Living with an older dog, you get accustomed to good days as well as bad days. Lucky's 15 years old -- he has severe arthritis in his spine, and has several very serious heart ailments. So we get our fair share of bad days.
This week was filled with more bad days than good ones, and it was looking very bleak for my old man just two days ago.
I've always maintained that I would euthanize him when he (1) loses his appetite, (2) isn't mobile, (3) has pain we can't control or (4) loses his zest for life.
Wednesday was a really tough day for us. He couldn't stand for more than a few seconds, even with me holding up his hind end. (The picture here was taken of a much younger Lucky -- I'm drying him off after a swim in Lake Anna.) Nothing's ever crystal clear - he couldn't move, but he was still really attentive, had a great appetite... I was at a loss as to what to do for him.
He's doing really well today, however, so I'm happy. We'll keep taking one day at a time...
I'm not a math whiz, but let me tell you what I mean by 1 + 1 > 2. I've been working with Tango on his loose leash walking and dog-greeting skills at Baker Park in Frederick over the summer. He's made great strides and I was eager to show off our work to my husband.
A few weekends ago, we took Nemo and Tango to Baker Park and I was quite ready to show off Tango's new skills to my husband.
As soon as we got out of the car, I noticed a difference in Tango. He wasn't his usual laid-back self. He was "on his toes," glancing here and there, not paying me one bit of attention.
We saw our first dog and Tango began to pull ahead. Odd, I thought. What's going on? As we approached the dog, Nemo's tail is wagging furiously and Tango begins wuffing. Not a real bark, but nothing I was used to when he and I alone walked the park, either.
After spending the morning at the park with no measurable improvement in Tango's greeting behavior, it finally dawned on me what was different: We had Nemo with us!
Tango and I had done all our work in the park alone, by ourselves, with no other dogs. So the key to this equation was the presence of Nemo. .
Tango, by himself, is quite appropriate. Nemo, by himself, is also appropriate. However, Tango + Nemo together did not equal appropriate! The mere presence of another dog caused Tango's behavior to regress backwards.
A word to the wise: If you have more than one dog, work on getting one dog's behavior perfected before you add another dog into the mix. If Tango's behavior hadn't been really really good when he was by himself, his behavior would have been considerably worse when we added Nemo to the walk. When you add that second dog into the mix, be prepared for the other dog's behavior to regress a bit.
We'll get Tango's behavior to improve when he's with Nemo, it will just take a little more practice. And that means more time spent with the dogs at the park. Not a bad deal, after all!
Check out the new Smart Dog University website. It's been in the works for several months, and just went live in the middle of the night.
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We were at the local county fair last night and saw a stand selling the cutest little creatures. At closer inspection, the little animal was a sugar glider. The cutest things ever. The salesmen had the little gliders right there and were handing out literature that made the sugar glider look like the perfect pet. I had to know more. Oh also, did I mention the cute little gliders were going for a whopping $500 each!
Off to Google I went this morning to investigate. Turns out the glider isn't quite the perfect pet the salesman made them out to be. They are cute, yes, that part's not a lie. But here are some of the reasons sugar gliders might not be so good as pets (despite the salesman's pitch that they're the perfect pet):
Why go on and on about sugar gliders, you're probably wondering. This is, after all, a DOG blog. The sugar-glider situation reminds me of puppy mills. Lots of "awww, aren't they cute!" Lots of impulse buys. No research. And within a few months, they're given up for adoption. And lots of money exchanging hands with the sales people getting richer and richer, yet the fate of the animals gets worse and worse.
I'm not sure what makes our society so impulsive. Or so willing to spend good money on an animal (or anything!) without so much as a cursory check for more information. It's mind-boggling...
At least once a week, someone tells me their dog misbehaves because he's spiteful, mad, or getting revenge. Here's a great article from the folks at Animal Behavior Associates:
Is Mason Mad?
A friend remarked to us recently that every time she goes out of town and leaves her dog, Mason, with Sarah, a close friend, Mason always defecates overnight in one particular spot in Sarah's house. Mason will occasionally do this at home, but not on a regular basis, and the dog is quite familiar with both Sarah and her home.
Our friend could not figure out any possible reason why Mason would be doing this, and therefore concluded that it had to be because Mason was mad at her for leaving him.
We've been discussing what's behind this common tendency to jump on anthropomorphic explanations as the very first or most likely reason for a pet's behavior. Perhaps it's because most pet owners believe they are the simplest explanation for their pets' behaviors. As behaviorists, we view them as just the opposite - as the most complex. Let's take a look at why.
If Mason was defecating in the house because he was mad about being left behind, his thought processes must have gone something like this: "Left behind again huh? I am so mad at my mom for doing this to me! What can I do to let her know how upset I am? I know how much she thinks of Sarah, and I bet she would just DIE if I messed in her house. After all, my poop is pretty nasty smelling so I'm sure Sarah will NOT enjoy cleaning it up. Wait until Sarah tells my mom what I've done. That'll teach my mom that leaving me behind has consequences and she better not do it ever again!"
Now, we hope that sounds as ridiculous to you as it did to us when we wrote it! It should illustrate why attributing spite and revengeful motivations to animals are in actuality complicated explanations rather than simple ones.
