Review Category : Tracie Korol

Turkeys and dogs CAN be friends

By Tracie Korol

The holiday season opens soon with all the rich foods, relatives, decorations and happy chaos. As we settle into the hustle, let’s remember our Best Friends appreciate happy, safe holidays, too.  When planning for the holiday season, consider the following:

Train, don’t complain: Our dogs don’t come pre-programmed; they rely on us to teach them acceptable behavior. Jumping up, stealing food, counter cruising, idiot barking and digging are all perfectly normal behaviors … to our dogs. Unfortunately, they are also behaviors that irritate owners. When holiday houseguests arrive, when there’s an excited energy in the air and when the household is completely off schedule it becomes the perfect time for our dogs to engage in unwanted activities.  Help remind your dog to remember what is expected of him by practicing and rewarding desired behaviors on a daily basis before the big day arrives. Even your old, well-trained been-around-forever dog will welcome the attention of a brush-up of basic skills.

The gift of management: In a perfect world our dogs would behave like those robot-dogs in the Hallmark specials.  However, in the real world we need to affect our management skills to out-think or pre-think our beloved pets. Use your dog tools — baby gates, tethers and x-pens are extremely useful in keeping Rooster out of the high-level distraction entertainment zones. Whenever possible, give your dog something to do rather than let him get creative and find something to do. Pre-gift your dog a stuffed Kong or a Buster Cube. Working a food puzzle or a chew is the dog equivalent of “sit and color”.

Cooking or catastrophe? On Thanksgiving Day + 1 where would you rather be — lounging on the couch with your dog, hitting the Black Friday sales, or at the vet’s office praying that your dog makes it to T-day + 2?  The best safety tip for Thanksgiving is: Keep Rooster out of kitchen! Not only will this prevent his unwanted interaction with highly desirable contraband, accidental injury from falling pots or knives but it also prevents you from tripping over him and finding yourself in the ER. Remember, dogs are not discriminating when it comes to yummy foods; they are happy to eat greasy turkey flavored baking string, napkins, toothpicks, shrink-wrap, pop up timers, roasting bags, skewers, tin foil and styrofoam plates. Plus, your vet is happy to fish it out of your Best Friend for a hefty fee. Push cooking gear to the rear of the counters and put up the trash cans before you sit down to dinner.

Leave the leftovers: While it’s nice to think we’re going to maintain a good diet through the holidays, the solution is not peeling off the turkey skin and handing it to the nearest dog. Rich, fatty foods will cause stomach problems ranging from simple upsets all over the carpet to pancreatitis, a serious condition often requiring hospitalization. At your holiday table, provide tiny bowls of kibble or baby carrots for guests, who might feel guilty in their own personal gluttony, to slip to the dog lurking under the table.

Respect each other: Avoid forcing your dog on non-dog people and do not let your guests force themselves on your dog. Some folks become very uneasy upon getting “haired up”, and conversely, some dogs do not care to serve as eye-poking-fodder for the curious grandchild. Set clear ground rules for how your dog is to be treated and if necessary, be prepared to remove your Best Friend if guests are unable or unwilling to follow them.  Watch your dog for signs that he’s uncomfortable—yawning, lip licking, turning away or actively trying to get to anywhere else. Keep an eye out for “the freeze”, a clear dog sign that someone is about to be bitten. If you know your dog has a fear or aggression issue, do everyone a favor and park him, with his Kong, in his crate, away from the action.

And, finally, be grateful. Your Best Friend provides companionship for your most mundane activities, cuddles when you’re blue, a warning bark for the noise in the night, a playmate and exercise partner and he doesn’t snicker when he sees you naked. That’s a really good friend.

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What’s with the hot spots?

By Tracie Korol

My neighbor dog, Miss S, currently has two hot spots. She was clear on Monday; by Wednesday afternoon she had a weeping, oozing wound on her right front leg and another on her flank. Her gooey messes might be pyotraumatic dermatitis, wet eczema or Staphyloccocus intermedius, but they are what we generally group under the heading of “hot spots”.

They are warm and swollen to the touch, certainly painful and often smell dreadful.  They can be triggered by bacteria, yeast, fungi, fleas, lawn-care products, irritating grooming products, anxiety, stress, boredom or as a reaction to having been recently vaccinated.  In many dogs hot spots mark the return of autumn.

