Monday, December 21, 2009

My wish for my dogs this festive season...

It is the festive season and many of you are making a decision about what to do with your pets if you are going on holiday. I am lucky because I can take them with me to a cottage by the sea.

My puppies will be seeing the ocean for the first time. Since there are no fences around the property, they will be free to roam to their heart's content.

This is wonderful for them but a continual source of worry for me. I remember with my previous male beagle that I was unable to go to sleep at night until I heard the reassuring tinkle of his name tags as he returned (often after 10pm). All my dogs have been micro-chipped and carry mutiple tags with numbers and addresses.

I have a feeling that Jemma and Jamie are going to be addicted to wandering.

So my wish for this holiday is that my dogs come home safely every day after lots of doggie fun. I wish that I can finally slough off all the negativity, stress and pressure of 2009. I wish I can spend time on re-balancing myself and my relationship with my dogs who have often been in the firing line of my stressed emotions.

A toast to our tolerant and patient canine friends who put up with all our human crazy crap!

Monday, December 14, 2009

The short lived bliss of a clean carpet...

A beautiful clean home and puppies are two mutually exlusive things.

I feel like I have been living in a dirty whare house for the past year. In order to puppy proof my home, I have had to remove everything that is tempting for a puppy. This resulted in the removal of everything that created a sense of aesthetics and comfort. Rugs, lamps, ornaments, books, anything with an electronic cable have all gone into storage. My home now functions with the bare necessities.

But worst of all is the state of my carpets. They have collected mud, urine, vomit, debris and other unspeakable things for over a year.

Then after 11 months (and the advent of visitors) I decided to take the plunge and clean my carpets. This is not a cheap operation and I have hesitated in the past knowing that this would be a short term luxury. Clean carpets would not remain clean for very long if my dogs had anything to do with it.

But the cleaner came and the pups were excommunicated from all carpeted areas of the house while the visitors were present. "Oh how nice and clean your house looks!" they commented. Little did they know what effort had been required to get it to that state. This after I had cleaned long neglected areas, hauled some decorations out of storage, carefully barricaded critical areas from potential damage and skilfully hidden those areas irreparably damaged.

It was bliss to feel in control of my environment once again. But this feeling lasted exactly a week.

Once the visitors left, everything was once again fair game for my dogs. For some totally inexplicable reason my dogs, now fully house trained, have already urinated twice on my clean carpets. What are they thinking!!!! Do they find it necessary to re-mark their territory?

When oh when will I have my beautiful clean, comfortable home back again?

Friday, December 4, 2009

Even Oprah found out there are no guarantees ...

I met a couple walking in the park with a young beagle puppy. They had a rather hair raising story about an encounter with a "backyard" breeder. They had travelled all the way from Kwa Zulu Natal to Gauteng to fetch their first beagle puppy. The breeder appeared well off and had a very nice home but the state of the kennels where the puppies were kept was according to the couple "disgusting". Maybe this should have tipped them off. Nevertheless, they bought the puppy. R20 000 later which included the cost of the puppy, many vet's bills and much trauma, their puppy died. They believed that the breeder had not inoculated the puppy or taken sufficient care to protect it from disease.

They were very careful about their selection of breeder the second time around. And this time it seems they have a happy and healthy puppy. They were very impressed that the breeder often phoned to check up on the pup and find out how he was doing. (Some people find this threatening but I think it is the sign of a caring breeder.) Getting a healthy pup means doing your research about reputable and ethical breeders, being prepared to be on a long waiting list and paying a a lot of money (and even then there are no guarantees!).

The sad thing is that I heard the same story from someone who had adopted two rescue kittens. Their vet bills amounted to R14 000 and they lost one of the kittens to parvo virus in the end.

This also happened to Oprah recently when she adopted two rescue puppies and nearly lost both of them to this horrible virus which lurks in the air and the ground. In both cases one of the rescue animals had the disease and had passed it onto the other. Inoculation against this virus is critical.

You may be very lucky and get a wonderful, well adjusted pet or not so lucky and end up with one which is sickly or has behavioural problems. There are many wonderful people who are prepared to put a lot of money, effort and love into their pets or rehabilitating rescue animals. But there is no compensation for pain, suffering or loss of income if things go wrong.

There are no guarantees which ever route you decide to go to find a pet. Jamie's breeder was very ethical in warning me about the fact that his testicles had not dropped at an early age. She gave me the option of saying no. Of course I did not, but the vet's bill for his neutering operation was far higher than normal because of its level of complication.

So one needs to make a decision with one's eyes wide open because this is a pet you have to commit to (love, time and money) for the next 10 to 15 years.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The other side of the Breeder story...

I had an interesting chat with two breeders last week when I challenged them about the perception that they only bred for looks in the show ring and championship titles.

They said on the contrary, if you wanted a good show dog, you had to be very aware of temperament and socialisation. A poorly socialised dog with the wrong temperament would be a disaster at a show. So there are breeders out there who are prepared to go the extra mile.

One breeder carefully vets every single potential owner and then encourages them to interact with their pups from as early an age as possible even holding puppy parties for everyone.

When it comes to the accusation that the narrow genetic pool of pedigree breeding had created serious health problems in many breeds, they pointed out that a lot of research is being done into genetics today and problems like hip dysplasia had almost disappeared from certain breeds. They argued that good pedigree breeders are very conscious of genetics, health, temperament, socialisation and habituation especially if they wanted a winning show dog.

But a behaviourist pointed out that these type of breeders are rare. They contribute perhaps 2% to the overall dog population whilst the rest are from random or backyard breeders, pet shops and puppy mills. Then there are the thousand of rescue animals where there is blatant disregard or ignorance about these issues and many are the product of human neglect or cruelty.

It is these dogs that behaviourists and instructors have to deal with on a daily basis.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The frustrations of dog training...

Things were going really well with training my dog Jamie to adjust to his phobia of cars.
He had stopped shivering (a stress signal) and we went for two rides in the car where he seemed to cope better than before. The last ride was to the vet. All went well on the way there.

Jamie had to have stitches out after his neutering op and he had managed to damage his toe while walking. Unfortunately the vet said he would require another round of anti-inflammatory and antibiotic pills and no major walking for a while. (How am I going to keep sane if my dogs do not have their walk/run as an outlet?)

The journey home was quite hot and long because road works in Johannesburg in preparation for the 2010 Soccer World Cup are causing local motorists an absolute headache.
I arrived home to find that Jamie had been sick all over the back of the car. My worst fear had been realised - a major set back in trying to persuade him that cars are not so bad after all.

So now my vet has said he should take another medication to overcome car sickness! This was one of the first questions I asked about Jamie - whether he may be suffering from car sickness but according to the vet he did not display the normal signs of nausea. Was it the heat or maybe the stress after a visit to the vet or a combination of everything?

I gave the training programme a break for a day or two then started again. Yesterday I thought I would take Jamie and Jemma for a short, slow ride to the shops. The idea is to progress from getting Jamie comfortable in a stationary car to a moving vehicle by starting with small trips and gradually increasing the length of the trip. But soon after we left he refused treats (a sure sign of stress when he refuses to eat) and curled up in a ball. I turned around and went back home after travelling only 100 metres.

I am feeling enormously FRUSTRATED because I am going to have to start with the stationary car exercise all over again. This may prolong the whole behavioural modification process which means he might have to be on tranquillisers longer than I wanted and I may also have to give him anti nausea pills in case he gets car sick!!!!!!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Jamie and the Psychologist...

This week seems to have been all about Jamie. First, many consultations with his vet about why his operation incisions were taking so long to heal? When was it safe to take him out without risking infection or torn stitches? It was decided to postpone taking out his stitches for an extra week. Yesterday he wounded the flesh between two toes and it's been a bitch trying clean it. I ended up dipping his whole paw into a bowl of antiseptic and then trying to squeeze antibiotic cream into the gap. But what a palaver!

