Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Dog Safety Garden Tips

When we first moved into this house, I was most concerned with making the interior the way I wanted it to look and feel. I like home to be soft, plush, comfy fabrics in grounded and warm earthy colors. A "come on in and make yourself at home" kind of place. Last summer, I finally started thinking about what message I wanted the outside of my house to send. I decided that friendly and inviting to me meant bright and cheerful happy flowers and smells.

I know very little about gardens and plants and tend to keep stuff around that can survive my neglect. I don't know the names of most plants and tend to pick things because they are pretty. I plant them and they promptly die because of too much or to little water, sun, or nutrients. You know, all the things plants need to survive. Last fall I actually did some research and realized everything I had planted in the back yard could have been mildly toxic to Ollie, Marshall, and their friends. Thankfully, my dogs are not grazers for the most part. Occasionally they will munch on some grass, but mostly they leave my plants alone. Planning my backyard gardens meant making a list of plants and products not to buy in the back yard.

I am working outside prepping my gardens this week and designing what I want them to look like. The dogs are happy to be outside with me when I'm in the back yard and Orange Cat happily supervises my gardening in the front yard from a sunny spot on the porch. (He also sings along with me. I'm on a mission to capture this on video.)

Here is my list of plants to avoid in areas your dog will be unsupervised:

Tulips, Daffodils, Crocus and other plants with bulbs: For a digging dog, the bulb is a sweet reward for a hole well dug. Bulbs are crunchy, ball-shaped and highly toxic. This is a bad combination for a pooch.

Some fern varieties: Asparagus, Emerald, Lace, and Plumosa ferns: all cause dermatitis and have toxic berries.

Perennials: Ivy, Morning Glory, Oleander, Rhododendron, Phlox, Roses, Catnip, Bee Balm, Columbine, Hosta, Queen of the Meadow, Lily of the Valley, Trumpet vine
Annuals: Zinnia, Snapdragons, Cosmos, Petunias, Butterfly flowers, Primrose, Impatiens, Begonia

Vegetables: onion, chives, garlic. The plant part of tomato and potato plants are toxic.
Fruit: grape skins are highly toxic as are the cyanide-containing seeds/pits in apples, peaches, plums, and cherries.

Products: There was some concern awhile back about cocoa mulch and dogs. Cocoa mulch contains high levels of theobromine which is very toxic to dogs. In fact, there is more theobromine in unfiltered cocoa mulch than there is in baker's chocolate, so small amounts could be dangerous. There is record of one dog has ever died from eating this type of mulch. Because of this, most cocoa mulch companies have started cleansing programs that remove most of the theobromine. Think about your dog's natural desire to taste, graze, or ingest plants in your yard and do use caution and read the bag. It's better to be safe than sorry.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Green Dogs... with rules

It's taken me awhile with all the Earth Day stuff to read articles and process information in them. You'd think it would be easy to just make a list of awesome articles about raising a "green" dog. But as Stephanie Feldstein discusses in her change.org blog, there are some dangers in reduce-reuse-recycling with your dog.

Hand-me-down toys like old socks and towels can make good use of old things, but you have to think about what you're teaching your dog. Dogs are bad at generalizing and differentiation. If a hole-y sock is a toy, all socks are a toy. If an old slipper that is falling apart becomes a toy, all slippers are toys.

Old toys your kids no longer want to play with and are too beaten up to donate create another issue. Besides choking hazards, you are teaching your dog that the kids' toys are his toys, too.

Composting dog waste is tricky and requires an entire set of chemicals to make sure the ground does not get contaminated with parasites or become a breeding ground for them.

There are tons of great tips and products in the following links, but please remember to keep your house rules in mind when reduce-reuse-recycling.

Olive Green Dog -- Hip, modern and eco-friendly dog supplies.
Rekindled Pride -- Two firefighters from Idaho make a difference with dog apparel. Typically, fire departments discard old equipment as waste, but at Rekindled Pride they make all their products with materials worn by the men and women of the fire service.
Mountain Dog Products-- Repurposing old climbing rope as cool eco-friendly leashes. I haven't used one yet, but they will be the next leash I buy!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Hark, Hark! The Dogs Do Bark!

