Tags Posts tagged with "dogs"


Jimmy Benoit and daughter Laina play with Wheaten Terrier puppies on Lucy Vincent Beach. –Photo by Lisa Vanderhoop

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. Got a question for the Dogfather? Send it to dogs shelby@msn.com.

Dear Dogfather,

I am a new mother whose husband decided it would be nice to have a puppy that would grow up with our son. As I read about dog training, I keep thinking that some of the training suggestions would apply to parenting my child. Could this be possible? I appreciate any insight you can give me.


Dear Joyce,

I love this question, because my wife once said, “I think my husband is a better father because he’s a dog trainer.” She said this at a dinner with two other couples. One of the couples dismissed the comment as crazy because “parenting kids and dogs is not analogous.” I think the other couple felt the same, but they were politely silent. It gave me cause to think about it, a lot. Granted, there were several times that one of my kids may have proclaimed, “Dad, I’m not a dog” after I patted her on the head and said “Good girl” for something she did.

But there are real correlations between parenting kids and dogs. Tell your kid, “No cookies before dinner,” and keep making exceptions, and your credibility is lost, as the kid is flying on sugar as he arrives at the dinner table and doesn’t touch his veggies. Don’t allow the dog on the couch, and keep making exceptions — Well, there’s a saying in my business: “If you want the best seat in the house, tell the dog to move!” The kid-dog correlation: It’s called consistency.

We were in a Chinese restaurant with another couple and our kids. My friend’s son was stuffing his face with the crispy dry noodles, and when the second small bowl was empty he asked for more, to which his mother responded, “You can’t have any more!” When the kid started making a real fuss and demanded to know why he can’t have more noodles, instead of saying, “Because I said so!” or “It will ruin your appetite,” she lied and said, “Because the restaurant is out of noodles.” Meanwhile, noodles were being served to the tables all around us. Your Maltese seems to demand your attention every time you’re on the phone, jealous of the diversion of your attention. I had a client who worked out of her home, primarily on the phone. Her Maltese was morbidly obese by age 2 because she constantly tossed the dog treats to shut her up. The kid-dog correlation: It’s called confront the problem.

We had friends drive an hour and a half from Long Island to spend the Sunday visiting with us when we lived in New York. They weren’t with us 20 minutes when the father was unhappy with his son’s conduct and threatened to “go right home” if the behavior didn’t stop immediately. This ultimatum was issued to his son all afternoon, with the son knowing that there was no chance of leaving early to sit in traffic for two hours. How many times have you heard a parent threateningly say, “Don’t make me say it again” and it was the 10th time the parent said that? Why should a dog stay the first time you say “Stay,” if you repeat it 12 times? Or stay at all, if you don’t follow through and make him stay. The kid-dog correlation: It’s called: no idle threats; don’t repeat; follow through.

So, are my kids better off because I’m a dog trainer? Who knows? All I can say is they’re gainfully employed and reasonably sane. Good luck parenting your son, and don’t hesitate to come forth with any questions if you decide to get a dog.

The Dogfather

He thinks he's just being friendly. – Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

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. Got a question for the Dogfather? Send it to dogsrshelby@msn.com.

Dear Dogfather,

Today I am 16 months old. I am a GSD [German shepherd dog] and a big boy, and feel I know just about everything I need to know. But my mom doesn’t believe me, and keeps on at me about some things that to me are not that big a deal. Like, when I grab someone’s sleeve (by the wrist!) when I like them. She thinks I’m being too mouthy. But hey! It’s what I do with the guys at the park. I mean, we’re out running, biting each other, being cool — but she thinks I’m not supposed to show this “affection” to my two-legged friends. What do you think? I mean I’m only trying to show I like you.

Anyway, she wants to know is there anything else she should be doing besides saying “No, no, bad dog”? (Just kidding — she’s afraid people will think that’s my name.) She really says, “No bite, no bite.” Just tell her I’ll grow up eventually (LOL).

Hi to Paula — hope to sniff again soon at the park. I’ll be around.


Dear Bismarck,

I get your frustration at our inability to play the way you want us to, but being a two-legged myself, I can explain the two-legged perspective. We kind of live in three worlds: the two-legged world, the four-legged world, and the third world we share. You four-legged’s favorite type of play is chasing and mouthing each other and pretend fighting.

That’s fine. But in my two-legged world, sometimes known as America, land of litigation, dog teeth and human flesh are a big no! Manners start in the home, so I’m going to tell your two-legged mom to make sure she teaches you to keep your teeth off all two-leggeds, always. I’m going to tell her that whenever your teeth are on her hand, she should not pull away, but rather freeze, and calmly twist your collar so it becomes tight and uncomfortable as she says, “No teeth!” in a kind of low snarl. As soon as you let go of her hand, she’s going to let go of the collar, smile, and say “Good boy.” You’re a smart boy, Bismarck, and you do want to please Mom, so you’ll quickly learn that teeth on her makes you uncomfortable.

As for grabbing two-leggeds at the park, I’d tell Mom to stop yelling anything because it’s not working, especially with a 16-month-old German shepherd who’s still in the latter stage of “punk age.”