Most vets will treat hot spots by shaving the area, washing with disinfectant soap or rinsing with a liquid antiseptic. They will often use astringents, hydrocortisone sprays, antibiotics and steroid injections or pills.  If the dog can’t leave the spot alone, she may be sentenced to the Cone of Shame, E-collar (the lampshade device) that prevents her from getting at the wound.  Any dog can get a hot spot, but our pets are especially prone given our humid climate.

Because hot spots tend to recur, holistic practitioners tend to look beyond the obvious symptoms to the underlying causes. Richard Pitcairn, DVM, PhD, my mentor and author of one of my favorite reference guides with the longest, most unmemorable title (“Dr. Pitcairn’s Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats”) maintains all skin problems stem from the same health problem. He maintains that skin disorders stem from: toxicity from poor-quality food, environmental pollutants or topically applied chemicals; routine unnecessary yearly vaccinations that induce immune disorders in susceptible animals; suppressed disease (conditions that have never been cured that reappear as periodic skin discharge); or psychological factors such as stress, boredom, frustration, irritability.  Miss S is morbidly obese, eats garbage kibble and is confined on the back porch 16 hours a day. I’d wager her hot spots are a trifecta of causality.

What’s the cure?  Dr. Pitcairn says it’s all in the diet. I believe him.

He recommends a short fast followed by an improved diet, absent any processed grains, soy, chemical preservatives, artificial colors, flavors or synthetic vitamins.

The short fast (a couple of days, fresh clean water always available) will encourage the body to burn up fat deposits where it holds impurities. By the time your dog returns to a clean diet, her body will have already started the healing process. But what do you do in the meantime when your dog has a great, nasty owwy?

Despite a stellar diet, my Bea would routinely sprout a hot spot on her left hip every autumn. Before she could worry it into a full-scale drama, I would shave the area, wash it gently with an anti-bacterial soap, and apply tea tree oil diluted w/a neutral carrier oil.  Often by the next day her little wound would be scabbed over leaving her to sport a fur excavation site for the next three months.  Tea tree oil worked for The Bea.  As it is a bitter, smelly oil her only reward for worrying the site was the slobbery “get this off my tongue” reaction we’ve all seen. Tea tree is a powerful essential oil, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and used by Australian WWII troops to fend off trench foot in the South Pacific Theater.  It’s also known as melaleuca oil of MLM notoriety.

Herbal treatments such as powdered goldenseal, comfrey tea or chamomile compresses will soothe and dry the wounds. A couple of plain old black tea bags soaked in hot water, squeezed almost dry and left to cool can be applied directly to the hot spot for as long as your dog will allow.  The tannins in the tea will help dry out the wound plus the cooling compress AND your personal attention will be soothing.

Holistic philosophy says that organisms function as complete units that cannot be reduced to a sum of its parts.  If your dog gets a hot spot, certainly treat the “part”, but then look beyond the immediate emergency to find the source of the problem. With hot spots, as with other health issues, if the complete unit is healthy it follows that the parts will be healthy, too.

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Thanks for sharing

By Tracie Korol

Perhaps this scene has happened at your house: TinyDog, 7 pounds of orange fluff, grabs the meaty bone and drags it under the coffee table. BigDog, 75 pounds of mixed-breed approaches, eyeing the bone with intent. TinyDog lets out a dangerous growl much more ferocious than thought possible from something the size of a bedroom slipper. BigDog backs off and you chuckle at the little drama. We in the animal communication world refer to this behavior as “resource guarding”.

A dog that defends his food or a treat from other dogs is exhibiting completely normal and appropriate canine behavior.  In the wild, where food equals life, the dog who gives up his food is a goner.  Dogs usual subscribe to the “possession is nine-tenths of the law” philosophy, so it’s generally not worth the risk of injury to argue over a scrap of food or a bone.  It all works out in the end, pack-wise.

While resource guarding is acceptable and understood behavior, dog-to-dog, it is far less acceptable when it’s directed at us.  For our own safety we want dogs to understand that everything they have is really ours.  I call it the “I have thumbs (and you don’t)” principle.  But dogs are confused by our ignorance of the “nine-tenths” rule. Nice guys that they are, they’ll accede possession to their owners without fuss, most of the time. But, every now and again, our Best Friend may aggressively assert ownership rights to a precious toy, a tasty treat or a bowl of food.  Then we have a problem.

