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.

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!

Training tools – Part 2: The Bad

Training tools – Part 2: The Bad

Now that I’ve gone over some good training tools, let’s talk about some not so good. As with anything, we are learning more and more about how to properly train a dog (or any animal) as we go on. There has been some trial and error which means some of these tools have been marketed as great training tools in the past. We know now that this is NOT the case. These tools can leave lasting impressions on your pet and can very negatively affect them. Please void, even when used by a “trained professional”.

  • Shock Collars
    • Whether remote-controlled, perimeter bound, or bark activated this tool is one which many people had negative feelings about and yet went along with because their trainer said it was the best. Rather than training your dog to ignore stimuli or to not react, the collar reacts and tells them that a thing is dangerous, scary, and aggressive. Instead, use the clicker method to reward good behavior and your dog will learn not to do those things which don’t get them a reward.
  • Spray Collars
    • These are less harsh than a shock collar, but do the same thing to your dog. The collar is a reactive and punitive form of training which we now know is not as reliable and does not cause long-lasting results. This tool as well as shock collars could also cause dogs to become more reactive and aggressive when faced with stimuli which (in their minds) caused the negative effect.
  • Martingale Collars
    • Though these are less harmful than a full choke collar, these have the same negative aspects. Though they have a limit of tug that can be done these collars still choke and use pain to “train” a dog not to do something. When clicker methods can provide safe, reliable results, why use something that intentionally causes pain and discomfort.
  • Retractable Leash
    • A tool that would be wonderful for well-trained dogs on open trails that is used for daily walks with untrained, in training, leash reactive dogs, and many more inappropriate pets. This leash gives your pet the ability to roam and explore which is wonderful, but if your dog is reactive, not trained, or disobedient, this is a problem waiting to happen. The lines are usually thin and easy to break, and even if your pet is too small to do any damage to the leash, them pulling can harm the person holding the leash, or even pull it out of their hand. Please stick with a solid lead when training and with larger dogs.

There are many more bad training tools, some of which you’ll see later in my “Part 3: The Ugly” post but I will say the same thing you’ve ready many a time from me. If something seems or feels wrong, or you feel bad using a tool on your dog, do not feel compelled to use it.

More information on Shock Collars: https://positively.com/dog-training/methods-equipment/training-equipment/shock-collars/

Training tools – Part 1: The Good

Training tools – Part 1: The Good

There are countless methods and tricks and aids to help with training. Today, I want to go over some of the good things you can use to help your training plan.

  • 6 foot+ leash:
    • A solid strong leash is a wonderful tool. No only is it necessary for walking, and leash training, but it can be used when training a recall command or when training sit outdoors.
  • Solid Collar:
    • In addition to being a key safety need in case your pet ever gets lost, their collar is important to training. Not only to get them used to it, but as it’s used for walks, securing, and of course the identification.
  • Front lead Harness:
    • These harnesses are great because rather than hook your leash to the top of the dogs back or neck, you connect right at the front of their chest. This is so helpful when training a polite walk and proper heel because if your dog tries to pull they not only feel resistance, but are forced to change directions. This helps to teach them that pulling does not mean getting what they want faster.
  • Head Harness:
    • These are wonderful for the same reason the front led harnesses are great. Pulling causes the dog to turn.
  • Crate:
    • While one might have once thought it inhumane and horrible to put a dog in a box metal crate, we know that this is actually a wonderful tool and benefit to the dog. It gives you a secure place to put your puppy or dog for short periods of time while you are away and it also gives your dog a safe place to go if for example you have many friends over and your dog gets over stimulated.
  • Toys:
    • The stimulations from playing and chewing is so key to a happy dog. If your dog is bored, destructive behaviors can and usually do follow. Use toys as a reward after training, or to show a job well done for play motivated dogs.
  • Treats:
    • When used in training and in addition to an appropriately nutritious diet treats are your dogs best friend. You can highlight good behaviors, redirect, and more by using treats.
      • Treat and Toy combination: These are great tools to use and there are different levels of difficulty depending on your dog’s level, from a peanut butter filled kong all the way up to puzzles you have to lift, twist, and pull. These are also wonderful for crate training because you can stimulate your dog while they are in the crate without you.

There are countless good training tools out there but here are some of the basics which every dog-owning family should have and use. As always, if a tool puts you off or makes you feel bad using it, don’t. Follow your gut in your training.

