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Walter the beleaguered beagle.

Walter was a beagle-springer cross, so I was not surprised that he had an ear infection. Those breeds are both prone to otitis externa, the technical term for an ear infection. You know — when the canal gets all red and oozes that smelly, gooey discharge. Otitis may be caused by yeast or bacteria — sometimes both — and often is initiated by underlying issues such as allergies, frequent swimming, or problems with the anatomical conformation of the ear canals. We treated Walter with a standard ointment, a combination of antifungal, antibiotic, and anti-inflammatory medications. The otitis resolved but then quickly recurred.

“Let’s see what organisms are in there,” I suggested, smearing the green goop I had extracted from Walter’s ear onto a slide, which my assistant heat-fixed and stained. “Lots of cocci bacteria,” I concluded, examining the slide on the microscope. A pretty routine staph infection. Walter also happened to be diabetic, making him more susceptible to infections in general. We dispensed a second ear medication. The otitis got better . . .  then recurred . . .   again. This time as I tried to clean it, the canal began to bleed, and Walter was too tender to let me look down with my otoscope.

When faced with a stubborn case of otitis, there are several things we can try. We could take a culture and see exactly what organisms were growing in Walter’s ear. The laboratory could then run an antibiotic-sensitivity panel to determine the most effective drugs. But some specialists say that culturing an ear is like culturing the inside of a garbage can. You’re going to grow a lot of stuff, but not all the information you get will be useful. Instead, we decided to try a special brew many veterinarians mix up for such situations.

We start with a liquid called trizEDTA, which breaks down bacterial cell walls, allowing antibiotics to then penetrate into the organisms and fight the infection more effectively.  Adding liquid antibiotic to a big bottle of trizEDTA, I instructed Walter’s mom to fill his ears liberally with the fluid twice daily for two weeks. “This should fix him up,” I said confidently. Then, almost as an afterthought, I suggested a recheck in a few weeks. Six weeks later, Walter was back. Once again, the infection had responded, only to rapidly recur when the owner stopped the medication. “OK, let’s see what’s going on,” I sighed, thinking it was time to take a culture, and wheeling over my bright exam light to get a good look. I pulled up Walter’s ear and gazed carefully into the canal. Oh, my. I hadn’t seen that before. A small, red, cauliflower-like mass deep in his ear. “He’s got a growth in there,” I said. At past visits a combination of tenderness, blood, and discharge had made it difficult for me to see what was probably a small growth back then, which had now grown and was easily visible. (Or maybe I just hadn’t looked hard enough.)

Ear tumors are relatively uncommon in dogs, occurring primarily in middle-aged or senior pets. They can affect the flap, canal, or middle or inner ear, and can grow out of the skin, connective tissue, or various glands. They can be benign or malignant. Often there are no obvious clinical signs, depending on where the tumor is, what kind it is, and how fast it grows. If the tumor occurs in the middle or inner ear, neurological and balance problems may occur, resulting in walking problems, facial-nerve paralysis or head tilt. As they did with Walter, ear tumors may lead to secondary infection as they occlude the canal, hindering air flow and trapping debris and wax.

“A lot of times with ear tumors, it’s impossible to remove the whole cancer without removing large portions of the ear canal,” I told his mom. But we needed to start somewhere, so we scheduled surgery to remove as much as we could without being too invasive, and sent out a biopsy.  My hope was that it would be benign and thus not a big problem, even if we had to leave a little behind.

No such luck. Walter’s biopsy came back as ceruminous adenocarcinoma, a malignant cancer originating in the wax glands lining the ear canal. Although in dogs these tumors have only about a 10 percent chance of metastasis (i.e., spreading to other places such as lungs or lymph nodes), they tend to be locally invasive and aggressive. After consulting with a veterinary oncologist, Walter’s mom and I discussed the bad news.  “If you decide to pursue treatment, we start by taking chest x-rays and a lymph-node aspirate to make sure it hasn’t metastasized,” I said. “Then a CT scan gets done off-Island at the specialists’ to determine how far it has spread inside the ear.”  Then, more surgery. Although benign tumors can be removed with less extensive procedures, for this malignant cancer the oncologists advise total ear-canal ablation (TECA), which essentially removes all the ear structures while leaving the flap intact. In about one-quarter of cases, such cancers extend into the tympanic bulla on the skull, in which case the surgeon would also open this area and remove any abnormal tissue in a procedure called a bulla osteotomy. Postoperative complications might include facial-nerve paralysis, healing difficulties, and, of course, deafness on one side.

Walter is not a young dog, and his diabetes increases the potential for poor healing. There are only limited studies tracking the prognosis for dogs in Walter’s situation. Expected survival time for dogs with ceruminous adenocarcinoma who have the TECA surgery is reported to range from one to three years, but these statistics are based on very small numbers of cases. Without treatment, the oncologist says, Walter may develop trouble with his balance as the tumor spreads, and become severely uncomfortable within one year. His mom is considering their options, weighing all these factors . . . and I am taking a good long look down the ears of every dog who comes in with recurrent otitis.

Lena the greyhound takes retirement seriously. (Photo Courtesy of Mary-Jean Miner).

Before we moved to Martha’s Vineyard, in 1991, we often boarded our Doberman in Falmouth at River Bend Farm Kennels while visiting friends on the Cape. When we moved to the Island, we again boarded Hilde there for extended trips. On learning that we now lived on the Vineyard, the owners of the kennel asked us to take flyers from Greyhound Friends, a rescue agency, to our vet, as they thought the Island would be a wonderful place for retired greyhounds.

When our Hilde died of old age, we immediately thought about adopting one of those retired racers.

Tesse tests the tide. (Courtesy of Mary-Jean Miner).
Tesse tests the tide. (Courtesy of Mary-Jean Miner).

Tres Grande Vitesse, called Tesse for short, came to live in Oak Bluffs in 1992 soon after we returned from a vacation in France. Named for the high speed trains there, Tesse was a 45-mph couch potato. She indeed loved being on Island, along with several others, whom she met soon after coming here. People who adopt greyhounds tend to seek each other out. Nine or ten families kept in touch, worked to end greyhound racing in Massachusetts, and often rode with their dogs in the Fourth of July parades in Edgartown. Ace, Ginger, Tesse, Windy, Oliver, Mint, and Sneaker all served as ambassadors for adoption, riding on a flatbed truck, each with a soft bed and a dish of water. The owners of River Bend came to the Ag Fair, bringing adoptable dogs. Although this is no longer an event at the fair, and River Bend is no longer fostering greyhounds, the adoption process continues with several other agencies in southern Massachusetts.

