Friday, May 20, 2011

Grooming Your Dog

I asked for requests for blog topics, and shampoo came up, so here is a post dedicated to grooming your dog!

I am not a groomer, but one of my best friends is a grooming manager at a Petco in Oregon. All of us in the pet world have an opinion on grooming supplies. I won't go into details about clippers or things I don't know about, so we will stick with at-home grooming and what to look for in a professional groomer.

Shampoos are not all alike. Just as with human shampoo, it is important to look at the ingredients of the product and the quality. First important thing to know is to choose a shampoo that is soap free. All dog shampoos are. Soap free you say? What? Soap like Dawn or other dish soaps dry out a dog's skin and strip the oils from their coat. Dogs need oil in their coat to keep it looking shiny and beautiful. Stripping those oils will create a dull coat and dandruff. Next thing is to be cautious about using human products on dogs. These products are more harsh than a dog shampoo because they do have some drying element (we don't like our hair oily!). There are some people that advocate using a baby shampoo on dogs because it is more gentle, but baby shampoo is not concentrated and you would have to use quite a bit on your dog. Why not just buy a product made for dogs in the first place? It will save you money!

What dog shampoos NOT to buy
Don't buy shampoos that have ingredients you can't pronounce. The shampoo below is a product carried by Petco that is advertised as a tearless puppy shampoo and unfortunately has some rave reviews that it "smells good." It is too bad that people are simply choosing to stick with a shampoo due to the scent.

Cleansing agents (sodium laureth sulfate, disodium oleamido MEA sulfosuccinate, cocamidopropyl betaine), conditioner (cocamidediethanolamine), soothing agent (aloe vera gel) and fragrance.

As you can see, there is only ONE natural ingredient in this shampoo (aloe vera gel). We can do better!

Shampoos you should buy
My two all time favorite shampoo brands are Cloudstar and Earthbath.

Purified water, natural cleansers, colloidal oatmeal, aloe vera, almond and vanilla essences. All ingredients are natural, 100% biodegradable, and extra gentle on you and your pet.

Coconut shampoo base, aloe vera gel, essence of lavender, essence of mint, chamomile extract, sage extract, nettle extract, rosemary extract, wheat protein extract (natural deodorizing agent), tea tree oil, vitamin E and vitamin C.

There are lots of other small brands that have great natural shampoos, but sometimes they disappear due to lack of consumer awareness. The two mentioned above have been around for a while and will stick around. These shampoos smell fantastic, have a lingering scent on the dog for at least a week, are conditioning, concentrated and economical. There is no reason to buy the garbage once you try the natural brands.

Even if you don't cut your dog's hair at home, it is a good idea to have nail trimmers, grooming spray for in between baths, a brush or two and some ear cleaner.

I used to be a fan of the guillotine style nail trimmers, but have learned they get dull quite fast. Now I prefer the kind used most by groomers, what I call the "hedge trimmer" style.

It is actually quite easy to cut nails once you get the hang of it. Simply put the dog's nail in the device and squeeze the two handles together. Of course, the tricky part is not to quick your dog and make her bleed. If the dog has white nails, you can see the vein (it is a red line) in the nail. DO NOT trim past that line. Nails bleed for a while unless you put some sort of blood coagulant on it. I use cornstarch because I am cheap, but there are commercial products that are less messy. If the dog has black nails, you just need to take little tiny pieces until you get an idea for how long that dog's vein is (kind of guess work, I know). Strangely enough my black dog, Lex, has white nails and Lucy has black nails. So I cut his nails first so I have an idea, and then cut hers the same length since I groom them at the same time a few times per month. Most dogs are going to need their nails done twice a month.

Grooming Spay
A grooming spray is kind of like a doggie perfume to use in between baths when you want to freshen your dog up. I like the Cloudstar Buddy Spray due to the same reasons why I love their shampoo.

The brand of the brush doesn't matter. The trouble most owners have with brushes is finding the right one for their dog's coat. Puppies are even more difficult because their coats will change before adulthood and owners want their pup to be used to brushing.

Dogs with short, horse-like fur do great with curry brushes, mitts, and shedding blades.

