Ghosts, Ghouls and Drool: 7 Ways To Prepare your Dog for a Safe Halloween (+ Free Treat Recipe!)

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Ireland Practicing Being A Ghost

Ireland Practicing Being A Ghost

Halloween is fast approaching! For many kids (and some adults too!), that means dressing up as their favorite superhero or Halloween character, lots of candy, and even a little spooking!  For our dogs, especially young puppies, or those that haven’t ever experienced this strange onslaught of the senses, Halloween can be as confusing and scary as a fireworks show!

Think about it: Costumes cover our faces and add weird appendages to our features, strange people come constantly to our front door and yell… loudly! Is it any wonder that many canines display strong anxiety to these things? We might also put our canines right in the thick of it, taking them for a walk or bringing them along as a companion for our little trick or treaters. Imagine what they must be thinking when they come across that scary witch or graveyard of skulls?!

I often talk about the concept of “setting up for success” and for occasions such as Halloween where costumes are meant to evoke strong and sometimes frightening emotions, this concept becomes very important. In the service dog world, we proof and prepare canines for many different scenarios and possibilities that they may encounter during their busy lives helping out their family. In controlled environments, we expose dogs to the lights and sounds of emergency vehicles, encourage volunteers to come dressed in their work clothes to bring along the smells of the community and we have very generous fireman and police officers take time to come to the facilities in full gear, to expose the developing puppies to funny helmets, gas masks, oxygen tanks, and utility belts covered in things that might look like toys. However, for the majority of “household” canines, their exposure and learning experiences are slightly different. Some have a very integrative life, are out in the community all the time (or as much as possible), meeting new people and new things. Others spend some, or all of their lives around a few houses, and the local park. For any dog, at either end of the exposure spectrum, going around the corner and coming face to face with a Yeti, or someone dressed up as our favorite martial arts turtle can be quite a shock, and can evoke emotion and behaviours that we have never witnessed or experienced EVER!

You Thought I was Cute Before!!

You Thought I was Cute Before!!

So what can we do? Here is a list of things to keep in mind around the Halloween season and some ways to make All Hallows’ Eve as positive as possible:

For those of us with canine-enriched lives

  1. Have a good play with your dog at the local park or in your backyard well before you have to start handing out candy. Make sure their needs are met!
  2. Take them for a “business” run (pee and poop) before the trick-or-treaters are out and about. Usually it is still daylight at this point so you will also be less likely to be surprised by a costumed ghoul or ghost. Then take them out after when things have drastically calmed down and most, if not all, of the families have gone home.
  3. Usually someone stays at home to hand out candy. GREAT! Don’t leave your dog in the front room or by the front door unattended where they can be over stimulated by commotion outside and knocking/doorbell ringing. It also avoids any possible escape attempts.
  4. Set up a quiet and safe room for the canine. Put on the TV or turn the radio on with some nice easy listening, and pull the blinds over the window. For some, just running a fan in the room is enough white noise to block out stimulation happening at the front door. Make sure the room is safe for the dog, whatever their age. If they become stressed, they can act out on furniture, electrical cords, and doors. Set them up for success by minimizing dangerous items.
  5. If you are at the front door, take some time to check on them at a decent frequency. Reinforce their quiet behaviour with verbal praise and even the occasional delicious treat. (It is treat night for everyone else, after all! See below for a great recipe.) If they become anxious or unsure, spend some time to quiet them down and redirect these tense emotions towards a fun or happy thing. Get out their favorite toy or puzzle and have them work through it. Spend a little time running through their various commands so they redirect onto the task at hand, not what is going on outside.
  6. If your dog barks at the doorbell… Contact Canines By Design and we can help fix that, but for now, watch for people coming to the house or tape over the door bell with a sign to say “do not ring”.
  7. Make sure the candy and chocolate is out of reach from them. Also make sure that your children or guests know that the canine cannot have any “people” treats. Many kids like to spread out their candy on the floor to check out their “haul” after trick-or-treating. That’s fine… just maybe close the door to their bedroom first to avoid any canines snacking!