When you are all wound up from play-fighting with your four-legged friends, what I’d suggest to Mom would depend on just how intrusive you are with two-legged friends. Based on seeing that, I might suggest a lot more off-leash control, such as approaching a two-legged while heeling to Mom. Bismarck, you also have to learn that whenever Mom says “Leave it!” whatever you’re looking at or thinking about doing, ignore it and come back to Mom. If you insist on mouthing somebody when Mom’s not near, I might tell Mom to get an electronic collar to startle you whenever you mouth a two-legged. But for the “Leave it” and e-collar, I’d tell Mom to get some pro to help teach them to you.

Be well, and be thankful for the mom you got, Bismarck.

The Dogfather

P.S. Paula says Hi.

Angus the Boston terrier stayed warm in this past week's frigid temperatures. – Photo by Jamie Stringfellow

When Mother Nature first graced us with two feet of snow, we diligently kept our animals inside through the actual storm, but afterward, nature called in a different way. My husband gallantly shoveled the back porch, and my daughter cleared a trail for our dog to make her way to the woods. The cats we confined inside with a litter box until there were pathways they could safely negotiate without drowning in drifts. By the second big snow, the animals were a bit wiser about how to manage, as were we, but we must remain vigilant to keep our pets safe through this unusually harsh winter. Now we are facing not only snow but exceptionally frigid temperatures. Let’s talk about hypothermia.

For those of you who have dogs or cats who essentially live outside, let’s skip the discussions about whether that is right or wrong, ecologically and philosophically, and stick to the medical. As long as a pet is acclimated gradually to cold, provided with adequate shelter from wind, rain, and snow, and is of appropriate age, breed, and robustness, outdoor living is usually fine — admittedly not the middle-class suburban vision of the life for a family dog, but nonetheless an acceptable option, embraced by working dogs and barn cats for centuries. But even for such rugged animals, spells of extraordinary weather can be life-threatening.

What happens when Chilly the chow gets cold? First, she alters her behavior to conserve heat, by seeking shelter or curling up. Her fur puffs up (called piloerection), trapping a layer of air close to the skin that serves as an insulator. She will shiver, the tiny muscular contractions generating internal heat. Her body protects core functions by constricting peripheral blood vessels, focusing circulation of her warming blood to the command centers of heart and brain. If all these mechanisms fail to maintain normal core body temperature, hypothermia results.

Any condition that impairs heat production or conservation predisposes Chilly to hypothermia. Smaller animals are more susceptible because of the larger skin surface in proportion to body mass. Short coats provide less insulation than heavy ones. In the very young and very old, thermoregulatory mechanisms may simply not function effectively. Thin animals have less heat-conserving body fat, and also reduced muscle reserves needed to generate heat. Dogs with arthritis or any disability, injury, or illness that impairs mobility, move around less, and as anyone who does outdoor winter activities knows, physical activity keeps you warm. Cardiac disease and endocrine abnormalities such as hypothyroidism also increase risk. A scrawny, elderly Chihuahua invalid who never leaves mother’s lap will quickly become a pupsicle in this weather. Chilly, the fat, fluffy, healthy, young chow with a sturdy insulated doghouse, who has lived outside all fall, may not even notice the cold, but unless he’s a sled dog acclimated to arctic conditions, even Chilly should come inside when the wind-chill factor is in the negative numbers.

Hypothermia often occurs because a pet is injured or lost: the dog who falls through the ice on a pond, the stray cat stuck in a snowdrift. But it doesn’t even have to be winter. Consider Gramps, the old terrier. Thin, arthritic, partially blind, he was sunning himself on the deck while his owner raked leaves on a crisp fall day. Busy doing yard work, no one noticed until dusk that Gramps had wandered off. Calling him was fruitless — Gramps was completely deaf. The neighbors and the animal control officer all joined the frantic search, but it wasn’t until mid-morning next day that he was found half a mile away. He had waded across a little creek, then stumbled into a ditch, injuring his leg. Wet and confused, unable to extricate himself, his night outside had led to significant hypothermia.

Early signs of hypothermia include mental depression, stiff gait, and lethargy. Shivering may be present, but ceases as hypothermia worsens. Pupillary responses become sluggish. Breathing is shallow and irregular. Heart arrhythmias may develop, as well as a profoundly slow heart rate. Blood pressure plummets. Eventually reflexes disappear, pupils are fixed and dilated, and the individual becomes stuporous or comatose. Severe cases may actually be mistaken for death. In human medicine they say about hypothermia cases, “You’re not dead until you are warm and dead.”

Moderate to severe hypothermia is life-threatening, but treatment must be handled appropriately to avoid worsening the situation. Too much movement may precipitate lethal heart problems, so patients must be transported slowly and carefully. Then rewarming can begin. In mild cases, “passive rewarming” may be sufficient, simply wrapping the patient in blankets and letting the body’s natural heat-producing abilities correct the problem. “Active external rewarming” adds heat sources like hot-water bottles or heating pads. These should not be applied directly to the skin, and should be concentrated around the chest, focusing on restoring core temperature first, not extremities. “Core rewarming” involves using things like warm intravenous fluids to increase body temperature from the inside. The complicated interplay of circulation, fluid balance, and heat transfer involved can occasionally result in sudden death called “rewarming shock.”