Dogs with long silky HAIR (not fur) do great with a pin brush or comb. These breeds include Yorkies, Silkies, Wheaten Terriers, Afghan hounds.

Dogs with a long rough coat, like Lucy, need a furminator, slicker brush, sometimes an undercoat rake and a curry brush! I tend to use the zoom groom (the pink rubber brush above), on Lucy most of the time and use a slicker brush on her rear end and feathers and neck. Once a month I can use a furminator type brush to get out loose hair. If she were a shepherd or husky with a lot of butt hair, I would use an undercoat rake as well.


For curly coated dogs, like poodles, be sure to use a curved slicker brush and brush up to fluff the dog.

Ear Wash
When picking an ear wash, I look for one that is alcohol free to avoid any stinging. I am just looking for a wash that will clean the dog's ears. I tend to stick with a tea tree and aloe wash.

Now that we are done with basic supplies, let's go over what to look for in choosing a professional groomer.

Not all groomers are created equal! There is not really a law that says groomers  have to be certified, so basically you are looking for experience, ambiance of their facility and their grooming practices. There are three basic grooming "places." Pet store grooming, mobile grooming and privately owned grooming.

Pet Store Grooming
Pros: All the groomers are certified through a program that the pet store created. Any medical expenses incurred due to something happening at the groomers, will be covered by the pet store's insurance. These groomers are busy most of the time and see a wide range of dog breeds. Their prices are pretty competitive. Cons: The skill of each groomer can vary (as with any). The shampoo products used are not the highest quality (though you can bring your own). Your dog will be in an assembly line of sorts due to a high volume of clients. Dog is washed first, placed in a drying kennel, then grooming begins, back in the kennel, brought out later for a touch up. This can be a 5 hour ordeal. For some owners, this is great because they need to work, but some dogs can't tolerate the stress of the kennel, the noise level, the lack of opportunity to go potty.

Mobile Grooming
Mobile groomers have a truck/van outfitted with all their equipment and come straight to your house to groom your dog in the driveway! Pros: Your dog will be done straight through without any dogs or kenneling in between. If your dog is reactive, this may be a good route since there won't be other dogs in the truck. You can check in on your dog if you would like and you don't have to drive your dog/pick him up later. Cons: generally, this is expensive. The groomer needs to pay for gas and has her own overhead to worry about. Equipment can be high quality or low (same with skill), so  do your homework!

Private Owner
This form of groomer is going to vary the most depending on if that groomer is working alone, or has a team of groomers under her. For the most part you can find private owner groomers that don't cage dogs, do them straight through and give you a reasonable price. Cons: the price will be higher than the pet store and these groomer's skill will vary the most since the investment in a truck and supplies is not as high and since they are not working for a retail store that requires certification. I have personally not been too happy with the cleanliness of the private owner places I have come in contact with.

So there you have it! Grooming questions answered!

Mel: (google is being weird about me commenting, so here is your answer)
For a dog with hair, like yours, you could bathe him a few times a week if you really wanted to. A dog with fur, like most dogs, don't do well with a shampoo more than every other week. When my dogs used to herd sheep weekly, I would hose them (no shampoo), just to get the mud and sheep poo off and actually wash them every other week. Even with soap free shampoo, their fur gets brittle if washed too often.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Does your dog pull?

Walking a dog that drags you down the street is not very fun. Unfortunately, most of the dogs I see in training class have pulling problems. The dogs probably learned from an early age that pulling works.

Why do dogs pull?
Dogs pull because they usually don't know any better. They learn at an early age that when they pull, the owner follows and they get to their destination. It is an easy enough mistake to commit since most people don't want to rain on their puppy's parade. Other reasons dogs pull include a desire to explore, high prey drive, fear, or excitement. The more a dog practices his pulling skills, the better he gets at it and the harder it becomes to teach him not to pull.