If you are out and come across a dog:

  1. Do not approach (even if you know the dog): Remember you are wearing a costume: Canines are very good at reading body language, facial expressions, and verbal language. We are running around having fun with raised/excited voices and covered faces (masks or makeup)… it doesn’t exactly give them a fair chance to assess the situation. If you have to go say hello, remove your mask and return your emotional level back to a relaxed and calm state before doing so. Even your own canine may second-guess that it is actually you when you are dressed up to scare!
  2. If you are going up to a house and you hear a dog barking from very near or right behind the door, turn around and head to the next house. While we want to give the benefit of the doubt to those caregivers, we cannot assume that the dog will be OK with us near their house and their people. They are already showing sign of arousal and they may make the wrong assumption and turn a fun night into a negative one.

MOST Importantly… Have FUN with your families this Halloween! While canines might not get the concept of dressing up and going door to door, they can still have fun and a delicious treat too! Try this easy recipe:

Simple Peanut Butter Pumpkin Canine Treats:

Ingredients:

1 ½ cups Peanut Butter (Natural)

1 cup of 100% Pure Pumpkin Puree, canned. (Not Pumpkin Pie Filling)

1 ¾ cups Whole Wheat Flour

Directions:

  1. Preheat over to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.
  2. In a large bowl, stir together peanut butter and pumpkin. Sift in the flour ¼ cup at a time just until the dough in no longer sticky.
  3. Roll the dough out between two sheets of parchment paper until it is about ¼” thick.
  4. Use your favorite puppy or Halloween-themed cookie cutter to cut the shapes. Place on prepared cookie sheets
  5. Bake @ 350 for 8-10 minutes (non-convection setting). Let cool completely. Store in an airtight container (2 week shelf life) or freeze for up to 3 months.
Ready To Hit The Town!!

Zoom and Ember Ready To Hit The Town!!

NOTE: I would like to thank Kathryn Koh for the photos she sent me to use in this blog post.  Kathryn is very involved with my school, Bergin University, back in Sonoma Valley, California.  She volunteers to take many of the beautiful pictures of all the Bergin dogs, she is an active puppy raiser, trainer, foster home, canine caregiver, and helps out the school anyway she can!!  Many Thanks from here in Victoria!

Restricted Lifestyle? No Problem! Canine Hydrotherapy Might Be Right For You!

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Husky Hydrotherapy

Husky Hydrotherapy

This week’s article is all about alternative medicine and exercise plans for canines. Specifically, I thought we’d take a look at hydrotherapy. What is dog hydrotherapy? Well, we’ll get there. But first, I want to introduce the concept of appropriate exercise.

Body and brains: What appropriate exercise means!

When professionals in the dog world talk about exercise, the phrase “appropriate exercise” often arises. Used as a blanket term, the notion that not all exercise is appropriate for all ages and sizes of canines can get one thinking. A simple comparison would be comparing the activity level of a young German shepherd to that of a geriatric Pug. Appropriate activity isn’t saying that the Pug is incapable of any activity, but rather the type activity the Pug engages in should be incorporate variables such as his age, any underlying medical conditions such as heart condition and any physiologic limitations such as arthritis.

The equation gets even more complicated when we start to think about physical and mental exercise.   Both mental and physical requirements change throughout a canine’s lifetime, just as they do for humans. Finding a balance to keep their lives enriched and happy can become tricky when genetic and age-related changes (like arthritis) begin affecting the exercise equation. While an older or injured (or both) canine might not have the physical ability to run and play on land, their mental well being is reliant on them maintaining a lifestyle balance that still includes exercise, play and all those things that make a dog a dog!

What is canine hydrotherapy?

This is where hydrotherapy comes in. The dictionary defines hydrotherapy as the therapeutic use of water where wet heat and wet cold are applied to help in medical treatments, strengthen muscles, restore motion, and clean and heal flesh. (Merriam-Webster, 2014). In other words, we can think about it as time spent in the water, walking, swimming, and exercising.