At the same time I am consulting a Canine Behaviourist about his car phobia. She has warned me that the tranquilliser she suggested is not to be messed with. "You can't be arbitrary with this drug. You have to give it to him religiously and its effects will only kick in after 15 days. Do not mess around when you are dealing with brain chemistry," she warned me. This has spurred me on to put every effort into his behavior modification programme because it may be my last chance. I do not want Jamie on this drug for any longer than necessary. Everything she advised me to do is specific to Jamie's individual behaviour so it may not work for other dogs.

I have to avoid anything that triggers the fear he associates with the car - like the dark garage.
I now park outside my front gate with the car doors wide open. I lift Jamie from the house into the car while giving him lots of treats, praise and strokes. I try to make a game of it by placing treats all over. He is now beginning to explore the car rather than sitting in a frozen funk. After a short time in the car, he can jump out and is rewarded with a short walk and lots of sniffing (heaven for a beagle). This process must be repeated several times at a rapid pace.

Hopefully he will begin to realise he is safe in the car and nothing bad will happen to him. What's more it means treats and walks! I am trying to do this twice a day with the last session being rewarded with a walk around our complex park. The Behaviourist has said that I need to do at least 4 sessions before every actual trip he takes in the car.

So far we have had one trip in the car and I was thrilled because he did not shake and tremble (his usual indication that he is very stressed). But I must not do anything to blow it. The slightest negative experience could be a set back! Hopefully he will eventually jump into the car voluntarily and travel will become a stress free experience for all of us. But to make this happen is hard work!

The only problem is Jemma who is "dikbek" or pouting at the moment. We decided that her bouncing enthusiasm in the car, where she literally stomps all over Jamie, does not help him calm down. One would have thought that her exuberance would rub off but in fact the Behaviourist felt it may be too much for an already stressed Jamie.

Despite a large tasty bone to chew and the calming sounds of Classic Radio in the kitchen, Jemma created such a racket that I now let her watch from the gate. She still looks glum but at least she is not howling the house down. She does get included in all the long walks.

While talking to the Behaviourist on the phone Jemma and Jamie began squabbling over a bone. It does not matter how many bones or chew toys are lying around, they always manage to fight over the same object. I had to evict them from the room so that I could hear the conversation. I have started getting used to the fact that these two fight and squabble. The Behaviourist said that resource guarding was very common between dogs and not to get too upset about it. I now realise that it is all bark and no bite, but what a show! A concerned neighbour asked me if my dogs were alright because she described the sound of their fighting as "awe inspiring".

I seem to be forever apologising to neighbours about my dogs' behaviour and assuring them they are going through adolescence and hopefully they will out grow it?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The "Ritalin" generation of dogs...

You are probably aware of the controversy around the use of the drug Ritalin in children who are deemed to have attention deficit disorder (ADD) or attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Many believe that thousands of children are incorrectly diagnosed with this disorder when in fact they are just very active. Figures published in 1996 in Forbes magazine showed a fourfold increase in the rate of methylphenidate (Ritalin) consumption between 1989 and 1994, a rise so dramatic that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency asked the United Nations' International Narcotics Control Board to look into the situation. The United Nations released a report in February of 1996 expressing concern over the discovery that 10 percent to 12 percent of all male school children in the United States were taking the drug. I wonder what the figure is world wide today?

Those in favour of Ritalin vigorously support its use, whilst others say that it has become too easy to blame a child's misbehaviour on these illnesses and resort to drugs. In fact there are so many children on this drug, there must be a positive epidemic of inattentive and hyperactive children today.

I believe the same mistake is being made with dogs where the term hyperactive is loosely used without a proper and careful diagnosis by a veterinarian and misapplied to a dog that is simply very active.

I have talked before about the "culture clash" between 21st century city people and dogs bred to be working, active dogs. If dogs are not given appropriate outlets for their energies, just like children, their behaviour is labelled "obnoxious misbehaviour" in the eyes their owners.

There was a time when one only put dogs on a tranquilliser or sedative if they were going to travel. Now it seems that these type of drugs (whether homeopathic or chemical) are becoming the norm. People drop into their vets to collect something to keep their dogs "calm". It is often one of the first options offered to owners who describes their dog as "over the top" and whose behaviour is "impossible". Not that I don't identify with these feelings, believe me I do! I battle daily to cope with two very active beagle puppies and often I do not cope very well at all.

Now, I have just put my dog on a tranquilliser to help him cope with travelling in a car. But it has made me think about how easy it is to go the drug route to solve all our problems. I wonder if the number of "calming drugs" given to dogs is yet another symptom of the way our society deals with stress and anxiety.
Drug the hell out of ourselves, our children and our pets in order to cope!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Jamie all stitched up...

Poor Jamie! I so wished that his testicles would drop so that he could undergo a normal neutering operation. I waited ten months but nothing appeared and the vets could not feel anything. According to the vet if his testicles remained inside his abdominal cavity there is a greater risk that he could contract cancer. So there was no question about him not undergoing surgery.

So I decided to take him in yesterday as I would like him to be fully recovered before we go on holiday. When I fetched him after his operation, the vet said they had really battled to find his testicles. He has two incisions - one in his groin area and one around the the base of his penis. They looked very painful and he came home drugged up to his eyeballs. That night he looked very unhappy and staggered around before eventually going to bed where I had to pile on the blankets to stop him shivering.

This morning he is looking more alert and even growled at Jemma over the new bones made from ostrich which I have bought them to chew. They are large and will hopefully keep them occupied and away from my furniture and other valuables.

Jamie is on a doze of antibiotics, pain killers and a new tranquilliser which will not only help keep him calm after his op but also eventually help him cope with his phobia about cars.

Jamie still hates getting into a car and will tremble and curl into a ball even though 90% of the time, his destination is the park which he loves. The new drug is designed to reduce his anxiety whilst I retrain him using behaviour modification techniques to adapt to the car. This tranquilliser is also supposed to help a variety of situations such as separation anxiety or compulsive disorders such as lick dermatitis (where a dog will continually lick an area raw).

I must say I am always nervous about new drugs whether for my self or my dogs.

But Jamie had to be neutered for the sake of his health and hopefully this new drug will help him relax in the car so we can go to the park more often without all the drama and trauma!

Monday, November 2, 2009

What dog should Obama have chosen?

It was interesting listening to Animal Behaviourist Patricia McConnell's answer to this question on NPR Radio in the USA. Everyone knew Barak Obama had promised his daughters they could have a dog if they went to the White House.
This is a question that people often ask me about beagles. Are they active, are they trainable, are they good with children, are they stubborn? I now realise this is an incredibly complicated question because it all depends on the individual dog and the lifestyle of the owner.

As far as President Obama was concerned, McConnell said it was about how trainable a dog would be in an environment like the White House where there is a lot of activity. There is a lot of coming and going not only of people but of the family itself. Firstly she felt that a dog which had a genetic code for emotional stability (not reactive i.e. over reacting to every little thing that happens) was important.

Secondly, it depended on how that dog was raised from when it was in-utero (interesting that she emphasises this) to its early learning, socialisation and habituation during the critical imprinting period of 4 months. She felt it was less about a specific breed but more about individual personality, genetics and early development and learning.

There is no breed where every dog is the same. Choosing the right dog is a about choosing the right individual with the right temperament and the right early development and learning. However it is not all one-sided. Every owner has to be prepared to accomodate the individual behaviour of their dog.

