So you want to get a dog…

So you want to get a dog…

Not including people who are allergic to or just generally don’t like dogs, there comes a time where nearly everyone thinks to themselves, “I’d really like to get a dog.” This is completely normal! There are some things to think about before you go through and act on that thought though. Firstly, take a look at your life and see where your dog would fit in that life. Do you work odd hours making it difficult to train, exercise, and bond with a new pet? Do you travel a lot or spend extended periods away from home which would cause your pet to be left alone or boarded for those extended times? Also, think of your finances really thoroughly. Getting a dog from a respectable shelter is a low-cost option when compared to getting a puppy or adult from a breeder, but there are still life long food, training, enrichment, and medical expenses which you will be responsible for. If your dog wakes you up in the night coughing and in pain, or if they start not walking on one leg and whining when they put pressure on it, will you be able to take them to the vet that moment? Will you be able to go in annually to get their check-ups, more frequently when they are puppies and elderly? If they develop a lifelong illness which would mean medication costs on a regular basis will you be able to cover them? If an accident were to occur could you cover surgery costs? Are you able to pay for a quality food, treats, training, and everything else involved in the day to day management of a pet?

If you’ve thought of these thoroughly, the next step is to think about what kind of dog would work best for you and your family. I’ve gone over a lot on this previously so I will not go in depth, but do look at a few key things. Your activity level, your families activity level, what space you live in, how patient you are, how long they’d be expected to stay home alone if at all, and other aspects of daily life are key to seeing what kind of dog you should get for your lifestyle. There is a vast difference in the activity level of a retired greyhound (short bursts of energy followed by lots of relaxing, great for apartments) and an 8 month old Springer Spaniel (high energy, ‘no off switch’ dog needing lots of running space and enrichment daily).

Do note, “Hybrid Vigor” in mixed breed dogs is a proven myth and mixed breeds are not by definition healthier than a purebred dog. What matters is a combination of genetics and how they are raised (in the way that the combination of nature & nurture affects humans).

The final step once you’ve gone through all of this and decided that a dog is still the right option for you and your family, and you’ve decided on a type of dog you would like to get, is to get to researching and try to find one who would then fit your family and what you’re looking for. If you’re a semi-active person with a lot of time on your hands to exercise and train and are not feeling a pull to any specific breed then by all means, go to a respectable shelter in your neighborhood and get a dog from them that you feel a connection with. If you’re the same type of person who really loves the Saluki, then get to searching and find a breeder who you can talk to about their program and get a deposit put down. Either way you are spending money to get a dog, so never let yourself be put down if you would like to get a dog from a breeder rather than a shelter, especially if you are looking for something specific like a rare breed or a dog to do a job for you.

In my mind, if you want something specific, you should also be willing to go wherever need be in order to get that. If the nearest breeder is not in your state but you love their program, then go get one of their dogs. This is a lifelong decision for you and your family and you should be proud to go to whatever lengths are needed to make sure the pet you get is one that will stay with you through your entire lives.

Make sure your home is all set with crate, training tools, food, treats, etc. by the time you will bring your pet home! Then just enjoy the new addition to your family! Take it slow with introductions to new people and things but definitely do get them exposed to as much as possible. Go slow, because if you don’t and they become overwhelmed then you could possibly ingrain a fear response with that item or type of person.

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On Neutering and Spaying

On Neutering and Spaying

So here is a touchy subject so I feel the need to preface this by saying I am not saying those who do or do not neuter/spay their dogs are right or wrong. I am simply putting my own opinion out there and giving information I have learned over the years which has influenced this opinion. I encourage everyone to do what is responsible and inform themselves before making any medical choice for their pets and to get opinions from your vet (and even multiple vets). Go over information and get in touch with many people to see their thoughts on your options.

