Orly’s Pedicures

a yellow nail grinder, a plastic plate smeared with peanut butter, blunt scissors and styptic powder are gathered for the pedicure
Prepare your tools before you start the dog pedicure

What’s the best way to trim a dog’s nails? That’s a common question, since most dogs have experienced painful or unpleasant nail trims and loathe the entire process. I have had to find an answer; the secret is peanut butter.

Orly’s nails grow so fast! Cali’s need attention occasionally, but if I let Orly’s go for a couple of weeks, they get unbelievably long. So, it has been important to get her cooperation for frequent pedicures.

I’ve never liked using dog nail clippers. First of all, they all seem to be designed for right-handed people, and I don’t feel like I can get a good grip on the nail and clip it. Second, all of my dogs have either had entirely or mostly black nails.

With black nails, it is really hard to tell where the “quick” is. This is the tip of the blood vessels that feed the nail. In dogs with white nails, you can see the quick (it’s pink). If you cut it, the dog bleeds. A lot. And squeals in pain. It’s horrible.

That leaves a dremel-type tool to file down the nails. It’s pretty easy to do … if the dog cooperates.

With Jana, Cali, and, most recently, Orly, I started dremel training early. Turn it on, let them hear it while getting great treats. Let them sniff it thoroughly when it’s off. If possible, let them watch other dogs get pedicures (and treats, always lots of treats). Things like that.

Jana spoiled me. She loved pedicures. She loved anything that made her feel like a pampered princess. She’d sit still, hold up her paw, and accept my attention (and treats!), looking bored by the whole thing.

Cali is good, but she doesn’t like the nail trims. She cooperates, but pulls her paw away if I spend too much time on it. I rarely do hers, so it hasn’t been an issue.

Orly … needs her nails done nearly every week.

Fortunately, she’s very cooperative. Even better, she loves peanut butter. I mean really loves peanut butter. So I have come up with the perfect pedicure process:

  1. Get dremel, styptic powder (in case of bleeding), and scissors from the grooming kit.Golden puppy Orly licks peanut butter off of a plate
  2. Smear a small plate liberally with peanut butter.
  3. Find a comfortable corner where the plate can be pushed up against a wall and not escape.
  4. Put the plate down and let Orly start licking the peanut butter.
  5. Push Cali’s nose out of the peanut-butter dish.
  6. Turn on the dremel and pick up first paw. File each nail.
  7. Put down the paw.
  8. Turn off the dremel, and push Cali’s head out of the peanut-butter dish.
  9. Move the plate back into place.
  10. Turn demel back on and pick up the next paw.
  11. Repeat steps 7, 8, 9, and 10.
  12. If 4th paw is finished before the peanut butter is gone, use scissors to trim the fur between Orly’s paws.
  13. Give Cali some peanut butter as a reward for being (relatively) patient while Orly had her pedicure.

She doesn’t seem to mind this at all. I’ve never had any accidents (no blood and no pain), and she seems happy to participate in this activity every time I get the dremel (and the peanut-butter plate) out. It actually only takes about 10-15 minutes.

The trick is figuring out how much peanut butter is needed to keep Orly busy long enough to do all four paws. As she gets bigger, her peanut-butter-licking skills are improving rapidly, so the layer of peanut butter gets thicker and thicker. I might need a bigger plate soon. She’s pretty active, so I don’t worry (yet) about the large amount of peanut butter she’s eating. If we get up to half a jar at a time … well, let’s hope that doesn’t happen!

Golden retrievers Orly and Cali lick the last bits of peanut butter off of a yellow plastic plate
Cali is happy to help with post-pedicure cleanup

 

New Podcast: Off Leash

The Off Leash podcast logo shows a drawing of a dog's head and the title in red lettersAlexandra Horowitz has a new podcast called “Off Leash.”

In each episode, she goes for a walk with a person and dog. Together, they explore a question about life with dogs. Or life as a dog.

The first episode is about, what else, smell. That is, after all, the primary way that dogs experience the world!

The episode delves into interesting dog jobs that involve scent, such as tracking rare animals using their scat. It also spends more time than I thought strictly necessary talking about how humans use smell and the interplay of smell and memory. It’s a lot like Horowitz’s book on dogs and smell, Being a Dog, but in podcast format. I’m looking forward to future episodes, and I recommend you check it out!

Orly Is a “Tween”

7-month-old golden retriever Orly sits with 2 other dogs
Orly was on-leash and well-behaved during her first group hike (Photo by Missoula Dog Mom)

Humans aged about 9 to 12 are often called “tweens.” Not quite teenagers, they are also no longer little kids.

In puppies, this period seems to start at about 6 months. Orly is very definitely a tween.

