Monday, February 16, 2015

Review: Nylabone DuraChew Dental Chew Dino Toy from

This month, we tested the Nylabone DuraChew Dental Chew Dino Toy from And the verdict? Well, 3 out of 4 dogs agree:

This thing is totally chewable! Maisy, god bless her, has absolutely no interest in this (or most other chews for that matter).

Things that are awesome about it:
  • The dogs like it way better than regular shaped Nylabones.
  • Exciting enough that they have chewed on it regularly over the past week.
  • Not exciting enough to cause dog fights, meaning I can leave it sitting out.
  • Sweet dinosaur shape.
  • Made in the USA.
  • Seems to be pretty durable so far. 
  • Only $3.99 right now!
Things that aren't so awesome about it:
  • Only rated for dogs up to 50 lbs. (Not a problem for me, but it might be for you.)
  • Really, really hurts when you accidentally step on it in the middle of the night.
Disclosure: I got this free from but was not paid in any way for what I'm writing. These are also my opinions and I wasn't told what to say.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Behavior Problem or Medical Problem?

The sweater in question.
Lola hates having her nails trimmed. Or her feet touched. Or, heck, even her legs, and it all came to a head a few months back when I was trying to make a fleece sweater for her without a pattern. This necessitated a lot of putting it on and taking it off as I worked out the alterations, and by the end of the day, Lo had nailed me right in the arm. She was D-O-N-E with this being touched stuff.

I've worked with dogs before who didn't like to be touched, so I got to work doing handling training. I started doing exercises to help Lola associate being touched with awesome things. I moved slowly, always watching her body language to ensure I didn't rush her. And things... well, they didn't really get better.

Oh, sure, sometimes she was okay with it, but other days she was immediately grumpy again. I also noticed that she got pretty grumbly when the boy-dogs would rough house too close to her. Not touching her, just near her. It was like she was telling them to keep their distance.

The first rule of behavior club is...
You know where this is going, right? Yup, it was time for a vet check. This is a pretty basic step when dealing with behavior problems, especially ones that crop up suddenly. Pretty much every trainer, behaviorist, and blogger I know recommends going to the vet to check for health problems before undertaking a training program.

Easy said, but harder to remember, especially when the problem sort of creeps up on you. Lola wasn't suddenly aggressive (she's not aggressive at all, actually), she was just acting a bit weird. And anyway, my dogs are no stranger to the vet. We go in for regular well checks, and I'm not afraid to have small things checked out in between. I also watch my dogs pretty closely so I know what's normal and what's not. I catch things early.

Like a needle in a haystack
Off to the vet we went. I mentioned my concerns, and our vet agreed that it sounded behavioral. The problem, of course, is that it's really hard to pinpoint a possible problem. Lola wasn't showing any stiffness. There was no limping, no panting, no licking or biting a certain area. In other words, this was a shot in the dark.

I know I'm not alone in that. I've heard plenty of people say that their vets didn't find anything on exam. I don't think that's the vet's fault at all. After all, our dogs can't tell us if and where they hurt, and I don't know about you, but I do not have the cash reserves to do x-rays and ultrasounds just to rule out a hunch. Still, because Lola's a basset hound, and thus acondroplastic (a type of dwarfism associated with malformed bones and cartilage), I thought there must be some pain in there.

Getting the most out of your exam
Now, I'm not a vet, but I've paid for a lot of vet care over the years, and in my experience, there are three main causes of pain:

1. Illness or injury
This one is probably the easiest to find clinically. Inspecting your dog for cuts or scrapes and taking vital signs can tell you a lot about what might be going on. Acute illness or injury tends to show up quickly and is therefore not usually mistaken for a behavioral problem. Still, sometimes there are sicknesses that fly under the radar. To get at these, regular lab work can help. The exact tests that are done will depend on your dog and the lifestyle risks unique to your situation, but in my experience, blood work (including a tick panel) and a urinalysis can tell you a lot.

2. Musculo-skeletal issues
Joint or muscle problems are much harder to pick up on, even with more obvious signs. Five or six years back, I noticed that Maisy had a very slight, occasional limp coupled with excessive panting, even when it wasn't hot. I took her to the vet, but they couldn't recreate the problem, so they told me not to worry. I ended up taking Maisy to a chiropractor, and later a doggy massage therapist, which did a lot to alleviate the pain.

3. Teeth problems
Dude, toothaches hurt. Unfortunately, I think mouth pain in dogs is more common than we think. Maisy is eight now, so when she started to slow down just a tad, I didn't think much of it. It's not like she got lethargic or anything; she was still playing and eating, just a bit quieter. At her well vet exam, the vet saw a chipped tooth and recommended a dental, but didn't think it was urgent. Well. When she got in there, it turns out Maisy had not one but two abscessed teeth that shattered when the vet went to pull them. Less than two weeks later, Maisy was full of puppy energy again, playing with the boy-dogs, and even doing a bit of tug!

