The Power of Positive Thinking

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Dog training – a subject likely to stimulate heated discussions in any gathering of dog owners as to the best or most effective approach.

Now I don’t profess to be an expert by any means and certainly have no formal training in dog education, but over the years I’ve seen a lot of dogs and owners, so this is just based on observation and personal experience. Inevitably, in a short article, there are a lot of generalisations and yes, I understand that there are always exceptions.

The key message is, keep it positive. The idea is for your dog to want to do what is being asked of it, not to be forced or feel it has to or suffer unpleasant consequences. And in broad terms, dogs do want to please. They are pack animals so they want to be with their pack where they feel safe and supported. Dog are not actively naughty or bad. Those are just our labels for actions that do not suit us at a particular moment. Their reactions to situations they find themselves in may not be exactly how we’d like every time, but they are individuals and we may not be sensitive to the vibes they are receiving from other dogs or people.  beastly thoughts

You can never start the education of your dog too early and an older dog can learn new ‘tricks’ when presented in the right way. Don’t wait until they are a boisterous ‘teenager’ before you get them walking on a loose lead – whether it is at heal is up to you. Personally, I think that having the dog at heal gives you closer control in tricky situations, such as a busy street. I find that on the lead means at heal is a clearer signal for your dog too. No questions about am I or am I not meant to be at heal.

So, keeping it positive, what does that actually mean. Basically, if the dog is doing something judged to be wrong, telling them off is not going to achieve anything. In life, we all prefer reward and praise for doing something, whether at work, at home or in social situations. It is all about being incentivised. And, to be honest, how many situations are there where a given behaviour is deemed to be acceptable, but exactly the same behaviour in a different situation is not acceptable? To say that a dog ‘should know better’ is just silly. A dog has to understand what is wanted and it is up to us to create the conditions that enable them to understand. If you have ever been to a dog training class, you will know the mildly embarrassing situation where the instructor demonstrates what is wanted with your dog, and your dog gets it absolutely right. What is that telling you? That it is you that is getting it wrong and when there is understanding, there is obedience.  dog training

If your dog is pulling, yanking on the lead – tempting though it can be – will always meet with resistance – action and reaction – so it is counterproductive. If someone pulls at you, your reflex is to resist that pull. It is the same in your dog. If your dog pulls, stand still until the tension comes out of the lead, then carry on. When the tension comes off the lead, give the dog a treat, or praise if they are not treat oriented so they associate a slack lead with positive feedback from you. Try using the TTouch technique of lead stroking to reduce and ultimately eliminate leading pulling. Look it up – would take too long to describe here.

Ignore unacceptable behaviour – turn and/or walk away – do not scold. If your dog is seeking attention, even a scold is better that being ignored. When they stop doing whatever was unacceptable, praise and reward them. Reinforce the good and ignore the ‘bad’ or more accurately, the unacceptable.

Be consistent. Don’t let them do something because they are with doggie people and it ‘doesn’t matter’ if you don’t want them to do the same thing when in a less dog friendly situation.

Never, ever tell your dog off when they return to you, no matter how long they took to respond to your call and no matter how worried, frustrated, late for an appointment or whatever, you were.  Reward and praise, regardless. Just think how confusing it is. I’ve come back – I’m scolded. Did I do wrong in coming back? And don’t make the recall just about going back on the lead, or the end of the walk. Think of the association that creates in the dog’s mind – to go back means the end of fun. Call them back, make a fuss, give them a treat and then off they go again. Recall is as much about reconnecting with your dog and keeping them aware of where you are, as it is about control. If your dog swings by, say hi and possibly engage in play or with a treat, even if you didn’t call them. Keep all associations with you as positive as you can. I actually think there’d be fewer dogs lost when out on walks if they were called back for a treat more frequently. Returning to check on their owners is a behaviour that can be ‘automated’ in a dog if you make a call back and treat a frequent thing from an early age. It becomes a learned behaviour that they do without even thinking about it.