Generalized food guarding is the most common manifestation and often the most dangerous as it’s almost impossible to control the presence of food in a dog’s environment. No matter how diligent you are, your dog will find the half-cookie between the couch cushions, the desiccated chicken bone on the street or the kitty deposit under the shrubbery. We’ve all yelled, “drop it! dropitdropitdropit!” while the dog clamps down even tighter, plants his feet and shoots you The Look. When this happens it’s obvious he is not comfortable with you in his “space”.

Here are some levels of guarding behavior to watch for:

Level One: Ideally when you approach your dog’s bowl, he’ll stop eating, wag a bit and lean in to greet you.  He’s letting you know he does not perceive you as a threat to his dinner, or if he does, he doesn’t care. He’d be happy to share.

Level Two: A slightly less perfect reaction to the same scenario is that Dog looks at you, wags, and continues to eat.

Level Three: If Dog is a little uncomfortable about your distance from his food, he’ll tense his body. He may still wag. Watch the speed of the wag, though. If the speed of the wag increases as you get closer, paired with the tension in his body, he is communicating your presence is making him uncomfortable.

Level Four: As his discomfort escalates, so does his body language and behavior.  At this level you’ll see a glare (The Look) or the whale eye, perhaps a bit of a snarl, or a low growl. He’ll start eating faster to prevent you from getting any of his food.

Level Five:  If the food is portable, he’ll carry it away from you — under a table, into his crate — and growl at you from there.  If he can’t pick it up, he may nudge it away from you if you continue to approach.

Level Six: A serious food-guarder is liable to put some teeth into play at this point. A snap is the next step. No contact with flesh, but a blatant message of “don’t touch my stuff!”.

Level Seven: Here’s where the threat to your safety, or the safety of a passing child, becomes deadly serious. This may be the actual break-the-skin bite. Contact is hard and fast and pretty scary. It may also consist of a series of bites up the transgressor’s arm.  In kennel, I learned this lesson the absolute hardest way when I attempted to remove a wastebasket full of old dog food from the attentions of a determined, (intact, I might add), Tervuren. There is absolutely no warning and, man, does it hurt.

Level Eight: Severe food guarding can be triggered at a distance. At this level, even a person’s presence on the other side of the room can escalate very quickly.

Rehabilitating a guarder can take a huge commitment of time, resources and emotion. I applaud responsible dog owners who are willing to make the commitment required and I cheer when I receive reports from those who have been successful in getting their dogs to share.

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Marketing tricks that will cost you, and your dog

By Tracie Korol

I recently took part in the National Canine Health Symposium that featured the best and brightest in the world of integrative veterinary medicine — vets, nutritionists and behaviorists. The keynote address was by pet food blogger and editor-at-large of Dogs Naturally magazine, Rodney Habib. The topic? How marketing hype is killing our pets.

Having owned a marketing and design firm in the Midwest for the first 22 years of my professional life, I know first-hand that what you see, hear and read, when it comes to what you want to purchase, is not necessarily the truth. Rodney was telling a story I understand all too well.

A trip down the pet food aisle these days will boggle the mind with all the wonderful claims made by manufacturers for their particular products. But what’s the truth behind all this marvelous hype? You might be very surprised.

Niche claims. Today, if you have tiny dog, a canine athlete, a fat dog, or a pet with a tender tummy or itchy feet, you can find a food “designed” just for your pet’s personal needs. Niche marketing arrived in a big way in the pet food industry when the wonders of a “science” diet began to appear in all brands. Humans like to feel special, and a product with specific appeal is bound to sell better than a general product called “dog food.”  But the reality is that there are only two nutritional standards against which all pet foods are measured — adult and growth/gestation/lactation.  Everything else is marketing.

“Natural” or “Organic” claims. The definition of “natural” adopted by AAFCO (Association Of American Feed Control Officials) is very broad, and allows for artificially processed ingredients that most of us would consider very unnatural. The term “organic,” on the other hand, has a very strict legal definition. However, some companies are adept at evading the intent of these rules. If 10% of the very last product on the ingredient list happens to be organic, then legally it’s okay to print that on the bag even when everything else is chemical-laden, GMO fright food. Also, the name of the company or product may be intentionally misleading. For instance, some companies use terms like “Nature” or “Natural” or linguistic derivatives like “Naturo” in the brand name, whether or not their products fit the definition of what is truly natural.

