pool is a moldy bone!

If you live in the greater Los Angeles area and would like to schedule a pool safety lesson, please call Stephanie at (818) 989-7996.

Final Note:
The other beautiful Golden pictured above, is the graceful Gracie! She's as water-crazed as my own Quiz. They're buddies. All the pictures were taken at a dock jumping competition. You can view a fun video of the dogs in action, here.

© Contents from this blog may not be displayed or reproduced without express written permission.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Sniffing Out Good Stuff!

While I dig up this week's blog post, please enjoy the following articles of interest. I sure did! Two thumbs and four paws up, way up for Dr. Sophia Yin, who contributed the following two gems:

Seven Tips for Preventing Dog Bites in Animal Care Professionals and Dog Lovers


Experts Say Dominance-Based Training Techniques Made Popular By Television Shows Can Contribute to Dog Bites

I also found this one: Dogs Are Aggressive If They Are Trained Badly, which at first glance, seemed like it would be in-line with my beliefs, but sadly, it goes on to say that many behavior problems in dogs are caused by owners failing to establish dominance over their dogs or use physical punishment when necessary.

Dominance. *sigh* There's that word again. I'll blog more about that soon. I swear.

Fortunately, not long after reading the disappointing training article on the Spanish study, I received a press release from the Association of Pet Dog Trainers regarding National Dog Bite Prevention Week (May 17-23):

Training Dogs with Positive Methods Can Decrease Dog Bites.

Ahhh. Much more my style!

Knowledge is power. Happy reading... and happy training... so keep your training happy!

© Contents from this blog may not be displayed or reproduced without express written permission.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Be Prepared!

Residents of the Santa Barbara area of Southern California are trying to recover from a devastating wildfire that ravaged the hillside community. The Jesusita fire gutted 78 homes and damaged many others, displaced hundreds, and injured 28 firefighters - three seriously. As of today, exactly one week after the fire started, it is 80 percent contained. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all who have been affected by the fire.

Whether it’s a large-scale natural disaster such as a fire, earthquake or hurricane, or an unforeseen emergency, everyone, including your animals, can benefit from a well thought out emergency plan. When planning ahead, keep in mind the following:

If you need to evacuate your home, do not leave your pets behind. They are not likely to survive on their own. For public heath reasons, most emergency shelters do not accept pets. Do some research now to find area hotels/motels that are pet-friendly and identify a few friends and family members who would be willing to shelter your pets in an emergency. Contact your local Animal Services Department and inquire about the emergency sheltering plans. In Santa Barbara for example,
Animal Services partnered with the Earl Warren Showgrounds to provide temporary shelter for hundreds of large and small animals. Definitely want to send a shout out to the wonderful volunteers who played a role in that effort!

Make absolutely certain that your pets wear collars with identification tags at all times. Keep the contact information up-to-date. Consider adding a cell phone number or number of an out-of-area friend or relative to maximize the opportunities for an appropriate caretaker to be contacted regarding your pet. Have your dogs and cats micro-chipped at your vet’s office or local shelter, to provide them with a permanent source of identification.

Keep an appropriately sized crate or pet carrier on-hand. In the event of an earthquake, confining your pets in a crate will help prevent injuries from broken glass or other foreign objects. Depending on the extent of damage to your home, you may need the crate to keep your pet safely confined on your property.

Create a Pet Survival Kit that is kept in an easily accessible place and contains necessities like pet food, bottled water, medication, food/water bowls, a can opener, first-aid kit and one or more sturdy leashes. Include relevant information about your pet such as veterinarian information and a brief medical history. Make sure to include your contact information as well as the contact information of anyone authorized to care for your pet in your absence. Include a current photo of each of your pets. If space allows, include your pet’s bed and a familiar toy to help reduce stress.

Make a list of area boarding facilities, veterinarian offices and shelters. In the event that you are unable to return to your home right away and need long-term care for your animals, these facilities can assist you in finding appropriate care for your pets. If you must place your pet in temporary foster care with a friend or boarding facility, make sure your Pet Survival Kit accompanies him.

Keep in mind that not all emergencies take place while you are home with your pets. Designate a nearby friend or family member who would be willing to go to your home to check on your pets and pick them up if necessary. Make sure this person has a key to your home and knows where to find your Pet Survival Kit. Consider adding an Animal Rescue Sticker to your front door or window to alert rescue personnel of the type and number of animals inside. Rescue stickers can be purchased at most pet stores and are available free-of-charge at

If you have no alternative but to leave your pet at home while you evacuate in an emergency (as was the case for many Hurricane Katrina victims), the
Humane Society of the United States offers the following suggestions:

1. Confine your pet to a safe area inside the home. Never leave your pet chained up.

2. Leave your pet with plenty of fresh water, preferably in a non-tip/non-spill bowl.

3. Place a visible notice outside advising rescue personnel what pets are inside the house and where they are located. Include phone numbers for yourself, your pet’s emergency contact and the veterinarian.

