Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Moulting - The Facts

Do you have a dog that seems to moult brushfulls of fur from time to time? I do! It can be alarming to brush and brush and seemingly endless amounts of fur come away and I worry sometimes I will be left with a bald dog! You might be reassured therefore to read the following explanation from guidelines written by the Blue Cross. Unless your dog has obvious bare patches, then moulting is not usually a sign of illness. Dogs can lose up to 180g of fur per kg of body weight over the course of a year. Hair growth is in two stages, 'anagen' is when hair growth is active and there is little shedding. 'Telogen' is the inactive stage when dogs shed fur. This varies between breeds, body location and hair length. Shedding fur is normally associated with day length, and mostly happens in Spring and Autumn, but if your dog lives mostly indoors with steady temperatures and steady light levels this is likely to be less apparent.
There is no remedy to alter shedding, but a balanced diet, regular flea control, frequent brushing and fish oil supplements can help

Saturday, 27 November 2010

An Enduring Friendship

I have just returned from a short trip to Rome. Of course the main tourist sights were on the menu but I could not help but look out for local dogs... well anything doggy! This man was begging on the bridge over on to the Tiber island. I don't think I've ever seen anyone begging with 4 dogs before! Part of me is always sceptical that money given will be used to buy alcohol or drugs, but these four appeared calm and happy. It got me thinking about how close a relationship with a dog must be if you have lost your job, family and your home! But this is not a recent phenomenon.
There was evidence all over Rome that thousands of years ago people had affectionate relationships with their dogs. When you go to the trouble of having a marble statue commissioned of yourself, it is interesting that dogs feature quite frequently in these ancient works of art.
Dogs have been man's friend since time began. Not just recently, not just in ancient Rome, but way, way back to when humans lived in caves. They feature in our folklore and our history since time began.
Despite the change in human lifestyles over our history, the change from living in caves, to mud huts, to high rise city flats - dogs have changed and adapted to live with us. We think we are the clever ones.....

Monday, 11 October 2010

Firework Fear!

It is about this time of year in Britain that dog owners begin to worry about how their pets will cope with fireworks. In an ideal world a dog breeder could do so much to accustom a litter of puppies to firework noise. Breeders of gundogs will do this at an early stage in a puppy's development, ensuring that they are used to the sound of gunshots while they are still very small. Most dogs, however do not acquire this ease with loud noises and will get upset to a certain degree. Last year I remember our neighbours must have used a grenade launcher to set their industrial strength fireworks up into the air! The foundations of the house shook!

There are some things you can start to do now in order to try to calm your dog a little, but a serious desensitising programme should usually take months. You can go and have a look at a brilliant website www.dogsandfireworks.com here you can play or download a film clip of a short firework display. Start fairly quietly and praise and treat and stroke your dog calmly for listening to the bangs. If he reacts to the noise then just ignore him, and don't cuddle, talk, reassure this behaviour. Just act as if nothing is wrong. This exercise needs to be repeated over and over again, for several months.
Make sure your dog has a safe place to go if he feels scared, a cubby hole, a bed, crate or behind the sofa. Don't follow him in there, that's his safe place. Don't cuddle, pat or talk to your dog while he is scared. Make sure your dog has been out to the toilet during daytime hours so he won't need to go again. If your dog does want to get under the duvet with you, or jump on your lap for reassurance, then let them but don't make a fuss of them.
If you are a fan of alternative remedies, then some people have found the Bach Rescue Remedies helpful, or scullcap and valerian. You might also talk to your vet about a DAP (dog appeasing pheromone) diffuser or collar.
Of course the obvious things to do are to close all the curtains in the house, turn the lights on and turn the TV volume up high! Make sure all the doors and windows are closed, and just in case, make sure your dog has an ID tag and microchip (because some dogs might be frantic to escape!). Avoid leaving your dog alone during fireworks, he will feel safer if you are around.
Something else you might like to try is a tight Tshirt or jumper. www.mekuti.co.uk make a specially designed doggy body wrap which has been found to calm anxious dogs.
Hope this helps!

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Walkies! - Why?