Large animals are also susceptible. Back when I still worked on horses, I treated a gelding that had fallen at the top of a steep hill in a blizzard. By the time I arrived, he was stiff and stuporous, his extremities icy cold. The wind was so fierce the intravenous fluid line kept freezing. We managed to warm and rouse him sufficiently that, after several hours and multiple attempts, we got him to his feet, but after several stumbling steps down the snowy incline, he cast himself again. Ultimately the owners opted to euthanize him as both his condition and the storm worsened. Gramps, too, did not survive. Although we restored him to normal body temperature, the leg injury was severe. This, his age, and other disabilities, led to the decision for euthanasia. So keep your pets close to home and toasty warm during this bitter weather. And take heart. Mud season is just around the corner.

And how do we get rid of it?

Yoga class. I haven’t done this in a while. When did my toes get so far away? I mindfully follow the teacher’s instructions, but my hiatal hernia objects to the pose. Burping discreetly, I shift to a more comfortable position. A hernia is defined as the protrusion of an organ, or other bodily part, through a wall that normally contains it. In my case, I have a fairly common condition affecting older, heavier people in which a small portion of the junction of my esophagus and stomach protrudes through the diaphragm into my chest. In a small number of human cases, surgical repair is warranted, but most hiatal hernias are small, like mine, causing few if any symptoms, and easily managed medically.

Hernias in pets come in many sizes and locations. The most common and least serious is the congenital umbilical hernia. When puppies and kittens are in utero, each one is attached to a separate placenta via an umbilical cord, which enters their tummies through an opening in the belly wall — the umbilicus. Normally at birth, the cord is broken and the opening in the belly wall closes spontaneously. But occasionally it stays open, allowing a little abdominal fat or membrane to poke out, creating a bulging “outie” belly button. These can range from tiny to fairly large protrusions, but rarely cause serious problems, and are easily diagnosed by location and feel. Often the contents can be “reduced”; in other words, the stuff sliding out can be slid back in by gentle massage. This confirms the diagnosis but doesn’t cure the hernia, as the defect in the abdominal wall persists, and things just slip out again later.

The main concerns with umbilical hernias are that an intestinal loop can get caught and “strangulated,” or the bowel may become obstructed. In these rare cases, the swelling will become warm and painful. The pet may vomit, experience loss of appetite or depression, or be straining to defecate. This is a surgical emergency. Radiographs or ultrasound can be useful in determining the contents of the hernia, but are rarely indicated if it is small and nonpainful. The cause of congenital umbilical hernia is not known, but it is generally thought to be an inherited condition, so affected animals should not be bred. More common in puppies than kittens, it can be easily repaired when the pet is neutered, though there is a high rate of post-surgical recurrence.

Other types of hernias include inguinal, diaphragmatic, abdominal, scrotal, and perineal. Anywhere things are supposed to be contained in one place but somehow poke into another place, you’ve got a hernia. Last year I saw a cat, Wolfy. Missing for three days, he had returned home, weak and in pain, with a swelling on the lower right side of his tummy. He had eaten moderately well, but was uncomfortable walking. His owner reported he had a penchant for climbing on the roof, so perhaps he had taken a tumble off the house. Despite cats’ amazing ability to land on their feet, it doesn’t always work out that way. In fact, it has been suggested that shorter falls may result in more serious trauma for cats, as they have less time coming down to right themselves. In any case, Wolfy had clearly had some kind of accident. Radiographs revealed loops of intestines protruding through the belly wall — an abdominal hernia.

Now in case you are picturing guts falling out on the exam table, back up a minute. There are multiple layers that hold Wolfy’s belly together. The outside layers that constitute the skin were intact. Just the inner abdominal muscles had ruptured, allowing intestines to slide out of the belly, but they were still enclosed within the skin. Traumatic abdominal hernias can vary widely in location, severity, and prognosis. I knew one elderly cat, Hope, who sustained a similar though much smaller injury. Because of her advanced age, her owners opted not to pursue surgical repair, and Hope lived a good long time after, with no complications. But Wolfy’s hernia was big and, although no spring chicken, Wolfy was considerably younger than Hope had been. Surgical repair of abdominal hernias can often be accomplished by simply sewing the damaged muscle layers back together. Sometimes, however, the defect is too large, the damage too extensive. Then the hole needs to be closed using a synthetic mesh implant. There was also the possibility that when Wolfy hit the ground, the blow caused other internal injuries, like a diaphragmatic hernia.