I often get asked whether my beagles are a good breed to have as a dog. I used to say that generally beagles have tolerant, stable temperaments which is why they are the unfortunate target of many experimental laboratories. Now I am more cautious in my answer having seen how temperament can differ within the same breed and even the same litter.

Of course general breed characteristics play an important role. You have to know what drives specific breeds (beagles are bred to be scent hounds and their sense of smell drives a lot of their behaviour). In most dogs, what they were bred to do is a huge indicator of how they will behave.

But I now believe that any dog can be the "right" kind of dog if it has the right temperament for your situation and there is huge effort put into its first four months of life to try and guide its future behaviour. (And according to McConnell how the mother is treated during her pregnancy will also affect the litter. Science has proven this with pregnant humans so why not animals?)

Many people ask "are beagles very active dogs?"

Well, now I believe almost every breed of dog has been bred to be active and there is no way you can "de-activate" a dog. You have to be prepared to give them outlets for their energy in order to have a contented dog. McConnell says that dogs are usually most active in the early morning and late afternoon. There is a rhythm to their life - active, sleepy and active again.

My dogs start getting restless at 3.00pm and from 4.00 to 7.00pm it's mayhem or happy hour depending on my mood. If I do not take them out to burn off fuel during this period, I pay the price. This is several noisy, hectic hours when my neighbours get irritated and I need to boost the volume of my TV if I want to watch my favourite soapie.

When I take them for walks (usually an hour) they are still very busy for some time afterwards. Some one told me this is because the endorphins released by the walk are still buzzing in their systems. I think its also because 1 hour is not really enough. When my dogs refuse to jump into the car at the end of a walk it's because they want more. The day they happily return to the car is the day I will have really emptied their fuel tanks.
By 7.30pm it is usually lights out for my dogs until day light starts to dawn.

So I think the answer to "What breed of dog should I choose?" is that every dog is individual. It's up to you how much work you are prepared to put into your dog not only during its critical first 4 months but for the rest of its life. That's the deal if you want the "right" kind of dog.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Snow White and the poisoned apple

I have been "underground" for a while. That means snowed under, buried, overwhelmed with work. This is when it becomes challenging to decide what to do to keep two highly active, disruptive and destructive puppies occupied while you are gone.

(You may have noticed that there have been no photos on my site recently. This is because the Twin Terminators desiccated the download cable between my camera and computer and it has yet to be replaced.)

But I digress. I read Jean Donaldson's advice in The Culture Clash about making chew toys more interesting by filling them with yummy things. Then one should hide them in the garden for your pups to find - a kind of treasure hunt for canines.

Well, I filled my one remaining Kong ( a chewable object that you should fill with treats or dog pellets) with bread - not exactly nutritious but the only thing at hand as I had been too busy to shop. Donaldson also recommended making a nest of rags with a treat in the middle. Then tie the whole lot together with several knots for the dog who likes dissecting things (not to be used if you dog tends to swallow unsafe things).

So I cut up one of my T-shirts that had numerous holes in it courtesy of the Twin Terminators and used it to make a package filled with bread. Next I raided the fridge for bags of carrots and apples which I have discovered the pups love.

At 6.00am I flitted around the garden hiding my goodies and dozens of apples and carrots in every bush I could find. You could say my garden looked distinctly vegetarian. I felt like the Easter Bunny on a sugar free diet. (OK, so there is sugar in everything but at least it was not chocolate which is known to be poisonous to dogs and cats!).

However when I proudly explained to my behaviourist what I had done, she laughed and said did I realise that apple seeds are poisonous to dogs? I was unintentionally giving the legendary poisoned red apple to my poor little Snow Whites. The next day I carefully de-cored all my apples before decorating my garden again. When I returned home it was to find the Kong empty, the T-shirt package dissected, all the apples missing and a few chunks of carrot lying around.

I was worried about the extra calories they were consuming but again the experts say that dogs do not have the intestinal enzymes to break down the sheath that surrounds vegetables. And so it comes out just as it goes in ... in undigested chunks. This does not however apply to bread!

Oh yes, the other thing I have learnt is that experts contradict themselves. At puppy school I was told tea tree oil is just the thing for distracting your pups from chewing your household goods as they dislike the scent. Now I have been told tea tree oil is potentially poisonous to dogs and citronella is a much better idea.

You know, sometimes all you can do is the best you can.

Monday, October 12, 2009

On the other hand are we breeding the right dogs?

If you read "Dogs"' by Coppinger and Coppinger they explore the development of the dog over many, many centuries since the time of the Mesolithic people.

At some stage, people decided that dogs could be useful. With the creation of breeds, the dog was changed into something that pleased humans. We bred sheep dogs to helps us herd animals, sled dogs to pull supplies, retrievers to fetch an edible bird, scent hounds to follow prey, pointers and sight hounds to chase game or hunt down vermin holes and guard dogs to watch over our possessions.

But now we are putting these type of dogs into small gardens and small family units in cities and expect them to adapt to our way of life and repress their breed behaviour. So for me it would be logical to look at whether we are breeding the right kind of dog that can adapt to this kind of lifestyle.

But what do we breed today?
If I look around me, it seems to be all about "looks"; creating a dog with perfect confirmation and form. But they still retain their behavioural genes and that is to be highly active.

Pedigrees are perhaps the most disadvantaged because they are bred from a limited gene pool and have developed reputations as being highly strung dogs with strong breed characteristics. This makes them difficult to handle in a domestic environment. So these dogs are labelled "hyper active".

Are we breeding dogs that can adapt to the 21st century where their overwhelming role is to be "companion" dogs to millions of people living stressful lives in dense, dog unfriendly cities?

There are over 70 million dogs in the USA and most of them are "companion" dogs says American Behaviourist Patricia McConnell. She believes we keep pets because they are one of the few connections or bridges left for us with the natural world.

But changing the behaviour of a dog that was bred to be extremely active is not easy (unless you have trained, socialised and habituated it intensively in its first 4 months to curb its natural behaviour).

So my questions is: should breeders not be changing their focus? Should they not be breeding dogs that have the right behavioural genes to become "companion" dogs? Maybe these dogs would be happier because the fit between them and humans would better?

What do you think?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Should we be allowed to have dogs?

At the moment I am reading a lot of books on canine behaviour. I am acquiring a lot of knowledge I wish I had known before I got my puppies and not 8 months into their lives. Maybe I would have handled everything better if I had understood their motivation for behaving the way they do and how to handle it. I have been very lucky to have a behaviourist who has given me a lot of guidance.

Jean Donaldson, author of The Culture Clash is very blunt about the issue. She believes that the clash between how dogs naturally behave and humans' lifestyles is often a point of conflict. The resolution is usually at the expense of the dog.

She goes on to say that "if you don't have time for a dog, don't get a dog. There are few guarantees in behaviour but one is surely this: dogs chained out in yards self condition to bark, dig and lunge at passing stimuli. Boredom barking is a symptom of gross under stimulation. What's needed is a radical increase in interesting stuff in the dog's life. Increase training, walks, socialisation, and predatory games."

After reading these books which set the bench mark for how we should be treating our dogs, I wonder how many of us would qualify to own dogs?

At times I have become guilt stricken about my "parenting skills" like so many mothers who constantly question if they are raising their children correctly. Many do but many make mistakes along the way.

I wonder if we are prepared to compromise enough in our own lifestyles when it comes to our pets. Do we teach them to fit into our world while denying them their doggie rights? If we do, is Jean right? The alternative is not to have a pet at all.

How dogs learn by Mary Burch and Jon Bailey states that these are a dog's rights.

