“May I Pet Your Dog?”

My corgi Ein is cute.   Super cute.  I’m not bragging, it’s just a fact.   And when we go out in public, people can’t resist that cute.   Ein has a handsome teddy bear face, a perpetual smile and that bunny-butt strut that all corgis have and people need to get their hands on him.

But here’s the thing - not every dog likes to be petted.  Ein is in this category, and he is not alone.   Do you have a dog like that?   What does your dog do when strangers approach on a walking trail or at the park?  Maybe her tail is low or tucked under her legs, rather than wagging or swaying.  She might try to hide behind you as people approach.   She might crouch low to the ground and avert her eyes away from the situation.  These are all signs that your dog would rather not be petted by a stranger.

Ein at a picnic with me.   He is in between my legs with head turned away from a person off-camera.   Look at his lips and the tension on his face.   He says "No thank you!"

Ein at a picnic with me. He is in between my legs with head turned away from a person off-camera. Look at his lips and the tension on his face, his ears are beginning to fold back. He says “No thank you!”

I knew nothing when Ein came to live with me.   He is the dog who taught me about dogs.  When people approached us and asked me, “He’s so cute!   May I pet him?” I said that they could.  If someone couldn’t pet my dog, didn’t that mean that he was a Bad Dog?  Didn’t that mean that he wasn’t friendly, that there was something wrong with him?.   It meant embarrassing me, and the other people.  For some reason, that mattered.   And it was at my dog’s expense.

The years went by.  Two more dogs were added to my family, dogs who loved to be petted.   It was easier now.   I could just tell people, “You can pet the big dog, the little one is shy.”  That was a compromise.   I could take one of my larger, people-loving dogs to social situations and leave Ein at home, happy.   Ein did come to love rally obedience trials, and the people there.   No one wanted to pet Ein, but they might give him a treat.   He learned to stare and smile and charm other competitors into giving him a tidbit without the compromise of petting.   These were Dog People.   They understood dogs.   This was Ein’s great gift to me, all I had to do was watch him and pay attention.   And I learned to understand dogs, too.   They don’t speak with words, they speak with body language.

No touchy!

No touchy!

Fast forward to now.   Ein is 11.   We were at a boat launch getting ready to go out on our kayak together.   Senior though he is, Ein is a head turner with his handsome face and adorable little orange lifejacket.   A group of teenage girls were gasping and squealing over him, you would have thought he was Elvis.   “May we pet your dog??”   It had literally been years since I had been asked that question of Ein.   Years.   And it caught me off guard.  But without hesitation and for the first time in his entire life I said the correct answer: “I’m sorry.   My dog is afraid of people and does not like to be petted.”   They seemed surprised and a little embarrassed.   That’s okay.   I was standing up for my dog.   Like I always should have.  And honestly, it felt great.

It is okay to stand up for your dog.   It is okay to say, “No.” People will get over it.   They will find another soppy bouncy dog to love on, possibly within the next hour or less.  It does not mean that your dog is a Bad Dog if she does not want to be petted or touched.  Your dog is a Good Dog, an awesome dog.  Your dog is not public property, she is your friend and she is counting on you to make decisions in her best interests.   Watch her, learn to read her body language and say “No.” when you can see that your dog would rather not be petted.  Your pup will thank you for it, I guarantee!  And you might even feel super proud of yourself!

Product Review: Benebone Chews

There are probably 20 Nylabones of all varieties scattered around my house and my three dogs love them.   Plastic chew-bones are my personal favorite for my pups (simply my preference!)  Not an evening goes by without their recreational chewing – sometimes in stereo!  When I saw a new type of long duration chewbone, I had to give it a try.

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Benebone sells a wishbone-style plastic chewbone in three different sizes: Jumbo, Regular or Mini.   You have your choice of flavors: Rotisserie Chicken, Bacon or Peanut Butter.  One thing was different straight off, the wishbone was curved rather than straight.   There are also little channels at each of the three ends.  Watching my dogs chew on the bones, they seem to be able to use both of these features to grip the bone more comfortably than other chewbones.   We approve of the design!

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For flavor we went with the bacon and peanut butter flavored wishbones.  I can’t comment on the taste, and my dogs aren’t saying anything!   I don’t smell the flavors but the dog have been committing a lot of time to our two wishbones…they seem to absolutely love them!

Durability gets a high rating from us after about three weeks of use.  This bone does not look like plastic, and at first glance I thought that it was edible and nearly passed it by.  Not the case!  I chose two Regular size Wishbones.  This was not too large for my corgi to enjoy, and is holding up nicely to my pitbull – who is a 60lb heavy chewer.  So, a good size range of dogs for the Regular.   For power chewers and larger dogs, the Jumbo size would probably be best both for durability and for size matching.  No chunks have broken off of the bones, not even any too-large plastic shavings or chips.  I still don’t recommend stepping on one in your bare feet, or rolling over on one in the bed in the middle of the night!

