Review Category : Tracie Korol

Drink to good health

By Tracie Korol

Now that we’re in the doldrums of hot, humid weather we need to be  uber-conscientious when it comes to making sure our pets are supplied with fresh clean water. Even in winter, in a dry heated house, a dog can become dehydrated if deprived of fresh water. I emphasize the word “fresh” for a reason.

Try this experiment. Drink a glass of cold clean tap water, right from the spigot. Observe. At the same time fill another glass and leave it on the counter. Push it to the back and come return to it three or four days later. Most likely it has a faint film on the surface — dust, grease, pollen — and if you choose to drink it down, fuzz and all, you’ll notice it tastes musty and flat.  Observe. This is probably the water your dog drinks every day.

Water is the most important of all the nutrients. It plays a complex and critical role in the health of all mammals, constituting 55-75% of the body mass of all warm-blooded creatures, 84% of a newborn puppy and 60% of an adult dog.  Water bathes and fills every one of a dog’s billion cells. In fact, a dog can lose all of its fat and half of its muscle mass and survive, but just a 10% loss of body water can cause breakdown. Water lubricates a dog’s joints and muscles and cushions the spaces between individual cells. As the principle element of blood, it transports oxygen to all body tissues and helps fight infections by distributing white blood cells produced by a dog’s immune system.  Water provides an environment in which enzymes can digest food and convert it to energy for a dog’s survival.

Dogs crave fresh water; and they like a clean bowl, too. It’s easy to simply refill the bowl, day after day, dumping more in when the level gets low. But really, when was the last time you ran the water bowl through the dishwasher? All kinds of stuff can grow in there especially if you have one of those dogs that dips his beard and rinses his mouth when he drinks leaving dirt, twigs and crumbs to float around the bowl. It’s a good idea to get a multiple water bowls, bottom-heavy stainless steel or ceramic, so you can switch them out when the dog water begins to look like bilge.

A properly sized bowl is a good idea, too. An oversized bowl means your dog may only be able to drink water part way down. While it looks full, it’s not because he can’t get to it. Tall, narrow bowls are good for dogs with long ears like Bassets, spaniels and beagles, reducing collateral wetness from drippy ears.

Our Best Friends are messy, hit-and-miss slurpers, so it can sometimes be hard to know just how much water they get in a day. Most dogs need about an ounce of fluids per pound of body weight daily, so a 10-pound dog needs a bit over a cup of clean fresh water daily. Hard playing, working or lactating dogs usually need more and puppies generally drink more than adult dogs. Dogs that eat only a dry kibble diet, with less than 5% moisture content, will naturally drink more, too. Plus, a dog will drink more when it is hot and conversely, more when it is cold and dry.

Your dog is drinking enough if you observe him lapping several times a day from his water bowl and if the water level goes down in the bowl over the day. If you’re aware of a sudden decrease or increase in water consumption, your dog may be ill. Excessive thirst and urinating large amounts may indicate diabetes, kidney failure or other endocrinological diseases. Time to call the vet if you notice drastic changes. Although all dogs are different, your dog is drinking enough if he urinates several times a day when you take him out.

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Heat kills dogs

By Tracie Korol

The kind folks at the Beaufort County Shelter asked me to dedicate an article to the perils of a Lowcountry summer, dogs in cars and the terrible demise of our dog friends due to heatstroke.

Recently, I was asked by a seemingly smart person, “It’s OK to leave my dog in the if I leave the A/C on, right?” No, it’s not OK to leave your dog unattended in a car in this county, ever. Ever. Not in the winter. Not under a tree with the windows cracked and not in an idling car with the air conditioning running. It’s against the law.  The penalty? A fine of upwards onto $1,000 plus the shame of having done something really stupid to your Best Friend.

Let’s talk about summer. Common sense check: if you’re hot, your dog is hot, too. If it’s too hot for you to sit in a car without air conditioning, it’s too hot for your dog. If it’s too hot for you to walk barefoot across a parking lot or the sand, it’s too hot for your dog to walk there, too. If you’re sweaty and thirsty, your dog is too. He’s wearing fur and he can’t sweat.

