Why Is My Dog’s Eye Red?

A reader asks: My dog’s eye is red and bloodshot. I know that she has seasonal allergies; is that all it is? How do I know whether it is something serious?

While itchy, red, and irritated eyes can definitely be a symptom of seasonal allergies in our dogs (as well as in ourselves!), the key that something more is going on is that only one eye is affected. This is a good reason to get it checked out by a vet.

Eyes are delicate — and very important — so don’t take chances here. It can be allergies, a cold, or a minor irritation, but it could be something much more serious.

In this case, the dog, Hannah, had scratched her cornea badly. The vet put in some drops that showed the scratch in vivid green. Hannah went home with eye drops. She was an amazingly cooperative patient (I’ve had otherwise sweet-tempered, you-can-do-anything-to-them dogs threaten to rip my arm off if I came near them with that eyedropper again). Medication seemed to help at first, but ultimately, Hannah needed surgery, but she’s recovering. It’s a good thing she’s nice about the eye drops, though, because she needs several types of drops and ointments during her long, uncomfortable recovery.

A scratched cornea is not the only thing that can cause a single red eye. The most common cause is an irritant — a piece of dirt, dust, or plant matter or a spray, such as a skunk’s spray or a household aerosol. But bleeding in the eye or clear discomfort (the dog is pawing at her eyes) can signal a serious health problem like glaucoma or a tumor. These are rare, but the only way to be sure is to get the eye examined.

Advertisements

Dog Parks: The New Spectator Sport

Cali loves going to the park, just as many sports fans love going to the stadium. McNear Park, about eight blocks from our apartment, is an off-leash dog run for a few hours every morning. A group of very nice, well-mannered dogs are regulars, and I have only very rarely seen any inappropriate play. It’s a wonderful place for Cali to get some off-leash ball play, since our yard is very small.

Cali loves going to the park, just as many sports fans love going to the stadium. McNear Park, about eight blocks from our apartment, is an off-leash dog run for a few hours every morning. A group of very nice, well-mannered dogs are regulars, and I have only very rarely seen any inappropriate play. It’s a wonderful place for Cali to get some off-leash ball play, since our yard is very small.

Every morning, she bugs me to get going. Hurry up! She brings my shoes and nudges me to get out the door faster. She noses her favorite ball to remind me to take it along. When we get there, she demands that I throw the ball immediately. She eagerly chases it.

Then she lies down in the grass and surveys the park. She’ll occasionally bring the ball back and let me throw it again. Once. She moves from sunny patch to shade, carrying her ball with her and carefully placing it between her paws as she resumes her reclining position on the grass. Watching other dogs play.

A few dogs try to engage her, bowing and bouncing. Once in a great while, Cali will play for a couple of minutes, then, worry furrowing her brow, search out her ball, sigh in relief, and lie down, the precious ball resting safely between her paws once again.

Sometimes, I go over and get the ball to throw it for her. She’s happy to chase it, tail rotating like a helicopter blade … and then, again, lie down and watch the action. Or not, in which case, she’ll hold tightly onto the ball, not letting me take it and throw it.

Cali sees the park as a sports arena where she gets to watch other dogs play ball, Frisbee, and tag. She’d be happy to stay there all day, observing, but I usually get annoyed and threaten, “Play — or we’re going home.”

Meanwhile, Jana is doing her thing. She grazes a bit, then rolls in the grass. Stretches out, does a bit of yoga, sunbathes. The walk there and back is enough exercise for her. But Cali really needs to run and burn off energy.

When I finally give up and snap leashes back on, Cali usually digs in her heels, refusing to leave. She might, grudgingly, let me take the ball and throw it a few times then, before we leave.

When we get home, what does Cali want me to do? Throw the ball for her, of course.