Benebone makes another shape of chewbone, the Rocking Dental Chew.   This comes in one size only, but is newly available in all three flavors.  The bone is curved and has ridges on either size for dental cleaning.  My dogs seem to prefer the Wishbone style chew to the Dental Chew however.  The Dental Chew definitely gets some attention, but not nearly the amount that the Wishbones get.

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Interested?  You can visit the Benebone website to learn more.  If you would like to buy some Benebones for your pup, you can order them on Amazon or Chewy – and the Benebone website states that they are available at some pet stores. (I have seen them at Pet Valu.)

(Benebone did not ask me to write this review.   My dogs simply enjoyed their product and wanted to share!)

Online Class Review – “Foundation Weaves, Love Them and Flaunt Them”

My dog Molly hated weave poles in the game of dog agility.   Hated.  Whenever we saw them in training or competition, she blew by them as though they were invisible.   When I recalled her to me and helped her enter them, she would stress down, sniff, sneeze and shake her head – oozing stress.   And if she weaved any slower, she would be moving backwards.

I knew when I saw Julie Daniels’ “Foundation Weaves - Love Them and Flaunt Them” class on Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, that we needed to enroll.  Straight away, I liked that the class material was available for dogs at all levels.   Beginners, in-progress or retraining.  As the class progressed, this was very much true.  The teams enrolled in a working (Gold Level) spot with Julie were from all walks of their agility life and she guided every single one of them with skill.

I also liked how versatile Julie is with the equipment required.   A set of weaves is very spendy, even if you make your own.  The downside of an online classroom is that you need to have more equipment at home, or wherever you will be training.  However, Julie has a wide variety of inexpensive equipment options that teams working in this class can use.   That is a big plus for those on a tight budget!

Molly and I enrolled in a working spot and I was very upfront about our major “weave baggage”.  Not only did Molly have a dramatic stress reaction to the weave poles, so did I.  But the course material made weaves…fun!  Yes, fun!  If I haven’t made it clear yet, this class is very versatile and so are the course materials.  There are many different ways of training weave poles and Julie brings them together, blends them, adds things of her own and then helps teams choose which path will make them most successful.   I love that!   There is nothing I love more than seeing an instructor that can rise to the challenge of acknowledging that different dogs learn in different ways.

Julie brings a lot of enthusiasm and great energy to the class, she wants her students to be successful.   She loves the subject (weave poles!) and it shows in her interaction with her students!  You can’t help but feel happy about weave poles during this class!  The course was 6 weeks long and by the end of it, Molly and I had made significant progress in our attitude about weave poles as well as Molly’s general knowledge of what her job was.   I had a dog who was really loving the obstacle, for the first time in her career.  So if you want to teach weave poles, are struggling to teach weave poles, if you need to re-train weave poles, or if you are like me and hate weave poles with every ounce of your being – check out Julie’s class.  You are going to have a wonderful experience!  (Class information as well as session scheduling can be found here.)

Happy Weaver! credit - Rich Knecht Photography

Happy Weaver! credit – Rich Knecht Photography

The Big Squeeze: Let’s Talk About Anal Glands

I love dogs and (almost) all things dog, but one thing I did not want to become an expert on is anal glands.  I think most any dog owner is vaguely aware of anal glands.   If your dog is licking their hind end more than usual, or scooting their butt all over your freshly cleaned floor, or smelling like a 10 day dead fish marinated in liquid poop…the culprit is probably their anal glands.

If you have not heard of anal glands (lucky you!), they are at the rear end of the dog.  The smelly end.  They are two little kidney bean sized glands seated just inside of the rectum, at “5 and 7 o’clock around the anus.”  The normal order of things is that these little glands fill up with foul smelling fluid and they then empty themselves out when your dog poops, leaving behind a nice reek for other dogs to sniff.  Except, sometimes they don’t empty themselves.  Sometimes things go terribly wrong.   That’s where the butt-rubbing on your carpet comes in.

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Why, dear God, why?!
The stools need to be firm enough to squeeze those glands into emptying themselves.  Firm poop, you want your dog to have it!  If the dog’s diet is too low in fiber, they can suffer chronically from too-full anal glands.  If the dog goes through a bout of diarrhea for any reason, it can leave the glands full and uncomfortable.  Dogs with chronic tummy upset and the resulting soft stools are also at risk.  Obese dogs or dogs who are not exercised frequently can also be prone to poor rear end muscle tone and that can result in the glands not emptying properly.  Some dog’s glands are simply situated “deeper” and “lower” than they should be, and this unfortunately means that when the stool passes out of the dog’s rectum – the full pressure of the bowel movement is not pressing on the glands and they are left with fluid inside.