Barking is by far the biggest issue in our house.

There's a lot of stuff out there about vocalizations and what they do and don't mean from dogs. Before talking about what barking IS, I want to be sure to talk about what barking IS NOT.

Barking is not abnormal for a dog. Most problem barking has very little to do with dominance. Dogs are genetically predisposed to bark and have been rewarded for over 14000 years for barking. Dogs are not wolves and do tend to use more vocalizations including barking, whining, howling, and growling.

Barking is first and foremost a way to communicate. It only becomes a problem when it goes against what we think of as polite and civilized dog behavior. Dogs use different barks, in succession or singularly, to express different messages. Higher pitched, rapid barks usually signal excitement. Lower barks usually signal unease and uncertainty.

Dogs are social creatures, some more than others. For a dog cooped up in a yard or house without mental stimulus and opportunities to burn off energy, barking can become a response to being bored. A bark can be a lonely, "Does anybody hear me?" or an expectant "Come play!" or basically something akin to talking to hear themselves talk. Dogs dealing with separation anxiety, aggression issues, or dogs that startle easily are also prone to stress barking.

Certain breeds are more prone to barking. )Ask anyone who has ever had a terrier like Gus. Oy, the yapping.... ) Some breeds were chosen for their vermin chasing skills, some even being selectively bred so their barks could be heard underground. Left without proper outlets for their excitable energy, many of these breeds become serial yappers.

For some dogs, improper correction and timing of reward (or punishment) can leave dogs thinking they are doing a valuable thing. This can be something they've learned from you or something they think they've figured out themselves. Dogs are very bad at cause and effect. Take a dog barking at the lady who is walking past your house, for example. Dog barks. Lady walks away. Bark = stranger leaves. Never mind she was already headed in that direction, the dog thinks he's caused the threat to his house and people to abandon her mission.

If barking is a problem for you and your dog, remember that it is a communication. Your dog is trying to communicate something to you and it is your job as his friend to try to listen to what he's saying.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Barks and backhoes

I have three very sleepy dogs today.

Last night they ran themselves silly at a bonfire with us and their best friends, Sergeant (a husky) and Shasta (a weimaraner mix) . I've always said, "A tired dog is a good dog." There is quite a lot of truth to that. Ollie, Marshall, and Gus have been wonderfully well-behaved all afternoon. They've listened. But it's a different type of listening.

Normally around 5 or 6 in the evening, there is a lot of barking in our neighborhood. Eight of the eleven houses in my neighborhood have one or more dogs. One family dog sits for their adult children. Another family has fosters in regularly from a small breed rescue. People are coming home and their dogs are excitedly announcing the arrival of their owners. The rest of the dogs join in. The weekends are usually quieter.

One particular arrival that always gets my dogs overly excited is the daily return of the backhoe to salvage yard that abuts our north fence (thankfully behind our tree line). The dogs seem very offended by its return, and very content with its leaving. When it leaves in the morning, there is hardly a woof to be heard, but the whole group runs to defend our property against the evil backhoe seven days a week.

Today, when they began to jump up to run outside, it barely took a quiet 'nuh-uh' from me to get all three dogs to lay back down and leave the backhoe to it's own business. This is a good thing.

The not good thing is that the play with Sergeant and Shasta was largely unsupervised by the rest of us at the bonfire. We left the dogs to be dogs with limited rules. There has been a lot of unsupervised play lately and I've noticed mild behavioral changes with Ollie. He is getting more forceful in our play, using his body more, jumping up when he never has before. I thought it might have just been too much unstructured play, but then as I examined the behavior, I realized it was a result of play itself.

This article from www.paws4u.com explains some of the differences between physical exercise and mental stimulation and striking a balance between the two, especially for active breeds like Ollie.

an excerpt:

"With our dogs, we frequently engage in high stress activities with extended periods of rushing around, and the stress period is unnaturally prolonged. Conversely, we infrequently create rest periods or give the dogs a chance to calm themselves down. Accordingly, with unnaturally long stress periods and no cooling off periods, some dogs go on “stress overload.” They can’t process all the stress, and their bodies physiologically signal that a Fight or Flight response is warranted. Add that to a dog that may not handle relatively low grade stressors very well, and you are much more likely to have a dog that reacts to that physiologic build-up and does what his body demands; that is, the dog chooses to fight or flee.

