Heat Wave – Protect Your Dog!

Summer has finally taken a hot grip on our days – while this can mean fun in the water, surfing and chilling at the pool, it can also be potentially dangerous for our furry friends. There are the obvious lethal situations, like keeping dogs in hot cars, which by now, we should all know, can be like ovens at a moment’s notice. Only 10 minutes are enough to rise the temperature by about 20 degrees.

Provide places for your dog to cool down in your backyard

But that’s not all: dogs regulate their body temperature by panting and evaporating water. This means that they need water in the first place, and the air has to be dry and circulated enough to be more saturated with evaporated water. So it’s not just the heat, a closed environment like a crate in a car, no windows open and no water available can send a dog in heat distress even though temperatures may not be over 75 degrees. This is also the reason, why it may not be a good idea to hose down your dog before getting in a confined space like a closed car or a crate, as the wet fur acts like a sauna environment and the air around your dog will saturate with moisture almost immediately, rendering your dog unable to decrease its body temperature by panting.

But it’s also the less obvious situation which can be harmful for your dog. When walking your pooch, try to stay on cool surfaces. Hot asphalt can burn your dog’s paws in no time. Playing fetch or work in hot weather can overheat your K9 partner, seniors, puppies or overweight dogs can even show signs of hyperthermia during a walk outside. If your dog has difficulties breathing or is prone to it like some breeds (Pugs, Boxers, Bulldogs or Penkingese for example), they may not be able to control their body temperature as well as other dogs.

Take your dog swimming

If you leave your dog in your backyard during the day, make sure, there is ample shade and fresh water. When temperatures reach triple digits, your dog may be safer in an AC cooled down house – or have someone check on your dog when you are away.

Some dogs do better with their fur shaven, however, check with breed experts or your vet, as some dogs need the long fur as a protection from the sun. Some dogs who do not have fur like the Chinese Crested or the Mexican Hairless (Xoloitzcuintle) may need additional protection like a light shirt or even sunscreen.

Here are some signs your dog may display when in heat distress:

  • Very heavy panting and visible difficulties breathing
  • Because blood is flowing close to the surface to cool down, the mucous membranes appear very red
  • Possible vomiting
  • Staggering, unsteady walk
  • Anxiety
  • Dry gums and/or excessive salivating
  • Possible bloody diarrhea

When shock sets in, the dog may collapse, seizure and the mucous membranes may turn pale. This is when help may be too late and the dog is about to die. Heat distress is very serious and recognizing the signs may be life saving. Once hyperthermia hits, it may be too late.

Watch your dog for signs of heat distress

If your dog displays signs of heat distress, try to cool her down as fast as possible. Move your dog into a cool environment, use cold water on the stomach, between the legs and extremities such as outside of the ears and top of the head. Do not use ice water. Check the temperature and bring your dog to a vet as fast as possible to make sure, no permanent damage has been caused. Effects from hyperthermia can show days after the incident and can be just as life threatening.

It is important to know your dog’s normal body temperature to be able to determine when it is dangerously elevated. Take your dog’s rectal temperature once a week or more often to get your dog used to it and to find out the average level. When you go for a walk with your pooch, bring water for you and your dog. But most importantly, use common sense. If you are too hot, your dog could be uncomfortable, too.

Growling Dogs – Now What?

Does your pooch turn into a growling mountain of fur when you try to sneak on your favorite place on the couch, where he already awaits? Is your sweet little chihuahua defending your bed – from you or your family?

Clearly, the black dog has had enough! The other dog understands and moves away.

Growling is a vocal form of communication, just like barking or whining. There are different types of growling – those who ever wrestled with a Rottweiler can tell you, that sometimes, a growl is just fun. Some dogs enjoy growling when they are playing, they may also growl, when you try to take away the piece of steak you just put on the plate for your dinner and that they are now happily chewing on. And they may growl, if they encounter a stranger, someone, they have not met before or plainly just don’t like. Even though, for many of us, these growls may sound exactly alike, they are not. In an experiment, two years ago, scientists recorded the three different growls (food growl, play growl and stranger growl) from 20 dogs and replayed these growls to dogs just about to chow down on a bone. If they were replaying the food growl, an astonishing 11 of 12 dogs withdrew from the bone within 15 seconds. Compared to the stranger growl, only 2 of the 12 dogs left the bone and 4 of the 12 dogs left it when they heard the play growl. They also counted, how many dogs would go back to the bone within 90 seconds. 7 of the dogs from the food growl group did not approach the bone, while only one from the stranger growl resp. play growl did not go back. (‘The bone is mine’: affective and referential aspects of dog growls. Farago et al., 2010)

Understanding the correct meaning of your dog growling is essential as your reaction may either escalate into a dangerous situation or simply means, having more fun, romping around with your dog. While you may feel betrayed by your dog growling at you, there are many signs that lead up to that second to final response – your dog may stare at you, ears back, hunkering down, tail wagging stiffly. Oh, yes – the tail may still be wagging, but do not be fooled. In this form, you are about to trigger an explosion. By punishing the growling, you take away an important step from ‘telling you loudly, it’s about to happen’ to ‘happening’. If you have successfully ignored all the signs the dog has given you with his body language, the growl is the one last thing that will stop you from doing what you are about to do.