Ingredient quality claims. A lot of pet foods claim they contain “human grade” ingredients. This is a completely meaningless term — which is why the pet food companies get away with using it. The same applies to “USDA inspected” or similar phrases. The implication is that the food is made using ingredients that are passed by the USDA for human consumption, but there are many ways around this. For instance, a facility might be USDA-inspected during the day, but the pet food is made at night after the inspector goes home. The use of such terms should be viewed as a “Hype Alert.”

“Meat is the first ingredient” claim. A claim that a named meat (chicken, lamb, etc.) is the #1 ingredient is generally seen for dry food. Ingredients are listed on the label by weight, and raw chicken weighs a lot since it contains a lot of water. If you look further down the list, you’re likely to see ingredients such as chicken or poultry by-product meal, meat-and-bone meal, corn gluten meal, soybean meal, or other high-protein meal. Meals have had the fat and water removed, and basically consist of a dry, lightweight protein powder. It doesn’t take much raw chicken to weigh more than a great big pile of this powder, so in reality the food is based on the protein meal, with very little “chicken.” This has become a very popular marketing gimmick. Since just about everybody is now using it, any meaning it may have had is so watered-down that you may just as well ignore it.

Special ingredient claims. Many high-end pet foods today rely on the marketing appeal of people-food ingredients such as fruits, herbs, and vegetables. However, the amounts of these items actually present in the food are miniscule because real fruits, herbs and vegetables are expensive. The items that make it into the bag are usually scraps and rejects from processors of human foods — certainly not the whole, fresh ingredients they want you to imagine. Such ingredients don’t provide a significant health benefit and are really a marketing gimmick. You’d be much better served chucking a hunk of broccoli than purchasing kibble that has colorful pictures of vegetables on the bag.  Every dog knows the orange triangles in his kibble aren’t carrots, but owners are not that smart.

Pet food marketing and advertising has become extremely sophisticated recently. It’s important to know what is hype and what is real, so you can make informed decisions about what to feed your pets.

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How Fido feels about Halloween

By Tracie Korol

When my son was tiny, Halloween was a perplexing time when grown-ups decorated with squash, when Mom fussed around making something in the basement and shortly thereafter fussed around dressing him up in bunchy strange clothes. Then, one night, for no reason, Mom stuffed him into the bunchy clothes and took him to the neighboring houses wherein the inhabitants gave him candy. What a great idea! Why aren’t we doing this every day?

Later, as he grew older Halloween became a time of shared conspiracy in creating the perfect costume, competing with friends for the weirdest and coolest, testing a mother’s creativity and facility with foam rubber.  Our neighborhood decorated and dressed for Trick or Treat night with costumed parents accompanying their costumed kids. The Halloween frenzy grew to the point where the neighborhood dogs were hobbling around wearing buns, skirts and wings.  Our dog, Dave, who had a look of benign misery most of the time anyway, looked more despondent than usual on Halloween night and all we did was gel his topknot to look punk.

To costume a dog is to deny his essential dogness.  Deep within your dog’s chromosomes is the inherent sense of wolf behavior. In a wolf community, one animal may “stand over” another, placing his body on or close to another as a communication, a scolding.  To a dog, the experience of being bound into a Yoda suit does not elicit festivity, more, the uncomfortable feeling of being “ranked”.  Notice when you dress up a dog they freeze in place as if they are being dominated. Also notice that is only a matter of moments until Best Friend begins to dislodge the garment by pawing, shaking, dragging or rolling in something foul so as to necessitate removal of the bumble bee hat.

Dogs are extremely good sports. They will do just about anything to please their humans. Some maintain that Binky LOVES dressing up. But think about it. Does Binky really enjoy the sensation of a balloon glued to his nether parts, horns strapped around his head and a bell around his neck that clanks with every vibration? Probably not.  Even when the costume is not as extreme — say, wedging a dachshund into a bun, or a Maltese into fairy wings — is the perceived joy you see in the dog a result of the costume or the result of the liver treats you use to bribe him to hold still for pictures or the high-pitched “you’re-so-cute-oh-yes-you-are!!” that accompanies the reveal.  A dog works on the What’s In It For Me principle. Loads of snacks and attention? Sure, I’ll feel bunchy and uncomfortable — for about a minute.

Here’s another way of looking at what your costumed dog may feel.  What if, one day, when you arrived at work, your boss announced, “Today is Underwear Day! Strip down to your skivvies!”. Um. How awkward is this? But, then your boss hands you a box of Godiva chocolates, tickets for the big game and your co-workers cheer and tell you you look great in your tighty-whities. Well, okay then. Maybe not so bad. I can do this for a day. Tomorrow is back to normal, right?

If you insist on dressing up your pet, make sure the costume isn’t annoying or unsafe.  It must not constrict movement or hearing, or impede his ability to breathe or bark.  Make sure his outfit doesn’t have dangly bits that he could trip over or chew off and swallow.  Make sure he can move freely without clunking into furniture or snagging on branches.  Make sure his outfit doesn’t make noise, tinkle, clank or rustle.  A white stripe down the back of a black dog masquerades him as a skunk, black stripes on an orange dog can masquerade him as a tiger or a little hair gel can turn your Bedlington into a camel.  All low-key efforts that will afford him his safety and his dignity.

Not unlike my son at age 2, your dog does not understand that Halloween is YOUR holiday, not his. Wearing a sweater in the winter keeps him warm; wearing something that makes him look like a banana or an armadillo is humiliating.

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Why get a dog?

By Tracie Korol

The decision to get a dog is not something to be taken lightly.  While the sweet face of a puppy can tug our heartstrings into an impulse buy, we need to know, up front, the significant investment of time and money that little charmer will require. Socializing and training a new puppy is time consuming and, occasionally, frustrating. Working to provide all that is necessary to successfully integrate a dog into a family environment can increase the amount of stress on the family and the dog,

This is especially true if the primary caregiver(s) are working outside the home and/or have young children, are themselves elderly or infirm, have an elderly parent, or other persons and pets to care for. This does not mean that it cannot be done. But, prospective dog owners often underestimate the investment of time, energy and money required. Making this decision impulsively can lead to frustration, disappointment, and possibly result in the surrender of the dog to a shelter or rescue.

The first question you should ask yourself honestly is: Why do I (we) want a dog? Is your answer:

For my children: Trust me, this will be your dog.  After the honeymoon period the kids may play with the dog, occasionally.  Guaranteed, they will whine about dog-related responsibilities, doing them grudgingly, only after significant prodding from you. As children’s interests and activities change over the years, their level of involvement with the dog will most likely be inconsistent, at best.  Additionally, your children, especially, young children, will need to be trained in how to behave with the dog and will need to be supervised when with the dog.

For protection: The only time is it a good idea to get a dog for the purpose of protection is in professional or agricultural situations and only when the owner is humane and knowledgeable of dog behavior and dominant dog handling.  In all other situations an alarm system or security fence are much more appropriate and effective.

To breed puppies: The breeding of dogs is a responsibility not to be taken lightly.  If it is not your intention to remain responsible for all of your puppies for their entire lives, including being willing to take back and care for those that may find themselves homeless, do not enter into this endeavor.  If you are planning on breeding for profit, understand that there are much easier, more profitable and more ethical ways to make a buck.  Dogs are living beings and dog breeding requires a significant investment of time, money, labor, knowledge, both academic and practical, patience, and emotional fortitude, to be done responsibly and humanely.  Visit the county shelter and witness the problem yourself.  Look at the faces of the homeless dogs and talk to the volunteers and staff who, all too often, must take that final walk with them.

Because BreedX is cool, was in a movie, is unique and exotic, is free or cheap: One of the worst reasons to get a dog is because of their physical appearance or popularity due to a movie or TV show.  Often, these venues feature exotic, rare or unique breeds that are, in the overwhelming majority of pet situations, unsuitable as companions.  Also, remember that a free dog is never free. When your friend, coworker or relative offers you one of Fluffy’s puppies think hard about the necessary investment over the next 16 years.

Dogs require significant financial, physical, time, and environmental resources.  Dogs are not the fulfillment of ANY fantasy.  The responsibilities are legion through all stages of dog-hood and continue on after you’re gone. How many dog owners, for instance, have a plan, in writing, for the dog in case of their disability or demise? Your dog should become your Best Friend, after all.  Make the right decision at the right time for the right reasons and for the best possible outcome.

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When a treat is really a treat

By Tracie Korol

To our dogs, food is love — and security, affirmation, and reinforcement. When we give our dogs what I call “high-value” treats — foods that are especially sweet, meaty, and yummy-smelly — the message we want to deliver transports to them through the treat especially loud and clear. From a trainer’s viewpoint, I am ever appreciative of the ability of yummies to “classically condition” a dog to tolerate, and then even enjoy, circumstances that he previously found unsettling, frightening or threatening. It’s good to reward our dogs for a job well done. Plus, it’s fun for us to feed our dog friends something they’re crazy about.

The down side is that treats are probably the most likely of all dog-related items that we buy impulsively because the labels are so cute and the names are so clever. We don’t even think to glance at the ingredients. I would hope by now, faithful readers, that you routinely flip over any dog product bag to read the ingredient list, ever searching for the very best for your Best Friend. It would be counter-productive to spend time and energy finding (or making) the best healthy food for your dog if you’re going to trash your own efforts at health building with low-quality, additive-filled junk food treats. Read the label.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to find treats for your pet that do not contain stuff that is not good for him including artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives.

Healthy treats do not contain:

Artificial colors: Dogs are somewhat aesthetically challenged: they don’t care whether their food is brown or blue. Artificial colors are absolutely unnecessary.

Artificial or low-quality palatability enhancers: Avoid treats that use salt as a flavor-enhancer as well as treats that contain corn syrup, sucrose or ammoniated glycyrrhizin (a licorice derivative) and artificial flavorings like barbecue or smoke flavor.  Dogs are not as swayed as we are by the mysteries of barbeque and hickory.

Chemical preservatives: BHA, BHT and ethoxyquin, potassium sorbate, sodium nitrate and calcium propionate are chemical antioxidants added to foods to extend shelf life and reduce fat spoilage. These chemicals are responsible for the “natural bacon-y” texture of some doggy treats and the reason why, if you left a bacon-treat on the dashboard of your car it would still be “bacon-y” pliable a year later.  BHA and BHT are also used to preserve carpet. The FDA (U.S Food and Drug Administration) regulates ethoxyquin as a pesticide and prohibits its use in human foods. However, it continues to be used in pet foods. Propylene glycol is such a uniquely nasty chemical preservative that it requires it’s own call-out. It is used in pet snacks (and some human foods) to keep them moist and chewy, and to prevent discoloration in preserved meats. It’s also used as the main ingredient in deodorant sticks, tattoo ink, and is used in newer automotive antifreezes and de-icers used at airports. An interesting use for this chemical is to create artificial smoke for theatrical productions and training exercises for firefighters.

Healthy treats contain:

Whole-food ingredients: This means whole grains rather than grain “fractions” — wheat rather than wheat flour, wheat bran or wheat starch. Look for whole, named meats or meat meals — chicken, chicken meal — rather than by-products, unnamed sources (“animal” protein) or fragments. By-products and fragments of what animal would be my first question.

Natural preservatives: Vitamins C and E (the latter is often listed as “mixed tocopherols”) are effective and safe preservatives. Some treats contain no preservatives at all.

Natural sweeteners: Applesauce, molasses or honeys are better than artificial sweeteners, by far.  While dog food should not contain added sweeteners, a treat should still be a treat. A piece of baked sweet potato should be all the sweet a dog needs.

A treat for your dog should be a treat from all angles. Tasty, occasional, a little out of the ordinary and fun.  Try this: Next time you eat an apple, bite off a chunk and hand it to your dog. Guaranteed he’ll like that better than anything that comes in a plastic container.

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A few hacks for your dog

By Tracie Korol

I love life hacks. You know, those “why didn’t I think of that!” things that provide clever solutions to mundane problems. My current faves are using a can opener to breach dreaded clamshell packaging in lieu of inviting a paring knife wound; stretching a rubber band across the top of a paint can to use as a brush wiper; and the one in play right now, a key ring threaded through the tongue of my pants zipper, looped around the button until I stop being too lazy to replace the zipper that won’t stay up.

Dogs have hacks, too! Here are a few that might make your life, and your dog’s life, easier:

1. Attach a carabiner (a metal clip that allows rock climbers to link together ropes and harnesses) to your dog’s leash or collar. Carabiners come in handy: If you need to secure your dog to any stationary object; if you need to connect multiple leashes to walk all your dogs at once; if you need to attach your leash to a belt loop to free up your hands.  And, you can attach your keys to your dog if you’re going for a run together.

2. If your dog is a manic food gobbler (and you have one of those breeds prone to bloat), feed your pet on a rimmed cookie sheet. He’ll be forced to slow down if he wants to hoover up every last morsel. Some hacks for this problem suggest placing rocks or balls in the food bowl so as to force a dog to eat around the obstacles.  Good idea, though I have dog friends smart enough to simply remove the ball, shoot the owner a “seriously?” look and continue sucking down food, and also dog friends not so smart as to eat the rocks, too.