Here is my opinion. We neuter and spay our animals as an easy escape of responsibility. There are many people who have intact animals (those who retain their hormones and sexual organs) who have never bred them and who do not plan on breeding. There is nothing wrong with these people and they are not being “irresponsible” by not spaying or neutering. Some could say that in fact they are being more responsible because their dogs have the capability of breeding but do not, meaning their owners have to enact more control and conscious supervision over their animals.

Firstly, it is standard to spay and neuter dogs very early in their lives and by doing so we open them up to countless problems which they will have to face for the rest of their lives. In neutered males alone they are 3 times more likely to be plagued with obesity. In spayed females they are 2 times as likely to be obese. Likelihood of your neutered pet developing Hip Dysplasia, Hemangiosarcoma (a very deadly form of cancer),  Hypothyroidism, Geriatric Cognitive Impairment (a type of dementia for pets), Ligament Rupture, and Osteosarcoma (bone cancer) are all increased, particularly when the neutering is done before they have fully developed physically and mentally. Likelihood of your spayed pet developing all of these problems as well as Urinary Incontinence, Dermatitis, Vaginal Infections, or Urinary Tract Infections are also increased, again especially when the spaying is done before they have fully developed.

Secondly, if you wanted to remove the possibility of your dog impregnating another, or becoming pregnant themselves, there are alternatives which allow them to keep their sexual hormones which not only affect their behavior, but assist in their development. Imagine a human child who had their sexual hormones removed before puberty and before they’d developed physically and mentally. They would not be a “normal” adult human. Why are we content with animals being trapped in an eternal prepubescent state? These alternatives are many but two common ones are not abnormal to us. They are tubal ligation’s (having ones “tubes tied”) for females and vasectomy’s for males. These remove the possibility of breeding from the dogs, yet allows them to retain their hormones, thus allowing them to develop naturally and not have the high likelihood of diseases and problems which are known to be tied to having these hormones removed.

There are some who look at these facts who still state that the “risks” associated do not outweigh the benefits of neutering, but I would be quick to state that since one of the biggest benefits is to you and not your dog (the fact that they now cannot possibly be bred) that it should not be included in any sort of pro/con situation. Rather, simply looking at the health benefits versus the health risks, and also factoring in that this is an optional unnecessary procedure which includes anesthesia which is always a risk, one must very carefully determine what they are to do.

Personally, this is the main reason why I will not adopt a dog from a standard shelter. Many refuse to release a dog, regardless of age, to anyone before they are spayed or neutered. This means that even puppies as young as 8 wks are neutered or spayed. Instead I will work with a responsible breeder who understands my fears associated with this procedure and who is willing and happy to allow me to keep a dog under an alternative to spay/neuter if not completely intact.

Why I Love Breeders!

Why I Love Breeders!

If you couldn’t tell, I’m a fan of breeders. In the current world, this is not the norm and is not very widely accepted as a responsible viewpoint to have if you are a fan of animals. The socially accepted interest is to be in love with shelters and rescue organizations. My problem with these is that they have a very biased view and are, at least in many ways, doing the exact same things breeders are doing.

Now, does this mean that there aren’t bad breeders in the world? No, there absolutely are. However, many of those people who sing the praises of shelters won’t accept that there are also bad shelters in the world. There are shelters which are basically slaughter houses which don’t do anything beyond intake and kill. There are shelters which do nothing but send out unhealthy animals who have such a short likelihood of living more than a few days. There are even more which will “adopt” out dogs, who most likely came from the same “puppy mills” that shelter’s basically equate with the devil, for more than a breeder might ask for a healthy and well raised pet.

If you do your research and seek out a responsible shelter you may be able to find an amazing pet. In a best case scenario that shelter will not ask for anywhere near the cost of housing and keeping the pet healthy. That shelter will know as much about the dog as they can and will have done as much as they could before you get to take them home. That shelter will use the little money they charged you to help future animals come into the shelter. They will also only euthanize animals who are beyond help, either in health or in temperament, but only after doing as much as they could.