The diaphragm is the muscle that separates the chest and the abdominal cavities. Blunt force trauma, like being hit by a car, or falling off the roof, can cause a sudden increase in intra-abdominal pressure, altering the pressure gradient between chest and belly, resulting in a tear in the diaphragm. Maybe it’s a small tear, with nothing displaced from tummy to chest. Or maybe it’s bigger, with organs ranging from liver to stomach to intestines protruding into the thorax and putting pressure on the lungs and/or heart. In the latter situation, the patient will likely be in shock, with labored, rapid breathing. The gums may be pale or even blue if lung function is sufficiently compromised. Although surgery is necessary, first the patient must be stabilized. Surgical repair of diaphragmatic hernias is difficult. Once the surgeon opens the abdomen, the animal can no longer breathe independently, and a mechanical ventilator or trained assistant must “breathe for” the patient during surgery. Occasionally animals with diaphragmatic hernias show no symptoms at all, and can live for years without treatment, but the majority require surgery.

We referred Wolfy to a larger hospital here, with more veterinarians and fancier equipment. They did a wonderful job repairing a three-inch tear in his abdominal wall, replacing multiple loops of bowel in their rightful place. Happily, there was no damage to his diaphragm. I hope he will stay off the roof now. I am still trying to go to yoga, but taking it easy on those Downward Dogs.

Try to stop giggling.

A concerned owner called the other day. Solly, the family dog, was passing stools that looked black. Go ahead. Get the giggling out of your system now. We’re gonna talk about poop. There’s no lack of euphemisms for digestive waste, but technically it’s called feces, and feces often give important information about what’s happening inside an animal’s gastrointestinal tract. (Remember this next time you think being a veterinarian is a romantic profession.) So what can it mean, that Solly had this dark stool?

The majority of times when owners report black stool, when I see the sample myself, it is actually just very dark brown, a normal variation. The color of what goes in affects the color of what comes out. “Did anyone give Solly Pepto-Bismol?” I asked. Pepto-Bismol, or any product containing bismuth subsalicylate, can turn stool black. Weird, huh? How does bright pink medication do this? Sulfur in the saliva interacts with the bismuth to form bismuth sulfide … which is black. Ingested charcoal can also make stool black — if Solly chewed on burned wood from the firepit or briquettes spilled from the barbecue, or if a veterinarian intentionally administered activated charcoal, as we might do after a dog ingests certain toxic substances. But, no, Solly hadn’t had bismuth subsalicyclate or charcoal.

“How is he feeling?” I asked. Dark, tar-like stools can indicate bleeding in the upper gastrointestinal tract, anywhere from the nose and mouth down to the small intestines. The blood gets digested, so when it comes out the other end, it is no longer red. The presence of black, tarry stool caused by digested blood is called melena. Most dogs suffering from significant internal hemorrhage will have other signs consistent with blood loss, such as weakness and pale gums. But Solly was feeling fine.

“Is he on any medications?” I asked. There are a large number of drugs that can cause stomach ulcers. Ulcers can cause hemorrhage. Hemorrhage can cause melena. The most common drugs involved in this scenario are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories, AKA NSAIDs, including veterinary prescription drugs like Rimadyl, Deramaxx, Metacam, or Previcox. Or your veterinarian may dispense generic versions of the same NSAIDs. Owners often make the mistake of giving pets over-the-counter NSAIDs intended for people. Dogs (and cats) are not just furry, four-legged people. These products in your medicine cabinet can cause life-threatening problems if given to your pets. Always check with your veterinarian before administering any medication. I occasionally suggest aspirin for dogs (cat owners: Don’t do it!) but other over-the-counter NSAIDs such as ibuprofen (Advil), or naprosyn (Aleve) can cause  nasty problems. Naprosyn in particular can lead to severe gastrointestinal hemorrhage in dogs. Corticosteroids, such as prednisone, are another potentially problematic class of medications frequently prescribed for things such as skin problems and allergies. Most dogs  handle them just fine, but rarely, an individual will develop significant gastrointestinal bleeding. With any of these medications, long-term use increases the risk. It’s also important to consider drug interactions. NSAIDs should never be given at the same time as corticosteroids. But Solly wasn’t taking anything.

There are other less common causes of melena: anything that interferes with normal blood clotting such as anticoagulant rat poison, or bleeding disorders such as autoimmune thrombocytopenia. Inflammatory diseases like hemorrhagic gastroenteritis, pancreatitis, and inflammatory bowel disease. Foreign bodies that irritate or perforate the GI tract. Liver or kidney failure, which may lead to clotting problems or stomach ulcers. Cancer. Even intestinal worms, if there are enough of them. Usually such cases will exhibit other signs of illness besides the melena. Not so with hematochezia.

Hemato …  what? Hematochezia. That’s the medical term for bright red streaks of blood in the stool, a very different situation from the dark, tarry appearance of melena. In younger dogs, hematochezia is often caused by intestinal parasites, or just by eating stupid things: birdseed, acorns, hair — stuff that irritates the rectum and/or anus on its way out. Older dogs are less likely to have worms, though it never hurts to run a fecal study to rule out such parasites, as well as a test for protozoa like Giardia. I am rarely concerned about a single episode of a little blood in a formed stool if the animal is feeling completely fine otherwise, but persistent hematochezia warrants a trip to the veterinarian. One of the first things we do is examine under the dog’s tail for anal-sac infections, tumors, and other perianal problems such as trauma, fistulas, or hernias. If all looks normal, we then have to decide whether to pursue definitive diagnosis or just try nonspecific therapy.

