Sticks – Not Fun Anymore

When it comes to being out in nature, I am a “dogs will be dogs” person to a fault.  I love nothing more than letting my dogs race around off leash, get  muddy, roll in and snack on some dead stuff, swim in and drink worrisome bodies of water.  

Molly enjoys fetching a stick from a lake.

We hike up mountains and I trust my dogs not to jump off of them.  I play hard, and they play harder.  And guess what?  For dogs who love to swim and fetch, nature provides endless sticks to chase and play with.  

I do not have a large mental bank of stick injuries that I have heard of personally.  I recently did quick Google search that revealed that sticks can cause damage to the: mouth, pharynx, spinal cord (yes!), soft palate, esophagus, chest cavity, vocal cords and the list goes on and on.  A friend told me that her boss’s dog lost an eyeball due to a stick injury.  

Stick injuries are pure bad luck.  And avoiding them is pure good luck.  Plain and simple.  There are many ways that a dog can injure herself on a stick.  She can be carrying a long stick while running and if the stick jams into the ground, the other end will jam into her.  He can be running after a stick that you have just thrown, and if he goes to chomp it up before it has even landed, it can drive right into his mouth.  There are a lot of different scenarios, and none of them are pretty.  Or, your dog can grab the stick and bring it back to you, happy and waiting for more.  Like I said, it is all luck.  Not a question of “if”, but of “when.”  And it is not a game of chance that I am not willing to play anymore.

Ruger and Ein enjoy playing tug-o-war with a stick.

I have always mentally waved off the danger of sticks.  Why?  Because after growing up with dogs who were never injured, and then going on to having dogs of my own who were never injured…I figured that it’s just “not going to happen to us”.  Until it did.  Twice. 

I will keep my story short.  Molly the Pitbull was playing stick with some children and having a fine time of it.  My husband was not watching what was happening carefully.  I will never know the details of what happened, but suddenly the children told my husband that Molly’s mouth was bleeding and it would not stop.  Later that night, Molly refused food or water and would not open her mouth.  I did not understand the severity of her injury until two days later.  Molly had started eating again and seemed to be improving.  Then she yawned.  Her breath reeked of infection and I could see discoloration below her tongue.  Something was very wrong.  I had erroneously thought that she only had a small puncture wound on on the tongue itself.

A visit to a local emergency vet revealed an alarmingly deep wound beneath Molly’s tongue that was extremely infected.  Molly was sedated, the wound was cleaned and checked for foreign bodies and then stitched shut.  Molly was prescribed antibiotics and pain medication and sent home.  She recovered quickly and I counted myself fortunate.

Little Ein can retrieve a big stick!

But I was not even playing with Molly when the injury happened, right?  Someone else was playing fetch with Molly, and they were clearly not being careful, nor was my husband supervising them!  And besides, Molly is crazy!

Fast forward a few months and Ein the Corgi and I are at an AKC Rally Obedience Trial.  We have just walked Ein’s first Rally Advanced leg with a score of 95.  The weather had turned beautiful and I was feeling great.  I took Ein outside to sniff around, pee and … play some fetch!  Ein loves fetch and it would be a great reward for a job well done.  Until the third throw.  Ein pounced onto the stick that I threw just as he has hundreds of times before…and ran away from it screaming.

Ein is not crazy.  I was not doing anything different or hazardous.  I had just run out of luck again.  Instead of enjoying the rest of our Rally Trial, Ein had a painful mouth wound that caused him to drool and backwards sneeze.  All because of playing with a stick.  Ein required a visit to the vet and was prescribed antibiotics and pain medication after a physical evaluation.

Sticks are dangerous for many reasons.  They are long and pointy.  This can cause untold damage, depending on where it may stab into the dog’s body.  Sticks can break.  This can cause choking, the need for the wood fragments to be removed from the dog’s wound, or a stick to be wedged horizontally in the back of a dog’s throat.  And even if no fragments are left in the wound, sticks are dirty.  They can be covered in bacteria and fungus, all of which can and will cause an infection in an already painful mouth wound.

It is easy to think, “My dog has always played with sticks and has been just fine!”  “I will be very cautious, nothing will happen!”  I wrote this post not because there aren’t other warnings like it.  Do a Google search, read a dog magazine.  You will see the warnings.  I did.  I have always seen them.  That is why this post is full of photos of my dogs playing with sticks.  Because they have always enjoyed stick play and been okay.  But luck runs out, and when it does, it can be devastating.  I played the odds over and over again, and was “fortunate” enough to only have non-fatal injuries.  But that was pure luck.  And I may not be so lucky next time.  And my dogs are worth too much to me to take that chance.