Canine Bill of Rights
  1. Dogs have a right to a rich stimulating environment.
  2. Dogs have a right to time and attention from a caring owner
  3. Dogs have a right to effective training procedures; if behaviour problems are to be addressed, a competent person must be involved
  4. Dogs have a right to ongoing veterinary care and assessment for behavioural problems.
  5. Dogs have a right to an ongoing education and the chance to learn new skills

What do you think?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Baby + Puppy = Barking Mad!

I met a couple in the park with a newly born baby and an 8 month mixed breed puppy.
We got onto the subject of barking.

My beagles are driving me mad because they are wired to be extremely vocal when they play and hunt. Dogs are most active in the early morning and late afternoon. I try to walk them as often as possible but they usually return even more hyped up and more noisy. It's the endorphins still rushing around their system says my behaviourist. They are not only driving me mad but my neighbours as well.

The other night the tone of the barking changed from "play" to a "watch dog" bark in the garden. When I went out to investigate I realised my puppies were barking at a disembodied voice shouting from the other side of the fence:"Shut up! shut up!"
This voice also screams at the hadeda birds in my tree who start squawking at sparrows. Of course now every time my dogs pass that part of the garden they give a bark just in case the barker on the other side of the fence wants to play. I did go to bed that night wondering if I was going to have to uproot my whole lifestyle and move to the country.

Back to the couple in the park who said that since their baby had been born, their puppy had started barking "at ghosts".
Of course his hearing is much sharper than humans so he is probably barking at something and using it as an excuse to get attention from his owners who were now focused on their new child (Negative attention is better than no attention at all).

The young mother, looking pale and stressed, said it was driving her mad because he kept waking the baby just as she had managed to get the child to sleep. On top of this, she was feeling so guilty because her emotional state was driving her to scream or smack him. She felt completely unable to cope with her newborn and her dog's constant barking during the day.

They have adopted an option that I think many stressed, pressurised urban dwellers who can't cope with the clash between the demands of a 21st century life style and the needs of a dog bred to work, are also adopting. Puppy and Adult dog day care. On offer are also services such as Specialised dog/cat day care for animals requiring special medical attention and Exercising where someone will take your dog for a walk for a fee.

Apparently the couple's dog is at day care from 9.00am and picked up at 3.30pm in a state of complete exhaustion. This is how this couple has temporarily solved the dilemma of being unable to cope with the needs of their dog and a baby. But just as you would investigate a day care centre for your child, I would investigate these animal day care services. Make sure your dog is not ending up in a worse situation than at home.

Whew, we really need to know what we are taking on when we decide to have pets. Too often their "normal" behaviour is labeled "misbehaviour" because it just doesn't fit in with our lifestyles.
The challenge is to find the balance between our needs and our dog's needs.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

When all hell broke loose...

A friend of mine who owns Belgium Shepherds and I were sharing stories about food fights between our dogs. She has to supervise feeding time to ensure that her dogs do not eat each other instead of the food. My dog's bowls have to be out of each other's eye sight but even then there is a lot of looking over the shoulder to see if the other dog's bowl of food is better.

According to the author of Dominance: Fact or Fiction, Barry Eaton many behaviourists believe that dominance in our domestic dogs is about access to or control of resources which can result in "resource guarding". He says this is where a dog has something it prizes (food, shelter, toys, its owner's attention or a potential mate) and may show aggressive behaviour to hang on to it at all costs. It's got nothing to do with status but with the uncharitable desire not to share.

For the first time in my life, my dogs had a serious fight which drew blood. It was all over a bone.
The one had discovered a bone in the park and I foolishly let him bring it into the car. It is always difficult to persuade them to go home after a walk, so I thought of the bone as enticement and bribery.
The next thing all hell broke loose. Pure adrenalin and the fact that they had their collars on allowed me to separate them long enough to chuck out the offending bone. A worried owner dashed over to see if we were all still in one piece.

It was a huge shock to me as my previous dogs had never fought. For the first time I really understood what "resource guarding" really meant.

At the risk of sounding anthropomorphic, we humans aren't much different. We are also driven by the desire for access to or control of wealth and sex. This is one of the biggest causes of conflict in society - crime and divorce because we lust after someone's "resources" or "bitch" or "stud".
It also occurred to me that neutering and spaying is not only about preventing unwanted pregnancies. A female dog in heat can literally drive males in the same area crazy with lust.

So I am going to stop worrying myself to death because my puppies won't share. After all when I was a kid, just because my parents told me to share didn't mean I did as I was told. sells Mine by Jean Donaldson on Resource Guarding

Monday, September 7, 2009

Do not covert worldly goods !

It's got to a stage when it's no longer funny. It's exhausting being hyper vigilant all the time about one's worldly goods. The other day my handbag was snatched off a table and a very expensive pair of spectacles was destroyed. The bag was so badly mauled, it ended up in the rubbish bin.

Then I woke up this morning to find that I had left the lounge door open over night and my puppies had chewed a huge hole in the armrest of my couch. I went back to bed, pulled the sheets over my head and felt sorry for myself.

A friend of mine is a lawyer. Her most embarrassing moment in a law court was discovering that she was wearing a dress with a hole in it courtesy of her beloved 7 month old puppy.

Puppy also loves shoes, so the whole family regularly replaces shoes with the cheapest they can find. There is no point spending lots of money on things that are not going to last very long.

Like most "parents" you get to a stage when you think that you are the one doing something wrong. Am I not stimulating, exercising, training my puppies enough ?
Then I met a lady in the park who had a 3-year old beagle called Sam. The conversation went something like this:

"How old are your puppies?"
"They're about 7 months" I said.
"Oh Gosh! I remember when Sam was a puppy. He was so destructive!"
"Tell me about it! I am beginning to think it's my fault because I'm not exercising them enough," I confessed.
"Well we used to live on a farm when Sam was a puppy," she said. "Everyday he used to chase through the fields after the truck and when he got home he was exhausted. But he still chewed!"
"Oh nooo..." I said. "When did he stop chewing?"
"At about the age of 3 years."

So I have decided that the lesson I'm being taught by my puppies (and the recession) is that I must not covert worldly goods.
My couch does not love me, but my dogs do.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Running with Dogs...

My guest blogger's animal focus is usually the wildlife she spots on mountain bike trails. But now she is spending less time on the bike and more time with her dogs in a manner typical of an athlete...
MA Beagle.

Running with Dogs....
Hmmm, that sounds like a way out band or cult movie. But no, its the intricacies of running (with dogs).
I haven't been able to get back on the bike for a whole pile of reasons but mainly, I just don't feel like it. Also, I now prefer to ride my road bike for a change but that group has disintegrated and I will have to attach myself to others soon. Spring is here and I don't want to miss out.

So in the meantime, I am running. Carefully at first as I don't want a re-occurrence of the calf problems that plagued me before the Freedom Challenge. So I have built up oh so slowly. The upside is that the dogs have been able to join me with a slow build up in their fitness too.
I admit they have been under exercised and must be completely bewildered by this change in their fortunes. The problem is always leaving one behind. They just don't get it - "tomorrow is your day". So, after locking one hysterical dog in the house (to be let out once I have left), I head out with the other 35kg of dog muscle raring to go.

Nyx is pretty cool. Essentially a timid dog unless there is a gate between her and the "enemy", she jogs along without tugging on the leash. She's not much interested in the cacophony of dogs barking at us as we run past and is quite ladylike with her ears alert and neat foot action. But every now and then, she stops or swings in a circle to check on me and I have to do some fancy footwork to avoid being tripped up.

But Trinity, oh my. She stares down every dog as we pass, superior in her attitude that she is out there and they are, well, in there. She pulls on the leash until we hit the first hill and only then begins to slow down to a pace I feel comfortable with. I must admit to acting the dead weight to get her to tire sooner. She runs in a straight line with the occasional bound at some dog behind a gate, but a stern "LEAVE!" brings her back on track and we're on the way again.