Many of these dogs have “colitis,” i.e. inflammation of the colon, resulting in diarrhea, straining, increased frequency and urgency of defecation, and mucoid stools, as well as hematochezia. Why is the colon inflamed?  Underlying etiologies can run the gamut: food intolerance, stress, many types of infections, cancer. Pinning down the culprit can be difficult. Owners often opt to start with dietary changes, such as feeding bland, easily digested food in multiple, small meals, and empirical medications that may help with colitis, regardless of the cause.

Solly did not have hematochezia. No bright red blood. Did he truly have melena, or was this simply a “false-positive” dark stool? Ah, I hear you thinking. “Can’t she just run that test they do for people to check for blood in the stool?” Nope. The occult fecal blood test requires three days of vegetarian diet prior to testing. Otherwise all we would learn is that Solly eats dog food, dog food contains meat, meat contains blood. Since he didn’t have diarrhea, his appetite was good, and he was feeling fine, I suggested feeding a bland diet and continued observation. If the dark stools persisted or if Solly wasn’t feeling well, they should bring him in. I haven’t heard back, so I am assuming no news is good news. That’s today’s scoop on poop. Now grow up. Stop giggling.

Illustration by Kate Feiffer

Nicole-GallandBemused readers ask novelist Nicole Galland for her take on navigating the precarious social landscape that comes with living on Martha’s Vineyard. Nicole, who grew up in West Tisbury, is known locally as the co-founder of Shakespeare for the Masses at the Vineyard Playhouse. Her combined knowledge of both the Island and the world’s greatest melodramas compels her to help prevent unnecessary tragedy wherever possible. Trying to untangle a messy Island ethics or etiquette question? Send it to OnIsland@mvtimes.com

Dear Nicole:
We have annual February houseguests. Believe me when I say that we appreciate them for coming to visit us in the winter – it’s a sign of true friendship. The problem is, they seem to know we are desperate for winter companionship and we sometimes wonder if they might be taking advantage of our social solitude. We first noticed it with the food. They eat all of ours and never hit the supermarket to resupply. Then there’s the heat. They crank it up to tropical.  They’re going to be here soon and we’re looking forward to their visit. We’re wondering, however, if the rare off-season visitor should be handled with extreme care, or if it’s okay to ask them to help out and give us some money to help pay for the higher heating bill?
Confidentially yours,

Dear Feb:
Yes, visiting in February rather than August is certainly a sign of true friendship. You know what else is? Consideration and common courtesy. The unspoken but universally understood premise of house–guest–ness is that the guest at least OFFERS to help out in some way. This has nothing to do with Vineyard etiquette – it’s pretty universal and is true (I hope) even if you’re visiting your mother.

It is frequently the case that the host deflects the offer, and needs or wants absolutely nothing from their guest except his or her presence. (This is often the case when you are visiting your mother.) Doesn’t matter – the offer should still be made. This guest/host ritual is pretty fundamental. Even if your intention is to spoil your guests while they provide nothing, part of the pleasure is in saying, “No, no, that’s fine, really,” when they make the offer. You can’t do that if they don’t make the offer – it’s inconsiderate of them to rob you of showing off your magnanimity.

So, in an ideal world, where your guests were classy, they’d offer to help out in some manner. They haven’t done that. Asking them bluntly for money isn’t really classy either, though. Even if you have the kind of relationship where you feel you can do that comfortably, discuss it with them well before their arrival, so they aren’t in for a rude surprise when they get there. Also, be gracious enough to let them feel like it’s a choice they’re making spontaneously, rather than a demand you are issuing. This allows you to practice that time-honored Vineyard skill of benign passive-aggressiveness.

For instance, “Our heating bills are really out of control this year, so we’re keeping the temperature at 60 and wearing lots of sweaters. We’d offer to crank it up while you’re here but it would really blow our budget. Sorry about that. But don’t worry, we have plenty of sweaters you can borrow.”

Perhaps they’ll offer to help defray the cost of a warm interior climate. Perhaps they won’t, and will simply borrow your sweaters. Perhaps they won’t come at all. In that case, use the heating-bill money you save from their not-visiting to go to Key West for a week or something. That could be even nicer than February house guests.

And for the record, there’s not that much social solitude in the winter. If anything, it is the time when friends can connect on a meaningful, satisfying level, without the bustle and rush of summer. If you have so few year-round friends that you are desperate to have inconsiderate houseguests, you might need to get out more.
That’s my take.


Dear Nicole:
I was taking a walk in the woods and saw a woman with a dog approaching me. I am nervous around dogs and I called out to ask her to please put her dog on a leash. She said the dog is friendly and that I shouldn’t worry. I told her that I would still appreciate it if she put the dog on a leash. She acquiesced, but then when our paths did cross, she growled at me. (The dog was fine, it was the woman who growled.) Was it wrong of me to insist she leash her dog?
Confidentially yours,

Dear Walker:
Legally, dogs should be on leashes in most public woodlands (there are some places where they are allowed off-leash at certain times of day, especially in winter). But on the Vineyard, let’s be honest, this law is observed more in the breach than the observance (to quote the Danish prince dude) and it very seldom causes problems (except some troubling dog-chicken encounters, but chickens aren’t prone to go for woodland walks).