She is impulsive, curious, and has no common sense. She can be very toddler-like, pouting when she doesn’t get what she wants — and sulking when pouting doesn’t produce results.

She also has little toddler tantrums, getting bursts of mischievous energy when she’s over-tired. During these phases, she’s most likely to needle Cali relentlessly, badgering her to play, tugging on ears, tail, collar until I intervene.

She’ll continue these outbursts, acting up and acting out, until she finally collapses and falls asleep. Often very sweetly snuggled partway onto my lap.

Then there’s the early adolescent behavior: She seems compelled to investigate everything, meet everyone. She pulls in every direction, following any sound or scent, chafing at the leash, wanting the freedom to explore.

She’s also started hanging out with the cute boy (dog) next door, mooning over him and chasing around the yard, whether ours or theirs. But she also barks grumpily at any other dog who comes near her fence or her yard.

Adolescence for golden retrievers (and many other dogs) means a dog with enormous energy and curiosity who still makes poor decisions. Unfortunately, it can last until age 3 … or beyond.

I’ve been working hard on her recall and make sure to have lots of treats with me whenever we’re outside. She’s still pretty good, but I know that adolescence often brings a temporary hearing loss and lack of comprehension of names, recall cues, and other requests and demands from nearby humans.

With all this in mind, I have started letting Orly go on “real” hikes, the kind where dogs get to be off leash sometimes.

Her first group hike (on leash) was a huge success: She got a good report from the hiking guide and came home tired and happy. Over the next few hikes, she’ll get to know her fellow hiker-dogs and begin to taste off-leash freedom with the group.

I’ve also started taking her to “safe” places to hike off-leash with Cali, me, and, sometimes a friend or two. Our first foray was hugely successful. She instantly came back every time I called her, didn’t dash off to say hi to any of the “new best friends” ahead of us on the hiking trail, and didn’t annoy Cali (much).

The hikes are fun for all of us, and a great way to burn off a tiny fraction of her excessive energy. I’m looking forward to a summer filled with on- and off-leash hikes. I hope that Orly remembers her name, the meaning of “Come here!” and the taste of top-quality treats throughout, so we can all safely enjoy the summer.

Leave Me Alone!

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Orly has hit adolescence.

She’s full of energy, eager to explore the world and try out everything … and has very little common sense. She is also fearless and a little too eager to test boundaries and live on the edge.

I work from home, so I am not always available to play. I’m working on some arrangements to get her tired out — regular dog walks or hikes with a lucky someone else, play dates with the neighbors’ dogs, things like that. And I frequently offer treat toys, snuffle mats, and games of “find it,” where I hide little boxes with smelly, yummy treats inside and she and Cali use their noses to find the treats. It’s not enough.

All that adds up to a dog who bugs Cali.

The most egregious behavior occurs when we’re playing outside. Orly will launch herself off the deck and run, full-speed, toward Cali … and tackle her. Or race after Cali when Cali is racing after a tennis ball … and grab Cali’s tail or her leg and tug. Hard.

I step in each time this happens and put Orly back inside, but the lesson is not sinking in. I also let Cali out without Orly and throw the ball, while Orly looks on, sadly, from behind the screen door. Again, she’s not making the connection.

What would make the connection is a correction from Cali. A well-placed, sincere warning. But Cali is too nice. She just rolls her eyes and looks to me for help.

I could just keep them separate, but that’s not what either of them wants. They do love to play together, and Cali often initiates play, whether it’s a game of tug, wrestling, or racing around the yard together.

I’m going to call in reinforcements. The young male dog next door. The puppy who lives behind us. Koala, who is coming for a visit soon. Dogs who, like Cali, want to play with Orly but who, unlike Cali, are likely to set and enforce boundaries.

The combination of playmates who establish ground rules and additional activities to tire Orly out just might be the magic we all need. I’ll let you know!

Dogs at Work

Puppy Orly and big sister Cali, both golden retrievers, relax on a dog bed
Relaxing on the extra-large dog bed is a favorite office pastime

Should you be able to take your pet dog to work?

My office is as dog-friendly a place as you’ll find anywhere: A huge, overflowing toy box and two comfy dog beds are standard features. The window seat boasts a cozy dog rug. In addition to the chew toys and stuffed toys, two snuffle mats are at the ready, alongside a large container of treats. You get the picture.

Cali, a golden retriever, searches for treats in a blue snuffle matBut my office is the upper floor of my home. I’m the only one who has to like the idea of dogs, dog hair, dog toys underfoot, and the occasional vocal interruption. Well, my teammates are all dog lovers, so when the dogs chime in on a Zoom meeting, no one gets too upset. (And their dogs also participate occasionally.)