The unattended dog-in-car is very common in Beaufort culture when seemingly caring people will leave their dog in the car while they do a bit of shopping or dining. People are fooling themselves if they believe that their dog is having a good time, along for the adventure. Even though your dog may enjoy a ride in the car, sitting in extreme heat anxiously awaiting your return is not fun at all, even if it’s just for 5 minutes. In another ten minutes, while you chat with the store clerk, he could be approaching death from heat stroke.

Even in the shade, and especially in humid conditions, dogs need to inhale air cooler than their normal body temperature of 100 degrees to be able to stay alive. Dogs confined in cars where the ambient temperature and humidity are above tolerable levels will begin to acquire heat from the environment faster than they can dissipate it. Overheated humans begin to sweat which evaporates and cools the skin dissipating heat buildup. Dogs, remember — fur-covered — have very few sweat glands to begin with and can only dissipate excess body heat via panting.  Movement of air over a moist tongue and airway surfaces increases evaporative cooling somewhat. However, panting actually generates heat due to the muscle activity involved.  Keep in mind that as a dog pants 100 percent humidity into his confined space, the ambient temperature and humidity of the car increases. It’s science.

Signs of heat stroke are intense rapid panting, wide eyes, salivating, staggering and weakness.  Advanced heat stroke victims will collapse and become unconscious.  The gums will appear pale and dry. If heat stroke is suspected and you can take the animal’s temperature rectally, any temperature above 106 degrees is dangerous. The longer the temperature remains at or above 106 degrees the more serious the situation. If you return to your car and find your dog seems to be highly agitated, wide-eyed and panting uncontrollably, start for the nearest animal hospital right away with the air conditioning going at full blast.

Even if heroic measures are taken, he may die from massive intravascular clotting, hemorrhaging, cerebral edema and kidney failure. Really.

Heat stroke is a dire emergency and one from which many pets do not recover.  And it’s an ugly death. It occurs so quickly that your only response should be to get to the nearest animal hospital immediately — don’t even call first. Just GO!

Short-faced (brachycephalic) breeds such as Boxers, Pekingese and Pugs and dogs with heavy coats are at greater risk for heat stroke than some other breeds. Also, age and physical condition (heart problems, obesity) lessens a dog’s efficiency in dissipating heat buildup in the body. All it takes to avoid this serious problem is diligence and common sense. No, it’s not OK to leave your dog in the car.

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Is healthfulness the new truthiness?

By Tracie Korol

The concept of better health through nutrition is beginning to make inroads in the minds of the American population according to The Hartman Group Inc.’s report, “Ideas in Food 2013-A Cultural Perspective.”  Gluten-free has recently become a mainstream idea and product sell, though most folks who are “going gluten free” can’t tell you why, exactly. They just don’t eat bread.  But that trend has led folks to investigate the benefits of whole grains, nuts and seeds. People are voluntarily eating nut meal, coconut “flour” and raw, sprouted, popped and puffed grains. All good.

Sugar, too, is getting it’s own red flag with high fructose corn syrup bearing the brunt of the scrutiny. Added sugar, according to Hartman, is being linked to systemic inflammation, which in turn can lead to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer and a whole host of other medical ailments.  Other health/nutrition connections in human food trends, according to Hartman’s report, include eating more plant-based foods, supporting locally sourced foods and using foods as medicine (whole grains, protein, omega-3 fatty acids, probiotics, botanicals). The same report tells how consumers are leaning toward “healthfulness,” whatever that means.

Let’s assume that the analysts using that particular label make a very literal interpretation — “healthfulness” equals full of health. That would be to our benefit. By extension, since pet-owning consumers treat their pets as family members, let’s hope we’re all making the same connection between health and what we feed our Best Friends.