Don't be afraid to try pain meds
I'm lucky to have a great relationship with a great vet. She did an incredibly thorough exam, and in so doing, found that Lola has very mild luxating patellas. So mild, in fact, that we aren't convinced that it was causing the possible pain; I suspect that due to Lo's front assembly, long back, and history of being overweight, she may have arthritis.

Either way, I requested a trial of pain meds. I wasn't expecting much from it, and I kind of think the vet was humoring me when she prescribed them, but the results were amazing. After a week of regular pain meds, both the grumbling about the boy-dogs and her grouchiness about being touched reduced by at least 75%! Of course, now we're left trying to figure what's causing the pain and how to address that. (That's a whole other post, of course!)

What about you guys?
Have you had a medical problem masquerading as a behavior problem? What did it end up being? And how did you find out? 

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

What's in a Name?

This is Marley:

If he looks familiar, he should - he's the dog we now call Napi - but when this picture was taken in July 2013, he was still named Marley. Just a few hours before, he'd been tied out in the sun, gotten tangled around a tree, and when he got thirsty, began to bark at the water bowl that was now out of reach.

Marley's owner was a jerk. Instead of untangling him, he threw the water in Marley's face, all while screaming at him. This caught the attention of a big-hearted, dog-loving neighbor (now known as my husband), who watched, horrified, as the owner proceeded to beat Marley.

A few hours later, Marley was safe under the care of my husband, who was going to find him a good home. When it became clear that good home would be with him, my husband decided that Marley needed a new name. He chose Napoleon because it's a good, strong name, and he thought this poor dog could use some self-esteem.

All of this is background information to the story I really want to tell you, which is about the power of names.

It's been almost two years since Napi has heard his old name, and we were curious to know if he remembered it. My husband called him from the other room - "Marley!" Napi looked up, confused. He clearly recognized the name, but wasn't quite sure what to do. My husband called again, and Napi began walking towards him, stiff and hesitant. My husband smiled and said "Napoleon!"

And then it happened: Napi exploded in joy. His whole body began to wiggle, his mouth opened in a huge grin, and he began dancing around in circles.

"Look at that!" I exclaimed. "He knows his real name - and he likes it!"

"Yes," my husband agreed. "His old name has bad memories."

"And his new one has good  memories."

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Why I Use Medication for My Reactive Dogs (Instead of Supplements)

Over the years, I have been very open about the fact that I use medication for my reactive dogs. I also made the decision to keep Maisy on her SSRI long-term; she's been on paroxetine for over four years now. I have taken my fair share of criticism over the years about these decisions. I'm sure part of this is the fact that the most popular articles on my blog are about supplements for reactive dogs; writing about something "natural" and then turning to "the evils of Western medicine" is hard for people to understand.

So why did I do it? Simply put, I put my money - to say nothing of my dog's health - where the evidence is. On the whole, medication works, is safe, and is well-regulated.

The troubling truth is that the claims on supplement labels often lack scientific support. That is why I wrote the series on supplements for reactive dogs; I wanted to know what (if anything) the science had to say about their use. It was interesting to learn about which supplements had some evidence for their use.

But even the best science is worthless if the ingredient isn't actually in that pill you're giving your dog, and a recent investigation done by the New York State Attorney General's Office found that about 80% of the supplements they tested did not contain ANY of the product in question. Further, some of those products had potential allergens that were not disclosed on the label.

Contrast this to the procedure followed for FDA approval and regulation for medication in the United States. The system may not be perfect, but it is far more rigorous than what current exists for supplements, with far more monitoring in place.

Of course, I'm not a vet, I'm not a scientist, and I don't know what's best for your dog. I have heard from many folks who have had great success with supplements, just as I've heard from people who have struggled to find a med that works for their dog. There is no magic pill. But when it comes down to it, I've decided to hedge my bets. My money's on medication.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Happy 2nd Birthday, Pyg!

Pyg is one of the coolest dogs I've ever known. I am so, so, so glad I adopted him. I took a big risk, and the timing was awful, but he has turned out to be exactly what I wanted. More or less.

I had a list of deal breakers and desires when I got Pyg. The list is here, but basically, Pyg stacked up perfectly. He will work for food, toys, and personal play. He will settle down and nap when things are quiet. He makes me laugh a lot. (I mean, the hoarding thing along cracks me up.) He is completely stable and confident. He is interested in others, but if I ask him to do something with me (training, play, whatever), he's glad to focus on the task at hand. He has basically no grooming needs, does great in the car, and is great fun to train! He's also incredibly loving. He loves to be pet and touched.

In fact, when he first arrived home, my only concern was his separation distress. He did not like to be left alone and he could break out of any crate, x-pen, or other arrangement. It was comical except for how annoying it was. These days, Pyg doesn't need to spend much time alone since my husband and I work opposite shifts, but even before we moved in together, Pyg was doing just fine being left alone for 8 to 10 hours a day.