Have you ever stopped to think why we take our dogs out for walkies on the end of a leash? Well, the obvious answer to that would be to keep them safe from traffic, to keep them under control which is of course, a good thing. But do they really need to walk at our pace, next to our left leg, when we want to go, and where we want to take them? What do they get out of it?
Going for a walkies is usually the highlight of a dogs day. If they are cooped up in a house, it is their opportunity for relaxation, recreation and entertainment. Imagine if someone took you to a wonderful art gallery and then ensured that you were blindfolded as you walked round. Imagine if you went out for a sumptuous meal with a group of friends, but you were forced to watch them all eating, but were not allowed to eat anything yourself! I suppose that must be what it is like for a dog being walked on a lead at your pace, at your side and at a place and time of your choosing.
Think of it from their perspective for one moment. Sniffing a particular gate post might be like catching up with your favourite episode of a TV soap! A dog can tell from the scent markings left by other dogs who has just had puppies, who has just been castrated, if there is a new kid on the block, and who has just come into season! It is just like picking up all your e-mail... or should that be p-mail! And of course, male dogs will want to overmark and reply to the messages! Sniffing other dog's pee is just like catching up with the latest episode of Eastenders, Coronation Street, Emmerdale...take your pick. Your dog also needs doggy company, so they will want to sniff other dogs' bottoms and really embarrass you. Some of them will want to eat poo! some will eat a week-old kebab packet, a mouldy sausage roll or the contents of a dustbin bag left out for the bin men once a week! (bin day is the most exciting time to take my dog for a walk, it takes twice as long as usual!).
So next time you trudge along the road with your obedient fido glued to your leg, just ask yourself why you are doing this. Is it for his benefit or yours?

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Dogs - A Universal Language

I've just come back from a holiday around the Coast of Britain and Ireland. I met a lovely man and a lovely dog on the Giants Causeway in Co.Antrim. We had a chat about dogs and went our separate way. I was on a cruise ship and one day at lunch time an old lady came and sat next to me. She was a widow in her 80s, from South Africa and she was travelling alone. She was dripping in tasteless gold jewellery! this was an extremely wealthy lady. I made polite conversation over lunch but never thought we would have anything in common. She had acres of land, a large house and quite a few staff. The conversation was polite but a little dull until I mentioned that I had just trained as a dog trainer and behaviourist. Her eyes lit up, we actually made eye contact and she smiled. She began to tell me all about her 3 little dogs that she rescued from hunger and abuse to come and live with her on the farm in Pretoria. I shared the story of how we rescued Buddy from Battersea dogs home, and before either of us knew it we were having a friendly, animated and interesting conversation.
This got me thinking. Could this happen to any two people from anywhere in the world? Just finding something in common, that special intimate bond we share with our dogs can be recognized by another person anywhere. A personal experience we could share with anyone in any country, of any religion or background. Just think if the World's politicians could do that!

Saturday, 29 May 2010

The Neutering Debate

What does the male hormonItalice testosterone do for dogs? Well, it makes them forget reason for one! it has been officially referred to as 'the hormone of stupidity' and who can argue with that when you see the effects on the human of the species! in essence, it makes male animals bolder and prone to taking risks. It reduces the effects of fear so that they can go out in the world, defend their territory, catch food, and by no means least..fight for the right to breed with females. Do you see some similarities here?? I certainly do!

Well, dogs don't go out and buy fast motorbikes, expensive toys or gold jewellery, but the intended end result is the same. So why do people get their dogs neutered? I suppose a male dog who has not had enough training might be prone to running away (the behavioural term is 'roaming') to follow the scent of females on heat. Some male dogs might become aggressive if they feel that their territory or their property is being threatened in some way. But here's the rub...my main point....

Testosterone will give a teenage dog the confidence to go out and meet other dogs and interact with them. In a fearful dog it will give them confidence to go out and explore the world, make mistakes and learn, and as a result it will have a good rounded character. It will give a dog the confidence to explore new and unknown situations, people and places. Now if you neuter a young dog that is already timid by nature, and a dog who has been so timid that it has resorted to aggression out of fear... then if you misread the signs of that aggressive dog..and neuter it... thinking that you will improve that dogs behaviour - it may, in fact, get worse.

Don't get me wrong here. Neutering is the right thing to do if you do not want to breed from your dog. There are way too many unwanted dogs in rescue centres all over the place. There are also many dogs that need to be neutered because they constantly feel the need to challenge and fight in every situation. Neutering a dog when it is still a juvenile will not allow it to develop an adult mentality. What I am trying to say is that neutering is not a substitute for good basic training. If your dog is out of control and it is an entire male, then take a good look at the causes of that dog's behaviour and don't just take the easy route and cut off his testicles!

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

The one that didn't make it...

