Thursday, May 30, 2013

It started one year ago...

It started one year ago....

Scout and Henry at 2 weeks old, unsure cat in the background

Henry came to me as most any rescued dog comes to someone, unexpectedly. I already had set in place to add my second dog  to our family from the same breeder who bred my first Labrador. She was pretty reputable, more so than some but probably not to the very high standards of others. The parents were on the premise and typical of a well bred family lab, big teddy bears with energy to spare when called for. After searching around central Maine, where I currently reside, I was willing to travel North again to purchase a puppy from her.
In central Maine it is hard to find a reputable breeder at a reasonable cost, or what I am willing to pay for a dog I should say. I work at the local veterinary clinic in my town where I have the advantage to knowing the ins and outs of the breeders dogs. I know the breeders that come in, see the breeding dogs, know their genetics and perhaps the chronic issues they have, whether sound temperaments or not; dog or people aggressive, whether or not they do any sort of parasite prevention or just the fact if they have seen a vet in the last year for a wellness exam. I may be mistaken but I think the average person only looks at the puppies and has made their decision before knowing anything else. I don’t feel the appropriate questions are asked or the fact that they don’t ask to see the parents. A reputable breeder will have an extensive application for the buyer to fill out, a health guarantee, and would have at least one parent on the premises. Others sell puppies to do just that, sell them. They have lost the idea behind breeding, to produce offspring that uphold the breed standards as well as having sound temperaments.
I had contacted the breeder in Northern Maine after much frustration of seeing the breeders around central Maine. It was in November when I asked her when her next litter was to be expected and to put me on the list. I had a ways to wait. A litter wasn’t expected until late spring and wouldn’t be ready to go until July. July, that felt like a lifetime away.
For the year or so that I did look around the Whitefield area for a puppy, every litter of Labradors that came into the clinic, I would inquire about. I was open to male or female, color wasn’t a breaking point, although I am partial to yellow labs, but mostly I wanted to find a puppy with a personality and temperament that would fit my family. I wasn’t set on the fact that it needed to be a yellow male, because if there was only one in the litter it could have the potential to be the one that was timid and no confidence at all. Not something I would desire. My co-worker, Dale, a licensed veterinary technician, who once had Labradors himself and now had three chihuahuas, was ready to humor the idea of adding a larger dog to his pack, preferably a female black lab. Being partial to labs we would both fawn over litters that came in for check ups and ask questions but neither of us felt any of them would be the right addition.
There was a point where I would hold and snuggle every new puppy that came into the clinic. I longed for a second dog. Once I had committed to a puppy from the breeder it was amazing how that void was filled. I now just patiently counted the months until my puppy would arrive. Then came the unexpected project.
Henry 1st day home at 2 days old
I remember it clearly. It was a Thursday, my day of reprieve as a receptionist and to aid as an assistant to the technicians and to do paperwork for the Doctors. It approaching early afternoon and nearing the end of my shift.  Dale, Dr. Mayerson and myself were working at the break room table with idle talk when Amanda came out back with a message. Lucille Griffin, one of the most reputable breeders in our town, had just had a dog deliver eight puppies.
I had often considered purchasing a puppy from Lucille, but unfortunately I wasn’t willing to pay the price for one. In my experience with my first lab, Scout, the first year of their life is the most expensive. Not just with routine boosters, the neutering, but with accidents. You have a young dog who is exploring the world, they are mischievous and prone to trouble. Now don’t get me wrong, her dogs were some of the better looking labs I had seen in a long time and well worth the money. They were smaller in stature, the English Labradors, with block heads, and the thick otter tail. She checked hips and elbows, and kept them parasite free. Lucille provided them with annual wellness checks to ensure they were healthy. Her litters were always brought in to be examined by a licensed veterinarian who signed off on a health certificate and the breeder provided a 2 year health guarantee.
Amanda approached us out back. Started rattling off the facts. Lucille is on the phone, Roxy just finished having eight puppies. She is setting up an appointment to have the dewclaws removed but she noticed that three of those puppies have cleft palates. She is wondering if anyone here would be willing to take them and bottle feed them. Lucille would do it but she just doesn’t have the time to bottle feed three of them. There are two yellow males and one black female. I think the words echoed around in my head, yellow male, as I am sure Dale honed in on black female. Dale and I exchanged a brief sideways glance, grinning and raised eyebrows, and then a look back to Amanda, “I’d be willing to try it.”