As pets, greyhounds are sweet, even-tempered, and good natured. They adapt readily to home life, even though they have most likely spent all their previous years in crate-like kennels. Turned out for brief exercise and runs, they were undemanding and never really had the opportunity to be puppies.

Lena the Greyhound has slowed down some since retiring from racing. (Photo by Kristofer Rabasca)
Lena the Greyhound has slowed down some since retiring from racing. (Photo by Kristofer Rabasca)

They learn very quickly and forget very little. At first, they may be timid and shy, as they adapt to the entirely strange environment you call home. My dogs always remained suspicious of strangers at first, but warmed to visitors eventually. They arrive totally trained to the leash, so they are readily controlled. We used to say the person holding the leash is in charge, even if that person is a small child – a supervised child, of course. In spite of their breeding as runners, they need no more exercise than other dogs. Being retired, they really appreciate nap time. If you want to keep yours off the sofa, teach him early and consistently that couch time must be spent on the dog bed.

My most recent adoption, Lena, learned right away to “wait” when someone was coming or going, as well as leave it,” which serves as a friendly form of “No!”

Being sighthounds as well as runners, greyhounds must always be kept on leash or fenced in. An opening door is an invitation to flight; the dog leaves at about 40 mph, paying no heed to direction or distractions. Because of this, they are not able to find their way home once they slow down or stop. Many are unable to learn “recall,” that is to come back at a signal. It took me four dogs to learn that training myself. Lena will come when called. Usually.

A gaggle of greyhounds gather before the Fourth of July parade. (Courtesy Mary-Jean Miner).
A gaggle of greyhounds gather before the Fourth of July parade. (Courtesy Mary-Jean Miner).

The adoption process is done with great care to be certain the new family understands the unique needs and habits of these dogs. Greyhound Friends, founded in 1983 by Louise Coleman, is our area’s largest agency. Louise has great experience in matching dogs to families, considering the dog’s personalities and ability to adapt. Some can live happily with children or cats, and most other dogs. Early on, most greyhounds were not kept past their racing days. Now, with many active agencies around the world, they, and we, are most fortunate to share their retirement years.

If you think you might have room in your home for one of these forever friends, contact Greyhound Friends in Hopkinton or Greyhound Rescue of New England in Menden online or by phone. The application process is precise, all consideration is given to providing a safe and loving home for each dog, as well as a totally loving companion for the adopting family. My current companion, Lena, and I would be happy to discuss any questions you may have.

In between Tesse and Lena, Rhody and Annie were my companions. It seems that having greyhounds as pets can form as a habit. I can’t imagine life without at least one, providing another heartbeat in my home.

For more information, contact Mary-Jean Miner at mjminer7@yahoo.com; 508-696-8589; or email adopt@greyhoundsrescuene.org.

Jada and Magnum were born three weeks ago — on August 28. The third triplet did not survive, but these two are opening their eyes and on the move. (Photo by David Roberts)

Tom Shelby, who has trained dogs and their owners on Martha’s Vineyard and in New York City, answers readers’ questions about their problematic pooches. This week, the dogfather counsels the owners of a pregnant Vineyard Haven dog, eagerly awaiting triplets.

Dear Dogfather,

Our dog is going to have puppies soon. We are looking forward to the adorable pups, but not so much for all the cleaning up after them. How can we housebreak them as soon as possible?

Awaiting triplets in Vineyard Haven

Dear Awaiting Triplets in Vineyard Haven,

Congratulations on your (probably by the time you read this) enlarged family. One of the lines in my book is, “It’s amazing how much of my life revolves around feces and urine.” If you’re a dog trainer it’s true. I don’t care if the dog is so well-trained that it takes out the garbage and loads the dishwasher; if it poops or pees in the house it’s no good. Period.

Initially, most mothers will clean up after their pups. Dogs are strong creatures of habit, and what they’re standing on when they first become cognizant of the comfort of relieving themselves can be meaningful. That’s been my experience. If as soon as possible you can have them get accustomed to making pee and poop outdoors, instead of on floors and carpets, it speeds up the housebreaking process.

Dogs have a “den instinct.” They don’t like to make pee or poop where they eat and sleep. That’s where the expression “dirty dog” comes from. If the dog goes in its den, he’s considered dirty. Get a crate large enough for him to stretch out lying down plus a little, and get him to love it. This should start happening at about six to eight weeks of age. Feed him his three meals a day in the crate, crate door open. During the day toss special treats in the crate, praise him whenever he goes in, and put his bed in it, making sure that that is the most physically comfortable place for him to hang out.

As long as he’s too young to hold it all night, the crate, with crate door left open, needs to be boxed in by an x-pen (eight paneled metal gate with all panels jointed so it can be easily configured anyway you want). Next, put a pee pad that has a touch of the dog’s urine on it outside the crate at the back of the confinement area so that when pup wakes up to relieve itself it can leave its den, and pee or poop on the pad which he will be attracted to by the urine smell. The last thing you want is the dog going in his den. You know he can hold it all night when the time comes that you wake up and discover a clean pee pad. That’s when you close the crate door for the night.

If you don’t want a pee pad in the house, have the crate near your bed with the crate door closed and when you hear him crying or whimpering fly out of bed and get him outside immediately. Initially, always praise the puppy with voice and treat as soon as he’s finished going, except at night. No treat then. Keep praise low-key so he goes back to sleep. Most dogs have the ability to hold it all night when they are about 10 weeks old.

Try feeding on a structured basis, close to the same times every day. This way you’ll get a handle on when he has to go in relation to when he eats. I’d suggest he gets fed three times a day until about four months of age, then lose the middle meal and feed in the morning and evening at your convenience. Leave the food down for 20 minutes or so, then remove it and lose the guilt if he misses a meal. He’ll learn to eat when it’s available and you’ll both be better off if he’s on a schedule. (This is not the place for me to deal with the dogs who can’t afford to miss meals for one reason or another).