Early Intervention
For puppies, it is easiest to teach the pup not to pull at all from the start! There are numerous methods on how to do this. First I would recommend the pup gets used to the equipment with zero pressure. That means letting him wear a collar or harness with no leash attached for at least a week. Then attach the leash and let the puppy drag it around the house without you on the other end. He needs to get used to the sensation of something clipped to him and not fear it. Next is where you have options on how to teach him to walk nicely.
Option #1: attach puppy to leash and sit down on the couch with clicker and treats (or use marker word in lieu of a clicker). When the puppy exhibits zero tension, click and treat. Continue this process for 5 minutes daily for a few days before attempting to stand in place, then take a few steps and gradually progress to walking. This doesn't teach the dog where the right position is for walking at your side (heeling), but it does teach the dog that lack of tension gets rewarded.
Option #2: without a leash (or with), lure the puppy to your heel side and click and treat like crazy! Then ignore the puppy and lure again. After a few times, puppy should not want to leave your side or will rush to your heel side when you pat your leg. Gradually you will reward for one step of heeling, then two, then three and so forth.

Option#3 Teach puppy to target an object like a spatula or wooden spoon and use that as a guide for where he needs to be.

Management Techniques
There are a number of things you can do that is borderline "training," so I call it management instead. These techniques apply to any dog that has a pulling issue no matter their age, and I myself use these techniques when my trained dogs need them.

1. The Stop and Go: your dog pulls, you stop, then you go, then stop if it happens again and repeat. Pros: this teaches your dog that he will not get anywhere if he pulls. Cons: this is a very tedious exercise and will not teach your dog to walk nicely if this is the only technique you use. Also, hounds or any dog motivated by scent will happily entertain themselves while you stop, so they do not truly see that stopping is not fun.

Owner is stopped, yet Beagle is STILL pulling!

2. The Round and Round we Go: your dog pulls, you turn together and do a circle. This is very reminiscent of what people do when a horse pulls them. Pros: works great for dogs that get pleasure from stopping and works well for dogs that can't quite sit still and relax. Cons: will make you dizzy! Also, use alone will not teach your dog how to heel.

3. Taking back ground: your dog pulls, you take back the feet he pulled you. I use this technique the most with my dogs. In fact, I will take back the ground they took and have them sit, do a watch, get recomposed, then walk again. My dogs are herding dogs and we used to herd livestock weekly for almost 4 years (off and on). When they see things like geese, ducks and livestock animals, they admittedly get excited and pull. Pros: sends a clear message to the dog. Cons: can be pretty time consuming and difficult if your dog can't sit or watch you when asked.

Option#2 and #3 in the puppy section, is what I would recommend for adult dogs that pull as well. I generally have owners not lure, but start their dog in the correct position with proper leash holding, picking which side and rewarding the dog for standing there nicely. Then we do one step, two, three, and progress more quickly to only rewarding every five steps, or ten etc. It is important that owners choose a clear word, and only use that word (heel, close, side, follow) when their dog is actually heeling nicely or when starting the exercise. I can't tell you how many times I hear people around the neighborhood saying "heel, heel, heel," like some sort of mantra. I will confess, that I used to do that with Miss Lucy myself. It is an easy trap to fall into. What are you supposed to do when your dog STOPS heeling though?

First assess why/what happened. Did you not reward at a high enough rate? Was your dog suddenly distracted? Did your session last too long?

I personally use a non-reward marker word such as "ah-ah" or "whoops" (not NO!) when my dog slips up which gets him back to my side and thinking again. Then I up my reward rate for the next 30 seconds or so. My heel would start like this: Lucy is sitting on my left side, I say "heel" and we move forward together. I reward every 20 feet with "good heel" and a treat. If she pulls, I say "ah-ah" and wait for her to get back with me while I stand still. If she does not get back with me, I would have her sit, re-focus her and start again with "heel."

Training Tools
For some dogs/owners the above may not be enough to get the dog started on proper walking because she has gone on pulling for far too long. Many trainers may say that no dog ever needs a tool and while that may be true for a trainer or someone with a ton of time on their hands, there are circumstances where a tool is very handy.
1. The dog is very large and stronger than the owner.
2. The dog has pulled for so long that she can't even get in the proper position to begin with.
3. The dog is not food motivated and has zero interest in working for the owner.
4. The owner wants to jump start teaching the dog to heel and will wean the dog off the tool eventually.
5. The owner doesn't mind if the dog is on a tool forever.