Golden Relaxing

Golden Relaxing

Hydrotherapy offers many, many benefits for both humans and canines. Because of the properties of water, the effects of gravity are lessened when our bodies are submersed, making us feel lighter. While this takes pressure off joints, the submersion in varying temperatures of the water can help with inflammation of joints and muscle recovery from major surgeries and other musclo-skeletal damage (Mooventhan and Nivethitha, 2014). Hydrotherapy has even been shown to help with cardiovascular issues such as blood pressure (Mooventhan and Nivethitha, 2014).

These findings are now being applied to canines! We once thought that canines with restricted lifestyles, whether it was due to age, medical or otherwise, meant having a very bored pup giving us those long looks and big eyes saying “please, lets go for a run… if only for a minute.” There are many applications of hydrotherapy (and physiotherapy) and resources to help you try them, with long-term rehab facilities for canines and animals becoming the norm in many cities across Canada and the United States. Check out this example: Coastal Canine Hydrotherapy and Fitness Centre on Vancouver Island.

For anyone who is scratching their head, wondering what sort of fun things they can do with a canine who has special needs or a restricted lifestyle, maybe hydrotherapy is an option for you! You may find that a trip to the beach and a dip in the ocean is exactly what you both needed!!

NOTE: It is always important to consult your veterinarian before introducing a new exercise platform for your canine, especially when there may be physiological limitation/conditions that could cause compounding issues.

In 2014, a book was released, “No walks? No worries!: Maintaining wellbeing on restricted exercise”, by Sian Ryan and Helen Zulch. A good source of information, this book will help you understand more of what appropriate exercise is from the viewpoint of entering a period of restrictive lifestyle (e.g. having a major surgery) and provide you with the questions you should ask your veterinarian when the times comes.

Finally, if you have an extra 2 minutes, watch this loving video of Schoep, a canine who lived to TWENTY years of age who benefited from the wonders of hydrotherapy (and A LOT of Love!):

Looking for a good canine life jacket for your new found love of water?  Check out this great line by Ruffwear.  Called the K-9 Float Coat: http://www.ruffwear.com/-9-float-coat?sc=2&category=694, it comes it various sizes and two colors to fit your lifestyle and canine needs.

References:

Merriam-Webster (2014). Hydrotherapy Definition. Retrieved from: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hydrotherapy. Accessed on: September 16, 2014.

Mooventhan A, Nivethitha L. (2014). Scientific evidence-based effects of hydrotherapy on various systems of the body. North Am. J. Med. Sci.; 6: 199-209. Retrieved from: http://www.najms.org/text.asp?2014/6/5/199/132935.Accessed September 16, 2014.

Fall Blues… Back To School and Back to Reality: Fostering Canine Adaptability, not Destruction

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Nick and Rusty Enjoying the Bergin University Master's Class

Rusty (L) and Nick (R) Enjoying the Bergin University Master’s Program

August has faded into September and thousands of students are heading back for another school year. While students might be dragging their feet, the arrival of fall is usually accompanied by a smile of relief from their parents! (OK, not for parents in B.C., but hopefully the strike will end soon) It means a return to normalcy and a schedule. Summertime activities keep everyone busy and entertained, including your canines: Everyone is home, people are happy and excited, and nice weather usually means frequent trips to a favorite beach, lake or park. When September hits, the kids sigh with procrastination, the parents sigh with relief… and, in many cases, our canines sigh with sadness because their home dynamic changes drastically.

At home, things can get quiet quickly without children playing and moms and dads temporarily home on holidays. Two months is enough time for this level of elevated activity and companionship to become a constant fixture in our canine’s life. With back-to-school and back to work, schedules are shuffled and new routines are made. Sometimes in all the chaos, our furry companions can get missed, and some assurances that they have become used to, and somewhat reliant on, might not happen.