With responsible breeders though, you will know everything and then some. These puppies will have been in their breeders mind for at least a few months before they were even made by the dame and sire. And then, they would have gotten the most care and consideration before being born. From health screenings to a high nutrient diet to even more! When they were born they would have gotten the most care and would be watched over by not only the dogs but by the breeder. More screenings and conscious diets and more would all go into their growth. In addition to all of this they would be placed with soon to be owners before they are even born in many situations. These owners will have been interviewed, checked, spoken too, and have filled out many, many pages of paperwork before being able to say they would soon be able to choose one of these pups. None of the decision making would have to do with if they want a boy or girl, or if they want specific coloring or eye color. Instead, it would have to do with whether or not the possible owners knew what they were getting into. Whether they know about the breeds possible temperaments. What the housing situation would be like for the dog. Many other quality questions would be asked more than the “Can you pay” that most shelters will ask.

So yes, I like breeders. I like thinking that the pet I choose was made consciously, that it will only ever have one family, that it will never know the feeling of being abandoned, and that in choosing a well bred dog I am benefiting the breed as well as the future of all dogs.

Quick and Easy Treat-Dispensing Toy

Quick and Easy Treat-Dispensing Toy

Treat-dispensing toys are some of the greatest tools an owner can have to keep their pets entertained and occupied. Though one should always keep an eye on their pets, especially if there is a chance of your dog breaking off and swallowing a piece of something they shouldn’t. I always recommend watching a pet closely the first few times they play with a new toy to see how they interact with the toy. This way you can get a baseline of how they interact when they are the most frustrated with it, as it is newest then.

There are many different treat-dispensing toys on the market, but if you’re a little ingenuitive you can make your own for just a couple of dollars.

My favorite tools for making a quick and easy treat-dispensing toy are a whiffle ball and some scrap t-shirts. Simply cut the sleeve off of a t-shirt and disconnect the loop and cut strips length-wise. Take a strip and push this through one hole and out the hole most opposite, leaving the two ends outside. Knot these ends and pull to be sure the knot is secure and will not come through the hole easily. Do this again with two or more strips at various angles. These will make it more difficult but still possible for the treats you put inside of the toy to come out.

If you want to make it even more difficult put additional scaps of fabric inside of the ball and leave them loose. This will create an additional barrier to keep the treats inside but will be removable for your dog. If you do this do not leave your pet unattended as you will want to be sure to remove any loose scraps that are pulled out before your pet becomes interested in eating them.

And now you have a very simple but very enjoyable treat dispensing toy for your pet, and you’re not out $10 or more!

Dogs and Children – A Lesson in Dog Language

Dogs and Children – A Lesson in Dog Language

Over the past few months many photos and videos have come shown up on social media around the world where children are handing on or playing on their dogs, playing with or near their food while the dog is eating, or any number of other things. These photos and videos might appear cute and they even could show you that your dog is well-trained, obedient, and so kind. That is not the case however. In many occasions the dogs in these photographs are showing stress signals, are visible agitated, and could even be reaching a point of no return if pushed too hard. Even when they are not, these photos and videos are unintentionally showing people and children that doing these things is okay and that a dog should tolerate what we do to them regardless of the situation.

Most dog bites are from dogs which the people know, whether it is their own dog or a friends dog. That person then hears “He’s never done that before” or “I can’t believe he did that.” Rarely does the owner ask, or does the person think, “what were you doing to possibly instigate this?” That should be the question though, and that is why you should never leave a child and a dog unsupervised with one another, regardless of how well-behaved either is. What might seem like nothing to the child or person, such as petting on the head and ears or leaning over the dog, could be very scary and stressful to the animal.

This is also why knowledge of stress signals and signs is very important for everyone to know, and why children in addition to being supervised should be instructed on what is and isn’t appropriate. Don’t hesitate to tell your guests that your dog is sensitive about his hips and tail but loves to be scratched under his chin, or that when he goes to lay on his mat or bed that means he wants to be left along. Give your guests guidelines on what is and isn’t okay. This is your pet and your family.

Adopting a Puppy – Age Matters!