Even if the dog doesn’t progress to the point of taking “fight or flight” action, the dog may shut down or give other external indicia of stress. For animals that don’t handle stress well, those stress chemicals and physiological changes can stay in the body and brain for up to two weeks. If you continually train activities such as fetch, the dog never (or rarely) returns to a baseline stress level and the stress keeps building on itself.

It’s not the running or fetching itself which is overly stressful. Running, fetching, flyball or agility can be great. But, as with so many things, we tend to overdo it. It is the prolonged rushing about with little or no cooling down or relaxation period where we are artificially creating the drive that can cause difficulty."

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

An Update on Gus

It's baby season here in Southeast Michigan. I have a number of friends that are pregnant and there have been three new babies in as many weeks. One of those friends is Heather, the owner of puppy mill rescue Gus. They shared our home for a few months, so Gus is well acquainted with my house and my dogs. This means her first 'child' (Gus) is visiting for a couple days.

Heather is doing great as a new mom and staying at her sister's for a week while she gets her bearings as a mother of a newborn son. He's vaguely aware he and Heather are going through some transitions. Heather was very diligent in preparing him for the changes she could. She set up the furniture for the baby gradually, letting Gus sniff but not climb in or on the swing, rocker, Pack N' Play, or bassinet. She let him sit on the bed and sniff at the newly laundered little clothes as she folded them and put them away. She practiced holding a pillow in her lap so Gus had new limits on where he could cuddle and how he could share his space. She's also been practicing at adjusting her "coming home" routine to reflect new demands of being a mom. No more coming home and adoring Gus, chattering at him while she got his dinner ready. Instead she began coming in the door and going in the baby's room, talking to herself and doing a few tasks before going to greet Gus.

Puppy mill rescued dogs tend to bond to one or two people and be aloof to other family members or friends and scared of strangers. The hormones that are emitted after birth that aid in mom-baby bonding also activate the same behaviors in dogs. That bond building can quickly turn to dysfunctional guarding as Gus feels a threat to his most valued resource. When Gus first started bonding with Heather and me, he would nip at Ollie or Marshall when they wanted to share the attention. We've worked on 'sharing' and Heather's changes in her interactions with Gus will help prepare him for the amount of sharing that will be happening.

A brief visit with new mom and baby was relatively short and went very well. High-level rewards (Beggin' Strips-- gross from a nutritional perspective but effective) for appropriate sniffing and interested, engaged, positive body language. Gus and I left on a happy note and he slept the whole way home.

So far, so good.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Teddy Gets a Home

An Update on Teddy The Junkyard Dog

Teddy, the emergency foster dog that was "supposed" to stay only overnight and ended up sharing our home for almost six weeks has found a forever home.


It really is a wonderful match, a snarffy, snuggly, rough 'n tumble Rottie-mix and a twenty-something dude who loves the outdoors, jogging, hiking, and driving with the windows down. The dude is a friend's brother, so that means Teddy and I get to stay connected.

Teddy has learned his basic commands and how to socialize with other dogs. I saw him last week and was greeted with his signature snarfing as he tried to shove his big head under my hand for a pat. It took a lot of control on my part not to give in until he sat down. Being able to run around with other dogs during socialization means less nervous energy. Because of that, Teddy has started to relax more. He is getting stronger with 'sit', 'leave it', and 'wait'. Teddy also has a trusted stuffed 'baby' that he carries around and sleeps with.

He is already a good dog.

But now I know he's going to be a great dog.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Doggone it...

It's been about two months since my last regular post here. I'm back now. Won't happen again without warning, promise.

In the meanwhile, I found some neat blogs, websites, etsy shops, and other goodies to share with you, along with more dog experiences, tips, and stories.

For now: