Monday, February 28, 2011

Crochet yourself a dog (or a dog toy)

Want a Lab, but without the chewing, barking, eating, pooping, playing, etc. that makes up life with a real dog?
Then crochet yourself one instead!
Just kidding. Who'd actually want to give up all that real world dogginess in exchange for a stuffed, lifeless version? Not me.
But I'll probably crochet myself a lab anyway.
The cutest book arrived in the mail earlier this year. It's call Ami Ami Dogs: Seriously Cute Crochet. It's named appropriately. These little stuffed dogs are as cute as they come.
First, I have to say I'm amazed I received this book. There is no chance in the world that the PR person responsible for finding places to mail the book to knew I'd spent my time off around the holidays learning to crochet.
What great timing.
Anyhow, I'm still learning the great art of crochet. So far, I have two scarves under my belt — one that was really more of a practice scarf, and one that I proudly wear around my neck every day now. Even the wearable scarf is far from perfect, though. I've got a lot of learning to do.
If you're like me, though — a dog lover who knows how to crochet — you have got to get this book. There are step-by-step instructions on how to make 12 different breeds of dogs. The breeds included are: Chihuahua, Welsh Corgi, Shiba, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Miniature Dachshund, Siberian Husky, Labrador Retriever, Maltese, Miniature Schnauzer, French Bulldog, Beagle and Pug.
They seem like pretty small little stuffed figures — each dog is between one and three inches long depending on the thickness of the yarn — which just enhances the adorable factor, if you ask me.
I was thinking about what I'd do with them once I finally get the nerve up to try a pattern. Dog toy? Nah. Too cute and too small for that. Key chain? Got enough of those. Knick-knack? I don't like clutter.
Christmas ornament! Cha-cheeng! I already have a small set of plush dog ornaments that I love. Now, I can crochet myself some more to join the pack.
And depending on how good I get at making these precious pooches, some friends and relatives may wind up with crocheted dogs as Christmas presents too.

Ami Ami Dogs: Seriously Cute Crochet
$14.99 paperback, on sale now
Check to view copies for sale

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

How to trim a dog's nails with manual clippers WITH VIDEO

Sensi getting his nails trimmed
All right folks, I've been promising this post for a long time and I'm finally delivering.
As for the delay, I'll ask you this: How often do you feel like getting in front of a camera on a weekend? Most of my weekends are spent cleaning or running errands, and I usually don't do any of those things in camera-worthy dress.
But alas, here's video of me trimming Sensi's nails.

Remember the story from a while back about a pit bull killed during a nail trim — suffocated and crushed by the groomer? (Outpouring of love for disabled girl whose service dog was killed) I remember a person's comment underneath one of those stories, basically saying that pit bulls are awful beasts and the groomer was probably doing everything in her power to get those nails trimmed — like it was necessary to choke the dog. And I believe the comment warned others about trying to trim a pit bull's nails.

Well, here's my pit bull getting his nails trimmed. As you can see, I hardly even have to give him a command. I show him the nail trimmers and the treats, he lays down and gets in position. He stays still while I do the work, waiting patiently for a treat. So, all you pit bull haters, watch and weep because I know you'll be wishing your dog was so well-behaved ...

Before you watch, here's a couple things to keep in mind:
1) Yes, Sensi's nails are waaaaay too long. It's been a lifelong battle. Now that I've shot this video, though, I've used the manual clippers for the last time. I'm going to start working back those nails daily with a Dremel (sanding tool). Wish me luck!
2) Want your dog to behave like this? Start with a down-stay. The down-stay is critical.

Here's some previous blog posts about nail trims:
Trimming Bubba's Nails WITH VIDEOS (Using a Dremel on an 8-year-old Boxer who had never before had his nails trimmed)
And, there's more on the way!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The food crisis is killing us — especially me!

Last year, when Sensi’s allergies became quite serious, I was outraged at the dog food companies.
I was convinced that the labeling of ingredients was sub-standard and downright evasive — what the heck good is it to me to know some mystery “animal byproduct” is in my dog’s food? That’s not an ingredient, it’s a way to legally hide ingredients.
I expressed my anger to my veterinarian and raised concerns that perhaps all this genetically modified crap — the corn that gets manipulated into tons of different ingredients and also fed to the cows and other livestock, to name just one genetically modified mess — is what’s causing allergies to be prevalent among dogs.
Calmly, he said something that’s haunted me every since:
“It’s not just the pet food industry, Karen,” he said. “We’re eating foods that have all the same sorts of issues, and it begs the question, how is it affecting our health?”
Fast forward six months: Brent and I befriend a couple who are very concerned about the state of food in America. We learn tidbits of terrifying things from them.
Fast forward another six months: Brent and I finally get Netflix. It’s changing our lives, I swear.
Last weekend, we watched the documentary Food, Inc. Last night, we watched the documentary Foodmatters.
Today, I feel totally in crisis.
Maybe I’ve been watching too many scare-you-straight documentaries, but in the past year, my concerns about food have grown from “Dog food companies need better regulation” to “Food is killing all of us, dogs, people, livestock — all of us — period.”
The most ironic thing is that the problems with our dogs seem to catch our attention more than the problems with ourselves. My cousin has experimented with an organic diet for her dog, even while she laments that it seems silly to buy expensive organic foods for her dog while she and her boyfriend can’t afford to buy organic foods for themselves.
And that’s where I’m at. I can’t afford to buy organic foods. I have a very tight grocery budget that relies heavily on corn-fed beef, starches and carbs that are full of ingredients that sound more like chemicals than food. There’s not a whole lot of choice in the matter for me. I suppose if I’m willing to skip five dinners, I could probably afford to bring home organic stuff for another five. But who can skip five dinners? Starving isn’t good for you either.
I am starting a garden this year and will be looking for heirloom plants — a.k.a., plants that aren’t genetically modified. Which, by the way, isn’t it ridiculous that there are so many genetically modified things out there that we have a specific category for those that are not? And we call them heirlooms, like they’re a thing of the past?
We’ve got it all wrong, folks. And our dogs are suffering right along with us.

Friday, February 11, 2011

New Weight Loss System from Hills — are we that dumb?

Obesity is most definitely a problem among American dogs.
It’s a problem that, in usual circumstances, is easy to prevent and easy to correct.

Want to know how? Here’s some advice:
  1. Feed your dog a decent brand of dry dog food. Don’t know how much to feed? Call your veterinarian and ask. Then, follow those guidelines. (So often I hear, ‘I was told to feed him this much, but it just didn’t seem like enough’). Excuse me, but are you a veterinarian? Didn’t think so. Since you’re not, listen to the professional. Simple stuff.
  2. Is your dog so picky he wouldn’t dare think about dry dog food? Try spicing it up by adding something healthy — warm up some kidney beans or green beans and mix ‘em in there. Try a little rice. Start heavy on the healthy adds, work your way down until the mix is more kibble, less adds.
  3. Stop feeding your dog people food and table scraps. Feeling guilty? Replace scraps with healthy treats. Cooked whole potatoes, green beans, mushy carrots ... It’s still human food; it’s just not junk. Can’t get past those “Precious Moments” beggin’ eyes? Train your dog not to beg. Train him to lay in his bed while you eat dinner. Train a “head down” command to combat begging while you snack. 
  4. Stop buying junkfood dog treats (Beggin’ Strips is my favorite example). There’s a whole market out there for healthy treats specifically for dogs. Buy those instead.
  5. Get your dog some exercise. Better yet, exercise with your dog.
The best thing to do is not feed your dog human food from the very get-go. Brent and I took this method. It’s wonderful. Sensi is old but fit. He doesn’t beg. He thinks healthy treats — raw carrots, frozen green beans, fresh celery, etc. — are the most wonderful things in the world. I’ve met dogs who have led human-food heavy lives who won’t even sniff a raw carrot. It’s such a shame.

My mom likes to guilt me about this. “Don’t you think he’s missing out?” she asks. “Don’t you feel bad that he has no variety in his diet?” She’s wrong. He has great, healthy, nutritional variety in his diet. He gets home-cooked adds — rice and beans along with some sort of meat — mixed into his food daily. He gets some of whatever veggies are in our fridge as treats. He gets warmed up oatmeal with peanut butter as a very, very special snack. I get creative with his diet and he loves it. And he’s healthy.

I just don’t understand. It’s not time consuming, it’s not rocket science. It’s simple stuff. So, why do we need a dog food company to prepackage meals and treats for us? Are we that dumb?

So much dog-related marketing and products just boils my blood. The new Hills Science Diet Weight Loss System leaves me dumbstruck. For a large dog, you can get a 4-week supply of diet food prepackaged into portioned meals along with prepackaged treats. It guarantees results in 30 days.

I’ll throw my support behind a product that helps dogs lose weight, but I think it’s the fact that there’s a market and a need for such a product that angers me. Are we really that dumb? I have no doubt there’s a mark-up in pricing for this special weight loss system — after all, healthy foods for people are more expensive than regular foods, why wouldn’t it be the same for dogs? So we’re willing to pay more to get less all because we’re too lazy and uninformed to manage our dog’s weight on our own? We really need a company to hold our hand on this one?

Here’s a newsflash: If you’re dog is overweight, it is more than likely due to the fact that you feed it far too much human food. Go ahead and buy this new weight loss system — I encourage everyone to take steps to bring down their dog’s weight — but it’s not going to stop your dog from begging. And if you just can’t help yourself from giving in to those beggin’ eyes, this new weight loss system isn’t going to solve your dog’s weight problem.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Adoptable 8-week-old Basset Hound puppy

Grace, 8 weeks old
All right, for those of you Dog Blog readers who double as newshounds, you may have noticed a story about the Rochester Cider Mill circulating among Southeast Michigan media outlets.
I'm proud to have started off that media frenzy by first reporting on this seemingly unbelievable story. If you haven't read it and are interested in finding out how growing corn and selling Christmas trees can make you a criminal, here it is: Oakland Township puts squeeze on cider mill.
So you're wondering, what in the heck does this cider mill news story have to do with dogs?
Ah, well, I have your answer.
The owner of that cider mill is Tom Barkham. Tom owns both the Paint Creek Animal Clinic and a second veterinary practice in Dryden.
Seeing as how the cider mill is closed this time of the year, and cold, the Barkhams suggested we meet at the veterinary practice in Goodison instead.
What do you know? The dog blogger winds up surrounded by dogs even when on an entirely non-dog related assignment. I do frequently wonder how I keep ending up in situations like that. Fate, I suppose. I don't mind, anyhow, so I just go with it.
"Try not to talk about dogs, Karen," I said silently to myself. "You are not here about dogs. Don't talk about dogs."
After the interview was done and I was getting ready to leave, I saw something that just made me entirely unable to hold myself back — an 8-week-old puppy!
"Puppy!" I exclaimed, looking over at the adorable little bundle of joy. "Oh, she is so precious."
"Want to adopt her? She's a foster," said Roxanne Priest, the woman sitting with her.
I quickly whisked out my little Flipcam. "Is she really?" I asked.
I introduced myself, told her about The Dog Blog and offered to shoot a short video of the sweet little girl.
And so, here ya go — this is one good looking puppy! 
You can find out more about Grace by going to or calling 248-623-1698. 

Friday, February 4, 2011

Why the dominance theory in dogs is a bunch of antiquated crap

Dominant? Nah. Spoiled? Maybe. Deserving? Sure.
For decades, the way we treat our dogs has been based on a theory that is complete and utter crap — dominance theory.

Recently, I had two dog trainers whose jaws dropped to the floor when they heard me say that. Unfortunately, that’s not surprising.

Even more recently, I’ve become aware of a whole training program that is ruining several young puppies because it is rooted in dominance theory.

And just earlier this morning, I saw a news report on TV warning that if you let your dog sleep in the bed with you, dominance problems will run amuck.

Now, there’s lots of reasons not to let your dog sleep in the bed with you — a good night’s sleep, being first and foremost — but I’d say dominance is not one of them.

So folks, let me scream from the rooftop: STOP BUYING INTO DOMINANCE, IT'S A DISTORTED THEORY OF CRAP!

Remember hearing that if your dog runs through doorways before you, it will think it’s more dominant? Wrong. It’s running through doorways because it’s excited and you haven’t trained it to do otherwise.

Regarding the bed, let’s get something straight — if your dog hops on the bed and growls at you when you try to get on it, then you’ve got a problem. Otherwise, you’ve got a dog who wants to lay in a comfortable spot with his pack members. That’s totally dog. Not dominant dog, just regular ol’ dog.

Or, what some dog trainers told me recently, that they don’t like using food rewards because it makes the dog think it’s more dominant than you. What? There is no correlation. The only reason anyone can even try to make that correlation is because dominance theory has been so distorted for so long that we attribute all sorts of crazy and kooky stuff to “dominance” issues.

We take just about any dog behavior we don’t like — barking, jumping, pawing, being on furniture, chewing human possessions, refusing to come when called, you name it — and blame it on dominance. What’s really asinine is that often, we’re punishing submissive behaviors or behaviors motivated by fear and anxiety simply because we wrongly assume they’re dominant behaviors.

And you know what they say about assuming things. It makes a you-know-what out of you and me.