The catch in all this is that the pet food industry is onto this trend and not necessarily in a good way.  Companies are coming out with grain-free dog food and treats, products that boast no added sugars (or dyes or artificial preservatives), and products rich in nutrition additives like omega-3s. In addition, the market for senior dog and weight management products has skyrocketed.  There are new products with new claims for healthfulness coming out every week. The idea of truthiness begins to creep in.  What is real, what are we as consumers to believe and what is the next best thing? Do we really need the next best thing and does our dog need the next best thing?

As the fluidity of human food trends and pet food trends increases, it brings up unique concerns for the pet owner/consumer. You may have noticed, pets are different from people and their nutritional needs are different, too. Some human trends such as gluten-free can be unnecessary or even dangerous when cross-applied.  Trends that actually serve our animals in the pet food and treat category are grain-free, species appropriate, whole, less processed, healthy, safe, and USA sourced.  A trend that does not serve, for instance, is a claim of “natural”. Hemlock is natural but I don’t want my dog eating it.

As a consumer, I am one of those crashing bores who clog up the grocery aisle when reading the labels of whatever I want to purchase. It’s important to me to know what I’m eating. And even more important, I want to know what my dog friends are eating. Even though I haven’t bought a processed kibble in years, for fun, I’ll flip the bags of “new and improved” to if it IS really new and improved.  And guess what? Usually it’s not. Mostly, the manufacturers have changed what’s printed on the bag.

When you feed your Best Friend food that you recognize and you’d eat, then “truthiness” of the seller and “healthfulness” of the manufacturer will become apparent. By doing your homework, learning what ALL the words on the pet food bag mean, and by researching quality products, you’ll skip truthiness and help assure a better quality of life for the Best Friend in your house.

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Reiki: Energy healing for dogs and their people

By Tracie Korol

Reiki is a gentle, non-invasive, drug-free way to accelerate healing, relieve pain, restore balance, and revitalize and enhance well being in humans and animals.

Reiki has the potential to improve the results of medical treatment, reduce negative side effects, shorten healing time, decrease or eliminate pain, reduce stress, and help create optimism. It also improves the effectiveness of all other types of therapy by maximizing the effectiveness of the healing energy within.

For those of you who are more empirical and prefer a scientific explanation, it is the same “energy” that can be transmuted into matter and back again through varying harmonic frequencies in the Unified Field Theory proposed by Albert Einstein, mastered by Nikola Tesla, and readapted in recent times by Capt. Bruce Cathie, the earth grid guy.

In Southern vernacular, Reiki is simply “laying on of hands”. It is based on the idea that an unseen “life force energy” flows through us, and causes us to be alive. If one’s “life force energy” is low, we are more likely to get sick or feel stress, and if it is high, we are more capable of being happy and healthy. It’s exactly the same for dogs.

The name Reiki, pronounced ‘’Ray-key’’, comes from the Japanese words ‘’rei’’ meaning spirit, and ‘’ki’’ meaning energy. It is usually translated as ‘’universal life energy.’’ This treatment modality applies to animals and people alike. For that matter, one can Reiki anything. I will Reiki my avocados to extend their vital energy until I can mash them into guacamole.

The longer dogs live with man, the more problems they seem to develop. Eckhart Tolle, author of “The Power of Now” and Oprah’s favorite, “A New Earth,” comments that he is surprised dogs are able to stay as sane as they do. With an occasional Reiki boost, we can help our dogs weather the many physical and emotional issues we foist upon them.

For dogs that are healthy, Reiki helps to maintain their health, enhances relaxation and provides an emotional sense of peace and contentment. For dogs that are ill, Reiki is a safe complement to western medicine or Traditional Chinese Medicine. For example, Reiki can reduce the side effects of chemotherapy or support an acupuncture treatment. For dying animals, Reiki is a powerful yet gentle way to provide comfort, relief from pain, fear, and anxiety, and to ease the transition to death.