Recall is an easy thing to teach a pup and should start in the house, then in the garden and then as soon as they are out and about. Let them off the lead, where it is safe to do so. A puppy will want to stay close to you, even as it explores the world, because you mean security. Don’t wait until they are older and bolder before you let them off as then the freedom is too much of a distraction and you have a bigger job to do.

dog training 3 Finally, and just as importantly, engage with your dog on the walk. Keep your nose out of your phone. Be aware of what is happening about you – be proactive. Intercede early, and preferably before things going awry. Joggers and cyclists are not ‘fair game’ as I have heard them described. You don’t want your dog injured or to cause an injury. Stopping a dog giving chase is easy if you are proactive. Call them back, get them to sit and give a treat, treat again as the bike goes by and until the cyclist is well away. Keep the dog’s attention on you, not gazing after the ‘target’ as they may still give chase once your  release them from the sit. Take the same approach if your dog is nervous of, or has a tendency to give chase to cars. You will soon have a dog that comes back of its own accord when it sees joggers, cyclists, horse riders or whatever. Do not wait until your dog has done something ‘wrong’ and then tell it off. Help it know what is right in advance with a positive and engaged approach.

And in case you are wondering, no, I don’t always practice what I am preaching, but I try to remember this mantra and feel irritated with myself when I react rather than think. Being positive will always give a better outcome.


Why you should brush your dog

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Grooming your dog has multiple benefits so it should be done regularly and from an early age.

We’ve all seen the dog food and paint adverts in which dogs with beautiful flowing locks bound through flower meadows or similar and thought, thank goodness I don’t have to groom that lot! But, in fact, brushing your dog has multiple benefits and should form part of your routine dog care activities, even if they have very short grooming 3

Different breeds and individual dogs shed to varying degrees and generalisations are dangerous. However, in broad terms dogs grow two coats a year which are shed in Spring and Autumn. The Spring moult is more significant because it is the heavier winter coat that is being lost. It seems to go on forever, doesn’t it.

Brushing will help keep your dogs’ coat in good condition by stimulating blood flow to the skin and removing the dirty oily hair that has been cast, but not shed from the coat. It will also make them feel more comfortable, a bit like giving tangled hair a good brush. Be sure to get the right brush for your dogs’ fur type and carefully tease out matted parts and debris as you would for a child’s hair.  No rough tugging!

Brushing your dog will reduce the amount of fur that needs to be vacuumed up – honest. Though it seems that as much as you remove, the same amount comes away in your hand immediately afterwards. Any doggie odour will be reduced through the removal of grubby greasy fur and their bed will also smell better and need less frequent washing. You will also see a reduction in the incidence of greasy marks on walls they regularly brush against, your clothes and even when you run you hand over their coat. You should see an improved shine and the coat should feel smoother and cleaner to the touch after brushing. If you have not been in the habit of grooming your dog regularly, this could take a few days or even a couple of weeks to become obvious.

dog groomingYou should start to brush your dog as soon as you get him/her, whether as a puppy or when older. Young puppies don’t really need brushing, but if it is done from the outset, it becomes a normalised activity that they are happy to accept without a fuss. Let them sniff the brush and tell them they are going to be brushed – they soon become familiar with the phrase. A treat during and certainly afterwards helps them associate being brushed with nice things so increases cooperation, especially if they are nervous at first. A puppy may tend to try to play with the brush, just remove it and walk away as if it becomes a game they will never learn to stand still. Don’t tell them off as it needs to be a positive experience. Going to a grooming parlour is an option, but it should be considered as equivalent to you going to the hair dresser or barber – a regular, but infrequent tidy up. It does not bring the additional, less tangible, but just as important benefits described below.

Ok, so in addition to the benefits to the coat condition and look of your dog, why is brushing important?  Well, it is very specifically time you give to your dog, so it reinforces the bond you have. You talk to them only and they are not sharing you with the whole family while it is going on.  In our busy lives, family dogs often miss out on one to one time that we all crave, including dogs, as life goes on around them. Remember, you may have lots of interests and activities taking up your time, but your dog only has you and looks to you for grooming 2

Ideally, everyone in the family should be involved with the dog brushing routine for the same reason – it gives the dog ‘me time’ with every individual family member. Make sure you show older children very specifically what to do and younger children should not do this without adult supervision in case they become over enthusiastic and a nip results.

A dog that is regularly handled by multiple members of the family will generally be more relaxed with strangers touching them, so vet visits or kennel stays will be less stressful all round. When brushing your dog you can teach the command ‘stand; which will make your job easier. A solid stand command is also useful when a vet is trying to examine the dog.