Guarding the Furniture

While some ‘experts’ will tell you not to accept your dog growling at you and that you need to win this fight by all means, I’d tell them to try and use their methods on a 120 lbs English Mastiff. Even a chihuahua can execute a fast attack on your fingers and be quite painful. What’s more important though, if you have ever been bitten by your dog, your relationship and trust have just been ruined. From that day on, you will look at your dog differently. And your dog will feel this, too. So instead of instigating a situation which will hugely complicated to resolve, not to speak risking bodily injuries, let’s concentrate on defusing it. By the time your dog shows you all the signs including the growl, it is too late to start applying any sort of dominance training methods or much else. I’m neither saying you have to accept this behavior nor to tolerate it. But for that particular instance, there is not much you can do but get yourself and your dog out of this situation. If your dog is defending his place on the bed, get him down by either going into the kitchen and open the fridge (which for my dogs is always a secret sign to stand at the kitchen entrance), call your dog’s name and have treats ready (good ones, like hot dogs…) or, worst case, use a leash, form a loop, throw it over your dogs head and lead him down – the last method is only applicable, if you know that your dog works well on the leash.Do not get too close to your dog, nor bend over him. Do not be emotional, stay neutral, even positive. Once he is off your bed or couch, work some obedience with him and reward for good behavior. Do not let him go back on the furniture!

Luckily, this dog is not aggressive – I simply took a photo of her barking.

If your dog is protecting that piece of steak, let him have it, calm down and work on food aggression from now on, every day! Take away the opportunity for your dog to steal steaks (or anything else for that matter) and start training towards your dog being comfortable with you being close to his possession and even give it up for you.

Now that the situation has been defused, concentrate on what happened before your dog started to growl. If you dog growled because you approached him when he was laying comfortably on your bed, it does NOT mean, that from now on, you should not go near him, when he’s on your bed. Rather you need to work on him not getting on there in the first place – and work on your general relationship.

In all growling cases, except when playing, I strongly urge to consult with a trainer, who has experience with aggressive dogs. While a growl does not make your dog aggressive, experience with such dogs often help to understand the underlying issue and how to deal with it. Be wary of trainers who tell you to wrestle your dog to the ground and ‘show dominance’ or ‘you need to be the [alpha] [pack leader] [first rank] (pick one), try to sell you a training collar without having worked with your dog first – or have you bring the dog to them to keep for several days to weeks to train him at their training facility. While this may be a good idea for seriously aggressive dogs, a dog who growls at you to protect his food, toy or place needs to work with you under the guidance of a trainer.

If your dog is growling at you, your family and friends or strangers repeatedly, it is a serious issue and needs to be dealt with, even if you think, your 10 lbs dog is sweet, trying to protect you from your friend. Often times, it is quite easy to work with a growling dog, but if you wait until the first bite happens, things become a lot more difficult.

Selecting a Dog or Breeder vs. Rescue

Puppies from responsible breeders are more likely to be healthy and active

Saving a dog and providing a home for a rescue dog is wonderful and applaudable. But there are also good reasons to buy a dog from a responsible breeder. If you are interested in a dog sport or if you have specific ideas on how your dog should be, a responsible breeder might be a better way to go. Finding the right breeder is not easy and a lot of homework needs to be done before committing. Here are some red flags that should make you be very cautious:

The place breeds more than one particular breeds
Sometimes two breeds compliment each other but usually it is advisable to pick a breeder who specializes in one single breed.

The breeder has more than 20 dogs or more than 6 litters per year
Some professional breeders have more dogs, including retired breeding dogs or they have a team looking after the dogs. Many times though, a breeder who has over 20 dogs and breeding all of them, simply does not have enough time to thoroughly look after them and giving them the interaction and exercise they need.

