obsessed with dogs

Ask Anna: Book review and giveaway!

Howdy, folks! John here. When Maggie received a copy of Dean Koontz’s new book Ask Anna (co-written by his adorable golden retriever, Anna) I snatched it from her. I’m a HUGE Dean Koontz fan. I love all of his books. Every. Single. One. He’s such a fantastic story-teller. He writes suspenseful books with interesting, relatable characters. Most of the time, though, the best characters are the dogs. He wrote a book several years ago about his dog Trixie who was a retired service dog, from whom he learned a lot about humanity and the inherent goodness of dogs.

Ask Anna book review and giveaway

Anyway, the book is a collection of letters written by dogs to Anna asking for advice. I’m not typically one who enjoys reading things written from the dog’s perspective. It tends to be too cutesy for me. However, the letters written to Anna, and her responses, are exactly how I imagine dogs conversing. For all of their nobility, gentleness, understanding, forgiving, and unconditional compassion, dogs are incredibly goofy creatures. The eat, smell, roll in, and just overall enjoy some very odd things. Regardless of the question, Anna has very sage, dog-like advice.

For example:

Charmin: “I love to shred these rolls of paper. I love to unravel one through the house and then follow it back, pretending I’m Hansel and Gretel, escaping along our marked trail through the woods, the evil witch close behind us. I love to sneak out at night to decorate the neighbors’ trees and shrubbery with one. Is this wrong?”

Anna: “It is so right that I don’t have the words to express how right it is. But please tell me you never drink from the toilet.”

How great is that? She tells Huckleberry, the beagle who steps on his ears when he’s sniffing, to act like a cat falling off a window sill and “pretend the dumb move was intentional.” She suggests that Cutie in Cleveland, who wants to get a job, to audition for the next Star Wars movie because Yoda has poor syntax, no fur, and “looks like a wrinkled turnip.”

This book is whimsical, entertaining, and will make think more about some of the things your pup does. The pictures are great, the advice sound, and the message clear. Dogs are silly and thoughtful, and that’s why we love them so much.

Koontz_ASK ANNA_author photo HI-RES

One last amazing note about this book is that 100% of what Dean Koontz receives from the sale of this book will be donated to Canine Companions for Independence, the nonprofit group that trains service dogs for individuals with disabilities. Also, Anna states up front that she is being paid in sausages.

And now you have a chance to win a copy! (Sorry, international folks, this one is U.S. only.)

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A runner’s physique: Tips for dealing with joint problems in dogs

Several years ago, we had an incredible vet who worked with us to get to the root of Lucas’ limping. After years of on-and-off problems, he continued to limp in the cold winter months and after activities like hiking or, even worse, a day at doggy daycare. We had him on a joint supplement but hadn’t yet arrived at the root of the problem.

After a series of tests and x-rays, we discovered that, at some point during his puppyhood, he had sustained a trauma (like, getting hit by a car) that was left untreated. As a result, his pelvic bone grew too narrowly to support his big frame. So, while the joint supplements helped – and a doggy aspirin and heating pad on bad days – there wasn’t much to do to alleviate his pain.

Except.

Our wonderful vet recommended that we drop weight off of him. He wasn’t overweight, but she said to think of a runner’s physique: lean, trim, nothing extra. Lowering his weight would decrease the strain on his hips and too-small pelvis. We needed to get him lean. Here he was in July 2009:

Lucas in July 2009: Tips for dealing with joint problems in dogs

Here he is today:

Lucas in October 2014

He’s definitely dropped a bit of weight, though not that much – only a few pounds – which you can see mostly behind his ribs. But that lighter load has helped immensely.

We’ve kept up with supplements, too. He’s been taking DGP for a few months now and hasn’t needed any extra aspirin after a day at doggy daycare. The supplements have become as much a part of his daily routine as an afternoon walk. It’s just part of overall health and maintenance. With Lucas, especially, I worry a lot about aging, so we’re trying to do what we can now while he’s still young (although… he’s younger at heart than in reality, but don’t tell him that).

Joint problems in dogs range from Lukey’s oddity to things like hip dysplasia, nutritional deficiencies, and dozens of other possibilities. If you suspect there’s something going on with your dog’s joints, definitely get a full work-up at the vet. I’d encourage x-rays because it wasn’t until our vet here in Bloomington that a set was ordered, thus getting us to the root of the problem. (His DC vet felt that his limp was likely because he had been severely malnourished, and he would grow out of it. He didn’t.) Talk to your vet about supplements, too. DGP has been great for Lucas, and we intend to keep him on it.

