Why it is a good idea to not leave a dog in the backyard

Now don’t get me wrong. I do think, most dogs love the outside – at least mine do, and I love the idea to be able to provide my dogs with some off-leash time outside, where they can run, sniff and (yes, admittedly) dig a hole to their hearts desire. But I don’t leave them outside without supervision, or at the very least, I’m always close, listening and ready to react. Here are some reasons why it is not a good idea to leave your dog outside without watching them.

Scaling the Fence

fridajump3No, of course my dogs would not scale our 6-feet fences. Or would they? Well, they have. Fortunately, they know who feeds them and who has their favorite dog bed. They did not stray far. In fact, one staid on the couch, while the other one barked at our neighbor’s door until he opened, where upon she ran past him to play with her friend, the neighbor’s dog. We have since fortified our fences, fixed the whole and now even feature double fences. Even the most balanced, exercised dogs can decide to make a go for it, when they discover a hole or a rotten piece of wooden fence.

We had a crazy person opening backyard doors in the neighborhood where we lived before. So even if your fences are bomb proof, you never know what’s going to happen. Add the hated neighbor cat down the street, a couple of fast cars and you have the recipe for a disaster.

Unwelcome visitors

I would have never thought it would be possible, but this last weekend made me realize, that I have not seen it all. I do not let our dogs lose in our backyard without being very alert to their behavior. When I heard them bark, the thought crossed my mind, that it was just our neighbor, cutting his tree next to our fence, like he did the days before. But the barks sounded different, so I went and looked. I could not see anything, but there were abnormal noises from the neighbor’s side. I decided to take the dogs inside, when all of a sudden I saw a big brown dog scale our fence, which is in itself 6 feet high and on top of that there is a big bush, which adds about another 4 feet. Well, this dog decided to work his way through the bush. Fortunately, I was able to get the dogs inside just before that visitor hit our backyard ground or it would have meant a bloodbath, as my female dog is quite territorial. Here’s the real kicker though – our neighbor does not have a dog! So I never expected danger in form of a dog from this side. A neighbor four doors (and backyards) down, dogsat for a friend, put the dog in his backyard and drove away. Fortunately, the dog had tags with phone numbers on his collar and I was not afraid of him, so the situation got resolved quickly. But I do not want to even imagine what would have happened, if I had ignored my dogs or – even worse – I would have left them outside and went away.

Now, again, I have double fences on all sides, except towards that neighbor, who does not have a dog!

Danger lurking in the backyard

Have you ever replanted something? Used a new fertilizer? Found a dead animal hidden in the bushes of your backyard? Maybe improved the looks of your garden with some fresh mulch? Found some exotic herbs or flowers? Even though your dog may have never dug a hole, ate a plant or munched on freshly added fertilizer, it may just happen. And it might have a catastrophic outcome. I know of a dog who died after drinking from water which was close to a tree, which, after an abnormal amount of rain, was dripping a lot of sap into that water. That particular tree sap was poisonous and unfortunately killed the dog.

Animals, killed by poison such as rat poison, may smell like a delicious in-between meal for our furry friends, but proof to be deadly. While you control the pesticide in your garden, your neighbor might have a different idea of getting rid of unwanted guests. Rats and/or other animals poisoned by your neighbor might end up on your lawn, being a risk for your dogs.

Poisonous risks aside – there are other dangers in your backyard. Even your dog playing with fallen branches from your trees might cause a hefty vet bill, if said branch ends up stuck in your dog’s throat. Or, if your dog wears a collar, he or she might suffocate while being hung somewhere in a bush. Yes, that is a very pessimistic way to spoil the idyllic  picture of dogs happily playing in your backyard, but it might just happen. By the way, there is an easy fix on the collar thing: the breakaway collar still gives you the safety of being able to have a collar (and tags!) on your dog while preventing suffocation accidents.

And everything else

coyoteOh, yes, if you can think of it, it can happen. A couple of months ago, I was just able to get the dogs inside before a huge swarm of bees occupied our backyard. While some of you say, that swarming bees won’t sting anyone, I was not about to try that out with our old man, who loves to snap at everything tiny that’s flying. And we don’t live out in the boonies! What if your dog turns out to be allergic to a bee sting? If you are not scared by bees, what about rattle snakes? Scorpions? Yes, I was laughing at that one, too, until I found one on a walk one day. We live in Southern California, in the suburbs, not on some sort of farm land. You know the dangers of your area best.

What can you do?

Some dogs prefer the outside. Some people prefer the dogs to be outside. It’s all legitimate, if precautions are being taken and it is clear, that there are risks, that may not necessarily be the same for a dog, who has access to the indoors. If a dog is to stay outside, I prefer a nice, safe kennel. When you build it yourself, make sure, you have a solid foundation, don’t just buy a kennel from Home Depot and put it up. Make sure, that you have an area that provides shade at all times and enough water. If your dog stays outside in all weather and day and night, make sure, you provide shelter for your dog, be that from the heat or the cold. Be certain, that the drinking water does not freeze. Personally, I prefer a kennel to be situated, where neither a neighbor nor someone from the street has access to. Yes, I’m paranoid like that.