I could spend this whole article talking about variables and how they can have a resultant effect on your canine, but my goal here is to help you ensure your canine has the skills to deal with changes in their routines and help make sure they are adaptable and not destructive.

Pro Tips:

  1. Start new routines slowly and gradually.
  • If you know there is going to be a schedule change for your canine, start preparing for that change by modifying your current schedule gradually over a few days.
  • Have family help out by explaining why this gradual change is important.
  1. Plan ahead to make sure your canine will still get all their necessary exercise, both mental and physical.
  • We have our social lives, work, friends and an integrated community. Your canine has you and a select few others that they rely on for everything. Don’t forget that! If it means waking up earlier to ensure they have had a decent walk and training session prior to a period of time on their own, then schedule it in!
  • Again, have family help out. If you have children, small 10-minute training sessions can become part of their regular schedules before or after school. These moments can become great family bonding time where everyone is together smiling and having fun… including your puppy.
  • If you think an 8 hour work day feels long for you, try being a dog waiting patiently at home. I am blessed that I work in the canine world, which means Zoom is almost always with me. When he isn’t, we try to think of our day in three-hour blocks. Modify your schedule, utilize a trustworthy neighbor or friend, or join a local community walking group. There are many ways to make sure your pup doesn’t have to spend countless hours and days alone waiting to relieve themselves or go socialize.
  1. Always, always set your canine up for success during alone time.
  • Leave music or the TV on to add some ambient noise to the environment so that the house isn’t silent all day as silence can heighten anxiety in canines.
  • Use the same routine when leaving every time. Tell your canine “you will be back” every time. Offer a Kong with a little peanut butter or frozen pumpkin in it to help ease the initial separation and keep them distracted when you go. Doing this consistently will also help your canine pair “positive feelings and excitement” when you leave versus feelings of negativity and fear.
  • Make sure that your canine is in an environment that is safe and enriched. By cleaning up garbage, removing chewable items (power cords), leaving the floors clean and making sure they have access to safe items (items you have had success leaving with them) such as their bed, you help make sure that if they do become anxious that they don’t take it out on something they shouldn’t.
  • As noted above, make sure both their physical and mental needs are taken care of BEFORE you go. A bored mind will wander and an anxious body will only compound this, creating a situation in which your dog may try or do something they have never done before (e.g. chew furniture).

Taking the mental and physical needs of our canines into consideration during periods of transition and change will only help to make your dog adaptable and flexible, decreasing your already-long list of worries and stress.

If you are unsure of what you can leave or do with your canine in your situation, I’m here to help. Contact Canines By Design and I would be glad to help set you and your canine up for success by creating safe space solutions in and around your home.

Nose to tail Product Review: Improving Intelligence In Your Pup, and Preventing Age-Related Cognitive Dysfunction in senior dogs

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Zoom enjoying the sun, sand, and his toy!

Zoom enjoying the sun, sand, and his toy!

If you’re like me, you are always on the lookout for new and creative ways to entertain and enrich the lives of our canines. You know who you are… if there’s a new toy at the pet store, you’re all over it! Luckily, a Swedish company has been thinking this way since 1990. If you haven’t heard of Nina Ottosson before, you’ll be excited to learn that their Dog Activity Toys have been designed and tested to challenge your dog both physically and mentally through educational play.

Just like “brain games” for you and me, the games are meant to motivate your canine to learn, whatever their age, increasing their problem solving skills and intelligence as the difficulty level increases. They have developed a variety of interactive products with different difficulty levels (in both plastic and wood options) depending on the needs and play style of your canine.

Owners of senior canines take special note: they promote their products for older dogs. Activities change as their bodies age, so it’s great to find new, accessible ways for them to play and have fun. Keeping seniors mentally engaged is important for preventing or helping with Age-Related Canine Cognitive Dysfunction, and introducing mental puzzles is a great way to do it (Cline, 2014).