No-Pull Harnesses
There are several types of no-pull harnesses. There is the Easy Walk, by Premier, and a plethora of similar ones (Sensation, Halti Harness, Weiss Walky) and there is the Yuppy Puppy no-pull harness and similar ones. They have two very different designs as one clips in the front and the other from the back. The front clip harness (shown below), actually pivots your dog back to your side when he pulls. I find that owners of dogs over 6 months prefer this harness over the other type because it allows more control. It does have a few cons though: it can rub on the armpits, the sizing can be difficult for certain shaped dogs and it ONLY works in the heel position. If the dog is in front of you, and tension happens on the leash, your dog can do a nasty face plant.

The Yuppy Puppy harness tends to be more popular for younger dogs since it works in any position (in front, on the heel side, behind the owner). This device works by creating a sensation of tightness under the armpit when the dog pulls. The harness has a nice fleece lining, so it does not cause any abrasions, however, some dogs could really care less about this device.

Head Collars
Head collars like Gentle Leaders, Halti, Canny Collar, are devices that go around the dog's muzzle (much like a horse). The idea is that where the nose goes, the body follows. I have a pretty negative opinion about these. Many vets are now finding they cause neck damage and can cause damage to the eyes if it rides up and permanent hair loss from rubbing. Most dogs do not take to these right away and most owners are too lazy to counter-condition their dogs to like it. Also if the dog has any potential to re-direct excitement or aggression, that pulls the dog's teeth right into the owner's leg (I have seen it happen twice!). The nose loop devices are really only appropriate for calm dogs that need a reminder and if that is their demeanor then why bother with a device at all??

Scars on the nose from a Gentle Leader.

Neck Devices
Neck devices include regular collars, martingales, choke chains and pinch collars. Regular collars of course are not a tool designed for pullers, but are essential for hanging an ID tag on your dog. Martingale collars are a limited slip collar that disperses the pressure to the back of the neck. My dogs wear martingales. Without it, Lucy coughs and coughs with any minimal pressure on a regular collar. I recommend these for mild pullers.

Martingale collar. Notice how it pulls from the back.

I don't recommend choke chains EVER! They can cause severe trachea damage, cause a dog to pass out, and really aren't that effective. Many of us have seen an older lab or other breed on a choke chain pulling away. Makes me wonder why people go out and buy them.

There was a time that I would sometimes have a client use a pinch collar. There are more humane than a choke chain since they don't compress the air-way, and there are rubber caps available for the metal variety so the dog is not getting sticked by the collar, but getting pinched. My opinion now: these are never appropriate for reactive dogs, shy dogs, dogs under a year of age, senior dogs, small dogs etc. To me, there is only a very very small group of dogs that MAY use a pinch collar. A large rambunctious golden retriever that is 2 years old, friendly as can be, has zero training and is owned by a pregnant lady that tried all the other devices and is now faced with letting the dog waste away in the backyard because she can't walk him or take him to the pound. For that situation, I wouldn't judge her for using a pinch collar. For any other able bodied person that wants to take the time to train their dog, DON'T USE IT! It can cause skin damage, it can cause emotional damage. It really isn't training the dog to walk correctly either and your relationship with your dog is suddenly about the dog listening only out of avoidance of pain of the collar.

Now that I am off my soapbox..........

All of these devices will not teach your dog to walk nicely. You must couple training with management and devices (sometimes), to make it all mesh together. Having a dog that knows how to heel is important if you wish to take her anywhere. Your dog doesn't have to heel all the time when walking, In fact, my dogs heel, release to walk ahead, I tell them "steady" if they pull while in front. We have a system. They heel out of the house, run off leash on the trails, come when asked, heel when asked, and heel on the way back home. I would probably have them heel on a busy sidewalk, in a store or in a city square. Whereas, I would let them walk in front (nicely!) on a paved trail, at an on-leash park, around the neighborhood sometimes.

As always, comments are welcome! Please let me know if you have any questions on how to implement any of the training suggestions.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

DIY Dog toys, treats and gear

Dog toys, treats and gear can be expensive. Some things are a neccesity to purchase and not make yourself (like a crate, ID tag, nail trimmers and grooming gear, kibble), but there are other items you may not know are super easy to make yourself. Think of the joy you will have watching your dog play/use your creation and the $$ you will save!