Also, a dog needs one cup of water for every 8 pounds of weight in a 24 hour period to be properly hydrated. Most vets will tell you to have water always available. That’s because they’ve had clients actually dehydrating their dogs by holding water back to eliminate the peeing mistakes. Cut the water off by 7 pm so pup has a better chance of holding it all night sooner.

During the day, assuming someone’s home, pup is confined within view of caretaker. (The x-pen can make this relatively easy). Enter the Dog God. What happens in most cases all over the world, when an owner sees their dog starting to relieve itself in the house, the person is charging at the dog arms flailing, yelling whatever they’re yelling to stop the dog from going. And what does the dog learn from this? Well, from his perspective, when you see him going,  you clearly lose your mind, charging at him yelling and flailing. That’s why dogs get very good at getting sneaky; they wait till you’re distracted and then step out of sight behind the couch and take a quick pee to avoid your insane reaction to their natural needs.

The Dog God is anything that startles the dog and it doesn’t come from you. Several empty soda or beer cans with a dozen pennies inside, strategically placed to be quickly picked up and shook or thrown near the dog (depending on the dog’s sensitivity) as the dog starts to go hopefully stops the process. Don’t let the dog see you shake or throw the can, and get him out, treats in pocket to reward the outside pee or poop.

Signs of a dog seriously thinking about making pee or poop are a sudden intense sniffing (looking for the right place to pee) or a kind of darting back and forth or circling (looking to poop). If you can’t watch him for whatever reason, he has to be confined in the crate/x-pen area with crate door open and pee pad available, or in the closed crate, depending on his progress. If he goes in the house and you didn’t catch him within 15 seconds, just clean up and deodorize. It is extremely important that the odor of any mistakes be removed, as dogs really do go where they smell it. White vinegar is as good as the odor neutralizers on the market and much cheaper. If the dog is basically housebroken but has a proclivity for going on occasion in a particular spot, feed him on that spot for a week. Dogs don’t like to relieve themselves where they eat anymore than you like to have meals in your bathroom.

In my experience most dogs are pretty reliably housebroken by about five months of age.

Good luck.

The Dogfather

— Photo by Alexandra Loud

Tom Shelby, who has trained dogs and their owners on Martha’s Vineyard and in New York City, answers readers’ questions about their problematic pooches. This week, the dogfather counsels Alex, who will soon be bringing home a new puppy to join their Shortybull, Angus, and the owners of Alby, who is entering her golden years.

Dear Dogfather,

My partner and I have a two-year-old Shortybull (Frenchy-Staffordshire bull terrier mix) who is fabulously friendly, calm, and loving. Angus is neutered and rarely is aggressive toward other dogs. We are planning on adding a new female pup to our home in September. What do we need to do for Angus and the new pup so that everyone is comfortable and happy?

Thanks!

Alex

Dear Alex,

Glad to hear that Angus is a nice guy and also glad to hear that the new pack member is going to be a female. Generally, opposite sexes get along better than same sex. In my experience the worst inter-family dog aggression is often between two sisters from the same litter — especially terriers. What often happens is the dominant sister is a bully, pushing her submissive sister to the point where she can’t and won’t take it anymore, with the result being a serious fight. Usually happens between one and two years of age, with a lousy prognosis. The bully won’t stop bullying and her sister won’t submit and your quality of life goes downhill as the constant anxiety of a serious fight erupting makes your life miserable. With about 800 training appointments per annum I’ve seen this scenario about once a year, with one of the dogs having to be re-homed because they weren’t going to work it out.

When you have a puppy in mind, I suggest you bring Angus to meet her and let them hang out together. If Angus thinks it’s great fun when the pup play-fights with him and you see two tails wagging a lot, you got a match. If Angus’s new sister isn’t coming home with you on the first meeting, take two dish towels and rub her all over with them. Then place one towel under Angus’s food bowl and the other under where he sleeps. The positive association of her scent with two of his favorite spots can’t hurt.

When it’s time to bring the new family member home, bring Angus with you. If that’s not feasible have them meet a block away from the house and then come home together. Meeting at a neutral location will go a long way in avoiding a territorial-aggressive response, which often applies to playdates, too.

Best of luck with your new pack member,

The Dogfather

Dear Dogfather,

What recommendation or advice do you have for the lucky owners of elderly dogs? I have been blessed with 14 wonderful years with my canine companion, and while I feel sure she will be the longest-lived dog in existence, I know the time will come when I will have to prepare both of us for her ” next great adventure.” My dog, let’s call her Alby, is a terrier mix of about 40 pounds. She has enjoyed robust good health her entire life and continues to be healthy and happy. I take her for daily walks, and if she is a bit less interested in squirrels than she used to be, she still frisks about. While this not a topic I like to think about, I do want to be able to make the best decisions I can when the end nears so as to be able to afford her a comfortable and dignified passing. Yours with respect.

Alby’s Loving Mother

Dear Alby’s Loving Mama,

The vibe I get from your question tells me that if there’s reincarnation I’d like to come back as your dog. One thing’s for sure. Whenever the end comes, you can be sure that Alby’s had as good a life as a dog can have.

Euthanizing a family member is truly one of the most painful hardships we humans can face. And it comes in three parts — knowing when to do it, making the decision, and doing it.

I think if there’s chronic pain and discomfort and she’s living in a haze of painkillers, it’s time. If she stops eating or drinking, it’s time. If her quality of life has totally deteriorated, make the decision.

But in all of this there’s something that I think is extremely important. NO PITY. Don’t share your sadness with him. Dogs are very aware and sensitive to your mood. ACT. Act as up as you can. Do not share your sadness with her. It will only frighten and depress her more. After it’s done, mourn till you’re out of tears. After it’s done.

My little Cavalier King Charles thought he was in heaven before he actually got there. He passed with his tail wagging furiously as he was devouring a chocolate bar when he got the sleep shot. I might also suggest that if possible, have the vet come to your house when it’s time. Alby will be much more comfortable and so probably will you.

Enjoy the time you have and good luck,

The Dogfather

If provoked, even normally calm dogs will snap at people they know.

Michelle-JasnyMichelle Gerhard Jasny, V.M.D. has been practicing veterinary medicine on the Vineyard since 1982 and writing the Visiting Vet column for more than 25 years. She lives and works in West Tisbury. She can be reached at: drjasny@comcast.net.

