“Your dog looks cute in that T-shirt,” Cali’s little friend said. We walk past a school-bus stop every morning, and some days, we beat the bus there. Two young children, themselves owned by a handsome male golden retriever, often ask to pet Cali. “But why is she wearing it?”
The little girl who asks a lot of questions is probably around 7, her quieter brother even younger.
“She had a tiny lump on her side,” I said. “It was removed, and she has stitches, but she’s fine.”
“So the shirt protects it?”
“Yes, it keeps the stitches clean and keeps her from licking it.”
“Oh.” My questioner nodded knowingly. Her dog has had stitches too.
We chatted for another minute, until the bus pulled up.
Deni and I talk about Cali’s “quarterly de-lumping” in resigned tones. Lots of golden retrievers are little lump factories. So far, Cali’s have all been benign fatty cysts, but … she’s a golden. She’s over 6 years old. I know the statistics.
I know it will only be a matter of weeks until I find the next little bump. But so far, Cali is fine.
She came home from her minor outpatient surgery a little groggy from the sedative and with a tummy ache. She had not fasted and did not have anesthesia, but after her procedure, the vet techs fed her. (Cali does a very convincing impersonation of a starving dog.) Whatever they fed her did not agree with her tummy …
Other than that, she recovered quickly and was delighted to run outside in her beloved yard the next day. And she does look cute in that T-shirt.
Several weeks ago, Tesla rolled out a software update that introduces “Dog Mode.”
This is a feature that allows car-and-dog owners to set a cabin temperature for their dogs’ comfort while they go off and … do whatever it is people do while leaving their dogs in the car. The car’s heating or cooling system will maintain the appropriate temperature automatically. Here’s the cool part: The Tesla’s screen shows a message meant to reassure worried passers-by that the dogs are OK. It reads “My owner will be back soon” and displays the interior temperature in large numerals.
The main hitch I see is that the screen, which is usually used for the car to communicate with the driver, is positioned between the front seats. People passing by and noticing dogs in a closed car in extreme heat (or cold) may not peek in at the right angle to see the screen. They might still panic, break a window, call the cops, leave a nasty note for the owners, alert the security at the nearest store, etc.
However, this does raise a great possibility: An add-on product that could maintain a reasonable temperature in the car while displaying a prominent notice easily visible from the car’s driver and passenger windows. A solar-powered cooler that hangs inside the window perhaps? Any inventors out there? That’s a Kickstarter I could get on board with.
Seriously. Summer is coming. Don’t overheat your pups. Trade in for a Tesla today! (I wish …)
Hooray for Florida! Odd words for me to write as contentious election contests morph into contentious vote recounts … but Floridians of all political stripes stepped up for the dogs. The measure to ban greyhound racing passed with 69 percent of the vote.
Greyhound racing will at long last be phased out in Florida. According to the Orlando Sentinel, the 11 active tracks have until January 1, 2021, to end dog races.
Grey2K and other rescue and shelter organizations are already gearing up to handle an expected flood of retiring racedogs. Thousands of greyhounds currently race in Florida, and, though some will be moved to states that still allow racing, most will probably need homes.
And rehabilitation. Several years ago, while working on an article on prison-based dog-training programs, I visited a prison in Michigan. The head of the training program there, where dogs from a nearby shelter and retired racing greyhounds were getting training prior to placement, explained how much the greyhounds needed to learn.
They spend their racing lives in cages and don’t understand how to function in a normal environment. It took three men and a boatload of patience to teach the rescued greyhounds how to walk down stairs, for example — something that can be easily taught to a puppy in a few short sessions.
The few rescued greyhounds I’ve interacted with all seemed to grasp some of the greatest comforts of life-with-kind-humans pretty easily though, enjoying soft beds, warm sweaters, and yummy regular meals. They are large but quite gentle and often shy — perhaps a result of spending much of their early lives isolated from most other dogs and humans.