This week, they have graduated to the 8km route which is interspersed with stretching sessions.But what a treat for them as this route passes the local river and I let them off the leash for a swim. They just radiate joy stretching their legs at speed and lunging in and out of the water. I swear I hear them laughing. Then it is my turn to keep jumping out the way to avoid have water sprayed on me as they shake their coats.

And then its time for the home stretch and the reunion with the dog left behind.
--Posted By Santacruzrulz to Dash For Freedom

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The problem with car sick dogs...

I cannot afford to have a dog that has a phobia about getting in a car. My dogs need to go to parks for exercise, to the vet when they get sick and on holiday.

But Jamie hates my car. I have analysed that this is due to a couple of bad experiences as a puppy when he was stressed, overheated and car sick. A fatal combination which has led to this phobia. I have been told that any one of the above can trigger his resistance to getting in the car.

So how to try and cure the problem. The combined advice I have received is the following:

  • De-sensitise him to the car slowly.

  • Use the TTouch elastic bandage on Jamie when he is in the car as this gives him a sense of security (see picture).

  • Stroke his ears to calm him.

  • Give him Rescue Remedy before a trip.

  • In the case of a major trip, give him anti-nausea drugs.

The De-sensitisation process:

  1. Get him to enter the garage without trepidation then leave it.

  2. Let him get used to the exterior of the car.

  3. Let him get used to the car with the doors open.

  4. Try to persuade him to put his paws on the back seat.

  5. Try to persuade him to enter the car and sit.

  6. Persuade him to enter car, close doors then let him out.

  7. Persuade him to enter the car, start the engine without moving and then let him out.

  8. Persuade him enter the car, start the engine, drive out the garage and straight back in.

  9. Persuade him enter the car, go for a short ride and come back home etc. etc. etc...

Well so far it has taken me a week to get him to enter the garage but he is still not enthusiastic about the idea to put it mildly.

Jemma (who loves the car ) and I sit in the back with lots of treats appearing to have lots of fun. If Jamie happens to appear at the door he gets an enthusiastic greeting and a treat. But the smallest mistake such as moving too fast or a noise from outside will send him into retreat. Jemma and I have even fallen asleep in the back of the car.

The De-sensitisation process is going to require GREAT patience and MEGA treats. It could also take a LONG time. So far it has been a matter of one paw forward and three paws back.

Friday, August 28, 2009

The puppy puzzle...

Dear MA Beagle

Thanks for putting us up over night.
You had warned us that everything chewable had to be put out of puppy reach to prevent further damage to your pristine home.
You hadn't mention their juggling skills and this is why I am still totally mystified by their farewell trick.

Early the next morning I quietly opened my bedroom door to avoid a boisterous welcome and to my surprise, no puppies.
To my even bigger surprise they had left evidence of their incredible juggling skills..... a grey cardboard container for eggs had been torn to tiny shreds and scattered about the carpet, but the six eggs had remained intact !

The carton of eggs was taken off the kitchen table, carried along a tiled floor and down to the bedroom wing, The mystery of how a beagle puppy managed to do this remains.......................

Mystified Mom.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Out of the woods...

Jemma came home yesterday looking a bit woozy and hang dog. In the evening she began to get the shakes.
So I gave her some gentle Tellington TTouch, particularly on the ears which apparently helps if your dog is in pain or shock. I wrapped her up in a blanket and she settled down.

She has a shaved tummy revealing lots of large freckles and a remarkably small incision so she will not be scarred for life.
Jamie was not quiet sure what to make of it all. He tried barking at her to encourage her to play but she snapped at him to shut up.
The poor chap also had it a bit rough. He gets car sick and
I was not sure whether I would be travelling home with two nauseous dogs vomiting on my car's back seat.
The vet recommended a homeopathic product with cocculus indicus for this problem.
He was also rather stressed at having his scrotum thoroughly probed and prodded for his missing testicles. They are still deep undercover.
However the next day Jemma was much better and ate a hearty breakfast! So hopefully she is on the mend and will soon forget yesterday's events.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Jemma is under the knife...

Jemma looked unusually subdued at 7.00am when we left for the vet for her sterilisation op.

I was very matter of fact about taking my first female beagle to be spayed but this time I felt a sense of guilt and regret. Both Jemma and I had a very disturbed sleep. I could hear her moving around restlessly at all hours of the night. Did she know something was up or was that my imagination?

She was whisked off to surgery whilst I anxiously asked the vet a whole lot of questions.

How should I prevent her stitches being pulled out or an infection if she played boisterously with Jamie? Would she need pain killers or tranquillisers? The vet was obviously used to dealing with neurotic mothers. She reassured me that Jamie would sense Jemma was off colour and that she would bounce back remarkably quickly. And no she would not need long term pain killers. The brochures advise one to check the incision daily for signs of infection and not bath or allow one's dog to swim for at least ten days.
So Jamie and I will be setting off later today to pick Jemma up. I want the vet to check for any sign of his missing balls (And I hope my baby girl will be OK)!

Monday, August 10, 2009

To breed or not to breed...

In the beginning I had dreams about breeding cute little puppies. But then I began to learn about some of the hard realities of being a proper breeder. Dog breeding is complex, time consuming, expensive, requires expert knowledge and is not necessarily profitable. It is also full of pit falls.

The most difficult part is the huge anxiety about whether your puppies are going to loving, dedicated and knowledgeable caretakers.

Then I let all the compliments about Jemma's great temperament and what a perfect breeding dog she was, go to my head. Even my breeders (from whom one needs permission to breed with their puppies) encouraged me to think about it.

But she can come into heat anytime between 6 and 8 months. If Jamie as a result of his problem testicles can only be neutered after 9 months, there is a distinct possibilty that an accident might happen. The consequences could be disastrous as one should not breed with a female until she is at least two years old. Otherwise one is endangering her health and even her life. Everything was becoming a bit complicated.

But the truth of the matter is that if I breed, I really want to be a good breeder.

I will need plenty of time, energy, patience, finance and knowledge about how to produce well bred and well behaved puppies. It's not just about genes, its also about understanding the early learning period of pups and how this will influence their future behaviour. I think one has a responsibility to hand over not only a healthy puppy but one that has been well socialised.

So until I am ready and able to do that, breeding is not an option.

Jamie's secret outed. He's got no balls...

It's that time when all owners with puppies of six months or so have to decide whether to neuter or spay. Unless you are a serious breeder there is really no option. But my fellow puppy mothers are debating about who will be the one to take their precious bundle to the vet and become forever vilified as the person responsible for the loss of vital bits and pieces.

The problem is that Jamie's has no balls to chop off! At least they are still not visible at the very late stage of 6 months. The vet has warned me that the fact that his testicles have not dropped could lead to serious medical complications. His testicles will continue to grow inside the abdominal area and put pressure on his internal organs. So they must be removed in an operation that will be more complicated than a straight forward neutering.

The behaviourist advised me to wait until he was at least 9 months because dogs go through a fearful period between 7 and 8 months. And the vet said that we should wait as long as possible so that his testicles grow bigger and are therefore easier to find during the operation.

Poor old Jamie. There is no alternative. Off with his balls!!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Panic in the Park...

It was bound to happen - a panic attack in the park.

Jamie was separated from me by a group of dogs and people. Disorientated, he headed off like a bullet in the opposite direction and disappeared from sight. Having been through this before with my previous dogs, I did not panic...yet.

I have been slowly introducing my dogs to different parks graduating from the one at home to bigger and bigger public parks. Today was the first day we were trying out a park with wide open spaces.
Everything had been going well until Jamie spooked.

Various other dog walkers said they thought they'd seen him heading back down the hill. So Jemma and I backtracked whilst I blew the red whistle at regular intervals.