Sticks are A-Okay! Until they aren’t.

High Value Rewards Make For the Best Training

I came across another blog post today that urged owners to use their dogs’ meals as rewards for training. The author writes,

Our pooches love to work for their meals, by doing something that will reward them with food, or make them search for their food. You have to feed your dog everyday anyways, so why not use this time that is required as a training reward?

Now, I’m not telling you that you shouldn’t use your dog’s meals as rewards. I know people who do and who use it successfully. The bigger piece of advice I took away from this post was the great tips regarding meals vs. free feeding. In fact, there are a lot of instances in which you should use your dog’s meal during training – such as when your dog has a health problem such as allergies and cannot have commercial treats, or if your dog is overweight and using his meals will eliminate extra calories.

 

However, the problem that many people run into during training is when you have to find a high-value reward. I always put it this way to my students: If you eat chicken every single day for your meals, are you going to also want chicken for your desserts? When I use treats they are delicious, they are stinky, and they are not always good for you, but there you go.

I use cheap stinky treats. I use expensive, healthy treats. I use hot dogs. I use cheese. I use things that are going to make my dogs bounce off the walls. I want them to work hard to earn the super deliciousness in my hand. Sometimes I have a mixture in my treat bag, other times (usually on my “lazy days”) I have just one, but it’s usually not the same thing every single day. Variety makes life more interesting, right?

I am blessed with a dog who will work for just about anything; I am also blessed with a dog who has very little food aversion or allergies. He loves his food, he loves working for his stinky treats – but what he REALLY loves working for is his ball. And he will do just about anything for a good game of tug. Jax is an enthusiastic dog.

With him, I use food to begin the introduction of a behavior. Food is great because I can reward quickly, praise often, and continue; rinse, lather, repeat – over and over. I can’t do this as well with a toy (the “quickly, often, let’s try that again!”) because we then have to play the game, release, and focus again. Once he’s got it, though, I will play the game all day long as long as he’s doing the behavior correctly.

That said, I prefer a toy-driven dog. I use tone-of-voice a lot in my training – I use less tone for so-so work/effort, and BIG HAPPY tones for great work/effort (with behaviors he already knows, not behaviors I am teaching). I can offer a variety of rewards with a toy – if the work was done so-so, I can offer him the toy and the praise in accordance with the level of his effort; if he performs excellently, he gets a bigger, happier tone and a bigger, happier game. More often than not, he works to earn that bigger, happier game.

But not all dogs are toy-driven, and toys do not work well in a class setting because it is highly distracting to other dogs, so what to do you do? I still encourage the use of stinky treats and tone. I use a quiet “Nooooo” as my “try again” cue; I also use a sharp “aht!” if needed, but it’s rare. Reward (food) is withheld until the behavior is executed – and the accuracy of the execution will also depend on the dog’s knowledge of the behavior, whether he just has the idea of what you want, or whether you have been working toward cleaning it up. But, rewards still have to be worth it. This is where the “yes!” and “good boy!” and “good!” come in play, and again, the use of your tone is going to be key. But tone is not the reward, tone/words are the marker that the dog did right and then he has to wait for the reward – much like a clicker. The food/toy is the reward. So, when you’re using food as the reward, you can offer one treat in the event of a so-so effort, and a JACKPOT! in the event of exemplary effort.

**When I’m first teaching a behavior, I use a lot of jackpots (toys or food). It is not until I feel comfortable that my dog knows the behavior that begin to back off on the level of my tone/rewards.

The trick is, finding your dog’s “high value” reward.

On living with the “plain” dog

erie63My dog is plain.

I don’t mean that disparagingly.  Let me give some scenarios.

We were out one time on a walk and ran into a friend with her Australian Shepherd, Maggie.  Maggie is a beautiful example of the blue merle coloring, with a fair amount of white and some tan points.  She’s striking.  As we were standing around talking, some folks stopped and asked to pet Maggie.  Maggie is a friendly wiggly girl and so lapped up the attention.  They oo’ed and ahh’ed over Maggie.  They gave Dahlia a cursory pat when I pointed her out and then they went on their way.

moms10

Teri…she’s cute, even if she is a little trouble-maker.