Post-pandemic, people are reluctant to return to their offices. Pandemic pets who’ve never been left home alone are part of the reason for many workers.

Since we’re also in the midst of a huge reshuffle of workers, offices that want to be the destination rather than the company everyone’s leaving are considering allowing employees to bring their dogs to work. What could go wrong?

Well, for openers, not all dogs are as easygoing as Cali, who enjoyed the amenities while visiting a friend’s co-working space. Some dogs will bark or whine, or even growl at people who walk by. Others are too energetic. Or attention seeking. Or food seeking (& stealing). The truth is, not all dogs are well-behaved or temperamentally suited to be out in public spaces with strangers and unpredictable sounds, sights, and smells.

Then there are the other workers. I love dogs. A lot. But I also get it that not everyone does (their loss …). And that work is stressful enough without worrying about an unfamiliar dog (or even a familiar one) poking her head under the stall door when you’re enjoying a private moment … or rifling through your trash or shedding on your new wool sweater.

Then there’s the question of which dogs get to come to the office and how many at a time and how often and … the areas of contention multiply rapidly.

I’m definitely not opposed to dog-friendly workplaces, but I think it requires a considerable amount of planning. I have heard too many stories of dog-friendliness gone very wrong when the decision to allow “a dog” in the office was made casually.

Anyhow, appealing as the dog-friendly office may be, I am even more strongly in favor of allowing people to work from home. Many of the types of jobs that enable people to have a dog in their office are the exact jobs that can easily be done remotely. Rather than bribe some people to come back using a reward that will drive other workers away … why not just give everyone more flexibility?

No Breakfast?!

Golden retriever puppy Orly cuddles a black-and-white panda toy
What do you mean I don’t get breakfast?!

Orly had her first real vet experience this week. Not the run-of-the-mill go in, get cookies, get poked with something sharp, get more cookies vet experience. Nope. She was spayed.

Surgery means no breakfast. And it means being left at the vet clinic.

It was not her favorite day.

First, I put her outside and gave Cali breakfast. Orly couldn’t believe it. She rang her bell, asking nicely to be let in. She escalated to batting the door with a paw. Harder and harder. Then whining.

By then, Cali was done eating. Rather than reward the whining, I let Cali go out, then let both girls in a few minutes later.

Orly wasn’t speaking to me at this point, but she agreed to get into the car.

She was happy to be at the vet’s, where she met a very friendly (and very large) Great Pyrenees dog in for a dental cleaning, and weighed in at 43 pounds.

She was a little mystified that no one offered her a cookie, though.

Then, the vet tech took her … and I left. She was very surprised by that, but didn’t have the chance to ask me about it.

When I arrived to pick her up, the vet said that Orly was in the back, cuddling with all the techs. Yes … and interviewing potential moms, I am guessing.

Golden puppy orly wears a dark blue onesieShe got home, had breakfast (and dinner not long after). And put on her surgical suit. No cone for Orly!

She was pretty mellow and cuddly Tuesday — the food was all it took to get back into her good graces — but by Wednesday …

Despite the medications that were supposed to keep her a little lethargic, she wanted to play. I kept her busy with treat toys.

Orly chases an orange treat ballThat worked for a while. Then, luckily, our new sofa cover arrived, and I was able to let dogs into the living room. Orly happily tried out the new sofa cover. Then Cali offered the first lesson on how to keep other dogs off of our sidewalks.

Cali’s method doesn’t really work, but it does involve quite a bit of muttering and grumbling at people walking by …

Several days post-op, Orly is full of energy, in no pain, and really wants to play. I am supposed to keep her quiet and calm for another week. Yeah, right.

Cali and Orly, both golden retrievers, stand at a large window

Should Dogs Eat a Vegan Diet?

Golden Cali watches puppy Orly bite an ice cream cone
A decidedly non-vegan treat!

A friend recently shared with me an article about feeding dogs a vegan diet. The article referred to two studies done in the UK with the same lead researcher. The upshot is that these articles say that dogs can live healthy lives on a vegan diet and that they find vegan diets palatable. In fact they claim that “vegan pet foods are generally at least (emphasis added) as palatable to dogs and cats as conventional meat or raw meat diets, and do not compromise their welfare.”

Color me skeptical. But I’m willing to consider the evidence.

Both studies were published by PLoS One (Public Library of Science), which means they are freely available:

The first issue with these studies is evident from their titles: Both are based on an online survey of dog and cat owners. The ‘indicators of health’ paper used a subset of the data used in the palatability study. Using a self-selected group of pet owners answering an online survey is not a scientifically sound method, and there’s no way to know whether the responses are accurate.