The dogs are not registered or are registered at a registry who is connected to puppy mill
The most popular registry in the United States is the American Kennel Club (AKC). There are breed specific registries who are perfectly fine and professional, but some registries like the Continental Kennel Club (CKC – not to be confused with the Canadian Kennel Club) or the UKC, who are not members of International Canine Organization are preferred by puppy mills. Registering a litter of puppies results in additional cost for the breeder, but the cost is not very high considering the cost of responsible breeding. By registering a litter of puppies, people can trace the heritage of their dog, which is part of finding the perfect breeding pair. If a breeder tells you that you can have a puppy with or without papers and asks for more money if your puppy should come with registered papers, run. This is a very clear sign of irresponsible breeding.

The breeder should ask lots of questions, for example what your plans for the new dog are

The breeder cannot or will not show you both parents
Not every responsible breeder has both parents on premises. In fact, many excellent breeders only have the female or the male and search for the respective counterpart a very long time. They select the pair very carefully and the female or male could even be in a different country. But you should be able to see at least the mother of the puppies.

Buying a Dog over the Internet
While buying over the Internet is not necessarily bad, it is easy for a puppy mill to pose as a legitimate professional and responsible breeder. They will show you pictures with happy and healthy puppies playing outside in the grass, a healthy mother lovingly nursing the litter and the whole human family petting and working with the dogs. Don’t be fooled. Often times, these dogs are not even theirs. Of course they will not show you the crates and cages or the sickly looking females who are forced to pump out litter after litter. There are States who are known to have more puppy mills than others. These States include Nebraska, Pennsylvania, Arkansas, Kansas and Missouri. This does not mean, of course, that there are no responsible breeders in these States! But by doing your homework, you will be able to weed out the bad breeders.

Fail to Provide Breed Specific Health Tests and Certification
Some breeds are prone to specific health issues. Hip Dysplasia is only one example. There are breeds who are more likely to develop eye or skin problems among many other issues. Breed organizations very often require health tests for the canine parents which show issues early on. Responsible breeders abide by these requirements and will show you the test results if you ask for them. Similarly, some sport dog breeds are required to go through certifications before breeding. Inform yourself about the breeding requirements of your favorite breed and don’t be scared to ask the breeder for proof.

Check the dog for any skin, eye or ear conditions

Breeder does not ask you any questions
Responsible breeders care about their dogs and try to find the best home possible for their puppies. Don’t be put off if they ask you tons of questions about you, your personal life, the way your house or apartment looks like, what you intend to do with your dog, if you have experience or what your work hours look like. Instead be suspicious, if the breeder does not care at all or does not seem to listen to your answers. A bad breeder just wants to sell the puppies and will not care where they end up. Responsible breeders may want to be part of the puppy’s life or at least stay in contact. Often they may include a stipulation in their contract and return a deposit money when you test your dog for breed specific health issues at a certain age – because they care. Irresponsible breeders will repeat breedings even though they do not know if the puppies produced by the last breeding, suffer from health issues completely avoidable by selecting different parents. This is also why no responsible breeder will ever sell their puppies in a pet store. No matter what you may hear when you enter a pet store, all these puppies are from puppy mills, out for the quick buck.

Rescue organizations require homework as well. Not every rescue organization is legitimate. Some will only take puppies from questionable backgrounds and pretend to have rescued them, only to sell them to you for a high ‘adoption fee’. Adoption fees are necessary to support rescue groups who’s volunteers donate their time and own money. These fees include boarding, health care and often times neutering and micro chipping dogs. Most breeds have their own rescue group who concentrate on these specific breeds, but there are also many legitimate rescue organizations who care for all type of dogs, young and old, pure bred and mixes. When considering a dog from a rescue group, look at all the dogs this group cares for. Do they only have puppies? Can they tell you where these dogs are from? Do they have volunteers fostering these dogs, do they have a boarding facility or is one person hoarding 50 dogs in the backyard? Are they a legitimate non-profit organization? Do they require a home check or do they ask you to meet them at a parking lot somewhere to transfer the dog to you? Are they able to give you enough information about the dog’s temperament and traits? You can also go directly to the shelter and see if they may have a dog who fits you perfectly. Shelters, especially in Southern California, are always full and sometimes have literally hundreds of dogs looking for a home.

With your homework done and a portion of luck, you will find your perfect canine companion, whether from a breeder or the rescue.

Picking The Right Breed For Your Perfect Companion

Whether you are looking to add a four legged companion to your family, you want an active dog that helps you shed those extra pounds or a K9 with a job, the first step is always planning ahead to avoid as many surprises as possible. Here are a couple of steps that will help you to start out as a responsible dog owner.