I am currently working with Mr. S, a 10-year-old schnauzer. He is struggling with the effects of a hammered immune system, often referred to as “allergies”; his doctors, out of ideas, have sent him home to die. His owner is simply not ready to accept that supposed finality. Using Reiki, we have been able to calm Mr. S’s chewing-his-feet anxiety, channeling that energy into healing. Mr. S is now “eating clean” and taking supplements to rebuild and support his immune function. With regular Reiki sessions Mr. S is returning to the ornery old guy he has always been. He has returned to playing and enjoying his daily walks. While Reiki is not a mystical cure-all, it balances energies and clears the way for the body to heal itself.  It is a powerful tool in the healing toolbox.

Many Reiki practitioners use Reiki on the dog’s chakras (energy centers) to balance the dog. Then they concentrate on the specific area that may be of concern. For example, a treatment begins with asking a dog’s permission; a response can be a lean, a gentle head-butt or a paw on my arm. I will place my hands on specific areas of a dog/client, balance his chakras using Reiki, and then go back to concentrate on the area of concern. It is similar to a treatment for humans, but shorter in length. Dogs will “take breaks”, get up, circle and return.  I will know when the treatment has concluded when the dog gets up to get a drink of water. A deep and restful nap usually follows.

If you are curious about Reiki, there is a “share” at Palm Key (Ridgeland area) every first Sunday of the month, 1-4 p.m.  Shares are free to the public. If you want more information as in where at Palm Key exactly and who is hosting, please send me a note and bring your Best Friend!

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Is it worth the ultimate cost?

By Tracie Korol

Imagine this: You’ve just crawled into your comfy bed, punched up the pillow to “just right”, and then realize something is not right. Someone has sprayed your bed with Round-Up. The sheets are damp, now your pajamas are damp and the smell is about to knock you over. You begin to itch all over.

Welcome to Dog World. This scenario happens to our pets all the time. Every day they play on, lie on, sleep on lawns that have been treated with deadly chemicals. They’re on the grass in public parks, they’re on the lush green spaces in our gated communities, they are living on top of chemicals sprayed willy-nilly out in the country where I live. Dogs play, sleep, roll around in and even eat treated grass. We track the chemicals into our homes on our shoes so it creates a residue on our floors and carpets. When you live only a few inches above ground level, you never escape the effects. It is well documented that long-term exposure to herbicides causes myriad health problems in humans.  It causes myriad health problems in dogs, too.

In first world countries, the most common causes of kidney failure are obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure. But sugar cane workers in Central America and Sri Lanka who have been dying from “Chronic Kidney Disease of unknown etiology” (CKDu) for decades, do not generally have those risk factors. This has led scientists to suspect an external toxin as a possible cause. What chemical has the most widespread use in these areas? Round-Up. A Round-up “drench” is used to “ripen” sugar cane.  (Nicaragua and Sri Lanka have recently banned the use of the chemical as has most of Europe.) Other independent studies worldwide have also linked the use of Round Up to celiac disease. Symptoms include diarrhea, skin rashes, macrocytic anemia, depression as well as reproductive issues and increased risk to thyroid disease, kidney failure and cancer. What is sprayed on U.S. wheat fields? What do we spray on our yards and roadways? And what diseases are our dogs developing? It’s a simple equation.

The smart thing to do is to limit exposing your dog to grassy fields or weed patches in your community that have recently been sprayed or are routinely sprayed.  Certainly, do not intentionally use these chemicals around your house. That would be the common sense approach.  Sadly though, we do not always have control over what is sprayed in our neighborhoods. Once again, in my end of the county, and again without warning, SCE&G and NaturChem hosed acres of public and private land with a chemical cocktail of Ecomazapyr, glyphosate and a mystery surfactant. Officials of these companies claim it is “so safe you can drink it” (really, they said that). Earlier this spring, county maintenance hosed all the roadsides. Take a drive up through Sheldon this weekend and see what dead-on-dead looks like. You and your kids will be breathing the overspray. So will your dogs. Your kids and your dogs will be playing on or near areas that are in the process of dying.