We’ve gotten a few comments here and there – most recently from my mom! – about Lucas looking way too skinny. He definitely is thin, thinner than most shepherd mixes his age. However, it’s kept the pressure off those delicate joints, so as long as he’s healthy – eating like a pig and exercising like a champ – we’ll strive to keep his runner’s physique.

Do you deal with joint issues with your dog? What steps have you taken to alleviate any issues? Any preventative measures?

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Disclaimer: We were not compensated for this post, though DGP did provide Lucas with samples of the product to see if it would work for him. It did. All these opinions are mine, all mine!

An eye-opening visit to the UT vet school

One of the best parts of the PetSafe summit was our afternoon at the UT vet school. There were three BIG take-aways for me that I want to share here.

A quick note: While there were animals all over the place, we weren’t allowed to share pictures. Our guide explained their policies as “HIPAA for animals” so I took what I could. You’ll just have to imagine the animals that were there. (Including a TIGER! Having SURGERY! Which I SAW!!! I have the pics on my phone if our paths ever cross…)

Take-away one: We need a better understanding of the root cause of animal behavior. That means scientific inquiry, rather than just theory.

At veterinary schools around the country, behavior is diminished in importance compared to other specialties. The reason? According to Dr. Julie Albright, the PetSafe Chair in Small Animal Behavioral Research, it just doesn’t bring in the money that other areas – like oncology – do. At UT, PetSafe pays for a board-certified veterinary behaviorist to hold a post at the school where she sees patients, consults on behavior issues, and conducts research. This is huge since there are so few veterinary behaviorists around the country, and PetSafe is ensuring UT keeps one in their school. We spent some time chatting with her and learned, not surprisingly, that her most common dog cases are aggression (cats are inappropriate elimination). But she made the fascinating point that there still isn’t a genuine understanding of the causes of aggressive behavior – there’s a lot of theory, but the data isn’t there. Her research is looking at play behavior among puppies, mapping the differences between breeds and changes in play as the puppies develop.

Take-away two: The care available to our animals is far more sophisticated than I ever imagined.

And it’s such an uplifting demonstration of the compassion and love we have for the animals in our lives. I was amazed at the resources they have, like physical rehabilitation and sports medicine to stem cell therapy and emergency care. They have two hyperbaric chambers – one for small animals, which was even used on a guinea pig who had smoke inhalation, and one for horses/large animals. Here’s the small animal one:

Hyperbaric chamber at UT vet school
They’re able to treat avian and exotic animals all the way up to that tiger mentioned above. The Equine Performance and Rehabilitation Center was unlike anything I’d ever seen before. There was an underwater treadmill designed exclusively for horses.

Underwater treadmill for horses

State-of-the-art equipment and procedures are available for every type of animal you can think of. The entire place blew me away, and it made me feel all warm and fuzzy thinking about all the attention and care our beloved animals are receiving. They literally have the benefit of every type of treatment under the sun. (Like, the CT machine there was IDENTICAL to the one at my oncologist’s office!)

Take-away three: Veterinary social work is an important emerging field. We need more of it.

There aren’t a lot of these programs. Yet. But they play such a critical and often overlooked role in veterinary medicine: caring for the people. We happened to be at UT shortly after Dr. Sophia Yin’s tragic suicide, and there was a somber mood as they spoke to us about this program. But there was a light, too. These social workers are specializing in the veterinary field so that they’re able to support vets. At UT, they’re offering courses on wellness and self-care, suicide prevention, and more for the veterinarians. But they also support the patients. They help upset or confused clients communicate with the medical stuff. They arrange community resources and pet loss support groups. In the hospital, they provide emotional support to patients who have to make difficult decisions and are available to be present during euthanasia. They provide grief counseling. And so much more. Can you even dream of a better service to be offered in a veterinary hospital? And it makes so much sense, right? We have those services in human hospitals across the country. This, to me, is a natural and much needed extension of that, and I can only hope that this field grows rapidly! So much warm-fuzzy here, too!

Overall, it was an amazing visit. I learned so much, and I was inspired to see how perfectly the school combines compassionate care with technology.

(Oh, incidentally: We heard a presentation from a veterinary nutritionist. I think Cooper needs one of those. I’m going to see if we can get some sort of referral at his next appointment…)

Blog the Change: Support Pinups for Pitbulls with a 2015 calendar!

Have you ordered your 2015 calendar yet? No? Great!

Pinups for Pitbulls 2015

Ta-da!! It’s that time! Order your 2015 Pinups for Pitbulls calendar (and the book, too) and support pit bull advocacy!