If you don’t have space for a kennel, check your fences regularly. Make sure, that they are high enough for your dog not to be able to jump over them. Add a second fence for safety, if you think it’s necessary. Check on your dogs often. Make sure they have ample water and shade or shelter from the cold. Know their bark! Learn to distinguish their ‘it’s the mailman’ bark from the ‘there’s an intruder’ or ‘I’m hurt!’ bark. Act fast, when you think there’s something wrong. Let your vet know that your dog has been outside unsupervised if something happens and also inform him or her of any new additions to your backyard (plants, fertilizer, pest control). Use a breakaway collar for your dogs with tags. Microchip your dogs!

Finally, obedience train your dogs and exercise them daily. Tired dogs are less likely to go hunting for neighbor’s cat. They are also less likely to be anxious and scale the fence to go look for you. Obedient dogs will come when you call them and you are more likely to be able to bring them to safety, if some coyotes are wandering into your backyard.

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Are You Ready When Disaster Strikes?

There is an emergency scenario in almost all parts of our world: Fires, earthquakes, hurricanes… Some are more common than others, but we all live with the thought of one of those potential dangerous situations. So much so, that there are now even TV Shows about people, who prepare almost full time for emergencies, like Nat Geo’s latest hit ‘Doomsday Preppers‘. While they might take things to the extreme, we all know, that we need to be prepared in case of a situation, where food and water are not easy to come by, or evacuation is mandatory. One of the worst things about emergency situations is, that they are unpredictable. They can hit from one second to the next. Even if there is some warning, like in the case of a wild fire closing in or a weather related disaster, such as a hurricane or tornado, there may be little time to prepare. That is why it is so important to have a plan. For us dog people, we have to plan for our canine family members as well. Catastrophes like Hurricane Katrina showed us, how essential it is, to even have crates for the dogs. Most shelters will not allow dogs, unless they are crated. And that is yet another example, of why it is so important to crate train your dog.

An additional leash can be used as a muzzle

Let’s start with the obvious: food and water. Most organizations recommend a 3 day supply. Personally, I like to have enough for two weeks. Dogs need about 1.5 ounces of water per pound body weight, when they are relaxed. Be generous though. When dogs are stressed (which is likely in an emergency scenario) or active, they start panting and their need for water increases. When you store dry food, make sure, it is in a safe air tight container, to avoid any water getting in and spoil it. Change it every once in a while, so it doesn’t expire. Use the same brand you normally feed. You don’t want to change your dog’s food in an emergency situation and risk diarrhea, when you might be short on medication, veterinary access or water. If you feed raw food, you might want to think about a high quality kibble to store for emergency situations, since freezers may not be an option. If your dog food is in cans, don’t forget the can opener!

Paperwork may be more important than you think. Keep a copy of your dog’s current license, vaccination records, medical data (allergies, medication) and other information, such as name, date of birth, regular dog food, temperament (e.g. fearful of strangers) – and don’t forget a list with emergency addresses, emergency clinic and your regular veterinary. If you have to evacuate to a shelter, they will want to see your dog’s records – and if you have to leave your dog behind, you can tack a copy of all these information on your door for the rescue personnel. I recommend to have these records laminated. In case you do have to leave your dog behind, keep them safely contained inside with enough water for a couple of days and some food.

A K9 First Aid Kit can save your dog’s life

Next: Medical supplies. Prepare a K9 first aid kit – it is essential to have, not only in emergency situations. I even keep one in my car. A lot that goes into K9 first aid kit can also be used for humans – two flies with one strike. Additionally, I always store a couple of cans of pumpkin, no sugar or any other ingredients, the regular store-bought kind. It helps with diarrhea and constipation and most dogs like it enough to eat it with their regular food. Make sure, you have an adequate amount of your dog’s medication, if needed. Talk to your veterinary clinic about getting a bigger refill, so you can store some in an airtight container. They might also be able to recommend supplies for the first aid kit.

You will also need every day items, such as your dog bed, water and food bowls and pick up bags. I include some favorite toys to play and some chew toys like a Kong. Store everything in a carton box, so you can just grab it and go. An additional set of leashes is also useful.

Once you have everything organized, you need to make a list of nearby shelters, including motels, who are pet friendly. Write down the number of your local shelter – they may have more information in case of emergency. Make sure your dog’s tags are up to date and include your phone number and address.

All these steps don’t take much time. Dedicate a Sunday afternoon or Saturday morning to create an emergency preparedness kit and a plan! Enlist the help of your kids to put it together, so they are more aware, too. FEMA has some interesting and useful articles on their website, here is one specifically for pet owners:  FEMA – Information for Pet Owners.

How to Avoid a Flea Infestation

Soon it’s flea season again. Everyone who has dogs, knows these itsy black shiny parasites, lightning fast and jumping up to 7 inches high and 13 inches long, that’s about 200 times their body length. It sets the world record for jumping for all known animals, relative to body size. Their anatomy is amazing, really, but I, for one, am not interested in seeing one up close and live. At least not anywhere close to where I live and most certainly not on me or my dogs.

