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Saturday, April 14, 2012

Visiting the Dog Park: Tips for a Possitive Experience

Now that the weather is getting nicer here in the north Ashley and I are beginning to make visits to the nearby dog parks. Even though we live in the country and Ashley has a lot of room for running and exploring, I feel that going to the dog parks helps keep her social skills well tuned. Over the years I have learned a few things that have made our visits to the dog park fun for both Ashley and myself. Here are some tips for making your visit to the dog park a positive experience for both dog and owner.

1. Make sure you have your dog's vaccinations up to date. Your dog will meet a lot of new dogs and you need to make sure it is protected. Besides Rabies and Distemper vaccines your dog should also get Bordetella vaccine to protect it from  Kennel Cough. Kennel Cough is a respiratory disease that can be easily spread. You should also make sure that your dog is spayed or neutered.

2. Before you take your dog into a dog park, spend a few minutes watching the other dogs and how they are playing and interacting with others. If the dogs seem to be too rough in their play or are intimidating other dogs, come back some other time.

3. Be careful entering a dog park gate. Other dogs tend to crowd around to greet arriving dog. This jostling and crowding can be quite intimidating to many dogs and may result in a skirmish, or worse. Dog parks should have a safe entrance and exit for the park with double gates. If other dogs run to meet Ashley we usually spend a little time between gates so that she can say "hi" through the entrance gate. That way I can also get an idea about how she is feeling about her greeters before entering the park.

4. Supervise your dog. This is not the time for you to be distracted talking with other owners or burying yourself in a book. You must be monitoring your dog’s activities to be sure she isn’t being badly and other dogs are not behaving badly toward her.

5. Have a good understanding of typical dog behavior. When dogs get together they tend to size each other up, do a little sniffing to find out about their new potential friend, and may have to spend a moment determining status. Understanding dog communication is important.  Ashley is not generally a dominant dog but she will often send a message to younger dogs who may be a little too forward. Remember that mounting behavior is a way that dogs establish status or dominance. While it can be a bit embarrassing for owners, dogs need to understand their rank or status when they are in a group. 

6. Take your dog off leash.  If you’ve done the recommended training, checked out the safety and design of the park, and observed the other dogs before entering, you’ve done what you can to give your dog a fun and safe experience. Leashes interfere with the natural body language of the dog, dogs can get tangled up in them and dogs who become stressed by constant pulling against a leash can act in undesirable ways. Besides, most
parks require that your dog be off-leash.

7. Save treats (and toys) for later. There’s just too much potential for dogs to engage in guarding or stealing behavior that can lead to aggression and fights.

8. Stay as long as your dog is enjoying the experience. There have been times that our trip to the park was cut short because Ashley was stressed from some of the activities of other dogs or owners. Although she is a very social dog she doesn't have a lot of patience with other dogs who have poor manners. She isn't a "go with the flow" type of dog so if things around her seem unpredictable she gets nervous making the trip less fun for her and me.

9. Please, pick up after your dog. This is important for maintaining a good relationship with the other human visitors at the park. Most parks provide bags but I always bring my own just in case.

10. Have realistic expectations about your dog’s suitability for going to a dog park. If she isn’t polite or friendly with others, get help to change his behavior before you take him to a dog park. Dog parks are not a place to rehabilitate fearful or aggressive dogs or those that just don’t know how to play well with others.

Understand, also, your dog's breed and the tendencies that come with it. Ashley is an Australian Shepherd so she has a strong need to herd anything that is running. This has caused some problems at parks as she has tried herding the other dogs as they make their laps around the park.  Because of this, we do a little refresher of the come, wait, and stay commands before entering the park.

It's important to understand that by taking your dog to a dog park, you are accepting a degree of risk that your dog may be injured or may injure another dog.  You and your dog will meet a wide range of dogs with varying degrees of training and dog owners who may not understand dog behavior. We have seen both dogs and owner behaving badly during some visits. Although Ashley and I have had a couple of bad experiences at dog parks, rather than keeping us from future visits I've chosen to use them as learning experiences.  Most often, she loves her visits to parks and the opportunity to meet new people and dogs. It's also fun for me to watch her enjoy her experience at the park. Keep these tips in mind and you and your dog will also have a rewarding and enjoyable dog park experience.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Signs Of Aging In Your Dog – Equipping Yourself With Knowledge

The old saying goes that dogs are a man’s best friend, but in reality, the relationship between canine and human goes way deeper. Dogs have  transcended the role of best friend and have nuzzled their way into the family unit. It’s no surprise that we take it so hard when our furry friends grow old, but if we pay attention to the signs of aging in dogs, then there are steps we can take to help prolong the lives of our pets.