Thank goodness for the red whistle. In my younger days, I could run faster and shout louder. But now there was no way I could keep up with a sprinting beagle. Eventually he must have zoned into the sound of the whistle as I spotted him coming back. We met up at the bottom of the hill and I did a few TTouch movements on his body to calm him. We slowly climbed the hill again.

Eventually the sight of people and other dogs cheered Jamie up and he was back to his usual self running ahead and exploring with zest.

So what are the lessons I learnt?
  1. Always keep your dogs attached to you by a mental elastic band. Use your voice and treats to keep them coming back to you before they range too far and break the elastic band (use the red whistle when they start to go too far).

  2. Sometimes sound is not enough to orientate your dog. It took a while for Jamie to pin point exactly where the sound of the whistle was coming from. So now I am going to use large flapping motions of my arms in association with the whistle so that my dogs can see and hear me (Do not laugh if you see me in your local park blowing a whistle and flapping my arms like a large ungainly bird. There is method in the madness).

  3. It helps to park in the same, safe place every time you go to a park, so that if your dogs do get lost, hopefully they will head for the car.
Your puppies are bound to get lost a couple of times before they learn not to range too far from you. So don't panic!

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Healing Touch...

Jemma volunteered to be a demo dog for the Tellington TTouch stand at the World of Dogs and Cats show. I became interested in TTouch after witnessing the remarkable effect it had on calming one of my puppies during a visit to the vet. It is a methodology using gentle body work developed by famous animal behaviourist Linda Tellington-Jones. It has a scientifically proven effect on the behaviour and health of animals. TTouch is spear headed in South Africa by Eugenie Chopin. Eugenie explained that various touch techniques can help your animal with a variety of problems
  • Fear of loud noises and thunder
  • Jumping Up and Leash pulling
  • Chewing and Barking
  • Aggression and Biting
  • Car sickness
  • Fear and Shyness
  • Nervousness and Tension
  • Fear of Strangers and Hyper Excitability
It apparently helps not only dogs but cats, horses and people including children. If you want to find out more go to
Eugenie said Jemma was an great demo dog!

The World of Dogs and Cats...

Jemma and I visited the recent World of Cats and Dogs show in Johannesburg. She had volunteered to be a demo-dog. Who would believe that so many businesses are involved in the pet industry? Aromatherapy to vacuum cleaners were on show. We met up with some old friends and made some new ones.

Jemma saying hallo to ThinkingPets Trainer Nicole du Plooy who helped train her at Puppy 1 classes. Nicole has now opened her own school in Roodepoort.

ThinkingPets Behaviourist Karin Landsberg having a chat with Jemma. Karin's evaluation was that Jemma was remarkably calm and stable considering the noise, sights and smells bombarding her at this busy show. Karin said I should consider breeding with Jemma because of her good temperament. We consider this a huge compliment coming from such a highly qualified behaviourist.

And then of course there were lots of strangers who just loved meeting Jemma.
Jemma thoroughly enjoyed all the attention if her behaviour in the parking lot was anything to go by. She plonked her bum on the pavement and refused to return to the car. She was having much too much fun!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Invader alert...

Dear Mom and Dad,
We are really looking forward to your visit but I feel I must warn you about a few things in advance. My home is not the tidy, tranquil place you remember. It has been invaded by a new species canis familiaris.

The house looks as if I am packing for Perth. It has been denuded of anything valuable i.e. anything that can be stolen, chewed and destroyed. In my lounge, the woven wool carpets are in storage. The lamps, cushions, magazines and accessories are piled on the dining room table which is no longer used for dining.

Whatever you do, never leave anything valuable (like the TV remote, a cellphone or a book) on a couch or the coffee table. They will disappear.

Dad, I think it's best you sleep upstairs which will withstand a siege or attack by the invaders. Mom, you will have to remember to always close your bedroom or bathroom door or else your valuables will disappear in the blink of an eye. Neither is it safe to leave your windows wide open. The invaders have learnt that if they can't get in via the door, the next best thing is the window.

I apologise in advance for the state of my garden which looks a bit like a desert wasteland. Also be warned that the invaders use a very clever tactic to overwhelm one. They are over friendly and jump, lick, and tangle themselves around your feet. The best strategy for survival is to freeze, fold your arms and don't make eye contact.

If you change your mind about visiting, I will understand.
Lots of love
MA Beagle

Monday, July 13, 2009

Bonking teenagers...

Puppies become Juveniles or Adolescents from 10 weeks to 9 months. This is the time when they also discover sex. (No photos in case I get accused of propagating pornography!)

Well Jamie started bonking Jemma from day one. I believe that ignoring this behaviour is the rule of thumb which I do find difficult as Jemma has now taken to bonking my leg.

Now is the time when you start thinking about neutering and spaying. Females usually come into heat anytime from 6 to 8 months which is why it is recommended that you spay at 6 months.

However I am not panicking yet as Jamie practises safe sex. He bonks Jemma's head.

There are times when I fear for the safety of his private parts as Jemma is not unknown to give them a painful nip. He may well lose his manhood well before he is due for the snip!

Jamie cocked his leg for the first time at about four months - a rite of passage I sentimentally thought quite sweet. But other owners bemoan the start of territorial marking when males pee on everything in sight. Jamie has already embarrassed me by peeing on some body's T-shirt which was lying on the ground in the park. I had to grovel and offer to dry clean it. Once again I am paying for my dog's adolescent behaviour!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Centrefold Babe...

I am not sure how I really feel about beauty pageants, pin up girls and models. There is this perception that trading off one's looks is very airhead. On the other hand if you've got it why not flaunt it!

I have the same mixed feelings about dog shows. If one's intention is to focus on beauty to the detriment of character, temperament and health, it does not work for me on either the human or animal cat walk.

But I have to admit that I am only writing this blog to boast because one of my puppies is a pin up girl! She looks so cute as well (that's my biased opinion). Jemma is the centrefold for the July edition of Animaltalk magazine (She's the one on the right). Being her mother, I am quick to add that not only is she cute but smart and sassy.
No wonder she thinks she has a right to sit on my couch. She's a pin-up Queen.

Monday, June 29, 2009

The red whistle...

I know that Beagles are bred to be scent hounds and have a reputation for being persistent when on the trail. This is great if you are training them to hunt. Not so great when you are training them to respond to a re-call. I decided to train them using a whistle. It is far more piercing than my voice which needs to penetrate a brain that has shut down all senses except that of smell.

Which is why it is very helpful to know what your dog was bred to do because it will explain a lot about their behaviour.

The other problem is that my dogs are far too friendly. When on the lead I have been trying to train them not to greet strangers by jumping up enthusiastically but to sit and wait for acknowledgement. Easy in theory but difficult in practice when you are restraining two very excited adolescents who think everybody and their dog wants to say hello and play.

Off lead they are positively embarrassing. Their overwhelming enthusiasm has sent one lady squealing in the opposite direction and an irate owner shooing my dogs away while they boisterously tried to persuade her little Fi-Fi to play.

They attach themselves to any party walking past, confident in the belief that they are welcome. And no amount of blowing on my red whistle until I am red in the face will change their minds.

I experienced first hand why it is so important to train your dog to react to a re-call. An electric fence surrounds our complex but every now and then our dogs stray too close and get a shock. When this happened to Jamie during a re-call training session, he was so dis-orientated that he ran all the way home and no amount of calling penetrated his dazed state. If this had happened in a public park he could have easily got lost or worse run over.

I am going to have to use mega treats to get them to respond when I venture out into public parks. I hope to gradually wean them off treats but off lead they are clearly not ready yet!

At home alone...