Wildlife can bring fleas into the backyard

Fleas come out of their hiding once it gets warmer. Their ideal temperature is 70 – 90 degrees and they can overwinter easily. Adult fleas can survive two months to a year without food. When you see a flea in your home, you need to know that there are over ten times more, hidden as eggs, larvae and pupae, which you can’t see. Creepy, isn’t it?

Dog fleas can be kept in check with once-a-month topics or flea collars, but not everybody wants to treat their dogs with these chemicals, if it is not necessary. Fleas are not a given fact, if you have a dog – even if you take your dog everywhere you go. Some dogs (and humans) will never encounter a single flea. Preventative medication is not without risk for dogs – some react with severe allergies or reactions. Furthermore fleas can become used and immune to some of these drugs. Unless your dog is severely allergic to flea bites or you suffer from a weakened immune system, monthly treatment can be avoided. Here are some tips on how to decrease the risk of having fleas without heavy medications:

  • Vacuum often. A neat little trick is to keep a piece of a flea collar in the bag or container of your vacuum cleaner. The collars are inexpensive and can be cut into several pieces. Fleas will be killed when they come in contact with the collar. Otherwise you will need to empty the bag or container immediately, as fleas can survive and jump out.
  • Wash the dog’s (and your) bedding once a week. Also clean kennel areas, dog houses and crates, if your dog uses them and don’t forget patios and porches.
  • Groom your dog. At least check the fur every two days. Fleas like the area around the tail or the chest and stomach, where dogs can’t scratch easily. Special flea combs can help trap fleas. You can also find out if your dog has fleas when you find dirt in their fur. Take a white paper napkin, remove the dirt, add a little water and rub the dirt in the napkin. If it appears red, it may be flea dirt.
  • Use a dehumidifier with air conditioning. Flea larvae need at least 50% humidity to survive.
  • Washing your dog with a mixture of apple vinegar and water can help to repel fleas. You can also fill a spray bottle with this mix and spray your dog every once in a while. It is also said that giving your dog garlic can be effective repellents, but be careful. While garlic has many excellent attributes, too much garlic can be toxic to your dog!
  • Eliminate food and water sources for flea carrying wildlife such as racoons.

Natural remedies for killing fleas include cedar oil and diatomaceous earth. Use the same care when applying these methods as you would with conventional products.

If you find fleas on your dog, by all means, use topical flea medication. But don’t forget that your dog might react to it. Watch your dog over a period of at least 48 hours. Because of possible severe reaction, I recommend topical solutions over pills. If your dog reacts, you can wash off the topical medication with soap and water. When applied with the above tips, you should be able to easily combat a flea infestation without the monthly chemical sledge hammer.

Shaking the head could be a sign of fleas being in or on the dog's ears

Should Dogs Eat Raw Meat?

There is no doubt, that our dogs are meat eaters. Dogs have the digestive system of carnivores. This makes their digestion completely different than ours, even though many of us do so enjoy a juicy steak more often than not. Since dogs historically don’t cook their food, their digestive system is made to deal with the benefits and disadvantages of raw food. Dogs cannot chew as well as we can, their jaw does not move sideways and their teeth are made to rip off flesh of a bone. If you have a dog, you may have noticed that often they do not take the time to work their food in tiny pieces – instead they literally ‘wolf’ down as big parts as they possibly can. This may well be an explanation why they only have about 1,700 taste buds as compared to our whooping 9,000! Cats, who are true carnivores, have even less – they have to make do with just about 470. The dog’s saliva acts as lubricant and helps them to swallow big pieces of food. It also lacks the enzyme which helps us breaking down our food already while we chew. Once the food reaches the stomach, a very strong gastric acid helps process it. The gastric acid of a raw fed dog is normally stronger than ours and is partially the reason, why bacteria on food such as salmonella are not as big an issue with healthy dogs as it is with us. In the wild, dogs don’t only eat fresh kill but also food that has been laying around for quite a while. In fact, many dogs bury their food and eat it a couple of days later. I have observed my dogs doing that – not something for our noses, that’s for sure!

Dogs have a very short digestive system. It takes about 8 hours for them to digest food whereas we need between 24 and 72 hours. Their large intestines are only about 8 inches to 2.6 feet long, depending on the size of the dog, where as ours is about 4.9 feet long. When you look at true herbivores, such as cows and goats, theirs are even longer. Plant matter is much more difficult to break down and does take more time. And it makes sense to pass food that may rot, like raw meat, through the system much faster, while plants are less delicate.

So, is a dog strictly a meat eater? While meat should be the main ingredient in a dog’s diet, our canines absolutely benefit from different food sources. Many dogs like fruits, such as berries, apples or bananas. Leafy foods, such as herbs and veggies should be prepared in a food processor, frozen or blanched to make them adjusted for a dog’s digestive system. Feeding raw meat to healthy dogs can be great for them, but you may have to be extra cautious when handling it as we are more susceptible to things like salmonella. Dogs can lead healthy and long lives without being fed raw meat, but given their digestive system, they are made for it. Ultimately, it will depend on what you are comfortable with feeding your dog. And there is nothing wrong with that.