Just exactly what do you think happens when you punish a dog for doing something submissive or out of fear? You get the opposite effect of what you were looking for. You confuse your dog. You frighten your dog. You and the world become scary, dangerous things to the dog. And that causes REAL behavior problems.
Oh no, he's sleeping on the couch. Is taking over the house next?

We justify doing cruel things to our dogs — ear pinching, throwing a dog on its back, choking and shocking and pinching and pulling — by saying we’re correcting dominant behaviors or, we’re employing these things to teach our dogs not to be dominant in the first place.

It’s absolutely ridiculous. We are ruining our dogs and we don’t even know it.

Why are we so hung up on this dominance fallacy? Mostly, because of the hierarchical structure of a wolf pack.

“So, you don’t think wolf packs have a hierarchy? You don’t believe the whole alpha-omega thing?” a dog trainer asked me.

I didn’t say that.

Wolf packs do have a hierarchy. There’s generally an alpha male and female and one unlucky soul lands the omega gig. In between, the wolves will have a rank, but it’s a near constant jostling for a better gig.

We’re still learning about wolves, and what we’ve learned in recent years is that the hierarchy is quite fluid. I watched a documentary called Living With Wolves where the alpha male chose the omega female to become his mate, elevating her status to alpha female. Throughout the documentary, you can see the jostling and fluidity of the pack’s hierarchy.

And here’s the thing — wolves depend on the pack, on their family and friends, to survive. That pack needs leadership, which necessitates the alpha wolf gig. It needs order, like we have in our society through government and laws, so that pack members don’t just (excuse the pun) run wild.

Packs can be large, 10 wolves or more. What this says about wolves, in general, is that most wolves are born followers. Very rarely is a natural alpha born. Why? Because most wolves won’t become the alpha, there’s just not a whole lot of alpha jobs available in the wolf world, so why would mother nature produce a bunch of them?

Conversely, wolf packs understand the need for leadership. If the alpha were to suddenly die, another wolf would step up to the plate. It might not be a “natural” alpha, but it’ll do its best because it’s all about preservation of the pack, and that requires leadership. If a new pup is born the next spring and is a “natural” alpha, chances are that when it reaches maturity, it will assume the role. Age doesn’t matter, it’s about energy, personality.

Fast forward to dogs. What logical conclusions can we make, considering that dogs are now dynamically and drastically different from their ancestor, the wolf?

We can conclude that dogs are not inherently dominant individuals. Afterall, even their predecessors don’t yield high quantities of dominant individuals, so why would the dog? Consider too that human influence probably led to more submissive characters being chosen as our early pets.

Secondly, we can conclude that a dog with a submissive nature will naturally seek to fill a leadership role when it doesn’t see anyone else in its pack stepping up to the plate. And yes, I’m talking about dogs now, not wolves, which means when I say “pack” I now mean humans — you. If you’re not providing leadership to your dog, it will awkwardly attempt to fill the role. This can lead to a lot of dangerous behaviors on behalf of the dog, who really is not cut out for that position and is probably experiencing high levels of anxiety about having to fill it.

So what have humans chosen to do?
Chewing toys is a normal dog thing, not a dominant dog thing.

We’ve taken that theory of dominance in dogs and exploded it into something it never should have grown into. The hierarchy of a wolf pack may be complex, but yet the idea is quite simple. And what we should have learned, in the first place, is that dominance is not an inherent quality in most dogs and most dogs are uncomfortable and anxious when put in that position.

But nonetheless, we assume just about everything we don’t like about a dog can be in some way attributed to the idea that it is a dominant animal seeking to overthrow your household and impose some sort of dog-law on your family. It’s ridiculous. So ridiculous.

The sad part, though, is that we:
1) Don’t know a whole lot about our so-called best friend, so we don’t know what our dog needs in terms of leadership, so we don’t provide adequate leadership, forcing a submissive dog to feel as though it has to be the alpha,
2) The submissive dog is highly anxious about having to fill this position and very uncomfortable with it, and then we
3) Punish the dog for trying to fill the leadership role, hereby increasing the dog’s anxiety (”Now we have no leadership AND anyone who tries to lead gets punished? How is our pack going to survive?” the dog wonders, leading to more anxiety), and then we
4) Throw our hands up in the air and give up on ever solving the behavior issue, writing off our dog as some dominant dingo trying to take over the household and resign ourselves to a lifetime of manhandling the beast, leading to very intense, psychological traumas that manifest as massive behavioral issues.

Do you see what all this dominance theory crap is doing to our dogs, and to our relationship with them?

It’s just another reason why it’s long overdue that humans take some responsibility in learning a thing or two about the beast we call our best friend.