4. Leave leashes, transport carriers and your Pet Survival Kit where they can easily be found.

For more information on how to best meet the needs of your animals in the event of an emergency, visit the
Association for the Prevention of Cruelty of Animals and the Humane Society of the United States. Have a emergency tip you'd like to share? Please post a comment. Knowledge is power. The more we know, the better we can help protect ourselves and our four-legged friends.
© Contents from this blog may not be displayed or reproduced without express written permission.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Use Your Thumbs Wisely!

We humans rely on our fingers for a lot of things: gripping, grasping… um, gesturing. Our dogs are often on the receiving end of our handiwork. This is usually a good thing. Lacking thumbs, they need us for the important stuff like filling food and water bowls, opening and closing doors, attaching leashes for walks, throwing favorite toys and much more.

Our thumbs are very powerful tools. We should remember to use them wisely. And responsibly – especially when dealing with our canine companions. Unfortunately, this is where we humans often get a bit full of ourselves and mistakenly think we can wield our thumb-loving power without giving sufficient consideration to the lasting effects our actions might have on our four-legged friends.

I teach group classes and private lessons. If I had a dollar for every time I heard a client say, “My dog lets me (fill in the blank: touch his feet, take his food bowl, look in his ears),” I’d, well, be using my prehensile thumb to grip a big ol’ pile of extra dollars! It seems as though we humans are somewhat drunk with power when it comes to thumbs. Because we can, we’ll grip a dog’s foot and examine his nails, fish the hotdog wrapper out of his mouth or thrust our hand in front of his face and into his food bowl while he’s eating. So long as the dog doesn’t appear to react, we assume there’s no problem. After all, he let us do it.

How is the dog considered in this handiwork? Why is it that we just expect him to lie there calmly (or passively accept being restrained) as we handle his feet, ask him to relinquish his favorite chew bone without pause “just because,” and not bat an eye at the fact that, in the middle of his meal, we decided to loom over him and shove our hand in the way? Don’t get me wrong. I can do all of these things to my own dogs without incident, but not just because. My dogs remain calm and unconcerned when I need to pick up a prized chew bone, because I’ve taught them that the bone will return, if not right away, then eventually. And I’ve made it pleasant to relinquish other prized possessions by trading for treats and sometimes still giving the possession right back. They aren’t threatened by my presence near their food bowls as they eat, because I’ve taught them that having me nearby means a tidbit of turkey might suddenly appear on the floor next to their bowl. I can, if I ever need to, spontaneously interrupt their eating by asking them to sit, and they’ll do it, because the majority of the time, I make it worth their while with more turkey. In short, I try very hard to limit the amount of times I use the power of my thumbs just because I feel I can.

Much of what we need to do to dogs on a regular basis, can and often does, feel worrisome or threatening to them, even when they let us do it. I can totally relate. I’m often anxious while sitting prone in the dentist’s chair, but I still let him do what he needs to do. That doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate his stress-reducing gestures of frequently asking how I’m doing or if I need a break. You could probably even condition me to LIKE being in the dentist’s chair if you repeatedly fed me M&Ms while I was there, but I don’t think that would go over too well with the dentist! Maybe a free-flowing supply of $10 bills? OK. Back to the dogs… but that reminds me, I DO need to schedule a dentist appointment. (Insert author’s slightly increasing pulse, here.)

The problem with relying on the fact that a dog “lets” us do something is that the behavior can quickly deteriorate under stress. The dog that seems not to mind having his feet handled under normal conditions, may, when in discomfort from being stung by a bee, suddenly feel quite differently when you ask him to sit still and not protest as you try to discern exactly which pad on his limping food is harboring the stinger. The dog who lets you handle his feet at home may suddenly become far less cooperative when he finds himself on a grooming table, at the hands of people he doesn’t know in the neighborhood grooming salon.

So what do you do?