Another time we were watching my parent’s dog.  Teri is about 17 pounds of adorable white fluff.  I had both dogs out for a short walk one afternoon when we ran into a few children.  Immediately they were all drawn to Teri, even though she’s a little out of control, even though she jumped up on them.  They paid little attention to Dahlia.

This happens more than you would think.

Dahlia is not flashy.  She’s a medium-sized dog.  She’s almost all black.  She doesn’t stand out in a crowd and at night she blends into the shadows.  She’s not a dog that draws a lot of attention to herself and time and time again I see people pass her right by to approach the flashier looking dog, even if those flashier looking dogs are nervous around new people.  I often hear horror stories of people with dogs who have a striking coat dealing with folks who simply will not take no for an answer.

autumn22

How can you resist those eyes?

I imagine this must have been what it was like for Dahlia at the shelter.  I never saw her there.  What I do know of her time there was that she was passed over and nearly euthanized because no one wanted her.  What I do know of Dahlia and her personality is that she is quiet and unassuming.  I can easily imagine her simply sitting in her cage at the shelter watching people go by, watching them pick out dogs who were smaller or lighter or more striking or colorful in some way.  Meanwhile the inconspicuous solid black dog sat by and watched each potential home pass her up.

192. 5/10 "Makes Me Smile"

Why yes she IS grinning, why do you ask?

But when I look at Dahlia I don’t see a plain dog.  I see a dog who has lovely and intelligent light brown eyes that stand out against her fur.  I see a dog who has soft ears that would like a bit of a scratch.  I see a dog with an amazingly huge tail (which has admittedly gotten noticed in our neighborhood – the kids down the road call her tail “Dora” after Dora the Explorer; they think it looks like Dora’s hair).  I see a dog who has a lovely walk when she trots down the road in front of me with her head up.  I see a dog who has a ridiculous toothy grin. I see a dog who has a unique take on the tricks I teach her. I see a dog who is smart and silly and loving and sweet.

autumn44

Dahlia’s take on “upside down.”

Ultimately, I see that I have, in my estimation at least, an extraordinary dog.  Dahlia is anything but plain.  All those black dogs who are passed up by potential adopters just as Dahlia was?  They’re not plain either.  Maybe you should give one a chance sometime.

Positive—You Keep Saying That Word. I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means.

There has been a bit of a tempest brewing in the small southern city where I train dogs.  There’s quite an active dog community here, and it seems that my employer made a statement several years ago that keeps coming back to haunt us.  The statement, which follows, is paraphrased, only because I am not the one who heard him, though he does not deny saying it.  “There are four quadrants to operant conditioning for a reason.”  I would have thought that this was a reasonable statement—after all, for every black there is a white, every yin a yang, and so forth.  Instead, it appeared to be the shot that was heard around the world (or, at least, our little world).  Now, I believe I know this man reasonably well—as well as one can know one’s employer, and do not consider him to be a bad person.  I have watched him interact with dogs, both his own and countless others.  I have had long rambling discussions with him on the topic of dog training (along with many other things—the depth and breadth of his knowledge on a wide variety of topics is nothing short of impressive).  I have personally never seen him bully a dog, nor do I think he would.  If anything, I think his biggest failing (assuming this IS a failing, and I am not remotely convinced that it is) is that he is extremely intelligent, well educated, and tends to be very literal in his communications.  He says exactly what he means and he doesn’t dumb it down to appeal to the least common denominator.  To converse with this man, you have to be able to keep up, because he’s not going to slow down to wait for you!

Let’s talk specifics here.  There ARE, in fact, four quadrants to operant conditioning—positive reinforcement, positive punishment, negative reinforcement, and negative punishment.  And, technically speaking, all four are effective methods in training.  The ones we choose to use depend mainly on our own moral compass and the situation at hand.  I personally use 99% positive reinforcement, a smattering of negative punishment, and, only in the rarest of occasions, positive punishment.  I do not use (or, at least, I can’t think of an incident where I might have used) negative reinforcement.   I have a fantastic working partnership with my dogs.  But am I am all positive trainer?  Hell no!  And here’s why.