Amazing Restraint

In Alberta’s Marshmallow Test, I described Alberta’s admirable ability to resist temptation in the form of a bowl of dog biscuits sitting alongside a water bowl outside a Michigan store. While I know personally of the hard work Alberta (and Deni) have invested in honing Alberta’s ability to resist food temptations, I also know that all dogs (with the possible exception of Cali) really are capable of learning self-restraint.
This ability is, I believe, evidence of their ability to understand what is the “right” thing to do in particular circumstances. It is certainly evidence that not all dog behavior is hard-wired or instinctive.
Some examples include dogs who learn not to take food from counters, tabletops, and plates, even when those are tantalizingly within reach. I could leave a steak dinner on the coffee table (at Jana’s nose level) and go out for an hour. If she knew that was not her food, it would all still be sitting there when I got back. Leaving it alone with impulsive youngster Cali would be a different matter, however.
An even more important example, and something anyone who lives near a road with traffic or who takes the dog for car rides should work on, is waiting at doorways. When we drive to the dog beach or park, the dogs are very excited. But even Cali, who is probably wriggling with excitement, has learned not to exit the car without explicit permission. And Jana and Cali have both learned never to bolt out the front door, not matter how seductively the park across the street beckons, no matter how many cats, UPS delivery people and mail carriers are passing by … no matter what.
I argue that these are examples of dogs “doing the right thing” because I know that they are not afraid of being punished and that these efforts are rarely rewarded. Well, at the dog beach, they do get to go play — but even when someone slips up, the worst consequence is that she’s sternly instructed to get back in the car and wait, and then released a minute later to play. The girls are not following the rules because they think they will be horribly punished if they do not. They are not expecting any significant reward, especially for resisting the impulse to run out the front door. They are doing what they know is expected of them in these common situations for no reason other than they know that it is the rule.
In fact, we ask dogs to resist behavior that comes naturally to them all the time. We ask them not to chew and lick at their itchy spots. We ask them to resist humping other dogs. We ask them not to bark at the neighbors or the mail carrier, even when he is invading their turf. We ask them to ignore food (and things they consider food) on the ground, to not chase cats and squirrels encountered on walks, and to walk nicely on a leash.
We do ask a lot of them, don’t we? And most dogs, most of the time, live up to our very high expectations. Especially if we practice with them and do reward them sometimes.
I think that we humans take it for granted that dogs should follow our very human-centered rules. I am suggesting that we look at things from their point of view once in a while, recognize how truly counter-intuitive it is for a dog to resist food that is just sitting there or to abstain from chasing that cat out of the yard. We need to recognize that our dogs pass their own marshmallow tests, every day, many times a day — and reward their efforts with praise and pats and, at least occasionally, yummy treats to reward their restraint.

Alberta’s Marshmallow Test

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

In the 1970s, a psychologist tested the self-restraint of preschool children. Each child was offered a marshmallow. The children were told that they would get two marshmallows if they could delay eating the treat, and then left alone in a room for fifteen minutes. The researcher recorded what happened. The efforts of some children to stare down the treat or to distract themselves from it are both comical and painful to watch. Of course, some children inhaled the treat as soon as the researcher left the room. A recent book (The Marshmallow Test) describes this experiment and the follow-up studies of those children. The marshmallow test and other research on the ability to delay gratification shows that those who can exercise self-control in the face of temptation have better “life outcomes,” as measured by a variety of criteria, including SAT scores, social and cognitive functioning, long-term health, and retirement planning.

What does all of this have to do with thinking dogs?
Alberta experienced her own version of the marshmallow test recently. To say that Alberta loves treats is a bit like saying that I love chocolate. Alberta not only loves treats, she is not terribly fussy about which treats she gets. For sure, there are better treats, for example this bison and beef jerky concoction that I get at Costco and that, for some reason, Jana, Cali, and Alberta will do anything for. But ordinary, boring biscuits are fine too, and they are happily accepted as rewards for a job well done.