Adopting a Puppy – Age Matters!

Recently my very best friend added a beautiful coonhound named Merlin to her family, consisting of herself, her boyfriend, a loving young pit-mix, and a young cat. I was ecstatic, knowing that they had been looking for a puppy for a while.

There was one problem though, and she knew that was the case. This puppy was only 6 weeks old. Why was my friends 6 week old puppy a problem?

In an ideal situation would be to take the puppy sometime between 10 and 12 weeks, though if you’re picking them up later you would want for there to have been many interactions between you and the pup so you aren’t a completely new person. At the very least you should pick up your puppy when they are 8 weeks. This is because in this time your dog is learning about him or herself, about dogs, and about proper interactions. Your puppy will learn from his mother, his litter-mates, and from the other people and animals in his breeders household.

There is no benefit from separating a dog from its family unit early. There is nothing to gain from it. The breeder is the only one who might gain anything early because they get money from the dog early, and don’t have to spend money feeding those puppies an extra couple weeks. For a breeder to do this is not only unethical, but is in ignorance, irresponsibility, and at the very worst is out of greed. If a breeder gives puppies up before they are eight weeks old, or refuses to keep a puppy until it is eight weeks old then you should walk away. Along the same lines, if the mother is no longer able to interact with or is no longer on site with the puppies you should also walk away.

The steps a litter goes through are roughly these:

  1. Birth – 2 Weeks: No expectations. Nurse, Sleep, eliminate by mothers encouragement.
  2. 2 – 3 Weeks: Eyes and ears open. First chance to be aware of surroundings via more than touch and smell.
  3. 3-16 Weeks: Socialization Period. Begin interacting with surroundings.
    1. 6-12 Weeks: Critical Period. When dogs develop social skills. 50% of the dogs eventual temperament will be developed during this time. Incorrect social behavior is tolerated mildly but corrected.
  4. 13 Weeks – 6 Months: Beginning of adulthood. Incorrect social behavior no longer tolerated by other dogs.

In the first two weeks of a dogs critical socialization period some very important things happen. At this time the dogs are fully weaned and will not be nursing from the mother, but it is vital that they still be interacting with her. This is because she is the key figure in their lives and she will now be teaching them proper social behavior. Before now she allowed them the climb on her, nibble her, chew her, and even possibly hang from her ears or tail by teeth. Now, she will physically show them that the behavior they used to get away with is not appropriate and will not be tolerated. She will yelp when they nip her to show them that nibbling and biting is only tolerated so far. She will enforce rules and show them what is and what isn’t good behavior. The mother is the first one to show them they are no longer babies and that they are expected to behave, and what behaving means.

As mentioned above, it’s during this time that about half of the dogs eventual temperament is developed. This is because the puppies will learn that there is a hierarchy to things, that there are things expected of them. Not only will their mother teach them what they can and cannot get away with, but their siblings will do the same. We have all seen puppies rough-house and then hear one yelp and the playing stop. This is so important as this teaches dogs not only when they’ve gone too far, but also helps teach them the signs and signals that other dogs will give off when they’re reaching the line or need a break.

Dogs who are separated from their litter and from their mother before this happens are effectively socially and emotionally crippled. They aren’t given the opportunities to learn what is and isn’t acceptable social behavior and because of that are more likely to over stimulate others, or go too far when “playing”.

They are also more likely to become fearful in new situations as they have no experience truly interacting with their surroundings. Because of this they can go into these new situations and become fear-biters or fear-aggressive. These dogs are not angry or mean, but they will view new experiences as attacks and react by defending themselves. Dogs separated too early from their mothers and siblings are usually ones who will over or under react to dogs because they never learned how to read calming or stress signals in others. This usually causes many fights to happen and can cause your dog to develop more phobias and fears.