While controlling your yard with chemicals may seems like an easy way to get the green lawn your neighbors envy, it’s not worth the risk of poisoning your Best Friend. Rinse your dog’s feet after exercising on a treated lawn. Rinse any fetch toys she may have played with on the lawn, too. Of course, call your veterinarian immediately if your dog ever shows signs of illness following exposure to treated grassy fields.

It has been estimated that between 3 and 5 percent of all people are chemically sensitive to the point of suffering ill effects from levels of herbicide exposure considered “safe” by the EPA, and companies like SCE&G and NaturChem.  There is no reason to believe that other mammal species, including our dogs, would be much different.

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Do dogs sweat?

By Tracie Korol

The perfect spring weather of late is soon to take a sharp turn toward sultry, steamy and mean. We’ll dress down, move slower and drink more iced tea.

When our body temperature rises, because of a hot environment or because we have been exercising, we perspire. It’s fairly obvious. Damp armpits, the wet stripe down the back or a drippy upper lip. Sweating is our way of regulating our temperature; we have sweat glands over most of our body’s surface. Sweat provides a film of moisture over the skin, which evaporates and then cools.

Not so with dogs which why you have never seen your Best Friend with sweaty pits. A dog’s sweat glands are located around its footpads. Ever notice when your dog is overheated, you’ll occasionally see a path of damp footprints across the kitchen floor?

The primary mechanism that a dog uses to cool himself, however, involves panting with his mouth open. This allows the moisture on his tongue to evaporate and/or drool on the floor. The heavy breathing also allows moisture in the lungs to evaporate, too. Despite being sweat gland deficient, dogs have an uncanny ability to vaporize large amounts of water from their lungs and airways, carrying heat away from the body.

Then, there’s that “covered in fur” component. In reality, fur serves as a sort of insulator or barrier between the dog’s insides and his outsides, not unlike the glass vacuum bottles in old-time thermoses. When it’s cold, fur holds body heat in and in summer acts as a barrier to oppressive heat.  However, in our steamy summers, once an elevated temperature is built up in the body, fur gets in the way of allowing the body to regulate.

So, does that mean you should shave old Barney for the summer? No. Shaving pets for the summer can actually predispose them to sunburn, skin cancer and to heat exhaustion/heat stroke. Full coats act as insulation against the sun’s rays and their effects. Coats that are kept well-brushed and mat-free allow for good air circulation through the hair, which in itself can actually have a cooling effect. If you’re not much for dog maintenance know that matted, unkempt hair coats stifle air circulation and do little to help cool the body. In other words, daily brushing is a must during the hot, summer months.

At kennel, I would break out a Furminator to thin the coat of my Chow friend, Willy, when he visited in the summer. His mom hated doing dog maintenance; this WAS her son’s dog, after all. Willy loved the attention plus I received great satisfaction filling a garbage bag with orange undercoat. Win/win. By not shaving him we also avoided the embarrassment a full-coated dog feels when most of him is de-nuded save for the silly little puff on the end of his tail.

How to manage a heavy-coated dog in a Lowcountry summer? Save longer walks for evenings. Consider applying pet-specific sun block to thinly covered areas like the bridge of your dog’s nose, the tips of his ears and his belly.  Also, keep in mind that dogs with thin coats, as well as those with white or light-colored coats, are especially at risk for sun damage.

Or, keep it simple: If it’s too hot out for you, it’s too hot for your dog.

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Do it now: Make a doggie first aid kit

By Tracie Korol

My friend called me recently for first aid advice for his dog, William, who had caught a dew claw in the back seat car upholstery.  Blood was involved but the dog was otherwise all right.  However, he did need a little first aid. My friend had some of the supplies needed to care for his Best Friend, but not all and none in the same place! First aid kit instructions were emailed post haste.

As a pet owners, we need to make sure to have basic first aid supplies for occasions such as this. Even the best-cared-for dog may become sick or get injured at some point in his life. If your dog falls victim to illness or accident, you will need to do what you can to get him out of immediate danger and keep him comfortable until you can get him to a veterinarian. You should also be prepared to care for you dog in the event of weather disasters occasional in this area.