When it comes to separation anxiety, I don't know who worries more: Me or my dogs?
In fact the books say that it's often the owners who create separation anxiety problems by making a huge fuss over their dogs when they leave or return. So your dogs pick up on your anxiety.
Before I leave, I safety proof the area my dogs are going to be left in just in case they do something stupid and end up injuring themselves. I leave the radio on playing calming music, plenty of water and their box of toys. Then I slip out quietly without a fuss. But it is always a relief to return to find my dogs and my house all in one piece. But of course don't make a big deal about the fact you're back.
My dogs need to learn to cope with spending time alone because I can't always be there for them. So I was advised to start off with short periods of time alone eventually building up to longer periods. I recently asked my neighbour how my dogs reacted when I left. She said there was a bit of whining but they soon settled down. One way to check up on how they are behaving!

Another tip is never leave their collars on while you're away if they still rumble in the jungle with each other. Apparently some nasty accidents have happened with dogs been strangled by collars that have hooked onto something. It is also important that your dogs have time away from each other because you never know when you might have to leave one behind. I learnt the value of this when I had to rush to the vet and leave one of my pups at home. Both survived unscathed.
So don't stress when you leave the kids home alone. If you have taught them to cope from an early age, they will be OK.

Graduation day...

Finally after two months of taking the kids to school every week, Jemma and Jamie have graduated from Puppy School 1. They are really going to miss their friends if the level of excitement shown every Saturday morning is any measure.
But all is not lost. There is a Puppy School 2!
This is for Juvenile dogs aged between 10 weeks and 9 months. Experts say that during this period many of the characteristics of your breed of dog (what they were originally bred to do) will develop and may need to be managed very carefully. Who said teenage rebellion belonged to the human species only?
So my trainer urged me to continue taking my dogs to school. They need consistent, reinforced training and boundaries to be set. And it will continue to socialise and stimulate my dogs. And even better, trainers will offer advice and a shoulder to cry on when teenage tantrums become too much.
Check out Thinking Pets website for trainers in your area in South Africa.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Why I got a black eye...

I wish that a had a dramatic war story to tell like I got involved in a road rage altercation, or my secret lover and I had a fight or I crashed off my bicycle going downhill at 80km per hour.

The truth is more mundane. In the middle of the night I heard my puppies breaking something.
Half asleep and disorientated I jumped out of bed and walked into a wall, hence the black eye.

But that is not the end of the trail of devastation. While playing my puppies crashed into one of my glass sliding doors which has now cracked in multiple places (At least it did not shatter letting in the freezing air temperatures). But it will also have to wait to be replaced when the recession recedes.
Suze Orman's prediction that the global economy will only stablise in 2015 does not help.

My last barricade of self defence is to pull my book case across the passage which accesses the bedroom wing (books facing inward of course). Imagine my surprise when I discovered my spectacles, pyjamas, facial wash and a shoe all lying in the garden. How had they spirited themselves through a solid book case and a closed door into my bedroom?

The little buggers had nosed open my window and jumped through the burglar bars into my room and vandalised it! These two are getting way too smart. They may have to go to the circus to earn enough to pay for all the damage. Meanwhile I am walking around with dark glasses in case people think I am a battered victim.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Things I can't live without...

Where I go, it goes. That's right: tea tree ointment!

Apparently a sharp whiff of tea tree deters your puppies from chewing the object of their desire.

Unfortunately the scent does not last forever. I am constantly re-visiting the same areas over and over again (like my desk legs and the corners of my couches). My sister has suggested I dilute tea tree oil in water and spray it on everything. Maybe it will last longer.

While I dab tea tree ointment on objects, I often find myself dabbing it on bodily injuries like bite marks and scratches. So I don't go anywhere without my tea tree ointment.

Secondly, I always have my accident mop up kit at the ready. I never know when I'm going to need it:

  1. Basin
  2. Rubber gloves
  3. Cleaning cloths or paper
  4. Carpet cleaner
  5. A disinfectant cleaner (must not have ammonia which is a constituent of urine. Dogs go back to the places they've been)
  6. Vinegar (neutralises the smell of urine)
  7. Diluted vinegar spray bottle

Monday, June 15, 2009

Just when I thought it was safe...

I was rather proud of the progress that my puppies were making with their house training.

It had been several weeks since I had been greeted by a urine stain or turd on my floor in the morning. But I was congratulating myself a bit too soon.

It turns out that my puppies like their home comforts. Out of nowhere it rained one night. And the kitchen floor and passage were a mess! The little buggers were not prepared to go outside and get wet, I fumed.

Well it turns out I was wrong. At the next class everybody was complaining about how their puppies had misbehaved those couple of rainy days. "What did you expect?" asked Wendy.

Puppies learn house training by recognising the feel of the surface that they should be using as their toilet area. So when they feel dry grass, they know its OK. But wet grass has a completely different feel. " You have to start right from the beginning," said Wendy. "Stand in the rain with your umbrella and encourage your puppies to venture out and praise them if they perform."

Luckily that was the end of the rainy season and none of us had to catch pneumonia while training our dogs in the rain. I wonder if we will have the same problem when spring arrives?

Friday, June 5, 2009

How many bowls of soup does it take?

This was the third time that a bowl of soup had been upended on my carpet. But it is all my own fault. I know that I should be teaching my puppies not to jump up and send the tray flying off my lap.

When they are small and cute, it's difficult not to want to indulge them. But when they leave muddy paw prints on my smart business suit just as I am about to leave for an important meeting, it begins to sink in. This is why trainers go on and on about teaching your puppy not to jump up onto people. The moment they do it you ignore them, cross your arms and avoid eye contact. When all four paws are on the ground you praise and reward them.
And you need to get your visitors to play ball ( I mean co-operate).

A fellow puppy owner was boasting about how they never fussed over their puppy on arriving and leaving home, nor did they encourage jumping up. The result: a puppy that sits, does not jump up and does not whine when they leave the house.

OK, I know the theory and I am trying to put it into practice after learning the hard way.
However their destructive instinct is still going strong. I have heard puppies are most active at dawn and dusk. They definitely get restive around 4.00pm and I know its time to take them for a walk.

But there is not much I am prepared to do about what they are up to at dawn. Every morning I walk bleary eyed down the passage dreading what I will see. This sight greeted me the other morning.

It does not snow often in Africa. They had disemboweled the cushion they sleep on. They also steadily eroded the foam inside the basket itself.
Don't they know there is a recession on? Dog baskets are not that cheap! So I spent the morning washing tons of blankets and towels which will have to do until the recession recedes and my puppies learn to be more responsible!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Jamie's got a crush on a blond...

Jamie's third set of vaccinations at 14 weeks by a pretty vet had its advantages, though the rabies shot hurt like hell.

"Who is this pretty blond?"

"If my heart rate is a bit high, it's cos I'm in love!"

"You want to give me a jab? Look can't we talk about this first... Get to know each other a little better?

"Get that camera out of my face. This is embarrassing enough!"

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Breaking News: Puppies on rampage at Vet...

Our puppy school is a Eukanuba/Vet sponsored school. One of the classes includes a visit to a vet to learn how to behave properly and give your pup a positive experience at the vet.

But I think Johannesburg Specialist Veterinary centre did not know what had hit it one Saturday morning. Ten puppies ran amok in the waiting room.

This was despite advice from dog trainer Wendy Wilson that we should keep our dogs calm and quiet. The reason for this is that if they start a rumpus with other dogs, this raises their heart rate and blood pressure giving the vet a false reading. I am pretty sure that the way our puppies were behaving (like little hooligans) meant very high heart rates indeed.

Also interaction with other dogs can lead to the transmission of bacteria, viruses or even worse fleas (more about this later)!