Spokespeople for the industry claim there was no abuse of the dogs, who were well cared-for; 500 deaths of racing greyhounds in Florida in just the last 5 years says otherwise, as do state reports of injuries and deaths, some with video documentation. Add in the rabid opposition from the industry to any kind of regulation, like tracking injuries or prohibiting steroid use, and I somehow am having difficulty feeling too bad for the people whose livelihoods will be affected by the ban — track operators, breeders, track workers. I do hope they find work in a less-cruel industry.
Not surprisingly, many people prefer watching Netflix with their pets to watching with other humans. Pets rarely hog the remote, they don’t give away the plotline, and they always let you choose the program. Pets might gobble all the binge snacks, but you still get to decide what and how much junk food to serve.
Surprises in the results? The US is only third, after India and Thailand, in terms of how many people watch with their pets. And 30 percent reported having separate profiles for solo watching vs. watching with their pets. That’s only surprising because people are actually making that distinction. Cali and I head downstairs together to watch TV. She might head off to bed before I am done watching, but it’s never the case that I say, “Oh, tonight I want to watch alone” or specifically have to invite her to join me. She’s my buddy. Evening activities are by default together… unless I am a terrible, horrible person and go out without her. Hmm, I wonder if she has a profile for watching without me…
Some respondents change the show if their pets don’t seem to be enjoying it, so maybe I am wrong (or just selfish) about always getting to choose. Cali does prefer shows that have dogs in them, as long as the dogs seem happy. I’m with her on changing the channel if the dog gets hurt. She’s willing to indulge my Grey’s Anatomy addiction, though, and we both like the British baking show. She likes nature shows too.
Many viewers reconfigure their seating arrangements to accommodate their pets’ comfort, which is pretty much the story of my entire life, in front of the TV or not. Bird owners are the most attentive to their friends’ wishes, with more of them reporting that they choose shows specifically based on their pets’ preferences. I’m wondering whether that’s true of all bird owners or only those whose birds talk. Netflix does not say.
The saddest statistic is the 20 percent (!) who have to bribe their pets to watch with them … they must have really horrendous taste in TV or really uncomfortable couches. But I do relate to the 22 percent who talk to their pets about what they’re watching. As well as the one-in-three who “turn to” their pets for comfort during scary parts. If by “turn to” you mean “bury your face in the fur of,” that is!
Is your dog your TV binge buddy? Is the number of respondents who watch with their pets only 74 percent because the other 26 percent don’t have pets? How lonely …
“Our conservation detection dogs are agile, portable, and endlessly trainable. They are an efficient, highly sensitive, and non-invasive way to gather high-quality data.”
The above quotation is from the website of Working Dogs for Conservation (WD4C), a Montana-based organization whose dog teams literally travel the globe helping to save endangered species, find and route out invasive species, and intercept contraband cargo that includes products from endangered animals.
The coolest … okay, one of many, many cool aspects of their work is that the dogs they train are the “bad” dogs who wind up in shelters because no one can handle them. No regular family or ordinary adopter, that is. The high-energy, obsessive dogs who will do anything, anything at all, for the chance to play one more game of tug or get that silly human to throw the ball. Even better, the organization reaches out to shelters and teaches staff how to recognize these high-drive dogs and connect them with organizations, like Working Dogs for Conservation — or police, military, search and rescue, or other organizations that train and work detection dogs.
WD4C offers living proof that dogs can master more than one job. The dogs — endlessly trainable, remember — are taught to detect multiple, maybe dozens, of scents. That makes them versatile partners and enables teams to work in all kinds of places. The dogs learn to detect scents underwater as well as on land. In the water, they can detect pollutants like metals or pharmaceuticals, and they can distinguish between species of fish and aquatic plants, to identify invaders. At a talk I recently attended, the research director, Megan Parker, said that the dogs could distinguish between rainbow trout and brown trout, a feat that many Montanans would find impossible. They’re currently teaching dogs to detect brucellosis, a highly bacterial infection that affects, among others, cattle, bison, and elk in Montana.