How to Tell if a Trainer is Wrong For You?

How to Tell if a Trainer is Wrong For You?

There are countless trainers in the world, and people who would like to be trainers. These people have different certifications, no certification, work for organizations, work for small businesses, work for them selves, charge by the hour, charge by the session, charge by  number of sessions, charge by issue, train one-on-one, train in groups, train at home, train in a park, train in a rented or owned space, board for training… I can go on and on but the important thing is, no two trainers are exactly the same. Even trainers who have similar methods or ideas might teach or train differently. You are also inevitably, in searching for a trainer, going to come across multiple schools of thinking which drastically differ from one another.

Though I am in favor of Positive training methods for multiple reasons, this article is not meant to side one over another but to tell you that it is OK to fire your trainer. It is OK to say after meeting with someone, after one session, or after a hundred or more sessions, to say that you have changed your mind and do not want to go on with them.

Here are some examples of times where you might want to get a new trainer.

  • The trainer does not tell you or offer his methods of training and charges a fee to board and train your dog.
    • You should always know how your dog is being trained, especially in situations where you are meant to trust someone else to do the training. It might also be good to ask how effective or long-lasting the training will be without you being involved in the training. You are going to have to be the one following through, how can that be done if you don’t know how they enforced or discouraged behaviors.
  • The trainer uses methods that you know you will not continue once he leaves.
    • This is not only a waste of your time, but it is a waste of your money as well. If he or she uses methods that you are either not comfortable with or which you don’t believe in, tell them. If they won’t or can’t train another way then it’s better for both of you to end the relationship.
  • The trainer doesn’t tell you why you are doing something.
    • You should always know why an action is meant to help. If you do not, you could accidentally use it in an inappropriate way in the future when the trainer is not around.
    • Every action a trainer tells you to do should have a purpose beyond “It will work” or “Because that’s how I’ve always done it.” If your trainer cannot say why they are doing something, or why you should be doing something, it is important to rethink the situation.
  • The trainer talks down to you and your family.
    • Even if a trainer gets frustrated with owners because of actions they have done or do during sessions, it is important for them to speak to you in a proper manner and to show respect. In the end trainers are doing more to train the owners than to train the dogs. To do this, you have to respect them and they have to respect you.
  • You don’t like the trainer.
    • This is one of the harder ones to get people to follow. Many people may stick with a trainer because they come recommended, have great testimonial reviews, or any number of other reasons. If you do not like a trainer, if they make you feel weird, self-conscious, anxious, etc., even if they might do a great job it is better to stop training with them. During sessions if you feel this way you are less likely to focus, less likely to pay attention, and less likely to trust what they are telling you. This is wasting your time, money, as well as theirs.

These are only a few reasons, there are definitely many more. Follow your gut in situations like finding and following a trainer. If something doesn’t feel right, stop.

What do service dogs do exactly?

What do service dogs do exactly?

Many people are aware of the actions that a service dog might do for a person who is blind, immobile, or deaf. By guiding, moving, and picking things up for their people these service animals allow that person a better quality of life. However, as was mentioned yesterday, the ADA recognized that disabilities are not always physical, they are sometimes mental. Also, some physical disabilities may not be visible, such as a person who cannot bend over because of debilitating back pain, but who otherwise appears “able”.

So what is it that a service dog can do?

Some of the more regular answers I’ve mentioned above. This also includes opening doors, turning on light switches, and retrieve phones or other important items. Some service dogs are also trained to call 911 in the case of emergencies on special K-9 phones.

Other tasks especially important for service dogs for people with mental illnesses can include any of the following depending on their person’s need.

Checking a room for intruders for a person with PTSD or another disorder which causes them to be especially wary.

Provide deep tissue contact for someone recovering from an anxiety or panic attack.

Bring a person to be aware of their surroundings when they “zone” because of anxiety or depression.

Warn a person of a coming panic episode or depressive period so they can be ready and prepared, or so they can take the steps to avoid.

Create a buffer between their person and the crowd around them so as to alleviate stress and anxiety.

Carry medical supplies and information for person.

Provide reminder for daily medications.

Provide physical and tactile stimulation to disrupt their person from sensory or emotional overload.

Reduce their persons Hyper-Vigilance by staying alert and aware of surroundings for them.

These are only some of the ways in which a service dog can help those in need, those whose quality of life would be worse in more ways than one without them.