In the pure Skinnerian terms (and these are the terms we are using here amongst professionals), positive means only one thing.  To ADD something.  That’s right, just that.  It means to add, or introduce, something to the training equation.  Thus, if I am ADDING a treat, that’s positive!  But guess what?  If I ADD a sharp kick to the ribs, that’s still positive.  In pure scientific terms, positive does not mean good or bad.  It means positive, nothing more.  And negative?  It means to SUBTRACT.  Are you following me here?  Right, so, we move on to the second step in our equation—punishment versus reinforcement.  Again, I am going to simplify this down.  Reinforcement is used to INCREASE the frequency of a behavior.  Punishment is used to DECREASE the frequency of a behavior.  That’s it!  Punishment does not equate to pain or fear.  It is simply something that the dog does not enjoy and, thus, the dog will be less likely to continue that behavior.  Reinforcement is something that the dog does enjoy, and hence, will be more likely to increase that behavior.  Still with me?  So this is what we’re looking at:

Positive Reinforcement = Adding something to increase the frequency of a behavior

Positive Punishment = Adding something to decrease the frequency of a behavior

Negative Reinforcement = Removing something to increase the frequency of a behavior

Negative Punishment = Removing something to decrease the frequency of a behavior

Yes, all work.  Look, I know most of us do not like positive punishment and negative reinforcement, but the ugly truth is, they DO work.  And, at times, they are very very effective.  I’m not advocating their use; I’m just stating a fact.   If I put an e-collar on Cherry and gave her a good zap every time I cued her to do something and she refused, I would be willing to bet that I would get some unbelievable response times the next time I cued her.  But would she really want to work for me?  Or would she just be avoiding the zap?  Would she continue to work for me if I took the collar off?  Maybe.  But would she continue to do so once she realized that the threat of being zapped for noncompliance was gone?  She’s a terrier, and a pretty independent one at that, so I’m going to say no.  That means that I am going to have to have that collar on her pretty much every time we practice and only take it off for competition, thus keeping the idea of the punishing stimulus fresh in her mind.  She probably wouldn’t enjoy working with me and would learn to dread training sessions.  By the way, the above example would be considered positive punishment (yes, there’s that “positive” word again.).

What about teaching Cherry a retrieve?  She’s not a breed for which retrieving comes naturally, so, following the older school of training, I could just pinch her ear (just enough to at least cause her some discomfort), and the instant she opens her mouth, I would pop that dummy in, and reward her by releasing pressure on her ear.  (This would be an example of negative reinforcement, btw, as I would be subtracting something–in this case, discomfort or pain–in order to increase the frequency of the desired behavior—opening her mouth to accept the dummy.  Another example would be the nagging buzzer in your car that tries to remind you to put your seatbelt on, turn off your headlights, or to remove your keys from the ignition after you’ve parked.)  I have no doubt that the ear-pinch method would work—countless trainers have used it with successful results.  Personally, I’m not going to use that method.  Instead, I have been methodically back-chaining the retrieve, and have successfully gotten her to the point where she will routinely bring me the dummy because she knows that, as often as not, there’s a pretty decent reward in it for her.  It’s worth her effort to bring it back to me.  She has also figured out that bringing it directly back to me with a nice straight sit in front and not dropping it directly onto my toes generally nets her a higher value reward.  She’s not 100% on that last part though, as my poor battered toes can attest to.  Nonetheless, the retrieve is worth her while and is rapidly becoming one of her favorite games.  Positive reinforcement for the win!

What about negative punishment?  That one sounds like the scariest of the lot, doesn’t it? However, if we just break it back down, it simply means that we would be subtracting something to decrease the frequency of a behavior.  In our house, we use this quite a bit at feeding time.  We have about a dozen dogs here, all varying from one year to ten years of age.  If we allowed it, feeding time would be an exercise in chaos.  Instead, once all of the dogs are in their respective crates (yes, every one of our dogs eats dinner in his/her crate), they wait quietly for dinner.  Only the youngest or the occasional guest dog barks and screams for his dinner.  The rest just quietly wait.  Why?  It’s simple—we wait until a particular dog stops barking and carrying on before we give him his dinner.  In other words, the dog that is barking and pitching a fit gets ignored.  The one that is patiently waiting gets a delicious bowl of fancy holistic dog food with some kind of gravy, some supplements, and a cookie on top.  The one that is screaming has to wait until he stops to get his bowl.  This, my friends, is negative punishment.  I am taking something away (in this case, immediate gratification in the form of dinner or attention) to decrease the frequency of an undesired behavior (caterwauling like a banshee at the injustice of having to wait an extra 5 seconds for his dinner).  You can hear a pin drop in the crate room during feeding time.