“Be careful,” the owner cautioned as we led Rita, the shepherd cross, into the living room. “She’s getting grouchier in her old age.” My assistant Elise and I were on a house call for Rita’s annual physical, heartworm test, Lyme booster, and toenail trim. Routine stuff. We have cared for Rita since her owner rescued her in 2003. As a young dog in Georgia, Rita had a litter of pups and was kept tied outside constantly. She may have been mistreated, judging by how she cowered when approached. Since then, Rita has had a long medical history. Treatment for heartworm infection acquired down south. Cruciate ligament surgery, first her right knee, then her left. She was a good patient, though nervous, but right from the start hated having her nails clipped. Many dogs feel that way. At first we used tranquilizers for pedicures, but over time Rita got used to us. We usually worked with her at home, where she was less anxious.

Elise coaxed Rita onto the couch, hugged her head with one arm, and held a front leg for me to draw blood with the other. Rita didn’t flinch as I poked in the needle. “Good girl,” I said, examining her front half, then moving around to examine the tail end. Since I was already behind her, I trimmed the nails on one hind paw. Rita didn’t flinch. “Good girl,” I said, reaching for the other hind foot tucked underneath her. Rita pulled her foot farther away. I reached deeper between the cushions and her tummy.

In a split second, without warning, Rita slid downward, rotated, and bit Elise’s face. Elise was still valiantly hugging the dog, so for a moment I thought she wasn’t hurt. Then I saw the wound on her chin. Dog bites are often just punctures where teeth penetrate skin. This was far worse. Had Elise jerked back as Rita snapped? Or maybe Rita bit, then yanked? It  happened so fast. Regardless, the result was several long, jagged gashes.

According to the Center for Disease Control, almost four and a half million Americans are bitten by dogs every year. Half are children. One in five requires medical attention. The majority occur in someone’s home. Most victims are owners, family members, friends, relatives, visitors, or babysitters. Between four and eight percent are work-related.  Around 30 Americans are killed by dogs annually. There is much controversy about breed statistics, but nowadays pit bulls and pit bull crosses appear responsible for the greatest number of severe injuries and lethal attacks. Other breeds often implicated include rottweilers, German shepherds, bull mastiffs, Akitas, dobermans, and chow chows, but any dog can bite, from feisty little Chihuahuas to big, goofy Newfies.

Who is responsible when a dog bite occurs? Many states still abide by the old common law “One Bite” rule that says “the first bite is free.” If you didn’t know Fido was prone to biting, then no one can really blame you when he nips the kid pulling his tail. But after that first freebie, if you let Fido run loose at the beach, on the bike path, even in your yard, then you are liable if he bites again. Ignoring local leash laws may legally constitute negligence. And really, you’re a responsible human being, right? You know your dog can bite? You restrain him. Period.

Because less-than-honest owners simply won’t mention Fido’s first bite, many states, including Massachusetts, have a “Strict Liability Law” that says unless the victim was trespassing, teasing, tormenting, or abusing the dog, the owner (or whoever is responsible for the animal, including pet sitters and, sometimes, landlords) is strictly liable. If the victim is under the age of seven, the child is generally presumed innocent of provocation. You really shouldn’t leave a young child alone with Fido anyway. As veterinarians, people often ask our advice after their dog bites. Most of us agree that after two unprovoked incidents, sadly, it’s time to consider euthanasia. Why not just confine the dog? You can try, but the reality is no matter what you do, mistakes happen. The gate doesn’t latch. Fido jumps the fence. Someone lets him slip out the door. And another person gets hurt.

Rita fled behind the couch. If it were me, I would have been wailing hysterically, but Elise just lay down, stoically applying pressure to her wound, blood running down her neck, while I rushed her to the emergency room. Stitches. Lots of stitches. Antibiotics. Pain medication. I was kicking myself mentally. The owner had mentioned earlier that when trying to clip Rita’s nails by herself recently, Rita had bitten her. Was that her One Free Bite? Or was it “provoked,” since it involved toenails? Was today’s bite reason to advise euthanasia? Liability laws may recognize circumstances in which a dog (or owner) is not considered at fault, such as when the victim is trespassing, committing a felony, provoking the dog, assisting police or military — or when the victim is a veterinarian or veterinary assistant. They actually call it “The Veterinarian’s Rule,” acknowledging that being treated by the doctor may be painful or make some dogs unusually scared or defensive. We routinely muzzle many patients, but we were just so used to Rita, we didn’t think it necessary.

Rita’s owner has taken the event very seriously. Though not considering euthanasia, she is confining Rita appropriately. We now use a muzzle, especially when handling Rita’s feet. A careful eye exam revealed cataracts and we suspect declining vision may be leading to her  increasing defensiveness. Another Island veterinary practice sent a nice Get Well fax, saying “It could have been any of us.” That’s the truth. A cautionary tale for everyone who works or lives with dogs. Any dog can bite, given the right circumstances. Use common sense. Use caution. We feel lucky everyone involved handled themselves with grace, compassion, and responsibility. Elise, most of all. She is one tough cookie, already back at work, fearlessly holding big dogs while I clip their nails.

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Barking dogs housed in the kennel behind Animal Health Care on Airport Road have been a source of neighborhood disturbance. — Michael Cummo

West Tisbury selectmen, meeting Wednesday June 25, unanimously approved a plan designed to reduce the volume of sound from barking dogs boarded in the outside kennel space at veterinarian Steven Atwood’s Animal Health Care Associates (AHC) located adjacent to the Martha’s Vineyard Airport.

Almost one year ago, a group of neighbors from the Coffin’s Field subdivision across nearby Edgartown-West Tisbury Road, represented by homeowner Elaine Friedman, asked the board for relief from the barking dogs. The Coffin’s Field group and AHC agreed to attempt to reach an agreement but differences in the data presented by each side’s audio experts lead to differing conclusions and no agreement.

Mr. Atwood’s attorney, Rosemary Haigazian, and an audio expert, Lawrence Copley, hired by Mr. Atwood, presented a plan at the Wednesday meeting to enclose the kennel wall facing the subdivision, hang a vinyl curtain across the longest open wall and apply sound damping material to an interior back wall and the kennel’s ceiling.