The first thing to remember is that larger dogs age faster than smaller dogs. In addition to this, overweight and obese dogs age faster than dogs who are thin and in shape. Many people argue over when it’s time to call a dog “senior.” As a general rule, many veterinarians and other animal specialists will refer to a dog as “old” when they are past half their life expectancy.  Smaller dogs can be expected to live up to 12-16 years, while larger breeds of dogs have typical life expectancies of 10 to 13 years. The lifespan also has a lot to do with their breed.

The signs of aging are not that dissimilar from that of humans. Aches and pains will set in, making it difficult for your dog to engage in activities that were commonplace beforehand. Simple tasks like walking up stairs, running etc., can become increasingly difficult as the aches and pains of old age start to creep in. You may also notice that your dog may start to seem clumsy; walking into things, seeming disoriented and unresponsive to your calls. Again, these are signs of aging similar to what we two-legged folks go through. The eyes and ears lose the sharpness and clarity of youth. Probably the worst sign you will see that your dog is aging is when little accidents will start to happen in the house. It may be as simple as their increasing lack of mobility, making it difficult for them to get out in time, but it could also be a sign of something more, perhaps bladder or kidney problems.

You can help avoid life-threatening problems of aging in dogs by taking them for regular vet check-ups. The most common cause of death in senior dogs is cancer and almost half of dogs can die from it. As an owner, you should be aware that the onset of aging issues varies widely by breed and dog size. Researching your dog's breed can help better prepare you for any ailments specific to them, making the aging transition easier for the both of you.

Some of those aches and pains and lack of mobility are going to happen regardless of your level of attention, but you can certainly help ease the pain somewhat by helping your aging dog through the process. Adding a set of doggie steps to your home will help them get up to the areas where they are allowed. Regular walks will help to keep them active, but keep an eye on their energy level and be sure to stop at the first signs of tiredness. Once your dog reaches a certain age, they may find it difficult to maintain a comfortable body temperature. You can help by adding a padded blanket to their bed and making sure that the bed is stored in a warm, dry area of your home.

We love our dogs, but it’s important to realize that they are not going to be around for as long as we would like. A little preventative care, recognizing the signs of aging and a whole lot of loving attention will ensure your senior dog has the longest chance of being by your side.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Senior Dog Health - Providing The Best Care Possible

There are millions of aging dogs around the world, and it’s important to understand that senior dog health issues are different from dogs that are younger. Older dogs have higher risks for multiple types of diseases, such as cancer, arthritis, loss of vision and hearing loss, along with other complications. There are many factors that you must take into consideration when caring for your senior dog’s health.

The first aspect you need to take into consideration when talking about older dogs is the type of food you’re feeding them. It is common knowledge among pet owners that you can’t feed every dog the same type of food.  Small dogs require different types of food than big dogs, and senior dogs need different food than younger ones. The vitamins and minerals in food are specifically designed to be consumed only by dogs in a certain age and size range. Since dogs can come in different shapes and sizes, it’s important to purchase the correct dog food type for your dog. Purchasing dog food especially designed for older breeds will ensure your dog will remain healthy and active through their senior years.

All dogs need exercise, but older dogs aren’t as capable as younger dogs in getting the proper amount they need to remain healthy. For younger dogs, obtaining exercise is as simple as taking them for a walk or letting them run around outside. However, as dogs become older, they are less capable of achieving these simple tasks and may need assistance when it comes to getting the exercise they need to remain healthy. When you take your senior dog for a walk, it’s important to walk slowly and walk at the pace that suits them. If you notice any obvious limps or stutters, it’s important to take your dog to the vet to have the problem checked out.

You should bring your dog to the vet on a regular basis for checkups regardless of age, but senior dogs need to be brought to the vet yearly to make sure they are in the best condition possible. Older dogs can develop problems and symptoms faster than younger dogs, and often these problems can be threatening to their health. Because dogs that are older than 10 years are getting nearer to the end of their life, it’s important to schedule them for regular veterinarian checkups to ensure they are living a healthy life.