Tug Toys

Tug toys are super easy to make at home, and cheap. My flyball team mates taught me about this. I prefer to use fleece and personally don't like purchasing rope toys since the rope can be hard on sensitive teeth.

Step one: go to a fabric store and buy a yard or two of your favorite fleece design. You can also use fabric scraps at home if you are already crafty.
Step two: decide how long and what strength your tug needs to be.
Step three: cut your fabric strip into 3 pieces for a basic braid (multiple pieces for a more advanced design).
Step four: knot your end, braid and knot the bottom end.

Below is a video showing what I just described for the more visual learners.

Treat Dispensing Toys
These types of toys keep dogs busy, free of boredum and out of your hair for a while! There are many treat dispensing toys on the market; Kongs, Busy Buddies, Treat stik, Maze-a-ball etc., and I do own all of those, but there are many times where I make my own for my dogs as well. They enjoy variety and when I purchased my first Kongs and other toys, I wasn't aware of the possibilities of toys I could make at home.

Step one: find a container of some sort to house the treats. This can be a box, a water bottle, a 2 liter bottle, a plastic container that held potato salad or something, a milk jug. Pretty much anything made out of paper or plastic.
Step two: if the container is sealed shut, cut a hole or a few just big enough for the treats to come out. Depending on your dog, choose how difficult you want the toy to be. For boxes, I don't cut holes, I just shut the box by folding the corners over each other.
Step three: place treats or food in the toy and give to the dog.
Be sure to supervise with these toys and take away promptly if the dog starts to shred and eat paper or plastic.

Tire Toy
Do you have a big chewer? Do you have a sturdy tree? Then this toy is for you, ahem, I mean, your dog!

Step one: obtain a tire, preferably, a small wheelbarrow tire. You can get these from hardware stores if you don't have access to one second hand. It is much cheaper than buying the dog version at the petstore.
Step two: get some strong rope to tie around the tire. Tie the other end around a sturdy tree branch.
Step three: place food, like peanut butter, in the tire if your dog needs a little help figuring out the fun the tire can offer.

Frozen Treat
Hot day? Hot dog? Try this super simple treat.

Step one: find a small freezer safe container.
Step two: place water in the container or broth or yogurt or any dog-safe base of your choosing.
Step three: sprinkle kibble or treats or any dog-safe ingredient into the base.
Step four: freeze.
Step five: pop the pupsicle out of the container and serve to your dog outside, in a crate, in a large container to contain the mess or leave in the original container.

Sewn Toys
I am not  much of a seamstress. I will sew up already created dog toys that bust a seam or have stuffing sticking out, but I personally, would not have the discipline or even the desire to sew my own dog toy from scratch. If you are interested though, all it takes is some sturdy fabric, stuffing (or not if you choose) and a pattern to sew.

There are tons of dog treat recipes out there. Some are time consuming and expensive, but others are, well, cheap, easy and awesome! Lucy loved Tuna Fudge (not really fudge, just the consistency), until I found out she was allergic to wheat =(

I like the quick and easy tab on this site.

Dog beds are expensive. Believe me, I once had an addiction to buying beds since I got "such a good deal" at the various pet stores I have worked at. We currently have 9 dog beds, for two dogs. 3 are not in use, and I "re-homed" two big beds prior to our move to California! Two of our favorite mats happen to be homemade by a flyball team mate. I picked out a fleece fabric I liked, gave her the dimensions and she sewed some batting in, made two rectangle designs on it to keep it all straight in the wash and during use and voila, instant, cheap dog bed! If I wanted a more plush bed, more batting could have been added.

There are limitless possibilities in gear you can create for your dog. I know someone who made a harness for a small dog out of felt and an old key lanyard that looked pretty awesome and was fully functional. There are people that make their own leather leashes and collars, dog food, dog clothes etc. I bet a search on for any of these items would turn up with a lot of hits.

If you have a cool DIY dog product idea that I missed, or have had fun with any of the above mentioned, please comment!