Progression of Henry's cleft palate and how it has closed some on its own.
After Amanda disappeared back to her post to tell Lucille that she had some takers on the challenge the questions started pouring out. I was leaving for Boston to join my husband, Brock, on a business trip and then had to be in Bangor to train dogs at Green Acres Kennel Saturday. I couldn’t possibly take a 12 hour old puppy with me today. Dale and I started trying to immediately develop a schedule. Three puppies, who would require feeding every 2  hours around the clock. He could take them that night and Friday. I would pick them up Saturday and keep them until Monday. Yes, we would rotate them every couple of days to give the other person a little break.
“We should try and keep them together as a litter as long as possible.” Dale said.
“I agree.” I said focusing more on the fact that puppies that grow up in a single puppy litter are suspected to have more behavioral issues. I wanted them to stay together as much as possible for developmental purposes.
“If you need help, I would be willing to help out. I will tell Jack it’s a foster, not a permanent part of the family.” Pipes in Dr. Mayerson.
“That’s right. I have to talk to Brock first. I’ll do it but I have to take him into consideration and at least make him aware of it.”
    Then comes the realization of the fact that the puppies are defective. Cleft palates, bottle feeding, survival rate? Tube feeding? What is the extent of their cleft palates? Are their faces deformed too? They should at least feed off of the mother for the rest of the day to obtain as much colostrum as possible.
A cleft palate, for those that may be unaware, can be primary or secondary. A primary cleft palate is one that you would notice by looking at the dog. It could produce a split in the lip up to the front of the dogs nose and can vary in severity. A secondary cleft palate is not noticeable unless looking in the dogs mouth. It too, ranges in severity but is an opening in the midline of the roof of the mouth that can affect the hard palate only, the soft palate only, or both. It also can range in the width of the opening. It is not entirely certain what creates a cleft palate. Some attribute it to genetics, others blame it on something the mother had while the pups were in utero, like steroids or other medications.

Shirley (black lab) and Henry (yellow lab) at 7 months. We pet sat Miss Shirley for a week in November, brother and sister united.
Amanda returns again, “Lucille has decided to keep the puppies until Saturday to give them a chance to nurse on the mother,”
There was one concern addressed, “Her dewclaw removal appointment is then for the other puppies. She’ll bring those three in then to be looked at and if you still want them you can meet her here and take them or we can euthanize them.”
“Good, I will be here, so I can let you know the extent of the palates.” Dr. Mayerson said. Dale said he’d be able to meet Lucille here at her appointment time to assess the situation too.

I left work not too long after the development of our new project to head for Boston. How was I going to explain this one to Brock? 
I decided to approach Brock about this as a project that we are taking on at work to try and save these three puppies. They would have to go home with people at night because of the feeding schedule but otherwise would be at the clinic. He didn’t ever say no or question it. I think he knew what I was skirting around and was probably aware my mind was made up.

 After I finished my shift in Bangor, at Green Acres Kennel, I headed straight for Dales house.  I had arrived early to mid afternoon. It was perfect timing he told me, he was just getting ready to feed them again. The milk replacement was warmed and placed in the bottles and we took them out to see if we could acclimate them to the bottle. At this point they had nursed off the mother for 2 days so they weren’t initially so easy to convert to the rubber nipple. I peered into the box where they huddled together on the heating pad and pulled out the bigger yellow male.
I had never done anything like this before so figuring out the best way to hold him and everything was new. They also had to be stimulated after eating to go to the bathroom. I had an overwhelming feeling. In 45 minutes time it seemed like we hardly got any of the required amounts of milk into the three pups. Dale and I laughed at the situation and finally decided that we needed to split the pups. By the time nursing the 3 pups was done it would practically be time to start over again. We put the bottles and puppies down, looked at each other with a look that said, “What did we just get ourselves into”, and laughed. 
“Are you taking one of these home?” Dale asked.
“I think I better,” I chuckled.
“Well which one do you want?” he said. Again, knowing Dale was partial to the black labs and I to the yellow, that wasn’t a problem, but which yellow do you take? At two days old you don’t know much of anything about how those pups are going to be when older.
“I will take this one I guess.” I said as I lifted the slightly larger yellow male out of the bin. “I don’t know what I’m doing and he looks like he is doing alright.”
Dale gave me some hot water bottles and I wrapped them in the towel and placed them in the carrier I had brought along. Then, in went the puppy. With a final glance and a wish of luck I headed out the door with my second dog...And that is how Henry came to be in my life.
Me, Henry and Scout after Storm Nemo