Ms. Haigazian said the project would cost between $5,000 and $8,000. She said AHC hoped to get some financial assistance from the neighbors. There were no offers of assistance at the meeting. At the selectmen’s meeting a week earlier, the Coffin’s Field group proposed that Mr. Atwood provide a 12-foot wall made of soundproofing material which AHC argued was too expensive.

Selectmen gave AHC 60 days to complete the work.

If your dog chases cars, read The Dogfather. — Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Comm
The Dogfather, with Paula.
The Dogfather, with Paula.

Tom Shelby, dog trainer to MV and NYC celebrities (and their dogs), answers readers’ questions about their problematic pooches. Got a question for the Dogfather?Write him at dogsrshelby@msn.com.

Help!

poodle.JPGI have a 2-year-old female standard poodle. She was attacked (off leash) by a yellow Lab when she was 4 1/2 months old. She is wary and careful about approaching large dogs, especially Labs. She is defensive, a little fearful, and has exhibited territorial aggression toward other dogs if they approach her too quickly, even if they are friendly. She has never bitten any other dog, but does show her teeth if they are too forward or friendly.

Is there any way to help change her behavior and help her develop confidence when we go out to play (off leash) with other dogs?

Please advise!

Thank you so much for your time and consideration.

Elizabeth

Dear Elizabeth,

It’s a lot easier to take the dog that looks in the mirror and sees God and make him realize that there may be a God — but it’s not him, it’s you — than it is to take a fearful dog and make him bolder. The concept is, how do you make a coward brave? Not that your dog is a coward: she’s been traumatized and is understandably nervous with dogs she doesn’t know.

The extremely high concentration of Labs on the Island makes it not surprising, but that much more unfortunate that it had to be a Lab that attacked your puppy. Why couldn’t it have been a Maremma (a breed you’re unlikely to ever see on the Vineyard) or a Komondor, instead of a Lab. But alas, it was a Lab, and your poodle girl is likely to meet plenty more.

A word about poodles in general, especially since I adopted a 1 1/2 year old female we named Paula about nine months ago. They’re usually quite smart, and sometimes sensitive to a fault. Mine is smarter than some of my friends.

I’ve seen a few cases where a friendly dog that was mauled by another dog became a consummate dog fighter. “The best defense is a good offense,” as they say. Fortunately that’s not the case with your poodle girl. She’s just wary.

So the first thing I’d suggest is that you get her a DAP collar. It stands for dog appeasing pheromone, and can be quite relaxing to dogs. The scent it gives off lasts for about a month, and one of my daughters can tell when she needs to get a new collar for her dog by the behavior of the dog. Put it on your poodle girl an hour or so before she goes out to socialize.

The only real solution to getting Poodle girl to relax in the company of other dogs is lots and lots of friendly dog encounters. So go out of your way to make sure as best you can that she has play dates with friendly dogs as often as possible.

Also, if the only time she ever gets pieces of chicken or steak is when she’s about to be taken off leash to play with other dogs, her attitude is likely to become more outgoing. However, be sure not to give her the special treats if she’s showing fear or teeth so as to avoid rewarding unwanted behavior. Once again, timing is critical. When poodle girl sees another dog, start loving her with your happy voice and giving her the treats, telling her what a great time she’s going to have as you unclip the leash.

One other thing. Remove her from the happy play date while she’s having a great time. Make her leave “wanting more” play time, as opposed to having had enough!

Good luck and keep those questions coming,

The Dogfather

Hello Dogfather,

My two-year-old Lab mix is awful on the leash. Instead of walkin, she would rather rip the leash out of my hands and play “catch me.” When she isn’t being chased by me she’s chasing squirrels or rabbits or anything that moves and gets especially excited to meet other dogs; so much so that she’s actually pulled me over. I’ve tried using a harness, but somehow she chews her way through them. We both need the exercise. but sprinting and wrestling are too much for me.

Thanks,

Marvin

Dear Marvin,

Sounds like your girl is in need of some serious parenting. Countless times I’ve told people that dogs are usually a lot smarter than you think, get away with what they can, and are very manipulative. Therefore, they need to be parented, given behavioral parameters.

When I’ve entered a house and found the six-year-old child sitting ON the kitchen table eating mashed potatoes with his fingers I usually guessed right that the dog wasn’t going to be very well mannered either.

Age two is about when brain wave patterns change and dogs enter adulthood, and it’s long overdue for Lab mix girl to grow up and become a well mannered, cooperative lady. This will require comprehensive obedience training from a pro. If you’re just interested in mitigating the pulling on the leash, I’d suggest a gentle leader, which uses the same principle that enables a rider to control a thousand-pound horse. Even though the bit is in a horse’s mouth, the leverage is derived from the pressure on the horse’s nose.

Marvin, if I pull you by your nose, what follows with little resistance is you! And so it is with a gentle leader. It goes around the dog’s snout with the leash attached below the mouth and eliminates 95 percent of the dog’s pulling. However, when you put a pair of sunglasses on your face, you know why they’re there. When you put something on a dog’s face, most of the time the attitude is, “Get this thing off my face!” often with the dog on his back pawing at it to remove it.

I’ve acclimated countless dogs to gentle leaders by introducing it with a treat, sizing it properly and immediately taking a 20-minute walk using treats when there’s no resistance. It’s also important that the gentle leader is used every time Lab mix girl takes a walk. If it’s used intermittently, she’s likely to fight it much longer.

Good luck and keep those questions coming,

The Dogfather

A Greyhound who gnaws and a jumping Golden.

Lena likes wooden tables for lunches, defiantly eyeing her owner while she munches. — photo Courtesy of Mary-Jean Miner
The Dogfather, with Paula.
The Dogfather, with Paula.

Tom Shelby, dog trainer to MV and NYC celebrities (and their dogs), answers readers’ questions about their problematic pooches. Got a question for the Dogfather?Write him at dogsrshelby@msn.com.

Dear Dogfather,

I have been adopting rescued greyhounds since 1992 and find they have a whole passel of idiosyncrasies. Vitesse, my first and longest lived so far, was typical of retired racers, as she was docile and sweet and never barked. She was The Only Dog until I was asked to foster Rhody, who arrived with a whole box of problems. And she barked. So Tesse learned to bark, too.

Of course, the foster part was short-lived, and full adoption came within the week.