I will also throw this out there:  I firmly believe that any trainer that tells you that they are a 100% positive reinforcement only trainer is flat lying to you—either willfully, or simply because they have never truly looked at themselves in the mirror.  We are all human here, and we all do things without thinking about it.  Anyone that has ever yanked a misbehaving dog out of a busy street by their leash and collar to avoid them being hit by a speeding bus has used positive punishment.  Anyone that has ever gotten frustrated and yelled at their dog in exasperation has also just used a positive punishment.  The other day I had a beautiful corn muffin sitting on a plate on the coffee table, and one of my dogs decided to try to snatch it.  It was the last of the corn muffins, and I had lovingly heated it up, slathered it with butter and a layer of my watermelon jelly, and there was my dog going in for the steal.  I didn’t even fully register what was happening before the sharp “NO!!!  MINE!!!!” left my mouth.  My poor dog dropped the muffin on the plate and instantly backed off looking very shocked.  (You’d best believe I still ate that muffin too, but that’s a whole different blog post!) Dr. Patricia McConnell takes on this very topic on her blog with an entry entitled, “Positives of Negatives & Negatives of Positives”.  In that post, she outlines her occasional use of the less popular quadrants.  And if someone as well respected as she is can admit that she is human and that there is a time and a place for everything, then perhaps us mere mortals can stand to cut each other some slack!

Am I a “positive” (as in the colloquial sense) trainer?  Yes, I am.  I do not bully dogs.  I always seek a training methodology that invites my dogs to work for me because we both enjoy it.  Nothing gives me more pleasure than that moment when my dogs suddenly get it.  I am fascinated and thrilled when I watch them problem solve and offer behaviors to try to get the correct answer.  Sometimes there isn’t even a correct answer, and we will just be engaging in a dialogue (coming up with new tricks or playing the famous box game).  I wouldn’t get to enjoy any of that if I simply demanded that my dog comply and punished him or her for not doing so.  But would I ever use positive punishment?  Yes.  Have I?  Yes.  Would I do it again?  Yes. Why?  Because there are 4 quadrants to operant conditioning for a reason, and as a trainer I am going to pick the best one for the task at hand, and my preference leans heavily towards positive reinforcement/negative punishment.  I will never use a positive punishment to perfect a heel, proof a stay, or make a sit or down snappier.  There are so many more dog friendly ways to teach those behaviors that I just cannot see the value in the prong collar or e-collar approach.  But I apparently will enthusiastically use positive punishment (in that case, yelling sharply) to defend a corn muffin (or, more realistically, much as one might slap a child’s hand away from a hot stove, in a situation where the immediacy of the action requires it, such as car chasing).  Being forced to use that methodology, in my opinion, is not only a short term fix, but is also a great big warning flag that long term training needs to be revisited (perhaps proofing the recall, etc). In the case of the corn muffin, perhaps I could spend a little time on the “leave it” command!  From a purely scientific point of view, I am not an “all positive” trainer, but I am a dog-friendly trainer, and I hope that this article has made that distinction clear.  I will never intentionally hurt a dog, and I will always encourage that dog to be an intelligent and creative partner in our training journey.

In dog training, much like every other ethical decision in life, I remind myself of the writings of Niccolo Machiavelli and ask myself this: does the end truly justify the means?  It’s certainly worth considering.

Stereotypes – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Since I am the owner of American Pit Bull Terriers, I run into horrible, awful stereotypes about my breed that I have to combat on a near daily basis. I’m sure you’ve heard them before:

  • “Their brains grow to big for their skull, which causes them so much pain that they become aggressive.”
  • “Pit Bulls have two rows of razor sharp teeth.”
  • “Pit Bulls are man-eaters.”
  • “If you crop a pit bull’s ears, it makes them more aggressive.”
Of course, pit bulls (and pit bull-type dogs) are not the only ones who are plagued with stereotypes. Rottweilers, German Shepherd Dogs, and Dobermans also fall into the category of “vicious.” Not to mention Chow Chows or Huskies and Malamutes. In fact, Forbes wrote a whole articles on the 11 Riskiest Dog Breeds for Homeowners. Some insurance agencies won’t even insure you if you own one of these breeds.

