Review Category : Tracie Korol

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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Ears to you

By Tracie Korol

When the Blue Angels perform practiced maneuvers low over my house, I noticed that with each pass my visiting pack flattened to the ground, ears clamped tight to the head. The noise was painful to my ears and I understand the abstract of giant, shrieking flying things overhead: it had to bewilder conceptually and physically hurt my dog friends’ ears. We played inside until it quieted down but the noise was still in the uncomfortable range.

Hearing can be visualized as waves of energy traveling along molecules in the air, transformed into mechanical energy at the ear drum, then amplified by small bones and finally transformed into the electrical impulses in the auditory nerve — resulting in what the brain registers as hearing. Dogs have a much different range of hearing than ours, extending into a considerably higher frequency than we can hear.

Sound frequency, the number of sound wave cycles every second, is measured in Hertz (Hz). The higher the frequency, the more sound waves per second, the higher-pitched the sound. According to Monika Wegler’s book, “Dogs: How to Take Care of Them and Understand Them,” “Humans pick up an average of 20,000 acoustic vibrations per second (Hz), whereas a dog is able to perceive between 40,000 and 100,000 vibrations.” In short, dogs hear a whole lot better than we do.

All dog owners can report a similar story. At my house, even if my dogs were dead asleep, upside down and snoring at the other side of the house, no matter how quiet I attempted to be, creeping in stocking feet to the kitchen, opening a cupboard door with exaggerated care, I could always expect a trio of happy faces at my knees by the time my hand reached out for whatever snack I had in mind. What this means is, if you need to yell at your dog in order for him to pay attention, your relationship needs work. He can hear you just fine even when you whisper. Good dog handlers rarely raise their voices above normal conversational tone.

However, dogs, like people, can lose hearing for a number of reasons: infections; trauma and loud noise; genetic susceptibility; neural damage, etc. The most common form of hearing loss is called “conductive” hearing loss and it is caused by blockage of the ear canal — from foreign bodies, infections, or an excessive build-up of ear wax (cerumen).

Exposure to loud noises can cause “sensory” hearing loss, and this loss becomes progressively worse as the exposure continues over time. Dogs that are subjected to constant loud music will gradually lose hearing, and the loss can be permanent. I feel for the dogs riding shotgun in the cars you can hear coming half a mile away. Quick impact, high-level noise such as gunshots also causes profound hearing loss. The Mississippi State College of Veterinary Medicine conducted a study in 2002 finding of all the gun dogs tested (40), all had marked hearing loss. “A partially deaf dog is not as effective as a hunter,” said Dr. Andrew Mackin, holder of the college’s Hugh Ward Chair in Veterinary Medicine and an associate professor in small animal internal medicine. They recommended that hunting dogs wear earplugs, much as the hunter does.

There are many drugs that can cause hearing loss, too. Aminogycoside antibiotics such as gentamycin and amikacin; loop diuretics such as furosimide (Lasix); several anti-cancer drugs and even high doses of aspirin can damage hearing.  Be sure to ask for side effects or make a point to read the package inserts before committing your dog to a course of medication. Diseases such as diabetes, kidney failure, and hypothyroidism may be associated with hearing loss, too.

As a dog ages, much like his human friends, his hearing diminishes. The first sign may be a hesitancy to obey commands or a reluctance to go into strange territory.  Old age hearing loss is usually a slow, progressive change and you may be able to slow it down somewhat with good nutrition, antioxidants and adding some herbal supplements to the diet.

An old dog may initially lose only the ability to hear certain frequencies — usually the upper ranges. Speaking to him in dulcet tones may be helpful. I’ve advised clients to use percussive sounds such as clapping that can be heard by fairly deaf dogs. A clap can draw a dog’s attention to hand signals. Realize, too, that hearing loss can create behavioral changes. You may notice something that looks like aggression. In reality, it may be your dog was unaware of your approach, became startled when touched, and instinctively reacted. Some old guys can be startled easily and may snap or bite when.

The last form of hearing loss is “neural” hearing loss, the least common form. It can be caused by head trauma, blood clots, ruptured blood vessels, or brain tumors.

The good news is that hearing aids have been developed for dogs but are pricey. Best to teach hand signals in basic puppy training or introduce hand signals for older dogs and use them with each oral command,  just in case.