So it was not wrong of you to insist she leash her dog. It is perhaps understandable that she resisted it; it’s probably seldom that such a request is made of her and she may have been surprised by it.

But I am surprised (and disappointed) to hear she “growled.” In my experience, dog owners are eager to demonstrate that they are responsible members of the community. They realize they can be scofflaws because no harm comes of their law-scoffing, and they want to reassure non-dog-owners that this will continue to be the case. More than that, most dog-owners of the going-for-a-walk-with-your-dog variety are generally excellent human beings (I am biased) and, I would think, are genetically disinclined to be unfriendly or growlish.

Come to think of it, If it ever happens to you again, you might want to be proactive on this front. Ignore the growl (nothing good comes of reacting to the growl) and just say, as perky and friendly as you can manage, “I really appreciate how responsible most Vineyard dog-owners are – thanks for being one of them.”

People are less likely to growl if they are being appreciated; they are also less likely to act like entitled jerks when they are complimented for not acting like entitled jerks.
That’s my take.

Skin tabs and beyond.

When I first met Freesia she was a 12-pound bundle of adorable, wiggly puppy. Over the years she grew into a typical Island Labrador, with typical Island medical issues. The occasional bout of fleas. Seasonal allergies. Skin problems. Sporadic ear infections. Annoying, but not worrisome. Then, at 7 years old, a pedunculated mass grew on her chest.  Pedunculated is a great word. Derived from the Latin for “foot stalk,” it means the mass attaches to the body by a narrow tissue band like a flower stalk. Pedunculated skin masses are often benign, but Freesia’s was in an awkward spot, dangling down and rubbing the floor when she laid down. Over time the surface began to ulcerate and bleed. “It’s probably just from the friction,” I told her owners, “but when a mass ulcerates, we worry more about malignancy.” We all agreed that even if benign, the growth was messy and cumbersome and should be removed.

Surgery went smoothly. The biopsy report came back with a diagnosis of “fibroepithelial polyp, ulcerated.” In parentheses, the pathologist added (skin tag). Aha. The comments went on. “The sample features a polypoid proliferation of dermal collagen and mildly hyperplastic epithelium consistent with a benign hyperplastic fibroepithelial polyp …  these may occur as a proliferative response to trauma or resolving furunculosis. … Prominent ulceration and associated inflammation [are] likely secondary to local trauma. No evidence of malignancy.”

That’s a lot of scientific jargon just to say that, as we had hoped, Freesia simply had grown a big honking skin tag that had rubbed raw on the rug. Phew. No cancer. Freesia was good to go. Two months later her annual physical exam found her in excellent health, although a little overweight. Then, four months later, in early December, Freesia came in again. The family had been away for two weeks on vacation. Freesia had been well-cared for in their absence, but on their return, just didn’t seem herself. At first, her owners thought perhaps it was an emotional reaction to their being gone, or maybe she had strained or sprained something. They tried keeping her quiet and letting her rest, but soon Freesia began to exhibit pain. “She’s moaning, especially at night,” her mom said. Freesia’s appetite was still good, but, well, Labradors do love to eat.

I looked her over. She wasn’t limping. She resisted my manipulating her neck side to side, but that didn’t seem to actually hurt. I palpated each limb, feeling for heat or swelling. I moved each joint checking for crunchiness (called crepitus), pain, abnormal laxity, or any altered range of motion. I systematically pressed each vertebra down her back. Everything checked out normally. “She’s having trouble getting up onto the bed,” her owner added, “and hesitates getting in and out of the car.”

I wasn’t worried. That history in a middle-aged, overweight Labrador?  Pretty common. Probably back or joint pain. Maybe a pulled muscle, or intervertebral disc disease, or degenerative joint disease (i.e., arthritis). Blood work ruled out Lyme disease or metabolic abnormalities. Since she was walking and eating normally, and I couldn’t find anything on exam, I doubted it was serious, and prescribed 10 days of anti-inflammatory pain medication, restricted exercise, weight loss,  and “tincture of time.”

Freesia felt much better on her pain medication, but very soon after finishing the 10-day course began limping on her left hind leg. I dispensed additional medication and suggested more rest. “If she’s not significantly better in two weeks, we should take radiographs,” I said, warning the owners that many musculoskeletal problems don’t show up on plain x-rays. Conditions like intervertebral disc disease often require MRI for definitive diagnosis. “But radiographs are our next step,” I concluded, “to rule out things like hip dysplasia.” (Yes, dogs can have dysplasia for years without showing signs, only developing symptoms later with age.) But Freesia couldn’t wait two weeks. Within days her lameness was worse, and the pain meds had stopped working adequately. We proceeded immediately with x-rays of her hips, knees, and spine.