One of my rescue centre dogs didn't make it this week. I should explain, I work as a volunteer at two well known dog rescue and rehoming centres here in West London. Some shelters have a 'no-kill under any circumstances' policy, others do not. This is a contentious issue and many people have differing opinions. I should lay my opinon on the line for you. I saw this poor dog for the first time last week, she had been flagged up to me as a very stressed dog, so I went to spend time in the kennel with her.
She had been eating the ceiling of her kennel! she had chewed her bedding and she had chewed every toy that was given her. Clearly very stressed over a number of months she had also been given veterinary medicines to calm her. I sat with her for 30 minutes or so and gave her a hard rawhide chew to occupy herself. She lay down next to me and chewed away the whole time. Dogs chew to releive stress, it produces endorphins in the brain which calms them down. When slightly calmer she was a sensitive dog who enjoyed company and who craved cuddles and attention. She knew all her basic commands and worked well for treats. This was an exceptionally clever dog with a sensitive nature. And there lies the problem.
Some dogs just don't cope with kennel life at all, their lives are a misery, they get more and more stressed, become destructive and extremely stressed and unhappy. There are hundreds of dogs waiting for new homes and with the best will in the world and an amazingly dedicated team of staff, they still don't get all the attention and space they need. The behaviour in the kennel made it unlikely that anyone would pick her to re-home.
In my experience working with such dogs, it is the very clever ones, the ones with the most potential, and particulary the sensitive ones with the most potential that get stressed in kennels, they just cannot cope and get very ill. These are the ones that don't make it. If they were humans, they would be your Mozarts, your Steven Hawking, your geniuses. Yet, they are dogs and they end their lives with a needle in their arm. It is sad, but it is a fact that the kennel can now be used by the next homeless dog waiting for someone to choose it. A dog that might have a better chance of finding a home. There is a neverending supply. So tonight I'm thinking about Lola, the one that didn't make it.... and move on to the next one that might.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Happy Healthy Dogs!

I booked my tickets for Crufts dog show yesterday. The annual Kennel Club beauty show for pedigree dogs. Since a controversial documentary on the BBC a couple of years ago, there have been questions asked of the morality of breeding closely related dogs in order to maintain a 'breed standard' ie. what that particular breed should look like. Since looking into the study of dog behaviour and dog genetics I have been learning about how mankind first chose dogs to live with us because of what they could do for us rather than how they looked. Dogs that could guard us, guard our flocks, catch vermin.
These are all examples of 'sled dogs' they are bred because they have good stamina, thick healthy coats, even temperament, strong work ethic, healthy paws... not what they look like!
It is in their genetic nature to work for a living and to run and pull sleds all day. Allbeit this is now mostly for tourists but I found myself surrounded last week with more than 300 happy, healthy dogs. Doing what they were bred for, having their behavioural and social needs met.
I suppose nowadays in society we are brainwashed into looking up to attractive looking people as our role models (regardless of personality or ability) just look at this wonderful, eclectic range of mutt dogs, they love life, they are fulfilling their genetic purpose. Such a joy to see!

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Eyesight in Dogs

Our understanding of canine vision is imperfect as we only have a perception of what they see and not categorical evidence. The ability to see in very low light conditions enhances a dog's ability to function as predators. A dogs eyes have a highly reflective layer of cells on the retina called the tapetum lucidum. This is responsible for the bright shine of a dog's eye when in a bright light. A dog's eye can focus allowing normal vision at different distances. They appear to be only able to accurately focus on objects no closer than 50cm to 33cm of their eye. They will then compensate by using other senses such as smell or taste.
So what exactly can a dog see, and how well? In humans we can take an eyesight test and tell the optician what we can see and whether it is in focus. So how can we know about a dog's eyesight? The nature of vision is a subjective thing, it is not easy to state exactly how a dog sees but it is possible to examine eyesight in differing light levels, visual acuity, movement, depth perception and colour. Dogs have a greater visual ability in low light conditions and they are able to detect motion and smaller movements at a greater distance than humans can. Depth perception depends on the degree of binocular overlap, in dogs the presence of a long nose can reduce this overlap and they may have difficulty judging distances. Visual acuity refers to the ability to see the details of an object separately and unblurred. On the whole dogs have reduced acuity compared to man. Colour perception is thought to be similar to a human who is red-green colour blind. This means that they see blue and yellow well but have trouble with reds and greens.

Friday, 1 January 2010

Stroke in Dogs

I had a bit of a panic this week, Buddy had a stroke two days ago! He will be 14yrs old on Sunday. As an owner, of course I was worried and took him straight to the vet when the symptoms became obvious. The vet saw us straight away and very quickly confirmed my diagnosis! Buddy had some sort of 'incident' while climbing the stairs at home. He appeared disorientated and very wobbly on his feet soon afterwards, falling down occasionally. An interesting symptom, was eye twitching/movement from side to side (nystagmus), it really looked as if the room was spinning for him, and his head was tilted to one side. After some brief internet research on stroke in dogs, I discovered some reassuring articles. Strokes in dogs are not often as debilitating in animals as in humans. A dogs brain is highly capable of working round the problem (a small bleed in the brain) more capable than human brains in fact. Despite investigations an underlying cause is only found in 50% of cases of stroke in dogs. There is no specific treatment (unlike humans who are bombarded with clotbusters, statins and blood pressure tablets). Good nursing care should enable Buddy to recover from these symptoms in a week or so.
At present he is unwilling to eat or drink, but happily laps up weak chicken stock fed through a turkey baster! and small pieces of chicken hand fed! The vet has recommended strict rest, no stairs and no walkies! Hope his appetite returns soon, but if the room is still spinning, he might not manage too much yet!