In her guide dog work, Alberta comes across many items that fit this dog’s definition of “treat,” and she works very hard to resist bits of food that just happen to be lying on the floor.
Alberta is justifiably proud of her hard-earned restraint, but more importantly, she wants Deni to know. So, in the course of a day’s work, if Alberta sees food on the floor and gives it a wide berth, she also nudges Deni to make sure that Deni knows just how good she is being. She pushes Deni hard with her nose, hoping that Deni will notice the ignored object. She often nudges Deni right near the pocket where Deni keeps the dog treats, just in case Deni might want to reward this extraordinary show of restraint. A girl can hope, can’t she?

Alberta knows the rule that she can’t grab food off the ground when she’s working. She wants to believe that that rule does not apply when she’s off-duty (her harness is off). She also knows that, even while working, she’s allowed to take treats that Deni hands her for particularly notable service. But she recently encountered a situation that blurred these lines a bit, a marshmallow test for dogs. Her reaction was remarkable.
Guiding Deni down a street in Saugatuck, Michigan, Alberta (along with her entourage of two other human family members) passed by a store that not only had a full doggy water bowl sitting by the sidewalk, but also a full bowl of doggy cookies. Just sitting there for the taking. An open invitation. Irresistible.
Or not.
Alberta headed for the water, took a drink, noticed the cookie bowl and … stopped dead. Confused. She looked at the biscuits. Looked at Deni. Furrowed her brow. Looked longingly at the treats. But she did not touch the treats.
We’d all stopped to watch the unfolding marshmallow-like drama. Alberta really wanted to gobble up as many of those dog cookies as she could. But she did not take one. She did, however, look at every one of us to make sure that we all knew how good she was being. Deni rewarded her by picking up a few biscuits from the bowl and handing them to Alberta.
Watching the interaction, I got to thinking. Most dogs who walk by this shop are not trained service dogs. Though many, like Jana and Cali, have had some training and certainly know that they are not supposed to just devour everything in sight, they don’t always have the restraint to follow through. Having more than once found myself alone with a new box of Trader Joe’s dark chocolate peanut butter cups, I can relate.
I wondered how often a doggy passerby just digs in and eats all the cookies in the bowl. How many battles between hungry hounds and their hapless handlers has the shop owner witnessed? Does the handler ever win? And really, what was that shop owner thinking?

But back to Alberta. In need of photos for this blog post, I asked Deni to re-create Alberta’s marshmallow test. The photo gallery (presented in order) at the top of this blog post shows that, like the successful children in the original marshmallow test, Alberta devised a series of ways to distract herself. Some of the children looked away, as Alberta did. Some sang songs or recited the alphabet. Alberta did neither of these. Some children closed their eyes. Upon realizing that, even after she had turned away, the bowl of biscuits was still there, Alberta closed her eyes.

Alberta has not only learned to resist random bits of food on cafeteria floors, sidewalks, and the like, but there she was, on that Michigan sidewalk and again in Deni’s office, passing up food that was obviously meant for dogs, placed there for her enjoyment. This shows us that dogs are able to do some high-level thinking and processing.

If Alberta were purely instinct-driven, that bowl would have been emptied in seconds flat. If she were operating only out of fear of punishment or hope of reward, she might have surreptitiously sneaked a mouthful of biscuits before Deni noticed, just to see if she could get away with it — and been rewarded by the treat, even if she got scolded after. But she went beyond a gut-instinct response and even beyond the basic (low) level of moral development that governs much of human and animal behavior. She paused, checked in with Deni, and did the right thing — even though she really wanted those cookies. We’re eagerly looking forward to seeing Alberta’s SAT scores and are consulting her for retirement advice. But in my next post, I will describe more practical ways we can apply the doggy marshmallow test to our relationships with our dogs.

Big Girls Just Wanna Look Cute

Cali, at 8 months old, is dashing full speed ahead into adolescence. Having read the latest studies and talked to her breeder, I know that it is better for her health to wait to spay her until she is done growing — in about another year. That means that she will have a “season” (or three).

Before all the spay and neuter people howl, let me say this: I do not think that having an intact dog of either sex is easy or desirable. I agree that most pets should be spayed or neutered. I also want what is best for my dog, and I know that I can ensure that Cali is safe and does not inadvertently become a teen mom.