What can be done?
Prevention!  The dog’s poop needs to be firmer.  This can mean a total diet change, either to a different kibble formula or even to a raw food diet.  It can mean supplementing the existing diet with more fiber.  Pumpkin is touted as the go to diet additive to introduce more fiber into the dog’s diet.   Always use pure pumpkin, never pumpkin pie filling.  Diggin’ Your Dog makes an easy to use pumpkin fiber supplement.  My dog and I are extremely happy with a powdered fiber supplement called Glandex.  The most important thing to remember is that every dog is different, and while it can be frustrating to find the right solution to keep your dog’s anal glands happy, it is worth the trial and error.

When your dog is scooting, licking/chewing and cannot get those glands empty…someone has to manually empty them.   This means a trip to the veterinarian’s office where the staff can express your dog’s glands, and teach you how to do so at home if you so choose.   Some groomers express the anal glands.  If you do learn how to express your dog’s glands, remember to be patient, use plenty of praise and treats (especially peanut butter or squeeze cheese that takes focus to consume.)  Have a gentle assistant help you to restrain your dog and feed him treats while you do the expression.
However! If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!  Expressing a dog’s glands if they are not showing symptoms of discomfort/fullness is extremely unnecessary.  If your dog’s anal glands are working as they should be, just leave them do their job be happy about that.  Manual emptying of the glands can cause tissue trauma and swelling and there is no reason to do so unless it is truly necessary.
This will not be considered a how-to on how to express a dog’s anal glands!   I highly recommend getting an experienced veterinarian, technician or skilled groomer to show you how to express your dog’s anal glands if it is necessary.  The glands can be expressed externally or internally.  External expression is exactly what it sounds like: pressure is placed on either side of anus until the fluid expresses (if the glands are very full you can actually feel them).   It is less invasive, but in my experience, less effective – external expression does not always completely empty the glands.  Internal expression is also exactly what it sounds like: straight to the source!  Finger inside of the dog’s rectum while the thumb places opposing pressure on the gland externally with slight pressure applied until the gland expresses the fluid.

I don’t have to tell you: Manual expression is not fun for man or beast.   Most dogs are not likely to take the finger probing without a struggle.   When the fluid expresses it often shoots straight out of the rear end and it is best to stay out of the way! (TU’s Katie’s wise words: Make sure your mouth is closed when you express anal glands!)  It takes some practice to learn to express a dog’s glands, and it helps if you can grow four extra hands.

And sometimes, things go extra terribly wrong.
My dog Molly is a poster child for bad anal glands.   She came to me as a very young shelter puppy, a stray on the streets of a big city.  She always had a difficult tummy.   We tried a lot of different foods and she still had chronically soft stools as a pup, often diarrhea.  She often licked her hind end and was able to relieve her full glands this way.  She was rather tidy and efficient about it even if she was smelly - we called it “busting a gland.”  We have visited the vet or groomers countless times for manual expressions.  The vet tried to teach me how to express them myself one time and it was a miserable failure.  I DIY just about every aspect of dog care and grooming, but anal gland expression was the one thing I said “No!” to.

Molly is the perfect storm.   She continues to be very prone to stomach upset and gets soft stools rather easily from dietary changes or too many treats and she also has very deep set, recessed anal glands.  She is a challenge to manually express, even for the experienced.  It is amazing that we went 6 years without a major issue.

A few months ago my husband chose to share three chicken skins with Molly.   (Sigh.)  She had a few days of diarrhea followed by soft stools and then she was busy “bustin’ a gland” like nobody’s business.  Then she started….leaking.   Gland fluid on my couch covers, blankets, bathrobe, floor, crate padding.  On my pillow.  One night I woke up and my pajama pants had a big smelly wet spot on them from where Molly had her butt cozied up to me.   Yuck!   This was excessive, but it just felt like another chapter of Molly being kind of gross and having butt trouble.   I took her to the vet and had her glands expressed and was dismayed that the very next day she continued leaking.  This went on for about two weeks before Molly woke me up at 3am with her licking and when I turned on the light, her tail and hind end were covered in blood.   Whoah.

Back to the vet office and this time we made an appointment to see the vet rather than to just have her glands expressed.   The vet on duty that night told me he had never expressed more difficult glands on a dog, and he told me that Molly’s right anal gland was badly infected.  And let me just tell you, an infected anal gland is a pain in the butt, literally.  There is a lot of bacteria in the area, the dog is licking at it and irritating the tissue even further.  If an infection progresses without treatment, the gland can actually abscess and rupture externally.   Ouch.