Rhody had a bit more difficulty adjusting to life without a cage. When I had to be away for stretches of time, she amused herself by eating the corners of furniture and edges of windowsills. I attributed that to separation anxiety and was glad I owned very few wood items of any value.

She finally calmed down a bit and we regarded the damage as patina, or maybe just signs of a time gone by. When Rhody was joined by Annie, the dynamics changed again. Annie was super shy and Rhody was nuts. I will not go into details about adjusting to indoor living, as both dogs have now crossed the rainbow bridge and the floors no longer get washed daily.

Now we have Number Four, Lena. She is pretty nearly perfect, even though she had never seen the inside of a house or a basket of dog toys in all the five years she spent on the track.  She decided home was a good thing, and has never had an accident. She does have one flaw, though, sort of a variation on Rhody.  Rho pursued her wood fetish in private, leaving me to discover her latest project.

Lena looks right at me and begins to chew the corner of the coffee table. Or the end of the piano. Also, she managed to bite off a small strip of rushing on the only genuine antique in the house. She has a varied doggy diet, with lots of munchies and the occasional pretend toothbrushing gimmick from Milkbone, so I can’t think she lacks fiber. She bites wood whether we are alone or have company, so it doesn’t seem a bid for attention. Your thoughts?

Greyhound Friend,

Mary-Jean Miner

Dear Greyhound friend,

The greyhound world is lucky to have you in it. Lena’s not chewing wood because of a nutritional deficiency: she’s a wood chewer. Many destructive chewer dogs are quite specific in what they chew. Some only do plastic (beware TV clickers); some are strictly into cloth, (beware couches), and Lena’s into wood. From her perspective, rushing is an acceptable variation of wood. Lena needs two things: a “leave it” command, and redirection. Even if she learns not to touch wood in your presence, it’s not good enough. Lena needs to be introduced to the “Dog God,” the God of dogs who sees all, all the time. And she (dog God) doesn’t like it when Lena chews wood whether Greyhound friend is around to see or not. A vibration collar may be a fine dog God. Whenever her mouth touches wood you touch the remote button and Lena gets startled by the vibration, and associates her mild surprise to chewing wood, not you. You say nothing. If need be, set up a mirror so she can’t see you observing her.

In your absence apply bitter apple or some similar product to wood she favors. Also, when you leave, redirect her attention to “special” toys that she only gets when nobody’s home. Try three hollow marrow bones, one with a piece of meat wedged in it so she can’t get it, but will be very interested. The other two with cheese and peanut butter. Very important: remove them when you’re home or they will lose their “specialness.” As for the leave it command, it would be best taught by a pro.

Good luck,

The Dogfather

Dear Dogfather,

Tucker is good 99 percent of the time. During the other one percent, he insists on greeting visitors by jumping on them.
Tucker is good 99 percent of the time. During the other one percent, he insists on greeting visitors by jumping on them.

We have a two-year-old golden retriever, Tucker, who is the love of my life and such a good boy – 99 percent of the time. The other 1 percent is a big problem. When people come to visit he jumps up on them. He’s a very big boy, 65 pounds, to jump up on people. We’ve tried keeping the leash on him, but he still jumps up. So my question is “How can we teach Tucker not to jump when guests arrive at our door?”

Thank you.

Rebecca

Dear Rebecca,

Most of the “good boy- bad boy” percentages I hear are 90-0, not 99-1. So it sounds like Tucker is a real sweetheart, but has become habituated to jumping on people entering your home. Most of the time I need to ask a few questions before I answer one, and my question here is, does he jump on you, especially when you come home? As they say, “It starts at home.” Rebecca, you, and anybody who may live with you need to have a zero tolerance for Tucker’s jumping.

The “all rewards” trainers (does not include me) might tell you to have the visitors ignore the dog and turn away from him when he jumps, and you give him treats when he’s not jumping. However, Grandma may not be thrilled with Tucker’s paws raking her side as she tries to ignore him, not to mention the 45-pound five-year-old trying to stay upright as he’s being accosted by a 65-pound two-year-old with four legs.

By using the leash to hold Tucker back he’s not learning anything, he’s just being physically restricted. There needs to be a negative consequence the second his front feet leave the floor, with accompanying “contrast” the moment all four feet are back on the floor. By contrast I mean praise. Training a dog is very much based on timing — letting the dog know you like his behavior or you don’t, as the behavior is happening. So if the dog hears “Off” and something unpleasant happens the moment he’s jumping, then a quick “good boy” the moment all four feet are back on the floor, he’ll pick up quicker on the contrast between your happiness when he’s not jumping, and your unhappiness when he is.

So what to do? Well, there are a myriad of things to do depending on your capabilities and Tucker’s sensitivity. Let’s start with Tucker dragging a leash and assume that he may jump on you. Were you to step on the leash in just the right spot so that when Tucker jumps he runs out of leash on the way up as you say “Off”, and smile with a quick “good boy” when he’s down, he’d learn to stop jumping quickly. Easier said than done.

Instead, recruit a friend or family member. Then hold the leash in your hands (LOOSELY)  and let Tucker commit to the jump as your recruit enters the house. Snap and release the leash sharply to the side as Tucker is on his way up as you say “off.” There is a world of difference between a snap and release and a pull on the leash. A snap will not move his body, a pull will. It’s also best to do this with a collar that has a couple of metal tags on it so that it makes a chinking sound when you snap the leash. It may take several repetitions of the recruit entering until Tucker “gets it.”

Ideally, Tucker should be taught what I call the “Door Turmoil Routine,” the routine at the door to eliminate the turmoil. When someone comes to the door, Tucker gets praised for letting you know someone’s there. Then he’s told to go to his spot (in sight of the door but out of the way) and lie down and stay. Then the guest is let in and greeted, and then Tucker is told “okay” and allowed to come forward and greet the guest politely. This would probably need to be taught to Tucker by a pro.

Good luck and keep your questions coming!

The Dogfather

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A rescued box turtle from the Cape has arrived to work with Max the dog to help protect her species.

Johnny Sue, a rehabilitated box turtle from the Cape, is now an Island resident, helping to save her species. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

Johnny took off like a shot when she was first released from her carrier in a field behind the Sheriffs Meadow Foundation (SMF) offices at the Wakeman Center off Lambert’s Cove Road in Vineyard Haven. As close to a shot as a box turtle can move.