For hip films, we place dogs on their backs, stretch the hind legs out parallel to each other, rotating the femurs inward. This may require anesthesia for good positioning, but Freesia was cooperative. I put the film on the viewing screen. Her hips and knees looked fine. But wait. What was that? Farther up the pelvis on the portion called the ilium, the bone looked funny.  Freesia was a big dog, so the whole pelvis wasn’t on this picture. “I need another film,” I said, my heart sinking. This was not what I had expected.

On the new film, Freesia’s left ilium was clearly abnormal — the bone mottled where it should have been solid, fuzzy and irregular where it should have been smooth. There was a remote chance this was osteomyelitis, i.e., a bone infection, but far more likely, it was cancer. “How would she get an infection there?” her owners asked. That’s the question, isn’t it? Unless Freesia had recently traveled to the southwest, fungal infection was virtually impossible. Bacterial infection was also extremely unlikely. “The only way to get a definitive diagnosis would be bone biopsy and culture,” I sighed. “But the odds are overwhelming that it’s cancer.” For some reason, all I could think of was that old fatalistic saying, “Sometimes you eat the bear, and sometimes the bear eats you.”

We consulted a specialist, who agreed this was almost certainly cancer. With the location and extent of the lesion, the prognosis was poor. At best, we were talking amputation, followed by chemotherapy or radiation. Freesia’s family opted to spare her such invasive procedures. We focused instead on palliative care, hoping to keep her comfortable, but it wasn’t long before the pain became too much and we had to say goodbye. Sweet Freesia. I had hoped those radiographs would just find something like arthritis in her hip or back; something she could live with to a ripe old age. But that was not to be. Sometimes you eat the bear …

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An Edgartown dog groomer uses her creative talents to turn the family pooch into an art form with four legs.

Mr. McGoo, owned by Edgartown animal control officer Barbara Prada, was creatively groomed as a Panda for this year's Christmas Parade. – Photo by Lynn Christoffers

From the time she was a little girl, Ellen Blodgett always liked to color. She still does. Except now, rather than crayons and markers she uses “blow pens,” vegetable-based dyes, and soon, she hopes, an air brush. Instead of coloring on paper, she colors dogs.

Ellen Blodgett holds her dog "Millie," creatively groomed for the holiday season.
Ellen Blodgett holds her dog “Millie,” creatively groomed for the holiday season.

Ms. Blodgett owns Dog Gone Pretty, a dog grooming business in Edgartown. Most of her work is pretty routine, clipping, shampooing, and grooming a menagerie of canine clients that parade into her basement shop.

But every once in a while, she gets to indulge in what is known in the trade as “creative grooming.”

“I’m not an artist and I can’t draw well, but I can color my dogs,” Ms. Blodgettt said. “They’re my art work.”

Through a combination of grooming, trimming, and dying, she has created dogs that look like the children’s toy My Little Pony, a panda bear, and a dinosaur.

A Standard Poodle in the spirit of the season, painted by Ellen Blodgett. – Photo courtesy Dog Gone Pretty
A Standard Poodle in the spirit of the season, painted by Ellen Blodgett. – Photo courtesy Dog Gone Pretty

Holidays often provide a theme for her work. Using stencils, dyes, and even hair extensions, she has created dogs with Christmas themes including candy canes and Christmas decorations, as well as a doggie Santa Claus. One of her canine subjects sported green shamrocks on St. Patrick’s Day, and another colorful eggs at Easter.

Creative grooming is a growing phenomenon. There is a professional association for creative groomers, trade magazines, and even competitions. Ms. Blodgett won a third-place ribbon at the New England Pet Grooming Professional Association contest in Rhode Island last fall.

Her own dog Millie is quite a willing subject. Ms. Blodgett said the tiny but energetic Shih Tzu-Maltese mix stands perfectly still for the extended time it takes to trim and dye her hair, but when the styling is done, she wants to go for a walk.

“She rushes for the door, she wants to show off,” Ms. Blodgett said. “They get more attention. She’s happy because she knows people are going to stop.”

Painted-Dog-2.jpgNot everyone is enthralled with creative grooming. Ms. Blodgett says she occasionally encounters someone who thinks it harms the dog. She assures them she uses only products that are non-toxic. She is also careful to choose the right dog.

“If a dog doesn’t like it, I won’t do it,” Ms. Blodgett said. “If a dog hates attention, I wouldn’t do it.”

Glitter toenails, feathers, and dog earrings have become quite popular lately. The earrings sometimes cause a stir because they are so realistic that people think she pierces the dog’s ears.

“I do not pierce dogs ears,” she said. “We have little glue-ons. I don’t use anything that would hurt anybody.”

Diapers can work wonders with females in heat. – Courtesy Bostonterrier.com.

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 he owner of a dog in heat.

Dear Dogfather,

I have two dogs, one male, 1.5 years, and one female, 10 months. The female has gone into heat this morning. The male is neutered, and I have a Pampers with a hole cut for her tail. What else should I do/expect?


Dear Tyler,

I bet your male dog is a lot more excited about your female going into heat than you are. Heat averages about three weeks. Generally the bleeding turns pink by day 12, and stops by day 16, but they are not out of heat. It just means that she has ovulated, and it’s during this time that there are many unplanned breedings. Keep the diaper on her (indoors) for at least a couple of days after the discharges have stopped. You may also want to put a belly band on the male to prevent his “marking” indoors.