Of course, you can always buy a pre-made K9 Crash Kit but I’ve found that personalizing a kit for my Best Friend — because who knows him better? — gives me a level of confidence when crisis hits.  I don’t want to be rummaging through myriad glassine packets looking for a particular item when time might be a factor.

Your dog’s personal kit needs to be distinctive, easy to find, easy to transport and easy to use. I’ve had the same Huckleberry Hound metal lunchbox for just about as long as I’ve had dogs.  Once a year I update the contents.  I also have a smaller-size snap-lid box kit I keep in the car.

Taped to the inside lid of my big kit is a card with the phone number of my current vet, the closest emergency vet clinic (address and directions) and the Animal Poison Control Center (888-4ANI-HELP or 888-426-2235). At the bottom of the box I include a copy of pertinent medical records (in a Ziploc and a current photo (in case he decides to run at an inopportune moment). Tucked along the side is a lightweight slip lead. Along the other side I keep the Dog Only digital thermometer. Mine is a kid version with a blue dog head handle that I found at the grocery store. You do not want to confuse your people thermometer and your dog thermometer.

Next, I load the actual medical supplies: rolls of gauze — in a size relational to the size of the dog — for wrapping wounds or muzzling a panicked pet; a pair of blunt scissors; tweezers; nail clippers; and a Tick Key.  Then, non-stick pads in a couple of sizes to control bleeding and protect a wound.  I include a roll of adhesive tape AND a roll of duct tape for securing the gauze wrap.  A dog may be able to tear through the adhesive tape in record time but duct tape will slow him down marginally.  Also, a self-cling bandage that stretches and sticks to itself but not to fur.  I also throw in a couple of baby-size sweat socks just in case I need to protect a paw or two.

Grouped together in another Ziploc is a tube of OTC antibiotic ointment, liquid diphenhydramine (Benadryl), saline solution (to clean a wound or flush grit out of eyes), travel bottles of Betadine, hydrogen peroxide (to induce vomiting if directed by Poison Control only), Milk of Magnesia (to absorb poisons) and a 10 cc syringe (no needle) to administer liquids.  In the same bag I also include a bottle of arnica tablets (to reduce swelling), aconitum (for shock), calendula cream (for skin irritations) and bottle of Rescue Remedy that at a time of trauma we both can use.

In the category of You Never Know: a travel bottle of Dawn dishwashing liquid to clean off oil or something sticky, an emergency foil blanket, a penlight (because emergencies happen at night, too), and a pair of needle nose pliers — there was that one time my lab thought touching a porcupine was a good idea.

When you personalize your own kit you can include items specific to your dog: karo syrup for a diabetic emergency or an EPI pen if your pet has a severe reaction to stinging insects. And finally, take a pet first aid and CPR class to learn more.  And remember — the life you save may be your dog’s!

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Dog gone AWOL: Part II: What can you do to prevent your dog from leaving?

By Tracie Korol

When last we checked in, your stomach had just taken a lurch upon discovering Fracas was not in the yard.  Boredom and loneliness had finally taken its toll and Fracas took off for parts unknown.  How on earth did he get out?

Dog owners are notorious for falling victim to the “let’s get a puppy!” urge before adequate preparation has even been considered.  Fracas, as a tiny puppy, wouldn’t wander too far off his back stoop. But, a short six months later, he already developed a habit of making the neighborhood rounds.  Once Mr. Jones down the road called up to threaten to shoot Fracas if he rooted in his garbage one more time, you decided, one Saturday morning, it was time to throw up some sort of metal fence post and wire kind of structure thinking that would hold Fracas until you could dig a few post holes.

Unfortunately, by the time you had settled back onto the couch after all that work, Fracas was already testing the perimeter.  In the far corner he found a three-inch gap, shoved his nose under to the “freedom” side, clawed a bit in the soft dirt and whammo! he was out.  You eventually dragged him back and filled the hole. But the damage was done. Fracas was then on his way to a lifetime career as a master escape artist.