In the service dog world, I’ve heard people claim that a single dog couldn’t be trained to, say, guide a person with impaired vision and retrieve dropped items; that person would need two service dogs. I’ve heard pet owners (and, sadly, pet trainers) claim that dogs can’t learn different rules for different situations or understand tasks that are too similar. This is absurd, of course.
So maybe the best thing about WD4C is that it believes in dogs: It believes in dogs’ ability to constantly learn — the demo dog at the talk is a 12-year-old Malinois who has been working for 11+ years. He’s still learning new tasks. It believes in the hard-to-handle dogs that others write off — and saves many of them from certain death in shelters. It even believes in humans’ ability to learn about dogs, sharing training methods and research with organizations and individuals who are eager to understand how incredibly capable dogs are — and to teach them to use their noses in countless ways.
A spate of atypical cases of a serious heart condition in dogs is raising the question of whether grain-free dog food formulas are somehow responsible. The FDA is investigating a possible link between diet and the disease, dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), in dog breeds where the condition is extremely rare. DCM causes the heart to become weak and enlarged; it can cause heart failure. Symptoms include coughing, fatigue, and difficulty breathing. Breeds that have a genetic predisposition for DCM include Irish wolfhounds, great Danes, and boxers. According to a New York Times article on the potential link with grain-free diets, concern was triggered when a large veterinary cardiology practice noticed an unusual number of cases among other breeds, including Labradors and golden retrievers.
There’s no definitive link, and researchers are exploring whether the absence of grains in the diet could be problematic. Another potential problem: the legumes, like lentils and peas, that are used in large quantities to replace the grains in these foods. One avenue of research is whether the legumes inhibit the production of taurine, an essential amino acid that most dogs get from the meat in their diets or synthesize from amino acids in other proteins in their diets. To do this, they need to get enough real meat protein in their diets. To further complicate matters, not all meat proteins contain the same levels of taurine; poultry has more taurine than lamb or beef, for example.
What’s a concerned dog owner to do? Choose a dog food carefully, considering only the dog’s nutritional needs and ignoring food fads. For example:
Choose a quality dog food brand that uses specified (named) meats and meat meals as the top ingredients. Use the Whole Dog Journal‘s list of approved dog foods, and you will not go wrong. Don’t use supermarket brands, which are full of fillers like corn and wheat (common allergens), artificial colors, sugar, and other potentially harmful ingredients.
Choose a protein that is right for your dog. It’s unlikely that your dog needs an exotic, and expensive, protein like kangaroo. If your dog has shown signs of food allergy, sure, try a “novel” protein — but that just means one she hasn’t eaten before. Switch from chicken to fish or duck or lamb.
I tend to favor foods with one or two proteins, rather than those with four, six, or more. This is simply convenience: If my dog were to develop a sensitivity, it’s easier to find a novel protein if she hasn’t been consuming lamb, beef, pork, chicken, turkey, bison, and fish at every meal.
Ensure that the food has enough protein and that most or all of it is from high-quality meat sources. Many dogs do well with kibbles that are 25 percent to 30 percent protein; higher-protein foods are great for some dogs and not for others. Puppies will grow too quickly on a high-protein food. Educate yourself. Consult a vet or canine nutritionist, talk with knowledgeable experts at small pet stores that focus on high-quality foods (I’m not talking about those boutiques with a room full of doggy clothing and luxury accessories and only one or two very pricey foods), and read the Whole Dog Journal and Dogs Naturally.
Make sure the other ingredients in the dog food are of good quality and, preferably, sourced in the U.S., Canada, or Europe. I’ve avoided any and all food products sourced in China since the melamine and other contamination scares several years ago.