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

When can I stop using treats?

One of the most common questions asked to trainers who utilize food as reinforcement is, "When can I stop using treats?" as if it devalues the relationship or cheapens it. The truth of the matter is that food actually will strengthen your relationship with your dog as well as strengthen the dogs reliability to do a behavior.
Dogs do what works for them, and if a behavior earns them a reward, be it play or food, they are more likely to perform it again. Dogs, like people, will do things that motivate them. To expect our dog to come when called because we said so is like saying you will go to work and do your job because your boss said so. You go to work because you like the paycheck, dogs come to us to get their paycheck, a high value, tasty treat.
Don't therapists say that families should eat at least 1 meal together? A dog has to eat, no? Why not utilize the food that we so willingly put in our dogs dish for "free" and reward them throughout the day for behaviors we like. It only makes sense to reserve part of their meal and reward for tricks or calm behavior during the day instead expecting our dogs to behave because we said so. I am not saying that your dog needs a treat for every sit, down, stay, or other trick they know. Once your dog knows the behavior you can switch to intermittent rewards. Start rewarding the really good behaviors for a job well done.

Trainers at Sea World utilize food as a reward to train large marine mammals to perform "tricks" which help make vet exams a breeze.
  Photo from
If your dog only listens to you when food is in your hand, the food has been used incorrectly and you are actually bribing your dog. When utilizing food as a reinforcer you ask for the behavior, get it, and then reward with the piece of food. The food shouldn't be visible or held out in front of your dog in a way of saying, see the food, now do the behavior, that equals bribing. We want our dogs to do the behavior in hopes of getting that really yummy reward.
So to recap,  you can stop using treats for you dog once they know a behavior, but why not periodically use the treats to continue to reinforce and bond with your dog?

Friday, May 24, 2013

It's Raining, it's Pouring...

With all the rainy weather we are getting here in Maine I thought it appropriate to discuss the importance of mental stimulation for our pets and how important it really is.
Providing mental stimulation for our dogs is often forgotten about. Most people focus on getting dogs out for a walk, run, or dog park etc. to tire them out, but 20 minutes of mentally stimulating your dog can make them equally as tired. It can involve exercise but instead of sticking to the usual walking route you take your dog somewhere new, somewhere different. Dogs that only ever receive physical exercise often are always on go. Other dogs that aren't getting enough exercise, physical or mental, often develop behaviors problems such as barking, digging, chewing etc. Dogs are problem solvers and will figure out away to release the built up energy or tension.
A Kong - a hollow rubber toy excellent for entertaining dogs.

Dog like to solve problems and can benefit from mentally stimulating toys or puzzles. Often dogs who are not challenged enough mentally get into trouble. They decide to create their own entertainment to ease the boredom. I am guilty of having not provided my dog Henry with enough mental stimulation. He likes to eat items he should not. Socks, sticks, plastic caps, truly anything he can have the opportunity to ingest without being noticed. We have managed it with the use of "Leave-it" or "Drop It" but I feel this behavior is a result of having little to no mental stimulation. Henry has a secondary cleft palate, a hole in the roof of his mouth, which for me makes it difficult to stuff kongs. I usually stuff a kong with peanut butter and a banana but that consistency would go right up into his sinuses.
He has also lacked in his trick training because of having a second dog in the house and having had a torn cruciate in his knee. For some reason to me that meant he couldn't do silly tricks, like crawl or such because it'd put strain on that knee.  But I have decided that another dog in the house or not, Henry needs mental stimulation...and a lot of it.