The questions are also problematic. To gauge dogs’ health, for example, they asked the owners to give their opinion of their dog’s health — and to also guess what their vet would say about their dog’s overall health … even for dogs whose owners report not having taken them to a vet in over a year (or ever).

There are other issues with the questions, such as the limited response choices for the kind of diet a dog ate — “conventional” meat-based, which covers an enormous variety of foods; raw, which could be homemade or commercial; and vegan, which also could be homemade or commercial — and not accounting for treats. A combination wasn’t an option, but I — and many people I know — feed some raw and some kibble.

Based on their data, though, the authors are certain that they know that dogs both enjoy their vegan diets and are generally perfectly healthy while eating vegan. (I haven’t seen a study on whether the cats on vegan diets were healthy … but it’s trickier with cats.)

I’m still very skeptical.

I actually do think that dogs can be healthy on a vegan diet, but it’s not easy. I think that, for an active dog, it would be challenging to provide sufficient protein from sources that dogs can easily digest without feeding so many carbs that the dog would become obese. (The study authors never actually saw the dogs, so we don’t know if the vegan-fed dogs were healthy weights.)

But what I am really skeptical of is the claim that the dogs (& cats) found the vegan diets “at least” as palatable as a meat-based diet. I simply do not think that dogs (or cats) want to be vegan.

As any trainer knows, some treats are “higher-value” than others.

While each individual dog will have different preferences, the highest-value treats tend to be the ones that are closer to fresh: fresh meat, fresh fish, cheese, even some fresh veggies. A close second is “jerky” type treats — dried meat or fish — or the soft treats. These smell and feel more like meat, and they probably taste more meaty (or fishy). Low-value treats are biscuit-type treats — cookies, kibble, Charlee Bears. These are hard and dry. They’re nicely crunchy, but I doubt they taste like much.

Within my dogs’ varied diet, they have favorite foods. Their behavior is very different when I am preparing them fresh food or mixing in canned sardines with their kibble than if I’m giving them plain kibble.

But they’re golden retrievers, so they greet any and all food eagerly, exhibiting some behaviors described in the study as indicating palatability and enjoyment, such as eating quickly, wagging their tails, and licking the bowl or their lips. Even non-golden-retrievers tend to eat quickly in multi-dog households, so this is not necessarily an indication that the dog likes the food.

Some of the other behaviors listed as indicating palatability are … at best, questionable. They’re also behaviors that I would not tolerate, no matter what they meant. These include vocalizing for food, stealing food, raiding food bins, waking the owner during the night for food, showing aggression around food, or staying near the food bowl. The last two indicate resource guarding, a whole separate problem that has nothing to do with the taste of the food.

The authors also say that the fact that the dogs ate the food they were served means that the food was palatable to them. But it could just mean that the dogs were hungry and knew that they weren’t getting a menu to choose their dinner from.

Or maybe it meant that the dogs were hungry because their vegan or kibble-only diet wasn’t satisfying. How do the authors know that the vocalizing dogs were asking for food? Or for more of the same food? Maybe they were literally crying for better food? And, how many dogs wake their owners up at night because they love their dinner so much they want more? Is that a thing?! Or were these dogs so hungry they couldn’t sleep?! Or they heard a strange noise or they were scared by the thunder or just wanted to cuddle …?

(In case you’re still wondering, I am pretty sure that the the study does not show what the study authors say it does.)

I’m also pretty sure that my dogs don’t want to be vegan.

To be fair, I am strongly in favor of a vegan diet. I am not vegan, but I inch closer to that ideal all the time. I also agree with the authors’ statements about the unsustainability of the way we feed pets. The whole food animal industry is unsustainable (and, I believe, problematic in so, so many ways).

Cali's pawprint looks like a smiley face
Cali’s pawprint; she’s a very happy girl

So, finally, we get to the real dilemma: Should I work toward my dogs’ happiness by feeding them a diet they enjoy and thrive on? Or should I follow the study authors’ ideals, which I share, of seeking a more sustainable option?

Cali and Orly vote for happiness.

News Flash: Not All Golden Retrievers Retrieve!

Golden retrievers Cali and Orly stand on grass, surrounded by tennis balls
WHAT are we supposed to do with these?

Reporters at two of my favorite media outlets, the Washington Post and NPR, seemed surprised by results of a study released this week that discovered that the behavior and personality traits of individual dogs are highly variable — and can’t always be predicted by breed.

Both stories homed in on the fact that — get ready — not all retrievers actually retrieve! Shocking, right?

Not to a person who lives with two steadfastly non-retrieving goldens!