Pay attention to whether your dog runs hot or cold. A vet who treated Jana for many years (and who was Cali’s pediatrician) talked with me about “warming” and “cooling” foods. This turned out to be a wonderful guide to choosing proteins for my girls, who both were “hot.” Since moving to duck a few years ago, for example, Cali has not had a hot spot.
Don’t treat your dog like a person. I am a committed vegetarian, but I know that neither Jana nor Cali had any desire to become vegetarians. While I have no desire to go gluten- or grain-free, if I did, that would not extend to my dogs. Dogs are omnivores. Give them a balanced, varied diet, avoiding things (like chocolate) that are known to be toxic or harmful to dogs.
As to whether we should avoid the grain-free foods — the jury is out on that question. My advice would be to look at the specific food(s) you are feeding and see whether it meets the Whole Dog Journal’s criteria for a high-quality food. If so, and your dog is healthy and energetic, has normal digestive processes (translation: look at her poop) and a shiny, healthy coat and bright sparkly eyes, don’t make changes. If your fancy boutique food was selected based on the marketing copy or you’re simply following the latest diet craze, reconsider.
Have you ever started a job and realized, during new hire training, that you’d made a terrible mistake? Who hasn’t decided that a job just isn’t the way they want to spend the majority of their waking hours.
Well, Lulu, a year-and-a-half-old Labrador, gave up on what many dogs might consider a highly desirable career; she quit her gig as an explosives detection dog during training. Lulu was recruited from a service dog school at a young age, apparently having decided that a life of service was also not her calling. (Often, service dog puppies with exceptionally high energy or drive are released to a career like explosives detection or search and rescue, if their energy level is not suitable for work as mobility assistance dogs.)
Lulu, according to tweets from the CIA K9 training program and articles in the New York Times and Washington Post, gave up the opportunity to work 60-hour weeks with handlers from the Fairfax County (Virginia) police department. Her new life entails playing with her former handler’s children and protecting the family home from squirrels and rabbits.
Not all dogs are cut out to be working dogs. Service dog and guide dog schools that breed are doing well if more than half the carefully bred and socialized puppies actually end up working as service dogs. Some are released for health reasons, but a large number choose, as Lulu did, to just be dogs. I’ve trained lots of Lab puppies: If food and play weren’t enough of a reward to get Lulu to love the training, she really wasn’t cut out for the work. It’s to the CIA program’s credit that they let Lulu go.
“For our K9 trainers, it’s imperative that the dogs enjoy the job they’re doing,” states the “Pupdate” announcing Lulu’s retirement.
That’s a far cry (and very welcome evolution) from the “bad old days” of training, where lackluster performance was punished. Mistakes were also punished. Insufficiently speedy correct responses might also have been punished. Dogs were compelled to do the job. I am happy that more and more organizations, from service and guide dog schools to military and police dog trainers, are learning that punishment is the wrong approach.
Think about it. If compelled, the dog might do the work, but probably not put her heart into it. If your child is lost in the woods, or your city is hosting a large public event, or your city’s buses are plagued by the threat of terrorist bombings, do you want a dog who’s just doing what he has to to avoid punishment to be the search or sniffer dog on duty? Or do you want an eager dog who loves the work, buys into the goal, and puts heart and soul into the search?
It’s also cool to note that the trainer who wrote the Pupdate talked about working through a slump, figuring out what’s bothering the dog, and motivating the pups with toys and food. That sounds like they treat the dogs as individuals with preferences and feelings, not like robots who are just expected to do as they’re told. This is how it should be; dogs are individuals and should be given opportunities to make choices and express preferences.
It also raises an important point that dog trainers and owners do well to remember: The trainee, in this case, Lulu, determines what is motivating. And what is not. Most Labs love food and will do anything for a food reward. Many dogs are delighted to earn a play reward. A dog who doesn’t want to work for these rewards either needs a creative trainer to find what motivates that dog — or she needs a different goal.
Lulu made her preference clear, and I’m pleased that she got her wish. I’m betting that the handler’s children are equally delighted with her choice.