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Off to a good start

By Tracie Korol

“We just got a puppy this weekend!” is a sentence I hear more often than a non-dog person would. I wade cautiously into these exchanges curious to know if the new owner was overcome with spontaneous puppy desire, shelter guilt or had they actually planned for what could become a 16-year commitment. Unfortunately, many of these new dog ventures fail because people do not take adequate time at the very beginning to evaluate the desired dog or their own abilities to deal with it once it becomes a part of the family.

Practically speaking, if you’re considering adding a puppy to the family, ask the question, “How much time do I have?’” If you bring a baby dog home on a whim, you will spend weeks, months or even years playing catch-up struggling to recover from mistakes made in the first few weeks. It may even grow into the problem of “how-do-we-get-rid-of” if the concerns become chronic. There are way too many of those poor pets at any shelter.

First, when you get the itch for a puppy, resist. Instead, begin your search by visualizing the whole package of dogness: the ideal age, size, coat, breed or breed cross, energy level, attention span, ability to give and receive attention, sociability, portability, genetics and current AND down-the-road health status. With that vision in mind, visit shelters frequently without bringing a dog home. It will be a killer to walk past all those pleading eyes, but keep the vision of your perfect dog in mind each time you visit. Be flexible to a degree but stick with it because little deviations from your ideal can become huge problems in the long run.

For instance, you like to keep your house tidy and you finally have white furniture now that the kids are gone, your vision of the perfect dog is a medium-sized, shorthaired white dog that is content to stand around on a dropcloth. However, you fall in love with a shaggy black puppy that grows into a 70-pound kind-of-a-shepherd that spends most of its free time off-loading long hair and tracking in sand. In time, the relationship with the dog will suffer because your desire for a grime-free living room may confine the dog to the kitchen or, worse, the backyard.  DO NOT settle for a dog that doesn’t gladden your heart in every way and you won’t find yourself returning an older, less adoptable dog to the shelter when it doesn’t work out.

While you are visiting shelters, prepare your house and your personal lifestyle for your little addition.  Purchase ALL the things you’ll need to make the transition easier before you bring the puppy home: get a crate,  make some good puppy food, get a good leash (not one of those retractable thingys), stock up on grooming equipment, toys, Nature’s Miracle, and lots of paper towels. Think about containment. Do you need a portable pen? (yes) Do you need to make a major household improvement by fencing the backyard?  (yes) Think long and hard about your commitment to time spent with the dog.  Are you committed to taking walks several times a day no matter what the weather or your social obligations?  (yes) Are you committed to constantly supervising your pup for the first weeks? (yes) Are you committed to paring down your environment to absolute basics to protect your puppy from the temptation of desirable objects? (yes)

Occasionally, I have the pleasure of hosting puppies. Before a visit, I roll up the carpets, close off all but the assigned area, tie up any exposed cords, put plants out of danger-range, and have the paper towels and cleaner readily at hand. Yet, invariably, I still have to run down Master Pup when he speeds past with some kind of contraband in his mouth.  Even when “completely prepared,” these crafty little creatures have a knack for finding the forgotten and unknown … and then eating it. I might have tended a few thousand puppies in my time, and trust me, they all find contraband.

These considerations are only the beginning of accepting responsibility for the life of another living creature. The way you prepare and care for your pup in the first few weeks will determine your success of a life-long relationship of companionship and love.  I think the Boy Scouts summed it up: Be Prepared.

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The wolf on the sofa

By Tracie Korol

Dogs straddle two worlds; they all carry a template of behaviors inherited from their wolf ancestors.  With varying degrees of success, they attempt to overlay this template on their lives amongst us humans. Sometimes, the template doesn’t line up with what lies beneath. It doesn’t line up with wolf society anymore, either. Dogs live in a confounding world of instinctive behavior pitted against their new learned behaviors as wheedlers, ingénues, bullies and innocents.

The most useful behavior that dogs carry over from wolf society is the wolf’s sense of social rank and the system of communication that supports pack structure. Rank is the consequence of adaptations the wolf made in order to live in a group.  Being part of a pack came with the benefits of increased resources (food). But it also put him in conflict with his own kind. The acceptance of social rank was the only way to avoid constant fighting over what food there was. Those who gave up to the bigger guys found it was a pretty good way to avoid getting killed or driven off by older, stronger more experienced pack members.