Max the turtle sniffing golden retriever.
Max the turtle sniffing golden retriever.

“Keep your eye on her. I would not want to do a blind search with Max yet,” said Karen Ogden, whose golden retriever, Max, was waiting in her truck for his first turtle detecting field test.

Ms. Ogden, an experienced dog trainer specializing in search and rescue dogs, is volunteering her time and her considerable expertise to take part in an innovative turtle detection program that will help preserve the eastern box turtle population on Martha’s Vineyard. The program is the brainchild of Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank ecologist Julie Russell and Sheriffs Meadow director of stewardship Kristen Fauteux.

“We have a problem with trying to mow some of our woodlands like Waskosim’s, a field surrounded by woods, which is perfect box turtle habitat,” Ms. Russell said. “But we had to find a way to keep up with our in-season mowing. We have oaks, cherries, sumac that are taking over and we’re losing our field. The turtles require that habitat. That’s where they lay their eggs.”

“Here on the Island turtles tend to be older because there’s low road mortality,” Ms. Fauteux said. “There are box turtles walking around that are over 100 years old. The idea that you might run one over with a tractor is not acceptable.”

Ms. Russell and Ms. Fauteux have a long-standing collaborative relationship; they often finish each other’s sentences.

Sheriffs Meadow director of stewardship Kristen Fauteux (left) and Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank ecologist Julie Russell created the turtle sniffing dog program on the Island.
Sheriffs Meadow director of stewardship Kristen Fauteux (left) and Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank ecologist Julie Russell created the turtle sniffing dog program on the Island.

“We tried goats and sheep, but they don’t eat all the vegetation we need to clear,” Ms. Russell said. “We felt like there had to be a better way.”

Inspiration struck after Ms. Russell saw a demonstration of a turtle detecting dog at a conference. “We called all the vets on the Island and asked about trainers,” Ms. Fauteux said. “Karen has a lot of experience training rescue dogs. She was the obvious choice. Once she jumped on board the project got going.

“The fact that Karen is here is amazing. Anyone else would have had to travel to another state to find someone with her expertise.”

“I started as a canine search and rescue handler in 1992,” Ms. Ogden said. “We started training dogs for scent to find a specific person, then expanded to wilderness scent, and eventually human remains detection.”

Ms. Ogden’s search and rescue dog, Ryan, was one of the first in the state to be certified for the grim task of cadaver work. This is the first time Ms. Ogden has trained a dog to sniff out box turtles, but she was confident it would work. “There are dogs trained to find Mojave Desert tortoises, endangered salamanders, even whale scat.”

“I’ve not seen this done,” Sheriff’s Meadow executive director Adam Moore said. “I’ve heard about dogs being used for conservation purposes. In this instance, this is Julie and Kristine’s idea. I’m very fond of our new turtle.”

Turtle search

Finding live test turtles for Max was, somewhat appropriately, a slow process. Tom French, Assistant Director of Natural Heritage Endangered Species Program (NHESP) for the Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW), required that Ms. Fauteux and Ms. Russell employ more than one turtle, since the scent of just one wouldn’t make for an effective search and rescue dog. But they couldn’t use turtles found in the wilderness.

“Turtles have very strong homing instincts and they’ll keep trying to find their way home, which is when they get run over,” Ms. Russell said. Protocol dictates that once a rescued turtle is restored to health, it’s kept for educational purposes. “The only box turtle in captivity on the Island is at Felix Neck,” Ms. Russell said. “It’s been there 40 years. We had to book the turtle through Susan Bellincampi, [director of the Mass Audubon Society’s Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary], and it had a pretty busy schedule.”

While they waited for their new turtle, Ms. Ogden went off Island to the Cape Cod Wildlife Center in Barnstable, a wildlife rehabilitation facility, and got the scent from five “hospitalized” box turtles by rubbing their skin with gauze, and she began training Max.

“We could only get so far with that method,” Ms. Ogden said. “There’s a big difference between residual odor and live odor,” Ms. Ogden said. “We don’t want to know where the turtle was, we want to know where it is.”

Here’s Johnny

Working through Natural Heritage, Ms. Fauteux and Ms. Russell finally secured the services of Johnny, one of the five turtles Ms. Ogden had sampled at the Cape Cod Wildlife Center three months prior.

“It took a while to get all the permits in place to get Johnny here,” Ms. Fauteux said. “Kevin Clayton, the environmental police officer assigned to the Island, lives on the Cape, so he brought Johnny over. We went to the West Tisbury police station and signed the papers and I brought her home.”

While giving Johnny “his” physical, Ms. Fauteux realized Johnny was a female. “She was named before they sexed her. So we call her Johnny Sue,” Ms. Fauteux said, gingerly carrying Johnny Sue to her customized box, as the nervous terrapin emptied her bladder on the Sheriff’s Meadow office floor.

Ms. Fauteux hid Johnny Sue, in her carrier, beneath a few inches of leaf cover, just off a trail.  Anticipation was high as Ms. Ogden let Max out of her truck. “Max knows when I put on the vest it’s time to go to work,” she said, suiting up Max with a yellow vest. “Dogs have the same finesse detecting smells as humans have detecting color,” she said. “This area around here is like a high-definition TV for Max. You have animal smells, people smells, plant smells. His behavior will look very different when he’s on target odor. There’s a difference between “that smells interesting” and “that smells really interesting. Hopefully, he’ll pick up his pace about 10 yards away.”

Ms. Ogden leashed Max, and with a quick voice command set him to work. Tail wagging, Max started sniffing along the trail. “Over time, the odor of the box turtle will be the cue for Max to lie down,Ms. Ogden said.

It didn’t take long for Max to sniff out Johnny Sue on his first trial run. He was rewarded with a lick of dog food in a small cup, and by applause of a handful of spectators. Max passed two more tests with flying colors.

Although they’re not able to determine Johnny Sue’s age, it’s quite possible she was alive when the first world war was raging and Charlie Chaplin was the biggest star on the (silent) screen. According to a Harvard University study, the box turtle most likely colonized the East Coast after the retreat of the glaciers after the Pleistocene ice age. Turtles as a species have seen dinosaurs come and go.

