Friday, September 25, 2009

Culture at fault

Reading the article about the 3-year-old Waterford Township girl mauled by an American Bulldog staying temporarily at her family's home has compelled me to make a few points here.
First, let's understand that this is not a breed banned by Waterford Township's pit bull ban. The reason: it is not a pit bull.
It is a breed — one of many, in fact — commonly mistaken for a pit bull, simply because it is a large, powerful and often menacing looking dog.
I will not rip apart any dog breeds in this blog.
The problem in this situation, the reason this mauling occurred, I believe, comes back to popular beliefs about canine behavior.
Dogs are supposed to please us, some dogs have a natural instinct to attack, but most dogs are just good dogs — unless it's a pit bull, of course — and we don't have to worry about good dogs misbehaving.
It's all untrue, and if we humans would take responsibility to go beyond the myths we've been told about dogs and actually learn a thing or two about canine behavior, most maulings could be totally circumvented.
I wrote a blog, a while back, about how dogs lack the ability to generalize. This means, two identical objects, like a sofa set, for instance, can be completely different in a dog's mind.
Everything is this way to a dog. Every person is different — your dog is not thinking, "Everyone under 4 foot tall is a kid, everyone else is an adult."
Every situation is different to a dog. Your dog might sit perfectly on command for you in the living room, but how about at the dog park or even just in the backyard?
And, every dog is different. There are internal, inherent factors that go into making a dog's personality just as much as its environment and experiences do.
One thing remains the same for all dogs, however, and that is the imperative need for proper socialization starting from the time the dog is born, most important through the time the dog is about four to six months, and important to maintain throughout the life of the dog.
Dogs need to be introduced to all facets of human life it will encounter in order for it to be successfully well-balanced dog.
If you don't have kids, this means taking your puppy out to parks where it can meet kids and taking extra measures, like bringing along treats and asking the kids to give them to your dog, to ensure that new experiences are wholly positive.
Millions of dogs out there, who have not been raised with young children, are not used to kid's tugging and poking at them or simply hanging all over them, invading their personal space.
If you know your dog has not experienced this before and it is now an adult dog, it is simply risky to let a kid do so.
Don't put your dog in situations that it has not been proofed against.
But even so, if we as a culture made an attempt to learn about canine behavior, we would see warning signs and could circumvent such maulings.
For instance, did the dog turn it's head away from the kid, then maybe scoot its butt a bit so it was facing away from the kid?
Did the dog walk away from the kid? Did it sniff the ground for no apparent reason? Was it yawning a lot?
All of these are early indicators that the dog is uncomfortable.
Sure, you may see a growl or snarl, the dog showing it's teeth, but that's not always protocol.
A dog can go from yawning to biting in a split second and to write it off as, "the dog must have had a thirst for blood," or, "that's a bad dog, kill it" is just ridiculous.
Dogs are always communicating to us, we just rarely hear what they're saying because we, as a society, think learning about canine behavior is some sort of "doggie pyscho-babble."
I assume that in the situation with this recent mauling, it was a mixture of both a lack of socialization and a lack of knowledge about canine behavior that allowed for this attack to take place.
Perhaps the dog was really great with kids, but was tired and wanted some space. Perhaps the dog was trying to communicate this and no one had the knowledge of canine behavior to realize that the dog's frequent yawns or other small body language communications was its way of saying, "I want to be left alone for a bit, please."
And then, when the "please" communications didn't work, the dog did what dogs do — it bit. It's like dog's way of yelling.
So what's really at fault? It's not the dog's fault no one knew what it was saying, it's definitely not the kid's fault, and it's barely the adults' fault.
It was not necessarily the fault of bad dog owners, bad parenting, a bad kid or even a bad dog, but probably just miscommunication (between dog and human) gone wrong.
I put culture at fault, because until we as a culture begin to realize that a little scientifically proven knowledge about canine behavior might be useful and is not just psycho-babble, we will continue to allow popular myths and old adages guide us in raising dogs. We will keep passing on that ill-fated knowledge to our children, and them to their children.
We call the dog man's best friend, but we're not holding up our end of the bargain. If I were a dog, I'd be pretty mad that we humans aren't living up to that "best friend" title.