When your dog is reaching up there in years, it’s important to take extra precautions to ensure your dog’s quality of life can be the best it can be.  Feeding them the correct food, exercising them regularly, and ensuring they receive proper medical checkups are paramount in ensuring your senior dog health.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Joint Pain In Your Senior Dog With Helpful Tips To Provide Relief

As your dog grows older, it is important to watch for certain ailments, particularly those that affect their hip and knee joints. I haven't noticed any sure signs of joint issues with Ashley but I do notice that jumping up into the back of my Ford Escape isn't as easy for her has it once was. There are some signs that your dog may be experiencing some hip or know ailments as they get older. Your dog will not feel like exerting much effort if they suffer from joint pain. It can happen for several reasons such as arthritis, tendon injuries, fractures, legg-perthes disease and hip dysplasia.  Arthritis and hip dysplasia are the two primary complaints veterinarians see in senior dogs.

Arthritis affects dogs in the same way it affects humans, especially senior dogs.  The main type of arthritis is osteoarthritis where years of wear and tear cause joint cartilage to deteriorate. Pain and stiffness result from the bones rubbing up against each other.

Hip dysplasia is a genetic disorder where the dog is afflicted with a hip that isn’t properly formed and there is looseness at the joint. The main sign is unsteadiness in their walk, which is usually found in large dog breeds.  Hip dysplasia is present in puppies, but symptoms might not show up until they are older. Obesity increases the severity of this disorder.

Legg-perthes disease mostly affects small dog breeds. It happens because of an interruption in the blood supply to the hip joint, causing pain and a loose-fitting joint.  As with hip dysplasia, symptoms worsen or become apparent as they age.

5 Helpful Tips to Provide Relief

1. Maintain proper weight.  Now more than ever it’s essential to watch your dog’s weight. Added weight places more pressure to your aging dog's joints and causes deterioration to happen more rapidly. We all love giving our dogs treats as rewards but, as they grow older, many of these treats are high calorie and contribute to your canines weight gain. Many pet stores sell low calorie dog treats or treats made for the senior dog. Ashley likes the Nutro Natural Lite Dog Biscuits. Also, since she really still loves her kong I've started using KONG Stuff'n Senior Treats.

2. Low Impact Exercise.  Keep your dog's bones and joints strong and healthy by taking them for a light walk or swimming. This can help keep their joints lubricated by activating Synovial fluid when your dog is in motion.  Strenuous exercise should be avoided because more pain and swelling can occur in the joints. This change in Ashley's exercise regimen was an adjustment for both of us. She still REALLY loves to jump. When she was young she would jump for Frisbee, the stream of water from the garden hose, and snowballs in winter. Now that she is older and I am concerned about joint issues I have to remember to throw low so that she isn't coming down on her weight as much. Like many dogs, Ashley depends on me to know when to stop an activity. Most dogs don't know to stop when they are exhausted. This is especially important during summer when the time between having fun and heat stroke can be very short.

3. Massage Therapy.  A massage every day will help increase the blood flow to the joints and loosen the constriction of the muscles around them. Depending on the dog’s size, it may only take 5-15 minutes of rubbing each day. You should focus most of your attention on the shoulder and hip areas as these are the most affected by arthritis. When Ashley was young she had some health issues and I started using massage therapy with her to help relieve the stress of the treatments she was going through. I found that the time I spent massaging her really helped and also was a great bonding experience for our canine/human relationship. I really believe that the bond we've created has made a huge difference in the level of obedience she demonstrates with me. An obedient dog is one that you have spent quality time with.

4. SupplementsGlucosomine, chondroitin and MSM supplements have been found to be very beneficial in providing relief; many veterinarians recommend it even as a preventative measure. Glucosomine and chondroitin can help with pain relief and MSM can help reduce swelling.  The benefits from these supplements are so great that they’re also now found in many dog foods.  Although some dog foods include these ingredients, it's not always enough to provide therapeutic relief. It's a good idea to get the supplements in the form of a liquid or chews. Only Natural makes a really good treat called Dogswell Biscuits Happy Hips Chicken . 

5. Orthopedic dog bed. Your dog will appreciate this type of bed because it can reduce joint pressure during sleep. They come in a variety of sizes and can really help aid in proper rest and support of your aging dog.

For the health of your aging dog, it’s important to keep on the lookout for signs of joint pain and to keep up with yearly visits to their vet for early diagnosis. So far, I haven't noticed signs of serious joint issues with Ashley but I know that I need to keep an eye on her as she gets older. If your senior dog shows signs of stiffness upon waking or getting up, hesitation before jumping up on things or becomes less active, it’s recommended you take your dog to the veterinarian and get the proper diagnosis.