Peer Pressure

Black poodle Maisy and golden retriever Cali wait for a bagel shaped dog treat
Cali and Maisy share a doggy-bagel snack after playing outside.

One of the first things I learned in dog-training school was the ways that dogs synchronize with their humans. That’s why using an upbeat, energetic voice can get dogs amped up for a training class — and a low, calm voice can help them settle down.

But I’m increasingly finding examples of how dogs synchronize with their doggy friends as well. I first saw it with Maisy, Cali’s BFF, who clearly takes her cues from Cali when we’re on walks.

Maisy often gets very excited or anxious around unfamiliar dogs, and she used to get that way around unfamiliar people, too. But when we all went walking together, Maisy saw how much Cali loves meeting new people.

Instead of being nervous when a stranger approaches, Cali strains toward them, entire body wagging an eager hello. Cali has not figured out that not all humans want to pet the dog.

At first, Maisy would watch, uncertain and ready to bark, while Cali greeted people and made new friends. Cali convinced her to try it though, and Maisy has decided that saying hello and getting pats and compliments is fun. She’s not quite sure about other dogs yet, but then again, neither is Cali.

The next example of peer pressure and inter-dog dynamics came during playtime. When there are two dogs, they play together well; when there’s a third dog, two tend to gang up on one.

Unfortunately, Cali is often the gang-ee.

She and Koala often play well together, though sometimes Koala can be a little … pushy. Cali’s pretty confident about telling her to back off, and, if that doesn’t work, Cali literally takes her ball and goes home. Well to her little hideout in the back corner of her yard.

Maisy and Cali play very well together. They are BFFs.


When the three of them are together, Koala and Maisy become like the mean girls in middle school. They grab Cali’s tail and play tug. They each grab an ear. They behave like brats.

When all three are together, I have learned to organize separate play pairs. Cali and Koala each get a chance to play with Maisy — without each other. And Maisy goes home very tired and happy.


Paralympics Give Service Dogs a Podium

Israeli athletes march in the Paralympics opening ceremony with a yellow Lab guide dog at the front of the image
Photo from Huffington Post / Buda Mendes via Getty Images

The 2020 Paralympics wrapped up recently; a year delayed but worth the wait.

Accompanying some of the athletes were assistants with four paws and furry coats: Several athletes brought their service dogs along! Two even marched in the Opening Ceremony with the Israeli team. Belgian and Canadian athletes were also photographed with their guide / service dogs during the Paralympics. However, other athletes, including an American runner, were not permitted to bring their guide or service dogs into Japan for the Paralympics.

Japan has a mixed record on accommodating service and guide dogs, and many disability rights advocates hope that the Paralympics focused enough attention on the problem to lead to change.

Dog Play

When your dog plays with another dog, do you worry that they’re fighting? Or that the apparently very rough play could turn into a fight?

Most of the time, there’s no need to worry. Normal dog play often looks scary, but it’s fine.

Some of my favorite dogs agreed to let me share video of their play so you can see …

Cali, Maisy, and I were on a nice walk. The sun was out, the grass was freshly mowed … and, suddenly, Cali simply had to play. She bowed to Maisy, and they were off. I dropped their leashes to let them move more easily. I don’t recommend letting dogs roughhouse with their leashes on, but I let them do it this time, just for a minute.

They often go for each other’s necks. They’ll flip over and wrestle. Maisy occasionally leaps right over Cali. If Maisy gets too enthusiastic, Cali lets her know by walking away or giving her a look.

Stella and Luna (gold star to anyone who gets the literary reference) are sisters. Sometimes, it looks like Luna (gray) is about to rip Stella’s head off. Often, it looks like Stella is chowing down on Luna’s neck. They’re not.

The most important signs that the dog play is fun and fine with both are:

  • They take turns; sometimes it looks like one is killing the other; sometimes the reverse. They both get to be chaser and chasee in turn.
  • They take little breaks or pauses — a few seconds maybe — and both re-engage.
  • When one does ask for a break, the other respects the request and they take a longer break.

If you’re concerned about your dog’s play, watch for the above positive signs and intervene if it looks like one dog is trying to call a pause and the other’s not listening. Or someone cries in pain. Or multiple dogs seem to be piling onto or chasing one — always the same — dog.

Cover of Doggie Language book

But most of the time, your dog’s just having fun in a very doggy way. And, though it looks like the other dog’s ripping her ears off or tearing a hole in her neck, she’ll walk away with nothing more than a bunch of slobber on her coat.

Learn more about dog body language and communication from this adorable book: Doggie Language

Is It My Fault if My Dog Is Overweight?

Golden retriever Cali eats an ice-cream cone.Yes.

