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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Canine Dentistry: For a Great Smile

   Ever see that commercial on tv for the doggie treats that promotes good teeth and healthy gums that show the dogs with “doggie dentures”? I think it’s pretty funny, but not really. Truth is, this is a very serious matter that affects the overall health of the dog, affecting their longevity, and affecting the pocket books of the owner.
  My German Shepherd dog, “Heidi” is having an issue right now. She is a registered therapy dog. She has competed in the sport of Schutzhund. She is also a very “high drive” dog. As a matter of fact, when she bites, she bites so hard, and with such enthusiasm, that she chipped the tops off her canine teeth.  One exposed the root and it got infected. She has to get a root canal. The whole procedure, soup to nuts is costing me a whopping 1600.00$ !!! Thank you MasterCard.
  Both of my dogs get their teeth brushed at least 3 times weekly. There are many kits on the market that make it easier for the average person to do this. Just go into any pet department store. They usually come with a brush, toothpaste (for dogs) and a finger brush. You always should start with the finger brush to get them used to you being in there mouths.
  There is a new process out there called Dental Scaling without the use of anesthesia. Most of the time it is, let’s say, less than truthful. Some dogs are tolerant to you being in their mouth. But when you put a sharp instrument in there and start scraping and probing, that’s not going to go far. In addition, there is no way to get behind the teeth and into the gums. The best way to maintain your pet’s teeth is to have a canine dental professional give them a good cleaning. And that is going to mean anesthesia. Veterinarians who perform these procedures have made anesthesia safer than ever before. And if performed correctly, dogs of over 15 years of age can be treated successfully.
  Let’s briefly touch upon chew toys. As a rule of thumb, if you can drive a nail with it, it’s too hard. Some dogs are very heavy chewers. Rope toys and softer bone type toys are best. Also there should be some crunchy stuff in their food as well.
  If you start to see discoloring, bad odor, a red line along the gums, or bleeding gums, then you dog is probably a good candidate for a professional cleaning. Brushing only removes soft plaque. And doesn’t go below the gum line. Brushing along with regular checkups is key. Kinda sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
  So the key points here are: brush your dog’s teeth regularly, see a Canine Dental Specialist regularly, make sure the chew toys you give them are not too hard and give them a balanced diet. After all, you never know when you dog may get discovered for a movie role and have to flash their pearly whites.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Dominance & Aggression

Here is my latest article published in the Sunday April 21st 2012 Colorado Springs Gazette

this is an edited version of my previous post

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Service Dog: Truly Man’s Best Friend

  More and more, dogs are playing a bigger role in our society. We have more dogs in the military for a variety of tasks. Also they are playing a bigger role in law enforcement, whether it is in bite work, search and rescue, scent work (drug sniffing and bomb detection) and criminal apprehension.
  But in the civilian realm things take a turn in a different direction. In the direction of the service dog. Now don’t confuse a service dog with a therapy dog. Typically a therapy dog is brought to hospitals and nursing homes, to provide “therapy” for the patients.  Service dogs perform a variety of tasks to aid a patient with a particular ailment. Take for instance a Seeing Eye dog. They help the blind. Some dogs can be trained to detect seizures by “smelling” a seizure before it happens. I’m training a service dog right now for an elderly couple. He had a stroke. His wife had 3. The dog is for companionship as well as picking up objects she can’t reach. She has a problem bending down, so I am training the dog to pick up objects on command.
  Many different dogs can be used for service dogs depending on the tasks they have to complete. I once trained a very large German Shepherd for a lady who had severe spinal damage. The dog had to be able to assist her in going up and down stairs as well as be able to assist her in getting up if she fell down. So I used a large breed that could handle the weight of a 160 pound person. I made the dog wear a harness like you would for a Seeing Eye dog. It had a large handle the lady could hold on to. I carefully researched the dog I used. A made sure the parents were both docile and submissive.
  Let’s say you have COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). You would train a dog to maybe carry a small oxygen tank for you. The dog would sense you are having a problem breathing and assist you in finding a place to sit and take some oxygen. Also the dog can be a motivator to exercise and get out of the house. Too often, because of the nature of the disease, it is easy to become lethargic.
  One of the best “all around” breeds for service work is the Golden Retriever. They are submissive and loyal partners. Easy to train, and generally healthy dogs. It is best to do your homework and find a breeder that suites your needs. Meet the dog’s parents. That should give you a fairly good idea of what you’re getting. Check references. Make sure the breeder has a good reputation. Some other examples are the Papillion, German Shepherd, Golden Doodle , Standard Poodle, and Border Collie.
  Next you will need a trainer. Currently, trained service dogs can cost from $7500 to $15,000 and up. Again, do your homework. There are allot of good trainers out there. There are allot of bad ones. The elderly couple I am working with saw a trainer before me that tried to rope them into some kind of contact for almost $8,000. These people are of modest means. I decided to help them for an hourly rate, which is a fraction of the cost the other trainers wanted to charge. I take people on a case-by-case basis. I love what I do and if I can do a good deed in the process and help someone who is on a fixed income, all the better.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Dominant & Aggressive Dogs