Ways to provide your dog with stimulation is by teaching them a new trick. Shake, high five, roll over, crawl, "Bang" or Dead Dog, back up, sit pretty etc. The pet industry is a large and growing industry. There are so many engaging toys out there to utilize. Kongs are an essential staple in any household. They are durable and easily stuffed with a variety of different treats. A dog must lick it or toss it around to figure out how to get the treats out. Once your dog gets really good at it, you can start freezing the kong and the contents within. Busy Buddy makes a large assortment of food dispensing toys. Toss aside your dogs dish and fill any one of these dispensing toys and make your dog work for his food. A Buster Cube is a cube with a hole in the middle and you can change the level of how easily the treats come out. It is made of hard plastic so it is loud when it is being knocked around.

If you leave your dog home alone and free in the house, take the time to hide kongs or some of the other toys to provide lasting entertainment for your dog.

Scout working away at one of the Busy Buddy toys. Figuring out the best way to hold the toy so he can get the treat off of it.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Argh, Ticks!

Ticks are the spring time and fall time pests! I always do a thorough check but I will tell you that even with two yellow labs and the short coats they have, it is impossible to find every tick. Sometimes two hours later, there is one crawling on their head, and this is after I have checked them over. So during the heavy tick seasons I use Frontline plus to help with the ones I miss and attach to my dog.

Today, though, I want to tell you of a quick handy way to snag the stray ticks. When you see one crawling along on your dog reach for the tape. It is a quick and permanent way to ensnare those ticks without the worry of dropping them or having them cling to the toilet as you try and flush them. The adhesive on the tape keeps the tick in place. When folded over onto itself, tape creates a permanent trap and can then just be tossed in the trash. A little bit more eco-friendly then flushing the toilet to try and rid yourself of the tiny tick.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Bite Inhibition

Puppies bite and it is a good thing they do! They practice biting each other in play and they mouth us the same way. It is important for us to teach our dogs how gentle to bite.
As a puppy they have needle sharp teeth to make it hurt but they don't have the power behind the jaws yet to inflict damage. It is extremely important when you get a puppy to practice dog bite inhibition. Because they have those needle teeth they often do elicit a reaction from us "Ouch!" and a pause in our interaction with the dog. Puppies love to play bite and will learn how to inhibit the force of their jaws to keep the game going. So your puppy learns to bite gently before he acquires strong jaws and big teeth.

To teach your puppy to not bite you all together may offer relief temporarily but it will not change the fact that your dog will not know how to control the pressure behind his jaws, which can be dangerous. As an adult, the dog that was forbidden to play bite, may be provoked or fearful and will likely result in a bite that is painful and a severe injury.

Dogs play together and often are able to aggress without damage. They can play and teeth clash because they are practicing bite inhibition with each other. A dog that doesn't get to interact with other dogs and learn from a young age appropriate play is likely to cause more damage to another dog when giving a correction.
It is easy to teach our dogs how to bite appropriately. Encourage interacting with your puppy and allow mouthing. When your puppy bites you too hard you need not punish it or scare it, simply say "Ouch" and withdraw all attention. The puppy learns the result of biting too hard makes all play stop. It is equally important that your puppy then doesn't go pick up a toy or play with another person. Only pause for a couple seconds and then resume your interaction. Continue to play with your puppy in this manor, anytime you feel your puppy bites too hard, "Ouch" and ignore the pup. If your pup doesn't respond to the yelp, get up and leave the room if necessary. Continue to practice this even when the bites don't hurt. Fake it! We want your puppy to learn that we are so sensitive that we can't handle the lightest amount of pressure. Soon play biting turns into just play mouthing. We have now taught our dogs that in the event that they might bite a person, little pressure is sufficient, thus resulting in barely a red mark on the skin. Again a dog that is punished or taught never to bite will likely result in a puncture to the skin if ever the need to bite was there.
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