Whether your dogs escape efforts focus on paw power or feats of aerial derring-do depends on genetics and learning. Dogs who are genetically programmed to dig, such as terriers, will be more likely to become burrowers and tunnel under a fence if a handy soft spot is discovered.  If a loose board is the first weak spot found, your terrier will turn into a beaver and chew himself out.  Herding dogs such as Border Collies and sporting breeds such as Labradors have a natural ability to bound as gracefully as gazelles. Jumping fences will become a specialty. Bolters have learned to watch for moments of human inattention, and then charge out the tiniest crack in the gate or door.

The Bea, my dear beagle, was quite the escape artist in her glory days. When she first came to share my home I was convinced she could fly, as she would appear at the front door only moments after I had sent her out to the dog yard.  My kennel fences were tall; the bottoms buried two feet in solid clay yet she would routinely appear outside the fence. Careful, clandestine observation proved her to be an accomplished climber.

As you will hear from me again and again, it is always easier to prevent a behavior problem from happening than it is to fix it after the fact.  There’s no excuse for letting a puppy become an escape artist when preventive measures are so simple. Don’t let the puppy learn that roaming is rewarding and stop all fledgling escape attempts by using some common sense.

Before you get you puppy, make sure your new fence is flush to the ground, pinned every 6-8 inches or even buried a few inches deep. Check, from a dog’s eye view, for weak spots and gaps. Go overboard on the height. Make sure there are no woodpiles, dog houses, deck railings, lawn furniture close enough to provide a launching pad.

Teach you pup to “wait!” at the door until invited through. Install dog proof latches on all gates. A padlock will prevent an accidental release from an outsider and will thwart the development of latch-opening skills. Minimize your dog’s desire to roam by neutering at an early age and provide him with ample exercise and companionship at home.

And finally, consider keeping your dog indoors when you’re not home. It is, by far, the easiest, safest, most common sense solution.

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Dog gone AWOL

By Tracie Korol

It’s one of the worst feelings in the world. You return from work, walk into the yard expecting the familiar jingle of Fracas’ dog tags. But the sound never comes. You run to check the garage, the backyard, and the neighbor’s yard — nothing. Your dog is gone! It can happen to the most diligent pet owner, but with some foresight you can close most of the loopholes through which Fracas may slip away.

Why do dogs leave home?

Hands down the primary reason dogs leave home is a combination of loneliness and boredom. Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, author of “The Hidden Life of Dogs” maintains that the one thing a dog most wants is … other dogs.  A dog’s human family can substitute for a canine pack but only up to a point.  Today, “pack members” are gone during the day and often at night, at work or school, and it’s hard for dogs to accept long separations from leadership and affection. They begin to look beyond the boundaries of home for stimulation and companionship.  Also, add in that dogs are hunters and scavengers. Given the opportunity, they will gratefully leave their over-investigated backyards. Roaming is an innate canine behavior.

If a dog is not neutered or spayed, the call of romance will win over confinement every time.  A female in season can attract males from miles around.  Dogs that might otherwise have been content to lounge around the house suddenly pull off Steve McQueen maneuvers just to heed the call of the randy.

Severe weather conditions can cause the most well adjusted dog to panic and flee his yard in fear for his own safety.  I have known dogs that have broken through windows to escape the noise and attendant sensory input of a thunderstorm.  Noise from construction equipment, fireworks or gunshots can have much the same effect.

Certain dogs are so motion — or activity — stimulated that they become “door crashers.” The slightest opening in a gate or door creates a golden opportunity to take off after that real or imaginary prey. If there happens to be a real-live squirrel or even another dog in his line of sight, the escape and ensuing chase becomes a self-perpetuating behavior because of the immediate reward.