What might be some simpler explanations for Mason's behavior? Mason's schedule might be different in Sarah's home, causing his patterns of elimination to shift. Sarah might not be in the habit of giving Mason a last potty break right before bed or perhaps Sarah is giving him more treats than he usually gets at home. Mason might be afraid to go outside at Sarah's place because of even one experience with a startling noise (anything from construction equipment to thunder). Mason might be a bit anxious away from mom, even though Sarah is familiar to him. Perhaps Mason doesn't like the texture of what is available for elimination in the yard. He may have only had access to a graveled dog run rather than the grass he may be accustomed to.
These are all more straightforward explanations than invoking the higher thought processes required for spite to be the motivation for Mason's defecation. A well established principle in the study of animal behavior is that of parsimony. Also known as Occum's Razor, it mandates choosing the simplest explanation for a behavior that accounts for the facts, even if more complicated options are available.
Pretty little Copper is heartworm positive. We found out yesterday when she went in for her spay. The blood test showed the presence of heartworm, but thankfully no Lyme Disease or Ehrlichia. So if there's a silver lining, I guess that's it.
She's really sore today, trying to recover from the surgery. Next week my parents will take her back to the vet to begin dealing with the heartworm problem.
Usually, all but the most advanced cases of heartworm disease can be successfully treated in dogs.
From the American Heartworm Society's website: Adult heartworms in dogs are killed using a drug called an adulticide that is injected into the muscle through a series of treatments. Treatment may be administered on an outpatient basis, but hospitalization is usually recommended. When the dog is sent home, exercise should be limited to leash walking for the duration of the recovery period, which can last from one to two months. This decreases the risk of partial or complete blockage of blood flow through the lungs by dead worms.
Re-infection during treatment is prevented by administration of a heartworm preventive. These preventives may also eliminate microfilariae if they are present. Dogs in heart failure and those with caval syndrome require special attention.
So, for now, we just wait until she goes to the vet next week. She's healing from the spay right now, that's what we'll focus on. Take each step as it comes...
If the curtains move even the tiniest bit, he's under my desk and begging for comfort.
What's he afraid of?
I haven't the slightest idea. If he's outside, there's not even a hint of fear. His nose goes straight up like in the picture on this post, and he takes in all the scents on the wind.
The only thing I can think is that occasionally the breeze will slam a door in the house. He does hate loud noises. So perhaps he's associated the breeze blowing through the house with the loud SLAM! of the door.
Classically conditioned, just like Pavlov's dogs.
I'm not sure why some people are resistant to training with food, but the good news is that there are lots of other reinforcers you can use if you don't want to use food.
Make a list of the things your dog loves. Not just likes, but loves. I'm talking about everything:
The picture I used in this post shows Nemo chewing on a chunk of dead grass. For Nemo, this would be a good reward! He clearly enjoys chewing it.
It's really important that your dog LOVE these things, not just like them. The reason food is such a good reinforcer for dogs is because they need it to stay alive. They can't live without it. That alone makes it a super powerful reward to your dog. But this article isn't about why you should use food (and there are a lot of good reasons), it's about what other reinforcers you can use instead of food.
It's important to make sure the reinforcer matches the difficulty of the task. For instance, coming when called is usually pretty tough -- there are lots of better things to do (in the dog's mind) than come to you. There are dogs to play with, deer to chase, smells to investigate, grass to roll in...the list goes on and on.
So when you call the dog and he comes, give him the very best, most rewarding thing your dog loves. Usually, I'd recommend a piece of steak -- steak makes quite an impression on a dog. The next time you call, he be there even quicker than last time because he still remembers the steak! But if you don't want to use food, what's the next best thing (according to the dog)? Whatever the next best thing is, you'd better use it. And be generous with it.
One last thing, make sure the dog thinks the reward is as good as you think it is. In other words, it's up to the dog to decide how good a reward is, not you. So while YOU may think praise is pretty good, your dog may not find it nearly as rewarding. Maybe the dog would much rather chase the tennis ball. Or go for a swim in the lake.
So you don't have to use food, that's true. But it's still the fastest and most powerful reinforcer for most of our dogs. If you decide not to use food, just be very sure that your dog finds what you're using very rewarding.
Ok, so there's no hiding the fact that I'll go toe-to-toe with Palin about the inaccurate Pit Bull comment. She thinks she's the only feisty female out there? Don't push me when it comes to dogs. Nor wolves.
This is not about being a Democrat or a Repulican, but about what's right -- or in this case wrong.
This also isn't an anti-hunting rant. I'm all for hunting -- humanely -- if the game being killed is used for food. There's nothing wrong with taking a deer or a moose down with a single swift shot. The meat will be used all winter and it's not a "wasted kill."
Palin supports hunting wolves (yes, wolves) from the air.
Aerial shooting yields better results than traditional hunting, since it allows the hunter to cover a lot of ground quickly and track target animals from a clear vantage point. Historically, hunters also used planes to drive animals—polar bears in Alaska and elk in Montana, among others—toward gunmen waiting on the ground. But many hunters found the practice unsportsmanlike, since it violates the "fair chase" ethic, and animal rights activists call it inhumane, since airborne gunmen rarely get a clean (i.e., relatively painless) kill. In response to concerns like these, Congress passed the Federal Airborne Hunting Act of 1972, which made it illegal for hunters to shoot animals from a plane or helicopter. Read more (if you can stand it) here. (This paragraph from The Slate.)