The treatment for Molly’s infected anal gland began with several courses of different oral antibiotics and warm compresses to the anus.  I soaked a washcloth with hot water, wrung it out and placed it right underneath Molly’s tail and applied gentle pressure for 5-10 minutes each evening.  We visited the vet weekly for manual anal gland expression to evaluate Molly’s progress.   I groaned every time I saw blood fly out onto the exam table – that meant the infection was not going away.  When the first two rounds of (different) oral drugs did not work, we moved on to direct “infusions”.   Infusing the anal gland involves using a small catheter to access the anal gland’s emptying duct and packing the gland full of antibiotics directly.  The rectum has to be pulled out slightly in order for the vet or tech to be able to access this duct – not very fun for the dog at all.  Molly’s infection took two rounds of infusions before the fluid that was expressed was a mixture of blood and regular fluid.   It was the first sign of improvement!  Another infusion, and the next week, all regular fluid.  It took nearly two months to resolve.  I did not think it would ever resolve.

For the first month after the infection cleared up, I was instructed to express the glands weekly.  By now I had gotten over my shyness of doing Molly’s gland expressions myself.  I wanted to be able to keep an close eye on that gland fluid to be certain that the infection was not returning.  Weekly expressions are definitely not necessary anymore – if I notice Molly “bustin’ a gland” I take her into the bathroom and express her glands for her now.  And if she is not fussing at her hind end, we leave well enough alone.   Less manipulation to the tissue back there is best.

If infections or abscesses become a recurrent issue, it is possible to surgically remove the anal glands.  This was very much a Last Resort decision as far as I was concerned.  The anal glands are uncomfortably close to the nerves that control the anal sphincter.  In other words…if there is a complication your dog could become unable to control their bowel movements.  I am hopeful that Molly and I will never have to face that sort of decision, and that her anal glands stay happy and empty for many years to come!

DIY Grooming: Getting Started!

The decision to groom your non-shedding dog at home instead of taking her to a professional groomer can be very rewarding.  You will save money, spend more time bonding with your dog, and enjoy a new skill that will improve will time.  The downside is that you have to learn how to clip, shave, scissor, trim and make your pup look beautiful and there can certainly be “growing pains” along the way.

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Make a game plan.  Think of how you would like your dog to look.  Google some images and print them out.  It is surprisingly helpful to just have a photo of your end goal to reference.  Watch videos on YouTube.  Find a book on how to groom your specific dog’s breed (or mix of breeds.)  Avoid being overwhelmed by not just knowing how you want your dog to look, but by also knowing how to get there.

Make grooming time rewarding for your dog. Try to remember your dog’s point of view.  Dogs don’t naturally adore standing on a grooming table and being clipped or scissored, especially if you are slow and learning how to do a new skill.  Get your dog used to being on the table by just putting her on there and giving her some delicious treats and scratching that favorite spot behind her ears.  Get your dog used to the equipment that you will be using before simply turning on a noisy clipper and getting to work (scary!).  Turn the clipper on, snip the scissors in the air beside your dog, run the dremel and share some treats with him.  It is good to know how your pup will react to the tools you will need to use before putting them into practice.

Be patient!  Take a moment and imagine a time that you were trying to learn to do something new.  Maybe you were a natural?  Or maybe you struggled and felt a little frustrated, but after some practice and determination, you got the hang of it.  Now: you are not only working to learn a new skill…but you are in partnership with your living and feeling best buddy.  You two are a team, working on a cute haircut together.  If you are trying to clip your dog’s foot and she keeps yanking her foot away, or he will not stand still while you are trying to concentrate and you feel yourself get frustrated…just stop!  Take a break, you and your dog probably both need one, and try again when you both feel a little more relaxed.

Pace Yourself.  You don’t have to groom the entire dog in one sitting.  Not only will it take practice and time for your skills to improve (and therefore, your speed to increase.), but it will take your dog some time to grow used to remaining on the grooming table for a long period of time.  I groom my standard poodle regularly, and when we first started out I would do only one body part at a time.  One paw a day.  The face on a different day.  Over time we have built our stamina up to being able to do everything at once, but it took time.

Respect your equipment. Understand what your clipper blades are designed to do (the length of hair they will leave on the dog.)  Remember that the blades can grow extremely hot with use, feel them often while you work and be sure to give them time to cool, or switch to a different blade.  Grooming shears are extremely sharp, make sure that your dog is holding still when you use them and be cautious when you are trimming near the skin.  A sudden movement from your dog could result in an injury.

It grows back!  Take it easy on yourself, learn to smile.  Your dog probably won’t look perfect on your first few attempts, friends may tease you about that “homegrown haircut” that your pup is sporting.  Just keep practicing, you will be surprised how over time the whole procedure will feel more natural to you.  Just because your dog looked like a walking haystack the first time you gave him a haircut is no reason to be discouraged!  It definitely grows back, your dog forgives you for making him look silly, and the best way to improve is to keep practicing!