Grooming also lets you check for and remove ticks and other parasites, which is particularly important at this time of year. In older dogs, the growth of any lumps and bumps will be noticed sooner and can be monitored frequently to check their rate of growth before deciding on a visit to the vet.Dog grooming fotolia_rf_photo_of_dog_with_fleas_scratching_back

If grooming is done regularly, and at this time of year, that probably means daily or every second day, it need not be a massively time consuming activity. Five – 10 minutes only with a treat and some play time at the end to bring reward for cooperation and fun into the activity.
So start today, and enrich your relationship with your dog while also benefitting their physical and psychological health.

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Dogs- what would we do without them?

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If you are or have been a dog owner, or owned by a dog as it sometimes feels, you will know how much a dog brings into your life – love, humour, exercise, friendship, dirt and fur… But in addition to all these, dogs also work hard to keep us safe, mobile and even alive. There are many situations where dogs are employed – I don’t like the term ‘used’ – to assist with the activities of people. I am thinking beyond sheep dogs and gun dogs to those that contribute the everyday acts of living. Collectively known as Service or Assistance Dogs, it is not overstating it to say that these animals make a huge contribution to human society.

If asked to list what activities service dogs contribute to, most of us would probably identify police, military, search and rescue, and guidance and assistance for visually and audio impaired individuals. But there is so much more that service dogs are involved with including medical alerts, emotional support and fire investigation.

Dogs provide us with a huge diversity of services through attributes such as empathy, loyalty, bravery, audio and olfactory sensitivity, agility and endurance. Dogs want to, and are made to be with people and they like to please and feel needed – a bit like the rest of us, really. This makes them ideal for assistance roles like those fulfilled by hearing and guide dogs. It also explains why they are excellent emotional support for those dealing with depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, autism and similar.

Medical detection dogs2

Medical alert dogs ‘smell’ when something is not right, sensing low blood sugar levels in diabetes sufferers or when the person they care for is at risk of having an epileptic seizure. This is particularly useful for children, who are less able to manage their condition, especially at school. This sensitivity to changes in our body chemistry is being used see if dogs can be trained to detect cancers and practical trialling is underway within NHS breast cancer clinics.  Research is also underway to determine if dogs can detect prostate cancer, the 2nd most common cause of cancer death in the UK. The detection of the odour from volatile molecules given off by cancers, undetectable by people, especially in the early stages of a cancer’s development has the potential to allow much earlier detection, and hence medical intervention.

Dogs noses are well known for their detection of drugs, explosives and firearms, but probably the most unexpected detection service that police dogs perform is finding computer hard drives and other storage devices hidden separately from a suspect’s computer. Child protection and anti-terror activities benefit from this capability.

Search and rescue is a long established activity employing dogs in mountain environments and the UK often sends dog teams to disaster zones overseas, but there are also a large number of volunteer Lowland and Urban search and rescue units that work closely with the police and social services to find vulnerable and missing individuals. Another lesser known group are Fire Investigation dogs who are trained to identify a variety of ignitable substances to determine whether a fire has been started deliberately. Their keen sense of smell is more accurate and faster than technical alternatives, reducing the time required to investigate the scene of a fire. If nothing is found, investigation can focus on other source of ignition.

Dogs regularly make the ultimate sacrifice too. In the USA, six police dogs have died in the line of duty in 2016 already. In 2015, a total of 26 K9 officers as they are known, as were killed, mostly by gunfire. Thankfully the death of police dogs is rare in the UK, but the death of dogs serving with UK Armed Forces in roles of arms and bomb detection is not uncommon and there can be few who are not aware of the French police dog killed during recent events in Paris.

Such is the diversity of roles, pretty much any dog with the right temperament can be a service dog. A great new initiative that is spreading is to take dogs from rescue centres to train for a number of different service roles. Let’s hope this becomes routine and widespread.

The great majority of personal service dogs are made available via charities that select, sometimes breed, and educate dogs for specific roles. For some conditions and situations, the training must be tailored to the individual with which the dog is to be partners, which adds to the time and difficulty of preparing a dog to work with someone. There is a perpetual shortage of trained dogs and some businesses have been established to provide dogs to those able to pay. This is not jumping the queue, but allows those with less acute needs to access this type of support and helps take pressure off the charities providing dogs.

Beyond ‘official’ service dog roles, dogs provide support in a great many ways. Pets as Therapy (PATS), organise visits by calm, friendly family pet dogs and cats to care homes, hospitals, hospices, schools and prisons to allow residents to stroke and enjoy the presence of a friendly animal. In the USA, rescue dogs are helping the rehabilitation of prisoners as they need to care for and train the dogs in a complete way. A similar initiative has been running at Polmont Young Offenders Institute near Falkirk since 2011. The dogs visit the institute three times a week to receive socialisation and training from inmates, who themselves receive formal training and qualifications at the same time.