The other thing I'm not crazy about is his front-end structure. He's got the typical easty-westy front legs typical of dwarfed dogs. This will probably cause problems down the line, but, I mean. How picky can I be? We don't do any sports where this will make a huge difference. I mean, I'd like to do some casual agility with him, but regular classes or competitions are not in our future.

I love Pyg. He's such a great little dog, and it continues to blow my mind that it took so long for him to find a home. Seriously - he was in rescue starting from 12 weeks. His mom and his two siblings both got adopted fairly quickly, but Pyg? Had to travel across the country to find his forever home.

I'm glad it's mine.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Is a Tired Dog REALLY a Good Dog?

"A tired dog is a good."

If you've been in the dog world at all - whether in training classes on forums or just talking to friends - you've probably heard this bit of folk wisdom. And for the most part, I get it. Most normal dogs in the United States are under exercised both physically and mentally, and therefore bored out of their minds. For the vast majority of dogs, adding in some extra cardio, puzzle toys, or training time will go along way to reducing nuisance behaviors like barking, chewing, or mischief-making.

But there are times this phrase just gets under my skin, usually when it's applied to reactive dogs. Some advice-givers seem to think that if you just increase your dog's activity a bit, you'll reduce the amount of barking, growling, and lunging that happens...and it just isn't so!

The big problem with this is that your dog is going to be exposed to way more things. If you usually walk your dog for 30 minutes a day and increase it to an hour, you've just doubled the number of triggers your dog is being exposed to. Each trigger your dog encounters - whether he reacts or not - increases the amount of water going into his "stress bathtub." 

Being exhausted because you're stressed out is not the same as being exhausted because you've used your body in a satisfying way. Last week, I came home from work absolutely exhausted. I'd had a headache for a few days. In the morning, I had an argument with a friend. Then, I came into one of those work situations that makes you bang your head and say bad words. I was pretty tired by the time I got home, but ask my husband: I was NOT a good wife that night.

Yup, that's the trail.
Contrast that tired feeling to the one you get from playing sports or hiking. I've been on two backpacking trips. These trips required me to carry 40 or 50 pounds of gear on my back over some very difficult terrain for miles a day. By the end of the day, I would be pretty tired, but it was that good kind of tired where you're happy to eat food that tastes like wet cardboard and sleep on the cold, hard ground. By the end of a backpacking week, I am completely and utterly at peace. I'm in a great mood.

Another problem is trigger stacking. Let's say your dog does great on his walks, comes home and sleeps quietly, and is overall pretty good. What happens if something unexpected happens? Does he stay "good" or does he suddenly surprise you with an over-the-top reaction? If it's the latter, you've just fallen prey to trigger stacking.

Trigger stacking is not exclusive to reactive dogs. The ability to cope with events, regardless of underlying temperament, is a limited resource. We usually think of trigger stacking in the context of "the straw that broke the camel's back," but there comes a point where a good thing becomes too much of a good thing. I love a good Thanksgiving Dinner... once a year. But after a week of leftovers, I'm really quite happy not to see another piece of pumpkin pie for a year. I've had too much, and if you offer me more turkey a week later, my response may not be good. 

Now, I'm not saying that reactive dogs shouldn't get exercised. The endorphins that are released in the pursuit of physically using one's body can go a long way towards improving one's mood. But you do need to be thoughtful about how, where, and when you do it.

If you think your reactive dog would benefit from increased exercise, here are some general guidelines:
  • Start slow. A couch potato cannot just get up and run a marathon. Doing so will result in pain or injury. This is NOT a good tired. Condition your dog so that the exercise is as pain-free and enjoyable as possible.
  • Choose areas that are low-stress. When I was working through Maisy's reactivity, even though I had a perfectly good neighborhood to walk in, it was just full of triggers. I ended up driving her several miles away for our daily walks so that we could enjoy exercise time in a quiet, relatively unused park instead.
  • Choose off-peak times. City-dwellers know how hard it is to find quiet locations, so you may have to settle for quiet times. Late nights and early mornings are familiar to many a reactive dog owner.
  • Think outside of the daily walk box. Physical exercise can be anything that satisfies the need to move.
  • Pick physical activities you both enjoy. Napoleon loves to run. I broke my ankle the last time I went running. We probably won't do that one again. Lola loves long sniffy walks, but strenuous hikes just aren't her thing. Taking her backpacking would be torture. Both Lola and I will be grumpy if you try to get us to do a sport we hate. 
  • Watch arousal levels! If playing with a flirt pole gets your reactive dog so amped up that he can't think, you're probably creating a dangerous situation - especially if he can't settle afterwards. Sort of the exact opposite of the good dog you're trying to get.
Any time you introduce new activities, whether physical or mental, watch your dog closely. If he's "good," that's great! Keep it up! But don't feel pressured to be out there training for a marathon in the name of better behavior.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Happy Gotcha Day, Maisy!

Maisy at 5 months old.

Eight years ago today, I brought Maisy home. To date, it remains one of the best decisions I ever made.