Stereotypes of the physical kind are equally damaging. It’s what puts all dogs with rose ears, broad heads, short coats, and a muscular build into the “pit bull” category. That same dog could be verified as a Lab/Hound mix, but is automatically dumped into the “pit bull” category because of how he looks.

For example: Piper is an adoptable in dog in Detroit, MI that is listed as a Labrador/Rottweiler mix. I’m willing to be there’s not Rottweiler in her. You’ll find several similar dogs in shelters and rescues.

Piper from Home Fur-Ever Rescue – Detroit, MI – Petfinder.com

And then there are the equally damaging stereotypes which try to shine these “vicious” dogs in better light. Some people fall back on scape-goats like, “It’s all in how you raise them.” (For more on this, fellow TU member Katie has written a fabulous post.) We pit bull owners hate that one.

As a pit bull owner, I am also required to be a breed ambassador – it just comes with the territory. It is my job to fight against these stereotypes on a daily basis. I think I’ve posted enough photos of my daughter and Jax on Facebook that I’ve gotten my grandmother, a vocal hater of “those vicious dogs”, to at least accept the fact that they’re not as inherently dangerous as the media might make them out to be. She doesn’t have to like them, but at least she’s stopped hounding me about my dogs. And that’s the true goal – I’m not out to make everyone as infatuated with pit bulls as I am, I just want you to know the truth about them.

Jax and his baby – Photo by Mod4 Photography 2012

And that’s the thing about stereotypes. There are certain stereotypes that all of us, as dog owners, future dog owners, and even those who are not dog owners, should know about the dogs around us that make it important to living in a world with dogs. In human society they’re shunned upon, even thought of as offensive; in the dog world, they’re necessary. They’re often referred to as “breed traits” rather than stereotypes, but they’re helpful, all the same.

For example, the Golden Retriever is known as a good, all-around family dog. They consistently top the rankings in some of the top competition obedience venues because they’re known for their trainability. It’s these stereotypes that make Golden Retrievers one of America’s most popular breed of dog.

Within knowledgeable dog circles, Rottweilers, Dobermans, and American Pit Bull Terriers are known for their fabulous working ability and loving family temperaments.

Stereotypes help rescues and shelters make viable placements; they also help adopters make the best choice for their family and/or living situation. It would be silly to place a breed (or mix thereof) like a Belgian Malinois – known for their fabulous working ability and high drive/energy – into a home with an elderly couple; it would also be silly for someone who wanted to go out and do dog sports to be paired with a dog known for low energy, like the Basset Hound; or for a hiker who often hikes several miles a day to get a Chihuahua. Which is why shelters and rescues do their best to guess the breed mixes, and it’s also why I think DNA kits are so popular for mixed breeds, as well.

Of course, all dogs are individuals, and it’s never guaranteed that you’re going to get that one Belgian Malinois that’s going to want to sleep on the couch all day with you – in fact, your chances of that are pretty low. Stereotypes are necessary things, but they should always be questioned and examined. They’re not all accurate, and some (mostly those with the goal of condemning a breed) are not even remotely true. When searching for a new member to your family, always do your research, and make sure you read reputable sources.

In Case of Emergency: Break Bank

Sick days are no fun.

Where do you find the money when your dog needs the vet?

It’s the question that everyone dreads but no one really talks about. Here at Team Unruly, we are all advocates of planning ahead for pet emergencies. None of us ever want to be in a position where we can’t afford to give our dogs the veterinary treatment they need.

I have owned Staffordshire Bull Terriers since 2005. Not a very long time, granted, but it has certainly been long enough for me to learn that health-wise, when Staffords are good, they are very, very good. But when they’re bad, they’re horrid. (And when I say horrid, I mean expensive and grey-hair inducing.)

He looks sweet and innocent, but he was actually plotting his next assault on my bank account.

Disasters, I’ve had a few.

I mentioned in a previous post that my first dog, Max, was an ex-stud and show dog who came to me at nine years of age. Over the four years he spent with me, Max needed:

  • two tooth extractions
  • neutering when we discovered he had testicular cancer
  • mole and lipoma removal (he had about 4 of those)
  • four rounds of treatment for eye ulcers
  • diagnostics and treatment for a severe UTI and kidney infection
  • bi-annual cartrophen injections for his arthritis; and
  • a 20kg bag of Hills j/d Prescription Diet food every six weeks.