That may be a little harsh. A recent Whole Dog Journal article on dog obesity is a little kinder to the dog owners, apportioning blame between the dog and the human. But … the humans control access to the dog’s food, so I lean toward blaming the humans. And, since multiple studies have reported that half or more of the pet dogs in the US are overweight, we need to address this problem.

Obesity can reduce your dog’s already-too-short lifespan by as much as three years.

The WDJ article describes a study of pet owners who are involved with feeding their pets. Nearly 80% of the respondents were women aged 50 or older. Hmm. Many said they determined the amount to feed their dogs “based on perceptions of their dogs’ body weight” and most of the rest by following the feeding guidelines on the dog food packaging or their vet’s recommendations.

Those are not reliable methods. Most dog foods recommend giving more food than a dog needs. It’s a vicious cycle, too. If your dog weighs 60 lbs. and you feed the amount recommended for a 60-lb. dog, you think you’re doing the right thing. But… maybe your dog should weigh 50 or 55 lbs. See the problem? And, many people’s perceptions of what their dogs should weigh are skewed.

For instance, Cali, who is a svelte and very fit 56 lbs, looks thin to many people who are accustomed to seeing fat golden retrievers. Because most golden retrievers in the US are fat. Very fat.

I’ve checked in with my vet on Cali’s diet and weight. She once gave me calorie-based guidelines for feeding Cali and, when I looked at the amount of food I’d need to give Cali to meet them, I was horrified. I would have had to almost double what I was feeding Cali. But at the same time she was recommending this enormous amount of food, the vet also agreed that Cali’s weight was fine.

Piling on …

Dogs aren’t much help in this. It’s hard enough to figure out what and how much regular old dog food to give your dog. But the dog then starts asking for other food … your food. And treats.

Dogs are excellent at manipulating humans, as you may have noticed. They are especially adept at convincing us to feed them. They use gaze, nudges, sometimes even whining or barking … The study took note of this: “The data suggest that dogs may have significant influence in overriding their owners’ self-discipline,” it says, with great understatement.

What’s a dog parent to do?

That is the key question.

Start with knowing what your dog’s healthy weight looks and feels like. This chart can help:

Chart shows range of dogs and cats from too thin to obese

When you pet your dog, you should be able to feel her ribs, but there should be a little fat on them. And her hip bones should not stick out. But if your dog feels like an upholstered sofa … well.

Then, watch her diet. And her treat intake. What you’re feeding matters as much as the quantity. I’m pretty fussy about dog treats (not to mention dog food). I don’t buy anything at the supermarket for Cali other than eggs, Greek yogurt, sardines, and occasional bags of wonderful local / homemade dog cookies … large cookies that I break into 4 or 5 small pieces.

A treat for Cali is about the size of a quarter. She rarely gets an entire large biscuit. And no, she does not feel deprived (yeah, right …). She loves getting a jackpot of 5 or 6 little, high quality treats, which happens when she does something really great (like put all of her toys back into their basket). She gets a handful of very small treats in her snuffle mat almost every day. She gets several more when I brush her or tackle her nails or ears. And of course on special occasions, she gets a doggy cone or even (birthdays only) a small dish of ice cream!

Does she want more treats? Of course she does! So do I!

Cali makes frequent, persuasive pitches for her “fair share” of whatever I happen to be eating, for example. She’s convinced me that I should share my eggs and yogurt, and she’s a helpful and efficient dish-washer. We frequently negotiate over small bites of pizza crust. But overall, her treat intake is moderate.

Take a hike

The other piece of the equation is, of course, exercise.

Cali and I walk two or three times a day. We play ball. She swims. We go for a long hike at least once a week. When she was an adolescent, she ran and played a lot more — and got more food and treats. A very active dog could have more food or treats, while a dog whose exercise consists of walking to the back yard a few times a day, taking care of business, and walking back to the house … may need to be a little more careful.

I’m sure none of this is a huge surprise. The hardest piece of watching your dog’s weight is being honest about what she weighs vs. what she should. That and facing down that stare every time you’re eating something yummy.

image of golden retriever with the message "every snack you make, every bite you take, I'll be watching you"


Don’t Get Ripped Off!

Many years ago, when I started giving Jana glucosamine supplements, I carefully reviewed all of the special products formulated for dogs, finally choosing one that my vet recommended. Over the years, I have given my dogs many dietary supplements, such as (not all at once):

  • Glucosamine / joint support
  • Fish oil
  • Green-lipped mussel
  • Probiotics
  • Digestive enzymes
  • Vitamin E
  • CBD
  • Pumpkin
  • Yogurt / kefir
  • Sardines

All of these are things that some people use for similar reasons — to enhance their digestion, reduce inflammation or aches, improve overall health. But do you need to get special products for dogs? Not always, though the line can be fuzzy.