Over time the dog’s ability to grasp the concept of social hierarchy became the key to his compatibility with humans.  Dogs are, after all, social climbers.

They have a powerful instinct to be with and to be compliant and mild toward those they view as their social superiors. We humans have very useful opposable thumbs that come in handy when a dog wants something.   But, they are also always on the lookout for signs of weakness, hesitation or a loss of confidence. As erstwhile “pack leaders,” we are responsible for setting rules and maintaining order. We are entrusted with the safety, security and longevity of our “pack”.

However, being a strong and effective pack leader does not mean being harsh, overbearing or cruel. Nothing ruffles my fur more than to listen to some Neanderthal hoot that the reason his dog trembles and creeps around him is because he “did the alpha roll!” on her. The alpha roll is a technique used in old-style dog training to discipline a misbehaving dog. It consists of flipping the dog onto its back and pinning it in that position, sometimes by the throat.  It was first popularized by the Monks of New Skete in their 1976 book, “How To Be Your Dog’s Best Friend”. (Best friend, really?) It’s useless and it’s cruel. In the true dog world, the pack leader does not spend all day, every day flipping and pinning all the dogs in their pack, snarling, fighting or being an otherwise pain in the ass. They clearly communicate their position as leader in the hierarchy by all the other signals they give.

Even though we are hampered by a questionable ability to communicate with another species, we must be our dog’s authoritarian guide much as parents are authoritarian guides for our children.

Although Juma is a member of the family or a working partner (or both), he is not an equal in responsibility or freedom and must be instructed in how to behave in an appropriate manner inside and outside the home. This training can take advantage of the characteristics that dogs have inherited from their wolf ancestors but with a nod to the influences of domestication.

The trick is to guide Juma even though we cannot communicate with him on his own level but are destined (or doomed) to educate him according to our human nature. Therefore, understanding dominance, submission, aggression, and the dog’s affinity for group living are important to the process even though thousands of years of canine husbandry have moderated their purpose.

Being pack leader means learning how to communicate alpha signals all dogs will understand. Don’t assume your puppy (or any other dog for that matter) speaks English. He speaks D-O-G. Communicating understandable alpha signals to your dog is the closest we ever come to speaking dog. As pack leaders we need to communicate with clarity, with consistency, compassion, understanding, and respect.

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A family that plays together

By Tracie Korol

When we watch a litter of puppies play we can be convinced that play is a natural behavior. But I’m sure you’ve met some dogs that don’t play well or that don’t seem interested play at all.  How can this be?

For starters, dog-dog play is different than dog-human play.  While puppies naturally know how to play with other puppies, they have to learn how to play with their people as a part of their socialization. Dogs that don’t have this opportunity in their critical formative weeks may not have any idea how to engage their humans in play, and play is one of the elements that strengthen the dog-human bond.  As odd as it may sound, the dogs that do not learn how to play with their people are often the same ones that end up in shelters because the social contract — the one that says a dog deserves a lifelong loving home — has been broken, usually by his human.

Unfortunately, some people have a severely limited idea of what constitutes dog play.  If your dog won’t fetch the ball, you might think your dog doesn’t know how to do the dog thing.  How many of us have thrown the ball for our Best Friend to have him turn around with a condescending look of “What!?”. While Tucker, my lab, would retrieve until the moon came out, his housemate Bea would give me her version of “nice throw” and walk away. She preferred a touch-and-run game we called Scream the Beagle.

Many dogs love running games, chasing games, digging activities and tug-play.

But don’t stop there. Everyone has fun teaching dogs tricks and the list is endless: Roll Over, Take a Bow, Say Your Prayers or the Commando Crawl. My dad taught all of our dogs “Wait For It” with tiny pieces of kielbasa balanced on their noses.

If your dog won’t play one game with you, change your approach. Certainly, Scream the Beagle was not a game I learned about in a book. It developed over time by responding appropriately to cues from the Bea. If you’re patient, understanding and willing to look a bit foolish, you can help your play-deprived dog learn how to get in some kind of game. Here are some mistakes we might make in trying to convince a party-poop dog to play:

• Too much intensity — pressure to perform turns the dog off.

• Shoving a toy at his face to get him to play with it.

• Becoming too excited, and frightening the dog just as he begins to show     interest.