Thanks to Max, Johnny Sue, and some talented and dedicated humans, the future looks a bit brighter for box turtles on the Island. They might even be around when there’s a new Stop & Shop.

Caution needed

June is nesting time for box turtles and they are particularly mobile, so wildlife officials ask that people pay extra attention when driving, particularly in West Tisbury and Chilmark, where there is the highest concentration of box turtles, according to Mass Wildlife.

Wildlife officials advise that turtles should not be handled unless they are in danger of being mowed or hit by traffic. If you see a turtle crossing the road, put it on the other side of the road in the direction it was headed.

If you see a box turtle, on the move or nesting, report the location to Kristen Fauteux at Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation at 508-693-5207.

Females nest in fields or residential yards, areas where the nest will get sunlight throughout the day to incubate the eggs, so check before you mow.

We may never have a definitive answer. We’re just glad she’s back on her feet and hope she stays that way.

Michelle-JasnyMichelle Gerhard Jasny, V.M.D. has been practicing veterinary medicine on the Vineyard since 1982 and writing the Visiting Vet column for more than 25 years. She lives and works in West Tisbury. She can be reached at drjasny@comcast.net.

Stormy is an Australian shepherd in the prime of her life. Last winter at her annual physical examination, her owner mentioned she had been limping recently. Watching her walk, she was a little gimpy on her right front leg, but I couldn’t find any obvious explanation. “Probably a strain or sprain,” I said. Stormy was also significantly overweight, an extra stress on her joints and muscles. “Try to get a few pounds off her,” I advised, sending home pain medication and instructions to rest.

The foreleg lameness resolved quickly, but three months later, Stormy returned. She  had lost three pounds (though still more than pleasantly plump) but there was another issue. She had suddenly developed marked weakness in her hind end. “She just flops over while she’s walking,” her owner said.

Stormy was bright, alert, and responsive. She’d pull herself to her feet and walk willingly, but then her caboose would start swaying and finally she’d drop to the floor. Her temperature was normal and other than the gait abnormality everything looked fine.

“She seems a little tender here,” I said tentatively, palpating her lower back, but it wasn’t definitive. Could be fibrocartilaginous embolism ( a neurological deficit caused by a little plug of stuff occluding the blood supply to the spinal cord) or intervertebral disk disease (a disease in which the little shock absorber between two vertebrae protrudes and presses on the spinal cord.) “She seems stable,” I concluded. “Let’s try rest and anti-inflammatories.”

Two days later, Stormy’s mom called. The dog was no better. Should we be doing something more?

“We can take X-rays,” I offered, though neither of the two diseases on our differential would necessarily show up on radiographs. “Really an MRI would be the next best test, but maybe she just needs a little more time,” I suggested.

I was wrong. Stormy’s condition continued to deteriorate. By the next day she could barely stand, her front legs now almost as weak as her hind.  She spent most of her time lying flat on her side unless her owner hoisted her up with a sling, then she would try to ambulate. Stormy came for a recheck. Dr. Buck did a careful neurologic exam. Stormy could still move all four legs, but that was the only good news. Some of her reflexes were exaggerated while others were diminished. She was trembling all over and had severe neck pain. It was now clear the location of the lesion was not in her lower back. It had to be either in her neck, or even her brain. It was time to consult a neurologist.

Up at VCA South Shore Animal Hospital, Stormy underwent a battery of tests. Blood work, urinalysis, chest X-rays, abdominal ultrasound, then finally MRI and a spinal tap under anesthesia. The MRI confirmed meningomyelitis in her neck. This means there was  inflammation of the spinal cord and surrounding membranes, but it does not identify the cause. She was started on corticosteroids, called prednisone.

Many readers may have taken prednisone yourselves if you’ve ever had a bad allergic reaction, like to poison ivy, or any significant inflammatory disease or auto-immune issues.

She also got gabapentin, a medication currently in vogue for animals with “neuropathic” pain.  But what was causing the problem? The specialists listed possible diagnoses including Steroid-Responsive Meningitis Arteritis (SRMA) and Granulomatous Meningioencephalomyelitis (GME.) Wow. Those are some big words.

Let’s start with SRMA, a disease of unknown cause, thought to be immune-mediated. In other words, for some reason Stormy’s immune system starts attacking her own nervous system. There are two reported forms, acute and chronic. The acute form comes on fast with a stiff neck, pain, fever, and characteristic changes found in the cerebral spinal fluid. The chronic form has a more protracted course with more neurological deficits.

SRMA strikes young adult dogs, like Stormy. Breeds thought to be predisposed to the condition include Bernese mountain dogs, boxers, German short-hair pointers, Norwegian duck tolling retrievers, and beagles. In fact another name for SRMA is Beagle Pain Syndrome.   There is no way to make a definitive diagnosis in a living dog. Basically, if an individual fits the clinical picture and no other explanation can be found, then it’s time to try corticosteroids. If the dog gets better, Bingo! It’s “steroid-responsive.”

GME is an “aseptic inflammatory disease of the central nervous system.” Just like SRMA, the cause is unknown, it can be acute or chronic, and definitive diagnosis is only made on postmortem, although MRI and CSF taps can be helpful in ruling out other disorders. GME has three forms — focal ( affecting one location in the nervous system), disseminated (involving many locations in the nervous system), and ophthalmic (affecting the optic nerve and eye). Symptoms vary depending on location and severity of lesions. Progressive loss of use of the legs is frequently seen. Other signs may include seizures, head tilt, lethargy, blindness, facial abnormalities, walking in circles, and balance disorders. Middle-aged,small breeds, especially terriers and toy poodles, are most commonly affected. GME also may respond to corticosteroids, but sadly, most dogs do not survive more than one to five months, even with treatment.

The neurologists admitted that Stormy did not exactly fit the picture for any one disease. Her CSF tap did not show the changes typically seen with SRMA. On the other hand, she is not a breed in which GME is usually reported. Another possibility was cancer lurking somewhere in the central nervous system, but none could be found on any of the tests. We know so little about these types of progressive neurological diseases, that it can be both frustrating and heartbreaking for owners, but Stormy responded well to the prednisone and within a few weeks was walking almost completely normally. She will be on steroids for several months, gradually weaning down the dose and watching closely for signs of relapse.

We may never have a definitive answer. We’re just glad she’s back on her feet and hope she stays that way.