3. Use a squeegee to remove dog hair from carpet before vacuuming.   Or, if you want to see how ineffective your vacuum is, use the squeegee after vacuuming. It’s amazing how much dog hair you’ll skim off the rugs. A damp rubber glove is useful for removing hair from furniture.

4. Don’t put your pet’s name on his ID tag. When your dog responds to his name, it only makes it easier for the thief.  Also, if you’re the only one who knows his name, it will make it easier to prove you’re the rightful owner upon recovery. A phone number on the tag is sufficient when your dog is already microchipped.

5. If your dog gets loose, do not chase him. To him, it looks like you’re coming along on his walkabout.  Yippee! Rather, lie down and pretend you’re hurt. Yelp, whimper. They’ll come back to make sure you’re all right. If that fails, run the opposite direction while making happy “come play with me” sounds.  They’ll want to get in on the game.

6. If you have a puppy or lifetime devoted chewer, wipe down exposed cords with eucalyptus oil, Vicks or Mentholatum. Dogs dislike how it smells and even more, how it tastes.  Some hacks suggest using Bitter Apple spray but I’ve found dogs tend to think of that as a condiment.

7.  If you like animal movies but are devastated if an animal is hurt, left alone with the zombies or contracts a terminal illness, go online and check the website http://doesthedogdie.com for a quick heads-up.  Saves a lot of heartache.

8. Always, always reward your dog. Every time your dog does something correctly, a simple “Good dog!” is enough for your Best Friend to know that he IS your best friend.

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With coconut oil, no more fishy burps!

By Tracie Korol

Major media has encouraged us to add fish oil to our diets and, more recently, to the diets of our Best Friends. These Omega-3 long chain (LCTs) fatty acids help dogs with osteoarthritis, improving mobility and reducing inflammation, and can reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer. Every store has a section devoted to fish oil. My question: where is it all coming from? To be effective, fish oil should come from North Atlantic cold-water fish. What with sustainability and over-fishing in the media forefront, it might be time to change up the oil situation.

The newest, and perhaps, more reliable nutritionally loaded oil is something you’re probably been avoiding for years — either that, or you think it’s a hair care product. Yep, we’re talking about coconut oil. Coconut oil consists of more than 90% saturated fats, with traces of few unsaturated fatty acids. Most of the saturated fats in coconut oil are Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCTs), the main component being lauric acid, followed by capric acid, caprylic acid, myristic acid and palmitic. The benefit of lauric acid is that it has antibacterial, antiviral, and anti-fungal properties. Capric and caprylic acid have similar properties and are best known for their anti-fungal effects. So, if you have an itchy, smelly dog and nothing from the vet is working for more than 10 days, this might be a good addition to the snack bar.

Also, these MCTs are metabolized quickly providing an immediate source of fuel and energy.  Coconut oil can enhance athletic performance and aid weight loss. It can also help balance the thyroid, helping overweight dogs lose weight and helping sedentary dogs feel energetic.

As an important ingredient in America’s processed foods for most of the 20th century, coconut oil is one of the world’s few saturated-fat vegetable oils. That designation alone gave it a terrible reputation and by the 1990’s it had all but disappeared from our food supply. Unfortunately, the vegetable oils that replaced it (corn, rapeseed) caused more harm than coconut oil ever did and consequently, coconut oil is enjoying a revival.

The one you want to get to know is the unrefined “virgin” oil that is made from fresh coconuts. (The other, usually labeled RDB-Refined, Bleached, Deodorized-is made from copra or dried coconut meat and then treated with chlorine and hexane to remove impurities. It is inexpensive, bland and odorless, usually labeled as a skin or hair care product.) You’ll most likely find the virgin, organic oil in a glass jar at a health food store or in the better oils section of the grocery.   Depending on the temperature, coconut oil will be solid or liquid. Below 75 degrees it is solid and white; above that, it is a transparent liquid. And, it doesn’t have to be refrigerated.  If you do, be prepared to chip it out of the jar.

