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!!!!!!