• Giving up on the dog. If he declines to participate, try another and another until you find a game he likes.

• Failing to recognize and reinforce inbred play behavior, such as the bounce in his step, flip of the head, the play bow, a momentary reaching for a toy, or reach with a paw.

• Relying on food as the only reward in learning how to play. A reinforcer is anything your dog wants — a squeak, a run, or your attention.

• Not ending the session soon enough. You want to leave your dog wanting more!

Some activities aren’t appropriate for particular dogs because the games are too arousing, physically risky, or they reinforce inappropriate behaviors.  If you don’t allow your dog on the furniture, or if he is low to the ground (think daschund), then jumping on and off the couch is not a good idea.  Some humans insist on playing inappropriately, and it’s your job as your dog’s protector to prevent them from having access to your Best Friend. If your brother-in-law’s idea of dog-play is to encourage play biting or body slamming, then you have to step in.  Plus, you can’t expect your dog to play with humans he doesn’t care for. If he dislikes children or is frightened by men with beards, it’s unfair to expect him to play with the Abe Lincoln look-alike next door.

Play is not something a dog outgrows but rather an activity keenly pursued throughout their lives. Unhealthy and unhappy dogs do not play, so play serves as a barometer of well being, indicating that a dog is well fed, in good health, and content. Like humans, dogs do not play when they’re sad or distressed. If they simply do not enjoy playing anything, they should be carefully scrutinized to make sure all is well in their lives.

Who should play? Everyone.

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Integrative therapy for you and your dog

By Tracie Korol

The gist of Triumph of New-Age Medicine, an article by David H. Freedman, addresses how mainstream medicine (Harvard, Yale, Duke and the Mayo Clinic) has adopted alternative healing practices into their integrative medical-research clinics.  For many years any alternative practice was touted as quackery, slammed as a waste of money, dangerous or scary because it was not approved by the FDA.  Lately, however, the word in those hallowed halls is that It Works.

Part of that acceptance is because mainstream medicine is failing. Says Elizabeth Blackburn, biologist at the University of California at San Francisco, “Modern medicine was formed around successes in fighting infectious disease … we could find out what the agent was and attack it medically.” Now, because of these advances, we live longer and the chronic diseases are what do us in — cancers, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.  Blackburn continues, “We need to prevent and slow the onset of these diseases and we know ways of doing that.”  What are the ways? Healthy diet, more exercise and measures to reduce stress.

While mainstream medicine focuses on the quick fix, alternative therapies focus on lifestyles, feelings and attitudes emphasizing stress reduction, healthier eating, exercise and encouraging a belief in self-healing.

Okay, what does this have to do with dogs? All animals are born with a tremendous capacity to heal. In fact, most (up to 80 percent) dogs that experience a temporary illness will overcome the illness without costly intervention.  While traditional medicine is extremely valuable in diagnosing and treating acute disease, it’s the alternative approaches that address the treatment of chronic immune disease and cancer via long-term changes in “life-style.” Yes, your dog has a life style.

Life style for dog means what he eats — does he eat cheap, bagged food from the grocery or does he eat a variety of fresh meats, fruits, grain and vegetables? What kind of exercise does he get — does he run freely on grass or swim in the ocean or does he plod around the block on concrete? Does he sit alone all day, get his bowl of kibble when you return from work and then sit alone all evening while you go out to play? Or, does ride shotgun when you do your errands and go visiting with friends? Does he have something to do, something to think about — does your dog run agility, is he a therapy dog or does he carry the mail back from the mailbox?

The alternative approach supports and encourages a brighter, dog-centric avenue to health. It includes hands-on therapies of massage, chiropractic and acupuncture. It includes energetic therapies such as Reiki, a hands-on healing therapy for mind, body and spirit. It includes gentle therapeutic adjustments with herbs, essential oils, vitamins and supplements. And oh, by the way, there is a real holistic, AHVMA certified vet in Aiken, just up the road.

The ideal solution is to combine the best of both allopathic and alternative medicine to offer your dog the best chances of returning to health. If your Best Friend breaks his leg, he needs to be taken to an emergency facility to have it diagnosed and “set.” Once done, then the patient needs to heal, by whatever means supports that the best way possible.  Sometimes that’s more than just a pill. Sometimes it’s looking at healing in a whole new way.

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