Glucosamine, CBD, probiotics, digestive enzymes, and vitamin E are not things that I would generally eat for dinner. I might use them if I thought they’d help resolve an issue, like painful joints or an upset stomach. Can Cali share mine?

I’m not an expert in canine digestion, but I suspect that the doggy digestive tract and microbiome are quite different from their human equivalents. So when I have selected digestive enzymes and probiotics for my dogs, I have used canine-formulated products. I use a canine joint support powder, too, though that is primarily because it’s easy and inexpensive. I mix together a joint supplement, a digestive enhancer, and extra turmeric and scoop a little onto each meal.

But for many dietary supplements, and especially things like fish oil, sardines, or pumpkin — there is absolutely no difference between the “canine” and human products; the human product might even meet higher production or safety standards — and cost a lot less.

Buying 100% pumpkin puree “for dogs” is just silly, for example. As long as you get the puree, not the pumpkin pie filling, there’s no difference. Same with fish oil or sardines, though those dried ones are handy as treats (if you can stand the smell).

If you watch the dosage, you can use green-lipped mussel (powdered) and vitamin E sold for humans; I do, and have safely done so for years. I’ve used generic Immodium and Pepto Bismol and Prilosec for dogs (& humans) as well. And I know many people who do the same with CBD oil, though for edibles … I stick with the doggy ones; no CBD gummy bears for Cali

A lot of foods that are healthful and beneficial for humans are also great treats for dogs: Eggs, fish, fish oil, pumpkin, Greek yogurt (plain) or kefir, peanut butter, many raw vegetables and fruits. As long as there’s no added sugar and absolutely no xylitol, your dog can safely enjoy small amounts of these foods. Cali would add ice cream and pizza crust to this list.

Don’t fall for the marketing and reach for the puppy pumpkin! Instead, share a healthful treat that you and your dogs can all enjoy together.

Cali plucks ripe berries from a mixed cluster, leaving green ones behind
Some fresh-picked raspberries perhaps?

Dog Days of Summer

Cali plucks ripe berries from a mixed cluster, leaving green ones behind

Cali enjoys summer in Montana; she gets to do all of her favorite things. I recently commented to a colleague about how “busy” Cali is, and my friend asked for details. A typical summer day for Cali might involve some work — and always involves some fun.

During late June and July, for instance, she can often be found harvesting raspberries or trying to pilfer some cherry tomatoes or strawberries from the garden. Blaming her lack of thumbs for an inability to drop berries into a bucket, she eats them all.

She is often called on to make an appearance at meetings, whether social or work gatherings, that her mom attends. She wonders what the fuss is, and she’s really over zoom. What good is it to see all those tiny people if you can’t smell them — and they can’t scritch your ears and feed you treats? She’s dying to go “back” to the office and check out some in-person meetings, not that she’s ever been to a meeting. Or an office, for that matter.

Cali swims to the bank of a river with her ballShe also enjoys swimming. We go to a huge area that belongs to the state department of natural resources conservation where dogs can run around; people walk, jog, and sometimes ride horses; and best of all, dogs can swim. There’s an irrigation canal that channels river water throughout the more rural neighborhoods of Missoula — and the natural resources department’s land.

There are two spots where the water has carved out decent-sized pools. I toss in a tennis ball and she paddles after it, over and over. She’s got a little routine where she climbs out of the water, walks about 20 feet away, shakes off the water, and drops her ball. Then she sits and waits. She’s not big on the “retriever” part of her name, and she has trained me to come over and get the ball, walk back to the edge of the channel, and throw it again. She’ll do that swim, walk, shake, sit cycle over and over, for as long as I’m willing to throw. Or until another dog comes to play in ‘her” swimming spot.

When she and the ball are waterlogged and muddy, we walk back to the car so that she can get in and shake muddy water alllllll over.

Once home, no matter what the clock says, it’s time to eat. Swimming makes Cali so hungry! I understand that! Then, perhaps she’ll relax on the deck or stretch out on a cool patch of grass.


If it’s not on video, it didn’t happen, right? So here are a couple of short (very amateur) videos.

Cali harvests raspberries, above, and enjoys a swim, below.


Farewell, Wrangler …

Wrangler, a yellow Lab puppy, chews on a tennis ball toy in an orange pen
Photo from Today Show website

A dog who used his charm, good looks, and luck to spread knowledge of guide- and service dogs has died. Wrangler was only 6 when he died in July of liver disease.

He became famous as a Guiding Eyes puppy who was puppy raised on The Today Show. As an adorable 10-week-old Labrador puppy, Wrangler made his TV debut. He grew up on camera, educating millions of viewers as he learned his manners and early skills. The studio, as well as his home life with a carefully selected puppy raiser, exposed Wrangler to the many sights, sounds, smells, and experiences that shaped him into a calm, confident, resilient adult dog.