These products work well enough in creating dynamic challenges for canines that even service groups have integrated them into their programs to help develop problem solving skills in their up and coming service canines!

Quality is carefully controlled, with usage of choice materials that meet strict rules geared minimize or eliminate the impact to both the environment and your dog’s health. All of their products are recyclable and non-toxic, which is evidence of the detail they put into their design.

My Tips:
1. Using some of their dinner kibbles as the treats you put into the puzzle is a great way to make sure you are keeping your canine at their proper weight while still giving them food rewards.
2. Set them up for success. Start with level 1 puzzles and work your way up.
3. Lots of reward and praise through the process and make it fun!
4. Always supervise your canine!
5. Don’t forget to wash your puzzles frequently to keep them sanitary. Plastic puzzles can be cleaned easily and work well if you are using wet, canned or raw food, and/or are being used by multiple dogs. Wood puzzles can be wiped with a slightly damp cloth and a little mild detergent (Dawn dish soap) then wiped dry.
6. Check out all of Nina Ottoson’s tips and tricks!!!

Canines By Design wants you to know what cool and interesting products are out there. Do you know of a product that everyone should have, or at the very least, know about? Contact me (link) and let me know so I can feature your product!

References:
Cline, Dr. Jill. (2014). Cognitive Changes in the senior dog patient. Retrieved from: http://www.veterinarmagazinet.se/content/images/list_5/7467_1702620309.pdf. Accessed on: Aug. 12, 2014.

Whats Next!!?!

Whats Next!!?!

Nose to Tail Product Review: GoughNuts Toys

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GoughNuts.com Stick

GoughNuts.com Stick

At Canines By Design, we are always looking into new and exciting ways for you and your dog to interact and have fun. Both Zoom and I love checking out new products, games, puzzles, and gear that is geared for positive and safe experiences (and sometimes it’s hard to tell which of us geeking out more!).

I know I don’t have to look too far to find those of you who have a canine with some serious chewing power. I bet they are the kind of dog that has made those “indestructible” claims seem like a bit of a stretch. I also know that this… enthusiasm can make finding appropriate toys difficult, expensive and, frankly, distressing when yet another product fails miserably.

GoughNuts, LLC has created a line of safe dog products, made in the USA, that have specifically catered to the needs of champion chewers. Alongside Mechanical and Polymer Engineers, Goughnuts has developed products made of high quality materials with wear indicators to let caregivers know when the toy’s integrity has been compromised. They also come with a multi-Axis Groove System to help prevent potential choking/air blockage, bite-strength statistics and a return/replace policy for both Canada and the U.S.

Products with these types of considerations make canine safety a top priority, and GoughNuts makes sure customers know it when visiting their website. They go into detail about how to properly size their products based on your canine’s size and also give detailed information about when it is time to remove the toy to ensure your pet stays safe. They make a range of GoughNut Sticks and Rings with different bite strengths and sizes for both small/medium and large dogs, and have also recently released a tug toy and a ball design that follows their strict “Safety-First” policy.

Nothing is indestructible – this is always part of our environmental enrichment discussions with clients. Playtimes with toys should be monitored, especially with strong chewers. Developing safe and enriching spaces means working with the specific personalities, needs, and behaviours of each individual dog as well as all the variables (such as durability and budget) introduced in each case to strike a balance between an entertaining space and a safe one. No one wants to lay on a tile floor in a bare room with nothing to do! The GoughNuts company is helping this process for us all, by ensuring that the products they develop, produce, and promote already encompass major components of canine safety.

Always research your canine-related products. While those that offer bargain prices and multi-packs may seem enticing to those of us who have canines who don’t seem to know their own strength, the level of ingredient control and quality in these products can be quite varied. While I can offer many examples of dog-related surgeries due to the ingestion of toys and other materials in the environment, I thought I would post one that we will all be dealing with right now as it is BBQ season and we are all on the hunt for what we think is a deal: http://www.edmontonsun.com/2014/07/07/woman-hospitalized-by-cheap-bbq-brush.