The American Kennel Club (AKC) divides its 173 different recognized dogs into seven breed groups:

  • Sporting Group
  • Hound Group
  • Working Group
  • Terrier Group
  • Toy Group
  • Non-Sporting Group
  • Herding Group

Ask yourself a couple of question before you consider a specific breed:

Long Haired vs. Short Hair

– Do I prefer short or long hair?
Long haired fur does not necessarily mean more shedding. Some short haired dogs, like the Shar Pei, have hair which will stick to everything. Shedding sometimes is a sign of bad nutrition, but there are definitely breeds who tend to shed more than others. Dogs like poodles do not shed at all – and there are dogs who do not have fur at all, like the hairless Chinese Crested or the Xoloitzcuintli, the Mexican Hairless. A non-shedding dog does not necessarily mean, that a person who is allergic to dogs, will not react. Most people are allergic to a dog’s saliva, not the fur.
– How big of a dog do I want and am I prepared for the size?
Having a small apartment does not necessarily mean that you can only consider a chihuahua sized dog. Giant dogs like Great Danes may take up a lot of space, but they are generally also less active. If you provide enough exercise for them outside of the apartment, some bigger sized dogs are fantastic in a smaller indoor space. However, typically, bigger sized dogs tend to live a shorter life than smaller dogs. For example Great Danes or Bernese Mountain Dogs only have an average life span of about eight years. Additionally, medical attention may be more expensive as they require a bigger amount of medication. Last but not least: they most definitely take up more space on your bed!

Belgian Malinois are very active and not recommended as pet dogs

– Am I looking for a dog who is active and will require exercise and training?
Having an active dog can be both extremely fun and a curse at the same time. There are breeds who are not for the everyday pet owner. Working dogs like the Malinois or the Australian Shepherd need a lot of attention, training and exercise, physically and mentally. If you are looking for a dog who runs with you or accompanies you while  you are riding your bike, there are many active breeds who are also great pets like Dalmatians or Labradors. Maybe you are already set on a specific dog sport and are looking for a competing K9 partner. Depending on how serious you are about this sport, you might want to consider breeds who are already active in this particular sport. Some breeds are allrounders and fit many different sports or life styles like the German Shepherd or the Labrador.

– Is the dog mostly going to stay outside or in the house?
If a dog gets enough exercise and human interaction, there is nothing wrong with having a dog in the backyard, provided the climate allows it. Always make sure, your dog has shade, water (not frozen) and protection from harsh environment, like an isolated dog house. Some dogs prefer the outside to the inside. This is a good point to decide beforehand as it is more difficult to train a dog who was allowed to stay in the house, to stay outside. If you leave your dog outside, whether over night or just for short times during the day, make sure that your fences are high enough. Many dogs can jump way over 6 feet and if they are not exercised properly, they will. Some dogs are more likely to jump fences than others. Unfortunately, in today’s times, another thing to consider is how easy it is for neighbors or strangers to reach your dogs. Usually a kennel or a double fenced backyard is much safer.

– How much time can I comfortably spend with the dog every day?
Dogs should not be left alone for more than 8 hours at a time regularly. They are pack animals, bred to be human companions for thousands of years and need the human interaction. If you think, you will be out of the house longer, find out if your work place allows you to bring your new four legged friend or get a dog walker once a day.

– What kinds of traits am I looking for in a dog?
We have bred hundreds of different types of breeds for a reason: for their size, fur and looks but most importantly for their temperament and traits which make them suitable for their jobs. This is why we now have breeds with all these different quirks. Some dogs are more apt to jump, some bark more than others (fun tidbit: The Basenji, a hunting dog from central Africa, does not bark at all) and some will retrieve a tennis ball until they drop. When thinking about a dog’s temperament, it is also recommendable to think about your family’s future. Are you traveling a lot? Do you have children or are you expecting children in the near future? Are you thinking about moving soon?

Different climates for different breeds

– Is the climate I live in suitable for the dog I look at?
Having a dog who is native to colder regions may not be a good choice for the Southern California heat. On the other hand, a Mexican Hairless is probably not doing too well in Alaska. Learning about your favorite breed’s history can give you hints of whether or not this dog might be a good fit for where you live.

There are many ways to learn about different breeds. Numerous books have been written on specific or containing references to several breeds, there are TV documentaries and websites. Nothing, however, beats talking to an owner of a dog of your favorite breed, a breeder, or visiting a dog event like a dog show or a sport event where your favorite breed competes. Owners and breeders can give you first hand account on what they like about these dogs and their needs. And they can help you finding your new friend.

If you are thinking about a mix, mutt or heinz76, it is still important to do your homework and find the right breed for you. While there is no guarantee, that the mix containing your favorite breed will also show the traits you like about that breed, it may give you an idea of what’s ahead of you.

My next blog post will talk about getting a dog from a shelter or from a breeder and questions you should ask every rescue organization or breeder before you get your new friend.