Back to Cali’s impending womanhood. We’ve had the talk about birds, bees, and handsome boy dogs. And I went online to search for some britches for my soon-to-be bitch in heat. That’s not the only reason a furry girl (or guy) might need to go shopping. Dogs need clothing for different reasons. As dogs age, some (like some humans) become a bit leaky. Then there are the ones who lose control when they get excited.

dotted skirtWhatever the reason, there are dozens and dozens of fashion options out there. Anything from princess skirts to rhinestone jeans to cargo pants. Camouflage and spangles. Cotton candy pink to red plaid flannel. Miniskirts, shorts, and overalls with little criss-cross straps — even thongs —  for the girls. Overalls, jeans, jock straps and cummerbunds for the boys. Unisex tracksuits, girlie ball gowns, Hawaiian-style board shorts, you name it.

If your dog fits into a purse, that is.

Unwilling to give up after a short search turned up … nothing, I kept digging. I optimistically clicked to a link for X-large Petego Hot Pants. They come in black or hot pink and feature a small ruffle bow. Sounded good (in conservative black, maybe), but … an extra-large measures 16 inches at the waist. Sixteen inches! Cali was 16 inches around the waist when she was 3 months old. Waaay before puberty.

Cargo pants for dogsShe’d look great in a pair of cargo pants, which were offered in sizes 00 to 6. Sounded promising. But a size 6 fits dogs only up to 25 lbs. That mark on the scale is in Cali’s very distant past. (The 00 is for dogs who weigh under 2 pounds. Are there really adult dogs that small?)

Maybe a ruffled miniskirt with polka dots would do? Adorable, age-appropriate, and available in extra-small to extra-large. But wait. The extra-large fits dogs up to 22 lbs. In what universe is a 22-pound dog “extra-large”?!

Checkered pantsCali could have ordered the urban ski pants for dogs from Baxterboo (up to a 26-inch waist) but they seemed a bit warm for a Florida summer. The cute checkered pants, in brown or pink, however, only go up to a waist of 11 inches. Baxterboo did have lavender bell bottoms in Cali’s size (on sale)! But Cali’s not really the hippy chick type. She wants to fit in with Florida’s sundress-and-flip-flops vibe.

Finally, I found what Cali needed at two retailers on Etsy.com. Thank goodness for creative, entrepreneurial people. Both Etsy retailers will customize for size and fabric, so dogs of all sizes, shapes, and tastes can dress stylishly during their time of the month.

cali_red stars_cropThe first retailer, CodysHaven, proclaims that “Larger breed girls need to look good too.” Darn right they do. CodysHaven sent us a red, star-spangled pair of shorts for Cali that are adorable. There are dozens of fabrics to choose from, in case stars aren’t your style.

Cali’s second, dressier outfit is from The Purple Puppy. It is more of a miniskirt, with big, colorful daisies and a white ruffle.

Flowers and stars. Cali is, after all, still a little girl. Maybe it’s better that the hot pants didn’t come in her size.

Cali flowered skirt_crop

Cali, the Ghost, and the Dog Door

Cali ghost door3Our electronic dog door continues to be a wonderful window on the dogs’ personalities. The dog door is operated (ostensibly) by a magnet attached to each dog’s collar. The idea is that only animals with magnets can open the door, keeping out neighbor cats, possum, raccoons and the like.

Well, in one of Florida’s daily summer thunderstorms, the door suffered damage. The motor would hum but the door would not open. We summoned our electrician, ordered a part, summoned the electrician again, and, after a few dog-doorless weeks, were back in business. With a twist.

The door started opening and closing all on its own. We joked that not only had we acquired a resident ghost, but the ghost somehow had been given its own key and had learned to use the dog door. As I sit at my desk, not a dog in sight, the door will occasionally open and close. Then do it again a few minutes later. The ghost going out for a potty break and returning? Or the ghost entering for a brief reconnaissance and leaving? Hard to tell, since I can’t actually see the ghost.