Friday, September 11, 2009

For all the water dogs

Got a dog who loves the water?
The Troy Family Aquatic Center is hosting the “Dog Water Extravaganza” tomorrow for those pooches with a passion for swimming.
There will be three separate swim times for large, medium and small dogs. Dogs weighing less than 40 pounds can swim from noon to 12:45 p.m., dogs weighing between 41 and 65 pounds are slotted for 1 to 1:45 p.m. and big dogs, those weighing 66 pounds or more, can swim from 2 to 2:45 p.m.
All dogs must be six months of age or older, and all must be wearing their dog license.
Owners have to register their pooches and pay a fee of $11 for Troy residents and $13 for nonresidents.
You’ll get a commemorative t-shirt, but that’s not the reason to go.
Everyone knows the benefits swimming has for people — it feels low impact and is really easy on our bones and joints, yet it’s truly a huge work out for us.
Swimming is so good that water therapy is often used to help people rehabilitate from injuries and build muscle strength.
Think it’s any different for our dogs? Nope.
It’s just as good for them as it is for us.
Especially for those of you with senior dogs or dogs that have hip dysplasia or other joint issues, swimming is really good.
It doesn’t hurt their knees or hips and it isn’t overwhelmingly strenuous for them, yet it’s a fantastic exercise to help your aging, round-bellied dog shed a couple pounds here and there.
Which, by the way, is also important. The less weight on the dog, the less miserable their aching joints feel.
On another note, if you’re dog is afraid of water but friendly with other dogs, this may be a great opportunity to get them swimming.
Of course, you never want to force a dog into the water. I’m just saying, if your dog sees a bunch of other dogs swimming around and having fun, it may perk their interest enough to make them want to give swimming a try.
The event is co-sponsored by Camp Bow Wow and Longview Boarding & Gromming, and the Troy Aquatic Center is at 3425 Civic Center Drive. Call (248) 524-3514 for more information.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Mr. Healthy

Good news from the vet trip last Saturday — Sensi is a healthy dog!
He lost five pounds during the last year, due mostly to the fact that he was not around my parents as much as the year before.
This is a true testament to what people food does to your dog.
Everyone seems to be aware nowadays that people food is not good for our dogs. It packs on the pounds like nothing else, and the scary thing is how much more one pound of additional weight affects our dogs verse how it affects us.
Every extra pound is a heavy burden for our pets. Often, though, it’s just too hard to turn away from those beggin’ eyes.
Brent and I, from the very start, said we weren’t going to have a begging dog. This means no people food. Once you start feeding people food to a dog, you set in motion those beggin’ eyes and they’ll never go away.
Not to say he’s missing variety in his life. We keep three different kinds of yummy but low-fat dog treats in the house, he also can have green beans, carrots and potatoes — real, raw potatoes, not processed things like French Fries or greasy things like hash browns — and we spice up meal time every once in a while with a can of wet food.
But this was never enough for my parents, who are convinced that I am a horrible dog mother for not enriching his life with a daily sampling of all our meals.
So, they snuck him people food whenever my back was turned.
Last year at the annual vet visit, Sensi weighed 92 pounds and we were told he needed to shed some weight.
Nothing has changed in our lifestyle except the fact that Sensi is no longer around my parents for several days of every week.
A year later, he’s 86.2 pounds — a weight that the vet said is “ideal for Sensi.”
He’s aging, which means his bones and joints are aging too, and taking off those five pounds will make it that much easier for him to get around.
My advice to all of you is to find a common ground regarding people food. Find some things you can give your dog that aren’t hugely fattening, but enable you to lose the guilt about not giving him people food.
Keep in mind that whole, raw potatoes are great. Sensi plays with them like balls and chews on them like a dog bone.
Just throw them out before they get all rotten and gross!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Trip to the vet

Tomorrow, Sensi will head to the vet’s office for his annual physical and vaccinations.
He’ll be super-excited to get in the truck and be going somewhere with me.
He’ll be excited with a huge helping of anxiety once we pull in the parking lot.
Then, his nose will be overdrive, a hundred miles a minute trying to read the scent of every animal who has passed through the doors.
Eventually, we’ll get in the exam room, where he will hide underneath my legs from the nice vet techs who he honestly believes are there to do bad things to him.
He’ll shake and quiver, even though he doesn’t appear to feel the little injections. It’s never been the needles or procedures that bother him — just these strange people getting close to him.
Despite his inability to relax and be friendly at the vet’s office, this annual visit is so important for his health and I hope everyone takes the time and money to do the same for their pets.
I know times are tough, but let’s not neglect the welfare of our pets.
In years past, I’ve really dropped the ball on the fecal exam. Who really wants to put a load of their dog’s crap in a bag and carry it around? Not me. But this year, I’m going to be sure to do it — and with good reason.
Not too long ago, I was watching one of medical mystery shows on TV. One person featured was a little boy who seemed perfectly healthy, until he went in for a routine vision exam.
The doctor found the boy’s vision was perfect in one eye and practically gone in the other.
What does this have to do with your dog’s fecal exam?
Well, the boy had ingested worms routinely carried by dogs. His mother believed that a handful of sand from a sandbox that the toddler tried to eat may have been the cause.
Worms, the show went on the explain, generally have a negative and noticeable effect on puppies. When we notice the bloated bellies and squirmy poops, we get our puppies dewormed and voila! All taken care of, right?
Not exactly. Adult dogs often carry worms without any noticeable effects. In fact, adult dogs can be carriers and show no symptoms or have no truly adverse side effects.
But, the worms do come out in their poop. Then, they live in the ground for quite some time until another host is found.
In humans, worms don’t do so well. Generally, our immune system kicks their butt. Before this happens though, the discombobulated worms can work their way into parts of our bodies and really hurt us.
The boy featured on the show no longer had any worms in his system, but before his immune system killed them all, they managed to get into his eye and ruin his vision. There is now no turning back the damage that’s been done.
The moral of the story: pick up that bag of poop and bring it into the vet’s office. This way, vets can be sure your dog isn’t carrying any worms and that is a good thing.