Here’s what Pinups for Pitbulls is all about from the website:

PFPB is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization whose mission is to educate people about the history, temperament, and plight of the pit bull-type dog; raising awareness to rally against Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) and Breed Discriminatory Laws (BDL). PFPB’s goal is to restore the image of the pit bull-type dog to its former reputation of America’s companion animal, war hero, and family member.

As you guys know by now, pit bull advocacy is near and dear to my heart. This organization is approaching it from a unique, powerful angle. We are THRILLED to be involved (our very own Emmett is Mr. November in the calendar – just wait until you see his darling picture).

BlogtheChange

For today’s Blog the Change, I wanted to share this opportunity to support an organization that works tirelessly to improve the plight of our beloved dogs. You need a calendar anyway, right? Why not make it one that combats breed discrimination!

How to partner with your dog (hint: it doesn’t involve an e-collar)

Recently, I heard a woman speak about training dogs with e-collars. She does call herself a trainer and runs a dog training school, though – in a sorely unregulated industry** – her background is as a vet tech.

Before I get into her talk, I will say this: I love PetSafe. I hate that they sell these products. They are an incredible company dedicated to doing good – heck, they have a remarkable guy whose sole job is to give away money. But I just want to be clear up front that I was on an expenses-paid trip out there, which was wonderful with the exception of the session with this woman.

How to partner with your dog

 

In the opening bit of her talk, the trainer was mentioning other types of training and started to go into positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, positive punishment, and negative punishment… and then she said, “But I don’t really care about the science.”

That right there.

See, the thing is, I do care about the science. I care passionately and (somewhat) obsessively about the science.

And the science – all the studies, data, and results that have been peer reviewed and published in scholarly journals – discounts every single thing she said.

For example, she said that e-collar training does not cause distress but rather stress. And, she continued, stress is good for a learning environment. Unfortunately, a recent study showed that electronic collars do cause distress. Ah, but the trainer argued, the study showed “yawning” as a sign of distress, and perhaps the dogs were tired or bored? Except her dismissal flies in the face of countless anxiety studies that show yawning is, in fact, a sign of stress in dogs (and, actually, in people, too).

Her talk continued along that thread, essentially saying, “Here’s the science, but since I don’t believe it, I’ll continue to promote these collars.” Her schtick was to have e-collars on set to level 1 on her neck and 3 on her ankles, and if you wanted to ask her a question, you had to shock her. (I wanted to ask her to set the neck one to a 3, but I refrained…)

She then did a demonstration using the collar on her dog, asking her to do a whole series of tricks. The dog did the tricks almost perfectly. Did it look like she was being abused? Not in the slightest. Did it look like she was having fun? Well, not so much. Not to me, anyway. She kept trying to return to her bed – she was yawning and, according to this woman, that probably indicated she was tired.

When I started writing this post, my goal was to pull every study under the sun* about how positive reinforcement is more effective than using aversive stimuli (shocks.), but then I realized that, when it comes down to it, the bottom line for me isn’t the science. While I love studying the data, my bottom line is that my dogs have fun when we’re working together.

I want them to enjoy training with me. I want to use training to develop and strengthen our bond. And if you see the boys doggy dancing with John – done entirely with a clicker and treats – or you see them out with me playing our variation of “follow the leader” – you know they’re having fun. They’re not yawning or licking their lips or averting their eyes or trying to avoid us. They’re wagging with open mouths. They’re looking us in the eye, waiting to see what fun thing happens next.

In the abstract of the e-collar paper, the authors conclude, “These findings suggest that there is no consistent benefit to be gained from e-collar training but greater welfare concerns compared with positive reward based training.”

The importance of that point can’t be discounted. According to the trainer, students who come through her school aren’t interesting in high-level zapping but, rather, attention-getting “sensations.” I hope that’s true (but… on a side note… why are the collars even manufactured with those high levels built in? If, as this woman says, dogs pay attention at a 1-3 level, why even make a level 10 and risk that possibility? But, I digress…..)

E-collars and their kin do not serve to build your bond with your dog.

I do not want to “master” my dogs.

I want to partner with them. I want to work with them.

I want them to trust me – not fear me and my little button.

Luckily, when I started pulling all those peer-reviewed papers, it’s clear that the science is pushing us in that direction. And, in truth, PetSafe manufactures a ton of positive reinforcement products, too. (Check out the Train ‘n Praise. I am in love. I’ll have a post and giveaway soon.)

Thankfully, unlike this woman, many trainers do care about the science of behavior. And that science is demonstrating that humane methods of training surpass antiquated, aversive methods.