Other problems which people might experience from dogs who they get from a breeder too early can be health related. In the extra time with their litter and their mother the puppy will be protected and learn self-soothing techniques which can help them in situations of anxiety or overstimulation. If they don’t get this they are more prone to separation anxiety which because of the stress hormones released can very negatively affect your dogs long-term health. They can also have more difficulty with weight gain and growth in their lifetimes. They will be more prone to illnesses and health problems throughout their lives and they usually have a higher mortality rate than is the norm for their breeds.

Overall, there is no benefit in separating a dog from its mother or siblings early and there are many negatives that would otherwise be avoided.

When getting a puppy always know that your breeder is doing everything that is best for their dogs. This includes things like health checks and not over-breeding, but it also includes simple things like keeping a litter together for a responsible amount of time, at least 8 weeks. If a breeder has beautiful dogs but does not do this, walk away.

In the case of little Merlin, my friend’s new pup, we’re moving forward. The breeder did do wrong by the pup by separating him from his litter and his mother at that age and more knowledge about the outcomes could have helped all involved, but what’s done is done. All I can hope is that by letting more people know why early separations are horrible for the dogs and why you should always completely look into a situation before getting a new dog from a breeder, or from anywhere, I can help dogs in the future avoid this situation.

Why Breed Matters When Choosing a Dog.

Why Breed Matters When Choosing a Dog.

As many can tell from my previous posts and articles, I am a big proponent of responsible dog breeding and of purebred dogs. This is not because I for any reason dislike or don’t trust shelter dogs or the shelters themselves, though some shelters have been shown to be doing very negative things in the recent past. This is simply because I believe that responsible breeders will last.

If responsible ownership is encouraged and enforced I would love to see a world where responsible breeders, whether they produce purebred or mixed breed, are the way to get pets. I would love to see a future where shelters are a thing of the past because there are few to no unwanted or homeless pets. Shouldn’t this be what we aim for?

Regardless of this ideal future, people do get their dogs from many sources and no matter where they choose the breed of a dog is always a factor.

Some might say that this isn’t the case, especially with mixed breed dogs. I however beg to differ. It has been my experience that many dog – person relationships could experience a significant change if the person takes into account the breed when not only bringing home a dog, but when training or interacting with them as well.

Here’s what I mean by this.

Certain dog breeds were and are bred or created for specific purposes. Dogs who are known as being destructive, loud, or difficult are usually bored, underestimated, intelligent animals! Do you think a mathematician would be happy to watch infants all day every day? Then why do we believe that an Australian Shepherd or Siberian Husky, dogs bred to work, would be satisfied by a half hour walk when you get home from work, after leaving them alone for 8 or more hours while you were there?

In the same regard, I have heard and experienced many people do the following. Say that they want a dog to get them to be more active. I have said this before in my post on responsible ownership, rather than encourage you to get out more this dog will most likely do nothing more than frustrate you. Instead, if you are inactive, get a dog that might only need a short walk daily, not a marathon sprinter.

Does this mean that all energetic people need Greyhounds and Salukis and all couch potatoes need Bulldogs or Pugs? No! Many Greyhounds are happy as a clam to lounge on the couch daily so long as they get the opportunity to dash every once in a while and get to go on walks regularly. Many Bulldogs would be happy to take a long slow hike so long as you give them adequate sitting breaks.

I’m also not saying that apartment dwellers shouldn’t have energetic dogs. I am saying that if you are to get one, know the responsibilities that go into giving them the appropriate stimulation and exercise.

Mental training is great and treat puzzles can keep some dogs entertained and happy for hours! You can also have just as much fun as your dog through activities like competitive obedience or agility or flyball. There are countless games, puzzles, activities, and more that you can do with your dog.

Always, always, always take all of the necessary steps when looking to add someone to your family, which is what you are doing when you get a pet. One of those steps is determining what personality, energy level, size, and requirements your furry friend is going to need. Looking at breed is a great way to do this! There are some exceptions to this and dogs cannot be 100% judged by their breed. Every dog is individual and every dog has its own personality traits that cannot be fully predetermined by breed alone, but it is a great place to start!