While there have been no clinical trials on the effects of coconut oil in a dog’s diet, anecdotal evidence is impressive. Many reports involve beneficial results with itchy skin, cuts, wounds and ear problems. Dogs with flea allergies, contact dermatitis and/or dull coats typically stop scratching after coconut oil is added to their food.  An added benefit, I noticed, was with a smelly dog friend of mine, Ramone.  You know the kind of dog I mean — the one that smells like damp carpet all the time. Bathing Ramone was a waste of time and you had to change your clothes and wash your hands immediately after playing with him.  Ramone’s owner began to routinely dribble coconut oil onto Ramone’s chow. In less than a month Ramone and his owner enjoyed a stink-free life and Ramone could receive the daily body rubs he deserved.

The best way to give coconut oil is in small amounts throughout the day — a dab here and there, depending on the dog’s weight. I will “butter” a dog cookie with a scrape through a designated dog jar of coconut oil for a special treat in addition to stirring a spoonful into a meal.  Most dogs are happy to eat a gob from a teaspoon.

Of course, as with anything new, you’ll want to start small. Introduce a little coconut oil gradually a little at a time in divided doses — 1/4 tsp for a tiny dog up to a teaspoonful for a big dog.  Because coconut oil kills harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites, yeasts and fungi, the burden of removing dead organisms may trigger symptoms of detoxification. Headaches, fatigue, diarrhea and flu-like symptoms are common in humans who consume too much too fast and the same can happen with dogs.

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Be proactive with probiotics

By Tracie Korol

As any dog owner can attest, dogs are not too discriminating about what they eat.  Select garbage, poo of the wild, domestic poo from the cat box, road-toad jerky — they’re all yummy going in. Not so delightful on the way out.  We can move with lightning speed to try to extract the offending item from clenched jaws OR we can prepare our pets in a more proactive way. A good probiotic for dogs is an easy way to ward off an onslaught of bad bacteria by boosting existing good bacteria. In fact, gastrointestinal disorders are the second most common health issues for dogs after skin conditions.

All dogs (and people, too) can benefit from probiotics.  They aid digestion and modulate the immune system by producing short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). These helpers inhibit the growth and activity of harmful bacteria, such as E. coli, Salmonella, and Clostridium perfringens, as well as providing other benefits to the intestines. Probiotics help prevent urinary tract infections, and can even reduce allergic reactions by decreasing intestinal permeability and controlling inflammation.

Given probiotics for pets is a new industry, it can be confusing when investigating the best for your Best Friend. When choosing a commercial dog probiotic, consider the following criteria:

• The list of ingredients should identify the specific bacterial species and also indicate the strain. Species with specific strains known to benefit dogs include Enterococcus faecium (strain SF68) and Bacillus coagulans. Bifidobacterium animalis (strain AHC7) has been shown to reduce the time for acute diarrhea to resolve in dogs. Certain strains of Lactobacillus acidophilus improve frequency and quality of stools in sensitive dogs. Lactobacillus rhamnosus strain GG (LGG) is my favorite go-to (no pun intended) for any digestive upset.  Probiotic products may contain one or several strains.

• The label should guarantee the number of CFU in millions or billions per gram. Colony-forming units (CFU) is an estimate of viable bacterial or fungal numbers that the manufacturer guarantees will exist in their product.

• The product packaging or manufacturer’s website should have a customer service number so you can contact the manufacturer with any questions.

• The probiotic should have a “best before” or expiration date. Storage time and conditions (i.e., excessive heat or cold) can reduce the viability of some bacterial strains. It is best practice to store your probiotics in a refrigerator.

Alternately, you can go the grocery store route. Following a round of antibiotics, savvy dog owners have long used tablespoonfuls of yogurt to readjust the bacteria in their dog’s intestines. (Antibiotics kill everything, the good and the bad.) Kefir, a souped up super cousin of yogurt, is easy to make if you’re so inclined or it’s available in the dairy cases of local groceries. Kefir is a cultured, enzyme-rich liquid food filled with friendly micro-organisms that help balance an “inner ecosystem”.

Kefir contains loads of minerals and essential amino acids.  Among them, tryptophan, an essential amino acid, is well-known for its relaxing effect on the nervous system. It may help a high drive or highly anxious dog chill.

Kefir also contains calcium and magnesium both of which are critical for a healthy nervous system. It is rich in vitamins B12, B1 and vitamin K, promoting healthy looking skin, boosting energy and promoting longevity.  For daily maintenance, kefir is excellent at rebalancing intestinal bacteria, boosting immunity and correcting the occasional trash-hound loose stool. If you have multiple dogs, renewable kefir is the most affordable solution.  And, it comes in flavors. I find blueberry is the most favored among my dog friends.

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