**I write about this stuff all the time, though I’m not a trainer. Yet. I’ve decided to enroll in the Karen Pryor Academy next year so I can back this stuff up with credentials. 

*If you want to read a summary of one study I found interesting, check it out here.

Let’s get some dogs into homes!

BarkBox Hosts Rescue Month All October

So, here’s the summary before I get into the details: BarkBox is hosting several initiatives to get homeless pets adopted. One of them is through folks like me who are set up with an affiliate link. For the month, they’ve raised the discount I’m allowed to offer to 15% off a subscription AND have added a $5 donation for every box purchased in October to cover adoption fees for shelter partners.

And their partners are FAB! There’s a list of more than 15, but they have so many that tie into Pit Bull Awareness Month! Here are a handful that strike a chord with me:

  • Ambassador Pit Bull Rescue
  • Big Dogs Huge Paws
  • Bully Paws Pit Bull Patriots
  • NEW YORK BULLY CREW
  • Old Friends Senior Dog Sanctuary

OH! And if you want the October box – I hear it’s going to be quite spooky – today’s the last day to place that order, otherwise you’ll start up in November.

September BarkBox

 

So, here’s another initiative: BarkBox is offering free three-month subscriptions to adoptable dogs shared by their partners all month. Hey! I’m a partner! :) I’m going to be going to my shelter to photo some of the darling adoptable dogs to share and tag on Instagram to hopefully get them into homes. How exciting is that?!?!

BarkBox Rescue Month

If you’ve been debating a subscription, this is a great time to do it because you’ll be helping dogs find their forever homes while spoiling your pups! The box pictured above, btw, was the September box we received. The only thing we didn’t love was the pennant squeaky toy since it’s not a durable option, so that went into our shelter donation bag. Everything else was spot-on, and that football is still intact, if you can believe it! (You can also request “allergy-friendly” and “power chewer” subscriptions after you place the order… just forward your order confirmation to support(at)barkbox(dot)com requesting that special version.)

One last time, my affiliate link to get you 15% off a subscription!

I seriously can’t wait to get into the shelter and snap pics of darling dogs who are looking for their homes. I’ll be sure to share them as I go! In the meantime, have a lovely weekend! So much to come next week… Stay tuned! :)

Emmett’s latest oncology appointment

Yesterday, we left home at 7 am to drive up to Purdue for Emmett’s next round of tests.

Emmett sleeps in the car

 

He was having blood work, x-rays, and an ultrasound as part of his chemo check-up. His appointment was at 9:30, but then the tests were spaced throughout the day, so we had to leave him there all day (which I hate).

So, I’m going to skip ahead to the end: We got great results! No progression of disease, which is what we hope for. He does still have that gall bladder sludge, but it hasn’t changed since his last checkup. His ALT levels went up again, but his oncologist said she isn’t worried about it yet. We’re having his labs run again in four weeks to see if that’s changing at all, then he’ll go back to Purdue in 10 weeks to repeat the ultrasound.

All in all, it was what we wanted to hear!

This post isn’t really about that, though. Today, I want to tell you about the interesting experience we had in the lobby.

We arrived after a nearly 2-and-a-half-hour drive  and got checked in. The lobby was already pretty packed, but there were two seats together at the far end near the restrooms.

We sat down, and John got up to run to the bathroom. Simultaneously, the woman across from us had returned from handing in her paperwork. When John walked away, Emmett had turned to watch him go, sticking his butt in front of this lady’s chair.

“Can I sit down?” she asked.

“Oh! Sorry!” I said. I called Emmett’s name to get him to turn toward me, thus swinging his butt away from her chair. But she didn’t move. She stood right in between and just looked at me.

“Can I walk past?” she asked.

In that moment, I honestly didn’t register anything weird. I was confused. I looked, and she had more than a few feet in between my chair and hers, and she was thin. I thought she wanted me to scootch my chair, though, so I started to shift, and she said, “Is he aggressive?” She pointed at Emmett and took a small step backward.

Lightbulb.

“Oh! No! He’s very friendly. He really loves everyone,” I said. The woman didn’t trust my response. She walked around the bank of chairs to come at her seat from the opposite side, the side furthest from Emmett.

She sat down and stared at him. “He’s a pit, right?”

I replied something about him being a pit/hound mix, and she said, “He’s not aggressive unless dogs are around, right?”

I looked around the lobby. There were literally dogs everywhere, and Emmett was just lounging at my feet wagging his tail at this woman.

“Nope,” I replied. “He’s great with dogs. He really does love everyone: kids, dogs, we even have a cat. In fact, he recently retired from working with kids as a therapy dog. He’s a lover!”