Some dog losses are “assisted”. The most notorious examples are the meter reader/utility worker/gardener/pool maintenance-related escapes. The people who enter your property on a routine basis aren’t always careful about closing doors, latching gates and, admittedly, most are not that wild about dealing with strange dogs. Unlocked gates pose a big temptation for neighbor children to “let the puppy out to play”. Their parents, however, may not have such high regard for your pet. If your dog howls or barks all day while you are at work that testy neighbor may relieve the shared agony by subtly easing your gate open just enough to facilitate an escape.

Not all dogs escape from home. Dogs lost from the backs of trucks, campers or from inside cars are becoming increasingly more common.  To give our dogs companionship, we take them with us! The problem is that our dogs are not happy in the car unless we’re sitting with them.  Because of higher public exposure, a dog is at greater risk of an “assisted” escape left alone in a vehicle that it is at home.

Determining the reason why and how your dog escapes will point to how to remedy the problem. Next week: What you can do to prevent your dog from leaving.

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Your dog is a person, too

By Tracie Korol

We are now floating in the sea change where dogs, in earlier centuries regarded as pests or property, later to become helpmates and co-workers, are now not even companions and friends. Now, they are family.  And as family, they are often taking on more responsibilities than most of your run-of-the mill two-legged people. Assistance animals treat high blood pressure, provide diabetic monitoring, detect cancers and make enormous contributions to the management of autism.  Canine warriors lay down their lives on the battlefield and in inner city combat zones. When they cuddle on the couch with us in the evenings, they fill in the emotional gaps in our increasingly technological world.

As any of us who has agreed to the contract of dog ownership knows, the dog in our house IS part of the family and is most likely, much more loveable and enjoyable than some of their human counterparts.  But can we can so far as to think of them as fur-covered people?  Sure.

After training dozens of dogs to lie still in MRI machines and scanning their brains in active reaction to various stimuli, neuroeconomics professor Gregory Burns goes so far as to come to the conclusion that “dogs are people, too.” Unlike behavioral analyses, Burns’s work provides actual neurological evidence that dogs experience consciousness and emotions at a level comparable to humans. He did so after training dogs (with the help of Mark Spivak) for months to be comfortable inside MRI scanners — and having them wear earmuffs to protect their sensitive hearing from the 95 decibels of noise the scanner makes.

That a dog would consent to a scan without the whingeing, complaining and anxieties made by people in MRI machines, is testimony enough for me.

After analyzing the scans, Burns was struck by the similarity between dogs and humans in both the structure and function of a key brain region called the caudate nucleus. Without getting too technical, the caudate is that area of the brain that flashes when we experience the anticipation of things we enjoy — like food, music or beauty. Specific parts of the caudate stand out for their consistent activation to many things that humans enjoy. Caudate activation is so consistent that under the right circumstances, it can predict our preferences.  In dogs, the caudate flashes in response to food (well, yes), the scent of familiar humans as well as shows a reaction when the beloved human momentarily steps out of view, among others.

Many of the same things that activate the human caudate also activate the dog caudate. Neuroscientists call this a functional homology, and it appears to be an indication of canine emotions.  The ability to experience positive emotions, like love and attachment, means that dogs have a level of sentience comparable to that of a human child. And this ability suggests a rethinking of how we treat we treat the smallest family member and generally, dogs at large.

For most of civilized time, dogs were considered property, like rakes and washing machines. Though the Animal Welfare Act of 1966 and state laws raised the bar for the treatment of animals, it solidified the view that animals are things—objects that can be disposed of as long as reasonable care is taken to minimize their suffering.

But now, by using the MRI results, we can no longer hide from the evidence. Dogs have emotions just like us. And this means we must reconsider their treatment as property. Certainly, we need to minimize any suffering but also consider a sort of limited “personhood” for any animal that exhibits neurobiological evidence of positive emotions. Society is many years away from considering dogs as persons.  However, recent rulings by the Supreme Court have included neuroscientific findings that open the door to such a possibility.

“We can no longer hide from the evidence,” says Burns. By granting them this personhood status, it would work to prevent puppy mills, laboratory dogs, and dog racing. Perhaps, we might be able to eradicate the misery of chained dogs and dog fighting prevalent in our town.

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