Meanwhile, Cali, who learned to use the dog door in just seconds flat, has lost key privileges. She, it turns out, wants to spend all of her time outside chasing lizards. And occasionally catching them, with gruesome results for the lizard and anyone watching. She has recently taken up stalking those huge, bright yellow Florida grasshoppers that are apparently quite tasty. Her other hobby is digging small ditches all over the backyard. Some dogs, it seems, are too immature to handle the freedom a dog door brings. Unable to convince her to take up knitting, gnawing chew toys, or even sunbathing (with sunscreen!), I took her key away.

With no key, Cali has to ask permission to go out, and she now has supervised playtime. She hates that. She has figured out that she can sometimes follow her big sister Jana out. Occasionally, I think when Cali is being particularly, er, adolescent, I have seen Jana walk with her over to the door. Door opens; Cali runs out; big sis walks away with, I swear, a big smile on her face.

The next step was probably inevitable: Cali discovered the ghost. And decided to train it. She could get the ghost to let her out! Who needs a key when you have a trained ghost?

Now, when Cali wants to go out, she sits, patiently staring at the dog door. Eventually, usually within a couple of minutes, the ghost does, indeed, let her out.

Cali ghost door2Cali has had less success at training the ghost (or her big sisters) to let her back in, however. When she gives up on the ghost, she’ll sit, looking sadly at the back door and occasionally jumping on the glass, until I let her in. Twice I have come home from errands to find her outside, stretched out in the shade, waiting patiently.

I haven’t seen her sitting by the dog door on the outside, waiting for the ghost. But she has gotten back in without my help on occasion. So maybe the ghost training is going better than I think.

Sometimes, when Jana or Albee opens the door to go out, Cali seizes the moment and slips in very quickly. Jana isn’t quite as agile as she used to be, and the door only stays open for about 5 seconds. So when Cali does this, Jana is left inside. As Cali enters and the door closes, Jana gets a perplexed look. I am sure that, as she waits for the door to open again, she’s wondering why she wasn’t lucky enough to be an only dog.

Cool Cut Beats a Close Shave for Hot Dogs

haircut

Jana is looking spiffy and cool with her new summer haircut. I was careful to have just a trim done, though, mostly of her thick “feathers,” the long hair that golden retrievers have around their back legs. As you can see from her photo, she still looks like a golden. While it might be tempting to shave your dog to help her beat the heat this summer, don’t!

Dogs’ fur provides protection from the sun and, though it seems counter-intuitive, from the heat. The fur acts as insulation and is a part of each dog’s natural cooling system. It is also a barrier against sun exposure, protecting dogs’ skin from those harmful rays. Dogs can get skin cancer, just as we do — and if you live in a sunny climate or have a sun-worshipping dog like Jana, you might want to get some pet-safe sunscreen for her nose, belly, and other exposed areas.

Trimming long hair is OK, and frequent brushing is a great way to remove excess and loose hair. And there are other ways to cool your dog — a kiddie pool, a romp under the sprinklers, or a cooling mat, for example. Our dogs love ice — I call Cali the “tax collector” for her diligence in appearing out of nowhere to collect her cut every time I so much as look at the freezer door. If plain ice doesn’t do the trick for your dog, try some cool treats, like these or these, for stuffing Kong toys. Find more tips on keeping dogs cool here: The Uncommon Dog.

So, back to Jana’s new ‘do. (Before I shamelessly promote a local business, I’d like to mention that the Thinking Dog Blog never gets paid to endorse products or businesses!) While Jana was getting her stylish trim, Albee was enjoying a bath. We were at the Salty Dog, a cute (recently remodeled) do-it-yourself pet wash and grooming salon. I did not trim Jana myself, though. Owner Stephan will bathe or groom your dog if you make an appointment. His prices are reasonable, he uses wonderful, organic pet cosmetics, and the standard poodle who manages the place is a sweetheart. What’s not to like?