That’s where training comes in! Rather than coast through life with a dog who seems to “let” you do things, teach him to associate what needs to be done with something he really likes! Food is your best friend in these situations, because nobody had to teach your dog to like food. All dogs are born knowing that food is good, but they have to learn (usually very early on in the weeks before they join our families as young puppies) that things like petting and toys are also good. Whenever you practice “doing” things to your dog (like body part handling, grooming or asking him to relinquish prized objects), make a point to pair the activity with a really tasty treat or two, or even five (go ahead, be generous!). It’s classical conditioning, which can help lodge “warm fuzzy” feelings of goodness deep in your dog’s brain. Pair an exercise with food often enough, and the exercise itself can start to elicit the same happy feelings as the food! Now, even under stress, you have this arsenal of classically-conditioned goodness upon which your dog can unconsciously draw to help prevent or lessen an emotional or behavioral meltdown. Thank you Dr. Pavlov!

(Images removed upon request.)

Sure, it takes patience, practice and an investment of time, but really, isn’t it a small price to pay, knowing it can greatly reduce the stress your furry friend experiences? Since just being with a dog can help reduce our stress level, the least we can do is attempt to return the favor. Or consider this: dogs under extreme stress – all dogs, under ENOUGH stress – are capable of biting. This classical conditioning training just might make the difference between a dog who squirms under protest, and one who frantically bites the hand (yours, the groomers or the vets) trying to help him. And really, in the big picture of animal training, much of what we need to teach dogs to willingly accept is easy compared to some of the animal training challenges out there. Imagine training a 3,400 lb. walrus to willingly accept having a giant needle inserted into his back, next to his spine, all while completely unrestrained! Trainers at the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium in Tacoma, WA. did just that. Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist, Kathy Sdao, former trainer of E.T. the walrus, shares some of his training here. It’s a beautiful story about the need for patience and the power of positive training. Plus, I dare you not to smirk, at least a little, as you conjure up an image of a walrus that size masturbating in front of the underwater viewing window in his exhibit!

It’s no secret I’m a fan of dog training. But here’s the thing. I’m willing to bet the entire handful of extra dollars I mentioned earlier, that at least one reader of today’s post is thinking, “Hey, I can handle my dog anywhere, anytime, under any conditions and stick my hand in his mouth while he’s eating… and have been for his entire life… so there!” Trust me, I don’t doubt for a second that it’s true. Some dogs are like that. You can poke them, prod them, fall on them, pull their tails and do whatever else the situation calls for, all without incident. Good genetics go a long way toward producing a dog with such a stellar temperament that he seems totally and utterly bomb proof. No doubt that those dogs are out there (they make great therapy and crisis response dogs!), and if you’re the proud owner of one, good for you! Not all dogs are like that, or if they are, they don’t all stay like that. And even if yours is, just consider that it may not always be fair to do things just because you can. The best relationships (even dog-human ones), after all, are two-way streets, not power struggles where one party is constantly exerting dominance over the other.

And speaking of dominance… Now THERE’S a big ol’ can of worms within the dog-owning and training community! Stay tuned. I’ll use my prehensile thumb to open that can in the next post.

© Contents from this blog may not be displayed or reproduced without express written permission.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Good Enough to Eat!

I’ve been dieting (sort of) for a while now, working to lose the “Sequim Seven” (ok, more like nine!) that I gained several months ago when I took an extended trip to Legacy Canine Training in Sequim, WA to train chickens with the legendary Bob Bailey. Two+ weeks of gloriously catered lunches and social dinner outings left my butt feeling big and my pants feeling small! And so began the ongoing string of Lean Cuisine and Jell-O cups that would become my dietary staples, with frequent treadmill running begrudgingly thrown in for good measure.

I think depravation leads to desperation. Or experimentation. I’m not sure. All I know that is somewhere during this “dieting phase,” I decided it would be a good idea to sample a high-end dog treat. OK. Truth be told, the idea originated years ago, when, on a dare during a dog class at a local
Three Dog Bakery, I ate a dog pastry in front of a shocked seven-year-old! It wasn’t as sweet as you’d expect from a pastry, but you know what? It wasn’t that bad! I later came to find out that I wasn’t alone in my secret acceptance of the Three Dog Bakery products. Turns out, because the products are extremely low in sugar, they have become popular among dieting and diabetic clients! The Lick ‘n Crunch Carob cookies are reported to be the most requested item for sugar-conscious bipedal patrons of the Sherman Oaks store. (Yes, I’ve tried those. I prefer vanilla.)

I’d like to say that my sampling of canine culinary creations is limited to the occasional Three Dog Bakery item when in one of their shops, but, um, it’s not. A friend of mine recently tried a recipe out of Cooking the Three Dog Bakery Way and I sampled (and enjoyed!) it too. But c’mon. Tell the truth. If you saw these ingredients, would you immediately think dog snack?