I immediately turned to Cali and Orly, closely related goldens, and said, “They’re talking about you.” They both love to chase tennis balls … but bring them back? Not so much. Several of Orly’s siblings are avid retrievers, though, so it’s not even possible to predict by litter.

The study concluded that “behavioral characteristics ascribed to modern breeds are polygenic, environmentally influenced, and found, at varying prevalence, in all breeds.” In simple English, that means dogs are dogs. Common dog behaviors can be found in any dog, regardless of breed or breed mix.

In truth, some traits are far more prevalent in specific breeds, as the combination of genes that influences some behaviors (think herding or, er, retrieving) are closely linked to physical traits that breeders have sought and shaped over generations of that breed. But there are no guarantees.

In addition to genetic influence, a dog’s environment has a lot to do with behavior. For some traits, the study said, “breed is almost uninformative.” The example cited in the study, a trait that is enormously influenced by environment and early experience, is “how easily a dog is provoked by frightening or uncomfortable stimuli” — that is, reactivity to other dogs, strangers, noises, or other unusual and unpredictable things.

I attribute Orly’s high levels of confidence and curiosity about everything, as well as her unabashed adoration of any human or canine she encounters, to the combination of her great breeding and exemplary early-puppyhood experience.

When I worked with service dog puppies, I found that puppies who lacked extensive early socialization and encounters with all kinds of people, animals, noises, smells, sights, and places rarely succeeded; they lacked the confidence to go into any and every situation where they could be called on to accompany their partners. Even organizations that carefully breed potential guide and service dogs find that, despite strong genetics and comprehensive early puppyhood programs, some dogs don’t make it. Again, no guarantees.

What the study does show, though, is that stereotypes are unreliable indicators of dog behavior and we should look at dogs as the unique individuals they are!

 

Koala’s Day Off

Black Lab Koala runs with a red and white fabric frisbee on grass
Girls just wanna have fun sometimes!

Sometimes, a girl needs a day off.

Koala let her boss know that a couple of weeks ago. It was a Saturday, and they were going for a walk. A nice leisure activity — for the human. But Deni wanted Koala to guide. To work. After a long week filled with lots of work.

Koala wanted a day off. She wanted to wander and sniff and run on the grass (and maybe go into the water…?) … not work.

Koala is pretty clear in communicating what she wants (or doesn’t want) to do. If she doesn’t want to work — and, this is critical, she knows that her work is not essential — she slows down, gives Deni that look, and indicates that she’d rather head toward the grassy park or lie down than put on her harness.

She does have a strong work ethic, and if Deni and Koala are in any kind of situation where Deni needs Koala to work, Koala excels.

But, more and more, she has days when she’d really rather not (I can relate!). She might be dreaming about retirement, though she’s still a relatively young 7-and-a-half years old.

Or, she might be reading up on the Great Resignation / Great Reshuffle. And, like millions of other American workers, she might be re-thinking her work-life balance. I’m guessing that Koala has realized that there’s too much work and not enough life in that mix.

A friend asked me not long ago when I get a full day off — not only off from my job, but free of all types of work, errands, obligations, and other have-tos. I rarely do — and Koala is likely in the same boat.

The great thing about giving Koala (or any dog) a “day off” — a fun day — is that it feels like a day off for the human(s) too: I’m getting ready for a visit to the dog beach with Koala, as I am taking (most of) a day off following a busy work week at a Florida conference. I think it will do both of us a lot of good!

But even on regular work days, I think we all need to build in some fun time for ourselves and our dogs, especially the ones with demanding careers. If Koala gets more time to run and play, will she return to work with more pep and enthusiasm? It’s worth finding out.

 

Happy Spring from The Thinking Dog

Orly and Cali, both golden retrievers, sit and wait for their dinner
Orly & Cali practice self-restraint, waiting quietly while I fix their dinner.

The Thinking Dog is off this week. The human is traveling for a work conference (& a lovely seder dinner with her mom in North Carolina). The Thinking Dogs themselves are home with dog sitters.

This is a first-time event for Orly — both being left(!) and having a sitter. Cali has stayed with sitters before, but it has been a long time.

We’re using Trusted Housesitters for the first time, based on recommendations from two trusted friends who house-sit through this organization and who have both cared for Thinking Dogs in the past (Cali and Jana).

Both girls took to the the sitters immediately, cuddling, telling them secrets, going on walks, and encouraging them to play. I liked them too. I’ll give a full report in a future post.

Meanwhile, I wanted to share this silly article from the New York Times: If Dogs Played Wordle.

Naturally, the only one who succeeds is … the golden retriever.

I hope that you had or are having a wonderful Passover, Easter, or other spring holiday!