She asked, “So, you trust him?”

“One hundred percent.”

No reply.

John came back from the bathroom and sat down. He glanced at the woman, who was so clearly uncomfortable – she had her arms crossed and her legs tucked under her chair, and didn’t take her eyes off of Emmett – and gave me a look. “I’ll tell you later,” I said. Right then, then tech came over to collect Emmett. He wagged and kissed her and trotted off after her, despite having never met her before.

We left.

The woman wasn’t there when we came back to pick Em up.

Hopefully his nonstop wagging was able to put a tiny little chip in her armor, but who knows…

But that?

That is why we need Pit Bull Awareness Month.

Three things

Back from nearly a week away at PetSafe! I have so much to tell you guys, including our day at the UT vet school (incredible), a visit to HGTV (so fun), and my response to a woman who spoke at length about the benefits of e-collars (horrifying, but I’m putting together a reply… complete with footnotes). The trip was, overall, really fabulous, and I got to meet some pet-savvy folks who were also so kind and a ton of fun. I was glad to get home, though, and Emmett and Lucas spent most of yesterday clinging to my legs, while Cooper chewed on one of the toys I brought him.

 

Lucas and Emmett squish my legs

 

While I unpack and catch up on work/email/house stuff, a few quick updates:

  1. The UT vet school visit coincided with a newly-developing food sensitivity for Cooper. Apparently, he can no longer eat a protein that we relied on, so it’s back to the drawing board. I’m thinking of purchasing a phone consultation package with the veterinary nutritionist, so if that works out, I’ll share the process here!
  2. My office has been overtaken by Holiday 2014! You guys are going to love the gift guide and giveaways this year. Just sayin’.
  3. Tomorrow, Emmett goes back to Purdue for his next quarterly ultrasound. Think happy thoughts for my boy, pretty please. If Emmett gets the “all clear” at his appointment tomorrow, I’ve decided we’re going on another road trip! I have a trip to Atlanta at the end of the month for BarkWorld, so I figure… why not segue it into another fun adventure?! More details to come!

That’s it for now! This week is going to be a bit chaotic with all the catch-up (always the hardest part of going away…) but I’m excited to share it all with you as the week unfolds.

What were you up to this weekend? Any fabulous pet-friendly fun?

Gone fishin’

Okay. Not literally fishin’ but I did head out of town yesterday to spend a few days in Knoxville at the PetSafe Blogger Summit. A short way into the event, and I already have so much to share with you guys. But! I had planned some posts to publish while I was away, and there was a glitch on the back-end, and it didn’t happen! Oops!

I had a few minutes before heading out to go to the University of Tennessee vet school to meet with their veterinary behaviorist (I’m so excited! Seriously, can’t wait!!), so I just wanted to check in and say hi and that I hope you have a fabulous end of your week and weekend!

Gone fishing

When “doga” is really just napping

And peeing.

Over the weekend, our local humane association hosted the annual Run for the Animals fundraiser. John was registered to run the 5k, and Emmett and I were registered to do the one-mile dog walk.

It was a perfect morning! Sunny but not hot. A little breezy but not cold. We got to the park a bit early to participate in the morning “doga” – or, dog yoga – class.

I will say that it was my fault for choosing a spot right by the trail head sign. In hindsight, I imagine that many, many dogs have used that sign as a bulletin board. For the first bit – and the middle bit – and the end bit – of the dog class, Emmett kept feeling like leaving some messages. Nothing like getting yanked out of a sun salutation for a bathroom break!

Sun Salutation potty break

I’ll just wait this pose out…

Em's attempt at doga

So, when we went into the seated poses, he was totally ready to go with those. “Oh? I just sit here while you rub my shoulders? I love exercise!”

Doga with Emmett

“Actually, that’s a bit tiring. How about we keep exercising, but I lie down?”

Lounging at doga

 

Finally, this is me looking at John, saying, “Well. He’s asleep.”

Emmett's asleep at doga

Neither one of us got much in the way of exercise, that’s for sure.

That theme actually continued throughout the day. John left to run the 5k, and I walked Emmett to the starting line of the one-mile walk. He was losing steam quickly, but the walk started and we headed out. About 20 feet into the mile, there was a table set up with bagels, bananas, and water for the returning runners.

Emmett stopped at that table. He sat. And the volunteers came over to love on him. And that’s as far as we got on the mile walk. Well, plus the return 20 feet, so he did a total of 40 feet out of a mile…

All in all, a lovely day with almost zero exercise! (Well, John finished the 5k, so he carried the team on that one.)

How was your weekend? Did you get more exercise than we did?