I can’t remember exactly how much all those trips to the vet cost, but a ballpark figure would be at least $4000. The day before Christmas Eve 2009, when Max was 13 and a half, we took him to the vet with a distended stomach. The vet suspected a large tumour on his spleen and proceeded with surgery. Unfortunately, the tumour had seeded all through Max’s abdomen and there was no hope of treatment. We had to let him go.

The final bill that day was for $2500.00 and I was extremely fortunate at the time to have parents who were willing to cover the bill, as I was working a minimum wage job and was only barely scraping by. Not one of my happier Christmases. For a long time, I thought that most of Max’s disasters were attributable to him being an elderbull. Then I got Tayla as a six month old pup in January 2010 and learned that regardless of age, dogs just hate your wallet. :) Continue reading

Yaktrax: A winter dog walker’s best friend

P1140632I live in an area of the USA known for that dreaded wintry white stuff that we just love to complain about (even though we’re really secretly thrilled we get so much and wear it like a badge of honor when people start talking about snow).  On average, we get 123 inches a year (an average which seems to creep up every year).  Two years ago we got nearly 180 (this would be why it keeps creeping up!).  You can’t live where I do without having to get out and brave the elements with your dog.  This is especially true if you have a dog like mine, who absolutely adores the snow.  Dahlia would be most unhappy with me if I didn’t get her out in snow, even if that snow happens to be three or even four feet deep.

Snow can be great fun to walk in if your dog enjoys it.  But it can also be a nightmare for the human part of the team.

The first year I got Dahlia I discovered something rather unfortunate about our neighborhood.  Many people simply didn’t bother shoveling their sidewalks.  This meant that sometimes, if I was the first lucky person out in the morning, I might be trudging through a foot or more of snow.  If I weren’t the first person out, it was quite possible that I would end up walking on uneven trampled down snow that had gotten so compacted that it was precarious to walk on.

P1140629I fell multiple times that first winter, though I never seriously injured myself.

The second winter, we had one of those winters that happen here on occasion.  During the day it would barely get above freezing, the sun would come out and melt the top layer of snow.  At night, of course, the snow would then freeze into a wonderful layer of ice, making morning walking even more precarious.

That year I fell and wrenched my shoulder so bad, I’m still dealing with pain from the fall.

Something clearly had to change! That was when a neighbor introduced me to something I now could not live without: Yaktrax.

The Yaktrax Walk (stock photo from Yaktrax website)

Despite their silly name, I find that Yaktrax are a winter dog walker’s best friend (well, besides the dog, but chances are the dog is not going to help keep you on your feet!).  I cannot imagine walking without them these days!

Yaktrax are specially designed rubber and metal coils that go around your own boots and provide extra traction.  They come in a variety of styles these days.

I use the Yaktrax Walk.  Their most basic model, they work great on your everyday standard walk with your dog.  I have found, however, they are not perfect on black ice.  I will walk on ice-encrusted snow with little problem, but on black ice they don’t really do much to keep you on your feet so I’ve learned to simply walk into the snow around icy patches to avoid that potential pitfall.  The Yaktrax Walk is easily found at many sporting goods stores this time of year, but they also offer a store locater on their website if you want to know where to find them in your area.

P1140591There have been some complaints of the rubber breaking and I will say that the rubber finally busted on mine, but that was after two years of use and a year of disuse (we got very little snow last year – by very little I mean 50.6 inches).  When I attempted to put them on this year, the rubber had gotten slightly brittle and one section snapped when I stretched it over my boot.  I consider them well worth the money after two years of near-constant use and happily obtained another pair to use this year.

Besides the Yaktrax Walk, they also have the Pro (which is like the Walk but adds a strap that goes over the top of your boot), the Run (which has the same coils for the back of the foot as the Walk, but has spikes on the front of the foot), the XTR (which are meant for hiking off-road and include spikes), and the SkiTrax (which are used with ski boots).

DSC_0033I am incredibly pleased with my Yaktrax.  There are many other kinds of snow/ice traction things out there, but I find the Yaktrax are the most affordable (at around $20 a pair for the Yaktrax Walk), the easiest to obtain, and I find them incredibly durable and useful.

Do you use Yaktrax?  Or maybe another snow/ice traction device?  Share your recommendations in the comments!

**NOTE: Michelle and the Team Unruly team were not given any Yaktrax nor any money for this review.  This review is entirely done of our own volition and is an honest assessment of the product.**