  Let me first start off by saying that this is an intensely complicated subject, that to even touch upon it in this venue is very difficult. Volumes have been written about it.  And many people who read this will have varying opinions. And I would welcome the feedback. You can go to my website and email me from there.
  In the dog community there are many terms that are circulated frequently. One is dominance, the other is aggression. Most of the time, both of these terms are misused.
  Much of the time, both dominance and aggression are nurtured. Sometimes it is genetic. Almost all the time, neither is treated correctly, if at all. First let’s talk about temperament. That is the personality of the dog. I like to put dogs into 2 categories: hard dogs and soft dogs. A hard dog, is a dog that if you gave him a strong correction with a prong collar, he would turn around and look at you as if to say “is that the best you can do”? And a soft dog, is a dog like my Dachshund, that if you yell at him too harshly, he will just roll over as if to say “you win, I give up”. If you have a soft dog, generally no problem. But if you have a hard dog, than listen up.
  I have said this on several occasions. Many people get the wrong dogs. They get a dog for a variety of reasons. They either like the way the dog looks or its coat or some other superficial reason. Take my German Shepherd. She is a dominant dog. She is a personal protection dog that has competed in protection sports. Yet she is also a certified therapy dog that has been in hospitals and nursing homes making many people happy. How does this happen. How do you go from one to another? Yes she is dominant, and I allow her to be. But I’m more dominant, and she takes her orders from me. That’s my dog. Not my boss. We have to keep it all in perspective. I am ALWAYS in control. Now let’s take Fritz my Dachshund. I hate to say it, but he can get away with murder. Why. Because I love him, he is not a danger to anyone, and I don’t go through life like a drill sergeant.
  A very high percentage of a dogs DNA is wolf. Now before some people out there start hootin’ and hollerin’ about the “alpha” theory and how flawed it is, lest I remind you, it is just that, a “theory”. That being said, in a wolf pack the “Alpha” is usually a female. And rank is a big deal. In your home, if you have a dominant dog, that dog should be the lowest ranking member of your pack. That doesn’t mean you have to mistreat the animal. But what it does mean is that, the dog has to have boundaries. And rules it has to abide by. It cannot go on the couch or bed unless you invite it. It doesn’t get away with stealing food off the counter. It doesn’t get away with eliminating in the house. You get the picture, right? And as for toys. All the toys belong to you. And you let the dog play with them, as you see fit. Then they go back to you. There is an order here. Once more, you don’t have to go through life like a drill Sargent, but you have to have control. If you are not willing to or can’t step up to the plate and take charge over this animal, than re-homing the dog may be a viable option.
  Crating. That’s the next thing. For the first two years of a dog’s life, if not under your direct supervision, they’re in a crate. This is for several reasons. I am a positive trainer. Almost all interaction with you must be a positive experience. If your dog has the run of the house, and tears something up, you HAVE to address it. Usually this is going to be a negative encounter. So if you limit negative encounters, and save them from themselves, you are going to have a better relationship with your dog.
  Puppy biting is a frequently brought up topic. Puppies experience all the new things in the world through their mouth. They don’t have hands, so there mouth takes over. Little nipping and biting is typical “puppy stuff” and dogs will grow out of it. What you should never do is to get the puppy worked up into a frenzy, even though it may be cute, where the puppy is growling and biting something. You’re starting to teach the dog that they can control their world through aggressive behavior. Playing tug is a whole other subject and I’ll briefly touch upon it. There is a major component to playing tug. And that’s the “out”. Teaching the dog that releasing something doesn’t mean losing it. World champion Ivan Balabanov demonstrated this superbly in his training series “Obedience without conflict” video series.
  Dog on dog aggression comes in many forms. One form is “T ing” off. That is when one dog, gets on another’s back, crossways (like a “T”). This is a demonstration of dominance and should be discouraged. Watch body English. If a dog sees another dog, starts to stare, stiffens up, tail is raised over the back, hackles come up (hair over the back right after the neck, called a pilo erection), you’re looking at the beginnings of a dog fight. I’ve split up a few in my day and I’ll tell you, it aint fun. The way to split up two dogs is to grab each by their hind legs and pull them apart. When they are in this heightened state, they can easily turn on you through re-directed aggression, and bite their handlers. Also this throws them off balance and it is easier to separate them.
  Dogs have several “drives” in them. One is prey, the other is defense. If a dog has weak nerves, it will not be confident, little things can set them off, and they will always be “on guard”. Sometimes they have a hair trigger, and they learn to control their environment by displays of aggression.
  One of the most incredibly “stupid” things I have ever seen done on TV is the “alpha role”. This is where you role the dog over on its side to dominate it. Dogs don’t do this to each other. The dog can react to this one of two ways. Submit to you in fear or bite you in the face thinking you are trying to kill it. DON’T DO THIS!
  Dominance and aggression are topics that we can speak about all day. If you think you dog has problems with either, consult a qualified trainer/behaviorist. Do your homework, get references and address this issue before it bites you, you know where.