1.5 cups all-purpose flour
1.5 cups whole wheat flour
1 T baking powder
1 t ground cinnamon
.75 cup honey
2 cups unsweetened applesauce
.5 cup canola oil
2 large eggs
.5 cup skim milk

With those ingredients, it sounds more like something that would be offered in a high-end, health-conscious human eatery like Whole Foods, doesn’t it? They’re really good, especially if you warm them up and add a dab o’ butter. Perfect with your morning coffee! Go ahead: plate ‘um up, grab your canine companion and enjoy some muffin-merriment!

The concept of being good enough to eat has been gaining in popularity within the pet industry for some time now. Pet owners are demanding better than “supermarket slop” for their four-legged family members. Walk into any mainstream mega-store and you’ll quickly find that keywords like “holistic” and “organic” now adorn a large portion of kibble and treat offerings.
The Honest Kitchen, manufacturer of a dehydrated raw food diet for dogs, produced in a human-food plant that’s FDA-inspected, even has humans regularly taste the food as part of its quality control process! Dick Van Patten’s Natural Balance Eatables line is also manufactured in a USDA plant. I remember when this product was first launched. Sales reps set up simmering Crock Pots of Hobo Chili and Irish Stew and encouraged store patrons to taste it. I’m a sweet-tooth kind of girl. I politely declined.

Most recently, curiosity got the better of me when it came to the all-natural, cage-free chicken strips my dogs were enjoying. No hormones. No antibiotics. No fillers. No byproducts. I’m not talking about the assorted chicken strips that were largely recalled throughout 2007 and 2008. My strips in question are made by
Dogswell and their products were never included in the chicken strip recall. The ingredients? Chicken (I like chicken), flaxseed (that’s good for me!), vitamin E (that’s useful!) and vitamin A (not sure what that does, but it’s an “A” so it must be good, right?). The package even says they help maintain eyes, skin and coat. I’m all about protecting my eyes (‘cuz only one works, anyway), my skin is a little on the dry side and my coat, er, hair, can always use a little extra care.

I broke off a piece of the chicken strip and ate it. Yes I did. My dogs looked at me expectantly, waiting for THEIR chicken strips. If they could’ve spontaneously generated cartoon thought bubbles over their heads, I’m certain they would’ve both been saying, “BITCH! Are you gonna eat that whole thing?!?”

It wasn’t bad. Chicken jerky. Anyone who has been subjected to my cooking in the past has probably choked down a chicken dish of similar texture. I wouldn’t hunker down with a bag and a beer while watching 24, but in the event of an earthquake, sure, I might ask my dogs to share. And it looks like it would be safe, too. A quick look at the Dogswell website uncovered the following comforting facts:

The DOGSWELL® facility is specifically designed to prevent any cross contamination. Salmonella is one of the easiest contaminants to prevent. Salmonella is killed after 23 seconds at 160 degrees. DOGSWELL® cooks all of our poultry jerky products at 160 degrees for ten hours. While some manufacturers choose a quicker “flash cooking process” to irradiate their products, DOGSWELL® has chosen the slow-cooking method to provide a clean, safe treat.


DOGSWELL® facilities are designed to prevent cross-contamination. They meet the highest and most strict sanitary conditions to ensure raw meat and raw juices or contaminants do not come into contact with cooked meat at any time during the cooking or packaging process, thus, eliminating the possibility of any type of salmonella infection.

Unfortunately, however, it also revealed that each chicken jerky slice only has 20 calories. I’d likely burn more than that attempting to chew the darn thing, so I’m not sure how long they'd really sustain me in the days immediately following a natural disaster. Oh well. At least I won’t get salmonella.

I was actually starting to concern myself a little bit, until I saw this story on the
CBS News website, which confirmed that, perhaps, I’m not alone:

Dog Food Tastes Just Like Pâté -- High-End Dog Food, Suitably Blended, Isn't Much Different From Pork Liver Pâté, Working Paper Suggests.

The article talks about a study conducted by the American Association of Wine Economists that basically found that, when elegantly presented, study participants couldn’t distinguish between high-end dog food and pork liver pate! You can read the full article and
find a link to the paper here, but basically, the authors conclude that, "Although human beings do not enjoy eating dog food, they are also not able to distinguish its flavor profile from other meat-based products that are intended for human consumption."

You often hear that people begin to look like their dogs. Apparently, we sometimes eat like them too. It must be working: eight down and one to go!