The puppies had to practise being weighed on a scale without moving. Nobody won that competition!

Once on the vet's table, it's best to hold your puppy in a cradle position close to your body but loose enough to allow the vet to examine it. Otherwise use slow strokes to keep your pup calm as this body contact is reassuring for your dog as it is poked and prodded (gently of course).

Well I don't know how much of that lesson actually sunk in. But the puppies sure had a great time!

Monday, May 25, 2009

It's really humiliating being outsmarted by a dog!

It's amazing what puppies absorb in their first weeks. I remember when visiting Jemma's breeder that in the section allocated to dogs and puppies, there were a few couches on which the adult dogs sat.

It was only when Jemma was about 4 months that she began jumping onto my couches. The only reason she had not done it before was because she was too small. But she remembered her parents doing it and was imitating their behaviour. My problem is that for my sake and that of my visitors, I would prefer one place in my lounge to be safe from dog fur. So couch jumping is out. But how to persuade Jemma of that?
A stern "no" and pointing to the ground had no effect, nor did a shove off the couch have any impact. So it was time to consult dog trainer Wendy Wilson again. "The principle is that when the negative action is against yourself, you "punish" by ignoring your dog. Their negative actions result in you not paying them attention. But if the negative action is against something like a couch (the environment) then the environment must "punish" them," explained Wendy.

OK but how does one make the environment "punish" a dog?

She told me to put lots of baking tins, pots and pans on the edge of the couch. When Jemma jumped up, they would make a helluva a racket falling off. Hopefully this would give her a fright and she'd assume the couch had barked at her. Well I tried that, but clever Jemma was suspicious of these obstacles and never made a move.

Now I have three couches. Her solution was to jump onto the other couches. My problem was that I was running out of things to put on the couches. She was even smart enough to see a weak spot in my fortifications. A small opening between the pots and pans allowed her to jump through. And there she sat behind the fortifications with a self satisfied smirk on her face.

So my next move was to make the pots and pans bang by themselves because she was smart enough to avoid them. So I filled a small tin with stones and lobbed it onto the metal collection. The noise succeeded in getting her off the couch.
But if she has worked out that the pots, pans and the couch are separate things, does this mean that I am going to have to store my kitchen utensils on my couches forever? I'm going to have to go back to Wendy.

It's really humiliating being outsmarted by a dog!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Dog's Breath and other nasty things...

I have promised myself that I will get dog hygiene right this time.
But it’s like a New Year resolution: easy to make but hard to keep.

Clipping the nails of my previous beagles used to be very stressful. They hated it. So at the end of their pedicures, I needed something to calm my nerves. The quick of the nail runs two thirds of the way down, so precision is essential. And it's almost impossible not to draw blood while battling to hold a paw. I have to admit I often paid the vet to do it rather than me.

This is why ThinkingPet trainers emphasise getting pups used to having their paws handled. I was advised to use a small set of nail clippers on my puppies before graduating to the larger dog nail clippers. However my first operation was not completely yelp free. I despaired that I was already instilling aversion behaviour despite the fact no blood was spilt. So I nip only a fraction of a millimetre and I do it when they are in sleepy mode.

Then there are their teeth.
Plaque builds up over time. But taking them to the vet to have it removed is expensive and they have to be sedated. As my old boy aged, the plaque became as hard as cement and had to be literally chiseled off his teeth. The unfortunate thing was that his teeth then became very sensitive and he could only eat soft mushy food. At the moment I use a dog tooth brush that fits on one’s forefinger. I wiggle it around in the pups' mouths so they get used to the feel. But they think it’s just another great toy to chew. Apparently there is a tooth paste that tastes just like liver and encourages dogs to co-operate. We shall see.......
And then there are the ears.
If you have a floppy eared dog, you probably know all about yeast infections. When the climate is damp and the dogs are often in water, eczema and yeast infections are real problems. Jamie is from a dry, high altitude climate and his ears are in good condition but Jemma who is from the coast had "grungy" ears. To cure it, I had to put an ointment in her ears twice a day and clean them out with a special solution. Otherwise she could get a serious infection said the vet sternly.

So good hygiene will save on bills, but it needs a heck of a lot of owner discipline!

Monday, May 11, 2009

A damn good idea or smoking grass?

I read in my ThinkingPets manual that it can take up to 8 months to house train your dog. (Groan!)

But I have heard a story about a breeder who trains his pups from day one on roll-out lawn.

It's cheap and disposable. So the breeder hands over a fully house trained pup to a very grateful owner. We don't have to spend months re-training our pup so it does not do its business on tiles, carpets, concrete, newspaper or even in its kennel. Apparently pups learn by recognising the feel of grass.
Jemma's breeder tried it on a small scale, creating grass litter trays for her puppies. But she said it was a hit and miss affair.
I have estimated that one metre of roll-out grass costs as much as one newspaper and is far more durable.
Jemma used the litter tray I made a couple of times.

I am using roll-out grass in the section of my garden that I have allocated to the dogs as their toilet area. It is a temporary solution as I will need to plant shade grass there in summer. This is not going to happen until the pups stop eating/digging/ destroying my garden. But in the meantime they have direct access to grass from the house. The roll-out lawn has lasted a surprisingly long time, at least a month. I am only now considering replacing a few sections.

I would be very interested to know if any breeder has used this idea to begin house training puppies. Roll out that grass idea!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Who do ya call?

If you've got a problem, post a comment and maybe a kind trainer or animal behaviourist will have the answer.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

In the dog box!

Damage Assessment...

  • Three curtain drapes, two couches, three cushions, one throw.
  • Two pairs of long pants, two track suit tops.
  • Two dresses, one shawl.
  • Four pairs of sandals.

  • Two antique dining room table legs.
  • One book shelf, two desks' legs, skirting boards.
  • One cell phone charger
  • One garden

Friday, April 24, 2009

Bad, bad hair days!

I woke up as sick as a dog. I could hardly lift my head from the pillow. I just managed to stagger to the kitchen, feed the pups and take them outside to do their business. Then I would crash back into my bed.

Later that evening I had to face what I had been avoiding all day. A kitchen floor and passage full of dirty newspaper and dog's business. Just the thought of getting down on my hands and knees to clean it up, made me feel really, really sick.

In desperation I thought "I have to do some damage limitation!" So I decided that I would limit the territory that the pups had access to at night time. This required inspired thinking when it came to setting up road blocks. I rummaged through my garage and attic.

First I dragged a bench into the kitchen which restricted access. I then set up barriers in the passage so that they only had two metres of floor space instead of 15 metres.

All of this, as you can imagine took quite a bit of energy. Then I cleaned the floor, put down fresh newspaper, fed and watered the pups and took them outside for their ritual pee/poop/play time.
Sometime during the mayhem, Jemma slipped inside the kitchen. I returned to find a fresh puddle of urine right next to the up-ended bench. If I did not know better, I feel this was a protest action. Muttering and cursing under my breath, I grabbed my cleaning kit and once again cleaned, disinfected and sprayed the floor with vinegar (neutralises the smell of urine).

I was ready to snap. I was going to bite some body's head off. But then the words of my puppy trainer kept my temper on a leash.

  • Never raise your hand in anger against your dog. It must always be seen as a symbol of love and caring. Dogs that are beaten and obey out of fear often become dogs that are aggressive, unpredictable and anti-social.
  • If you are in a bad mood ( stressed, angry, frustrated ) rather leave your dogs in case your emotions spill over causing a negative interaction with them.

So I decided the wise thing to do that night was to walk away. The next day I felt better especially when I saw that my damage limitation barriers had worked. I only had to clean two metres of floor instead of the entire kitchen and passage way. Now the pups had less choice and the garden was becoming their inevitable destination.