An initial job as a guide dog didn’t work out for Wrangler, and he moved on to a second career as an explosives detection dog for the Connecticut State Police. In his short life, Wrangler showed the best of what a dog can be and touched many, many lives and hearts.


Is There an Emergency Vet Near You?

A red cross with a paw print in the centerMy sister sent me a link to an alarming article in the Whole Dog Journal about emergency vet services reducing their hours.

The writer, the WDJ editor, says that three clinics in her area had suspended their overnight services, and that she’d heard of this happening in other parts of the country.

Even if you’ve never used an emergency vet, now’s a good time to check out what is available in your area and whether they’ve made changes to their hours.

I decided to do that, and I discovered that both emergency services in Missoula are still working — 5 pm to 8 am weekdays and 24 hours on weekends and holidays. Whew.

When I mentioned the article and the reduced hours, one clinic’s response was “we’re doing quite the opposite!” — they are planning to expand their hours to 24 hours 7 days a week. The other partners with a “regular” vet clinic and is open when that clinic is not, so effectively … yep, 24×7. Missoula’s pets are in good hands.

I’ve been lucky. Cali hasn’t needed emergency services, and the only time Jana did … it didn’t turn out well. But the emergency clinic staff and vets were wonderful, and I was very appreciative that they were available, late at night on a holiday.

The reason clinics are cutting hours appears to be staffing shortages. When I was trying to find specialist services for Cali a few months ago, I ran into that problem: Appointments for the nearest doggy neurologist (3 hours away in Pullman, WA) were booking out several months. They have a shortage of veterinary anesthesiologists, they explained, and they do not want to schedule exams if they cannot then perform the recommended (very costly) scans.

Cali may not need to go; she’s trying some alternative therapy while waiting for her appointment, and it was never an emergency situation.

But I am relieved to know that if we ever do need emergency care, it’s available.

I’ve got both clinics entered into my contacts. But I hope I never need to call them.


It’s Here!

Golden retriever Cali sniffs to check whether any berries are ready
Do these berries pass the smell test?

With the incredible heat wave we’re having, raspberry season arrived early!

Cali waits for the raspberries eagerly each summer. She checks at least hourly to see if they are growing, then ripening. She naps in a little space between the berry canes so she won’t miss anything. A space that she created by pulling out, chewing, or flattening whatever was growing there.

As the tiny berries start to appear, her inspections increase. Until! There’s a partially ripe one. She grabs it!

As the days unfold, she gets more selective, choosing only the juiciest ripe berries. She’s careful to avoid the tiny thorns and, unlike me, is rarely clumsy enough to knock a perfect berry off, letting it fall into the thicket of canes (and weeds).

Cali plucks ripe berries from a mixed cluster, leaving green ones behind

The season is ramping up, and there are enough berries for both of us. I pick the ones higher up on the canes, while the lower ones — and the ones I drop — are Cali’s. I also get all the ones in the back alley.

When I pick berries, I tend to put at least as many into my bowl as I put into my mouth: One for me, one for the bowl, one for me  …

Not Cali. She picks hers like this: One for Cali, one for Cali, one for Cali, one for Cali…




I’m Doing This on Purpose

Black Lab Koala rests on her bed, next to the forbidden sofaIn keeping with our recent theme of communication with our dogs, Koala staged a mini-protest recently. A lie-in if you will.

Seemingly out of nowhere, she decided to spend her alone time on the living room sofa in her Florida home. Several days in a row, when Deni arrived at the door, she was able to see Koala step gracefully off the sofa and saunter over to the door to greet her.

“She’s doing this to make a point,” Deni told a friend one day as they entered the house. “She knows I’m home well before I get to the door. She knows the sound of the car.”

The friend agreed — and pointed out that some recent changes had affected Koala. And were probably the reason for Koala’s behavior.

Those recent changes in Koala’s home decor included swapping the TV viewing space with the dining space, Deni mused, not understanding the connection.

Go on, the friend prompted.

Finally, Deni got it.

Formerly, toward the back of the living room, a sofa and comfy dog bed marked the TV corner. These had been relocated to the former dining room. And now a table and four chairs occupy the front-room space. No dog bed.


It had not dawned on Deni that perhaps Koala liked spending her time waiting for Deni to return both in the living room — where she could keep an eye on things — and in comfort. Koala chose a not-very-subtle way to communicate that to Deni.

It’s a good thing that Deni has dog-savvy friends to interpret for her, or she’d be frustrated with Koala’s recent “bad” behavior, while Koala would be rolling her eyes at the obliviousness of humans. Again.

Even better, this friend had recently passed along an extra dog bed, so a solution was at hand. Or paw. Now Koala has a comfy bed in the front of the house — and she no longer needs to occupy the sofa.