She will have a very strong and distinct smell that dogs from miles around can smell. Having used my dogs for search and rescue for 25 years, trust me when I tell you: Depending on the wind, dogs in Falmouth will be trying to take the ferry over to meet your alluring girl. When outside, do not take her off the leash. Period.

On average, they are breedable between the 12th and 18th day, known as the estrus period, but they can remain in heat until day 21. It is during the estrus period that you will see her “flagging,” cocking her tail to the side and backing her butt up to the male, or your leg, or whatever, saying, “I’m ready NOW!”

In terms of behavior, it’s not unusual to find both dogs humping each other, your leg, or anything humpable. Raging hormones may cause some minor behavioral presentations, and sometimes result in a “hysterical,” or false, pregnancy. It may occur whether or not she was mated. Symptoms usually begin four to nine weeks after the heat period, and may include mammary-gland enlargement with or without the production of milk, lethargy, and actually taking a toy and treating it like a newborn puppy. If that happens, let me know, and we’ll discuss it then.

If you have a yard with a six-foot fence, it’s still not good enough. An ardent suitor will get in or your dog will metamorphose into Houdini and escape to find the nearest “lover.” Outdoors she stays on leash!

Good luck,

The Dogfather

Dogfather #2|


Dear Dogfather,

Our 12-year-old Australian Shepherd barks at the front door, intimating that he would like us to open the door. We accommodate and he walks outside. Barely a minute passes before he is barking at the door again, intimating that he would like to return inside. We open the door, he comes inside. A few minutes pass and he is back barking at the door again. And so it goes. Other than spending the night opening and closing the door, is there anything else we can we do?




Dear Kate,

Dogs are pack animals and if they had their way the pack (family) would always stay together. Most dogs will present mild anxiety when during a walk a family member leaves the group (pack) to discard a soda can in a recycle bin 50 yards away, and show obvious satisfaction when the pack member rejoins the group.

Dogs also love attention and will do what they can to garner it, even at the expense of preferring negative attention to no attention. That’s why the puppy, rather than being ignored, will grab a sock only to have you chasing him, even if you’re angry about it.

Dogs are also tremendous creatures of habit. I remember a lady with a 7-year-old Spaniel mix who woke her up every night at 3 am to go out. “God, I’d love, for once to sleep through the whole night without having to let her out,” was what the lady said to me. I told her dogs are very habitual and this behavior is likely a carryover from her puppy housebreaking days, and the dog probably thinks it’s her obligation to continue her nocturnal outings. I suggested that she cuts off the water by 6:30 and when the dog awakens her at 3 am,  to tell her to be quiet and not get out of bed. The lady called me the next day to thank me and said, “She laid back down and sighed as though she was saying, ‘Thank God I don’t have to do this anymore.'” Creatures of habit.

So Kate, when you have the audacity to be doing something other than paying attention to your Aussie, he gets your attention by his barking at the door, but when you don’t go out with him he not only gets no attention, he needs to make the pack whole again. Quite a habitual dilemma for him and you.

First suggestion, install a “doggy door.” Problem solved. Or, teach him “Quiet!” At age 12 he’s certainly very attuned to your wants and dislikes. When he barks at the door tell him “Quiet!” sternly and ignore him. If he keeps barking try startling him by shaking a throw can a split second after you say “Quiet.” (An empty soda or beer can with a dozen pennies in it). If he still continues his pesky barking try throwing the can near him (not at him) as you say “Quiet!”

A good spritz with a stream of water from a spray bottle in conjunction with “Quiet” often works well. If he responds, you’ll find you just have to reach for the bottle and he’s done.

Don’t be surprised by a possible behavioral burst — meaning that his initial response to your not cooperating at the door might be to bark louder and longer. If you teach a mouse that when he pushes on a bar of a device to get a piece of cheese, and then remove the cheese, his initial response will be to push the bar harder and longer. “I always got cheese when I did this!”

If you’re willing to endure the acoustic trauma, you can just try ignoring the barking, or leave the room. Good luck with that.

Take a look at the bright side. If you ever move to Boston and decide to apply for a job as a doorman in a luxury building, your door opening experience will look great on your resume.

Good luck,

The Dogfather

P.S.  If you do install a doggy door and have difficulty getting him to use it, let me know and I’ll tell you or show you how to get him doggy door savvy. It won’t be the first time.

Ace would like to be home for the holidays.

Ace, a rescue dog who loves, dogs, cats and humans, is shown here with William Burmeister.– Courtesy Betsy Burmeister

Ace is a rescue whose adoption fell through. Until he finds a family, he is living at Martha’s Vineyard Helping Homeless Animal’s shelter in Oak Bluffs. He is a spaniel mix and loves dogs, cats and humans. He is neutered and up to date on his shots.

He is a very sweet boy who would like a family of his own.

If interested in meeting Ace, please call Martha’s Vineyard Helping Homeless Animals at 508-560-6046.