Rights of access is a big issue for those who depend on their canine partner for assistance. The Equality Act 2010 provides for people with disabilities to have the same right to services supplied by shops, banks, hotels, libraries, pubs, taxis and restaurants as everyone else. However, not all assistance dogs are formally recognised by overseeing bodies such as Assistance Dogs International and many conditions which benefit from canine assistance fall outside the Act. An assistance dog should be wearing a jacket to identify them as such and Assistance Dogs UK provide ‘IDs’ for bona fide assistance dogs. If you own premises that are open to the public, please make sure you allow assistance dogs in.

Something for the New Year?

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New Year Resolution with a difference

Are you looking for something special to adopt as a New Year Resolution? One that you will be able to stick with? How about helping your local dog rescue? They are more than likely to welcome you with open arms, and will be grateful for any support you can give. There are many ways that you can support dog or animal rescue centres. It is not just a matter of giving money, though that, of course, is very welcome. Often time is just as important a commodity.

We tend to think of rescues, or shelters are they are called in North America, as coming in one form – the ‘pound’ where dogs are kept in kennels with runs and there is lots of noisy barking. While there are many of these – and the barking is generally only where there is something interesting going on like a visitor, or dinner time – there are also what might be termed ‘virtual’ rescues where the dogs are in foster homes. This is particularly the case with the breed specific rescues, who like to foster dogs with homes experienced in the breed. Fostering is also cost effective as the rescue is not paying for buildings and infrastructure. The a further advantage of fostering is it keeps dogs in home environments so their transition into a new home is as smooth and stress free as possible, increasing the likelihood of successful adoption. It also helps the rescue assess the behaviour of the dog more closely so it can be placed with the right forever home. Often, fosterers spend quite a bit of time doing ‘remedial’ or top up training. The demand for foster homes is extremely high, so whether or not you are experienced with a particular breed, you could maRehoming peopleke a significant difference if you could offer this type of help.

Walking a dog kept in rescue kennels is a good alternative if fostering is too much of a commitment, you work long hours or your own dog(s) would not cope with having a ‘stranger’ come into their midst. It allows you to give some quality time to dogs who otherwise may have very limited one on one contact with anyone for many months. Boredom and lack of good quality stimulation is a real problem for dogs who end up in rescue long term, and it can make it difficult for them to readjust to home life. Walking, going in to play with them or doing some top up training is a great way to help a dog stay ‘positive’ and ready for a new home.

Home vetting is another time consuming activity that can keep a dog in rescue longer than necessary because of a shortage of volunteers. Many rescues check that a family who would like to give a dog a forever home is ready for the change it will make to home life by making a home visit. It is similar to checking that a home is toddler safe. More often than not, it involves advising on things that may have to be altered, if only initially, so that dog and people stay accident and incident free. It does require a bit of knowledge, but advice or if you prefer, training is usually given to prospective home checkers.

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If time is what you don’t have, then financial support is always needed. Regular giving can be done by sponsoring a particular dog. The amount typically requested is £5-10 a month. Because the sponsored dog will hopefully be rehomed, it is a commitment that is not endless and you can have the pleasure of seeing your ‘sponsoree’ going to a new home. You can then decide to transfer the sponsorship to another dog or discontinue, depending on what you feel you can manage.

Fund raising events are a regular thing for rescue charities – auctions, raffles, dog shows to name a few. When a dog has high vet bills, there are one-off fundraising events to pay specific bills. You can contribute items to these or perhaps encourage your place of work or business to provide regular financial support to a local rescue.

You don’t have to be hands on with the dogs to help a rescue or even live locally to a rescue that you would like to support. If you are computer competent, then you could help run the online shop or keep the website up-to-date. Everyone needs to be using social media to stay visible these days, so running the rescue’s Facebook or Pinterest page is another way to offer your support. A great many rescue charities are run by a tiny number of dedicated individuals. Why not make it your resolution for 2016 to contact an animal rescue to find out how you can help.

Making Christmas fun for everyone

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Your dog would like to have a happy Christmas too – here are some tips on how to make that happen

 Christmas and dogs - how to make sure it is a happy mixChristmas is fast approaching and will be upon us all to soon. As part of your preparations and planning, don’t forget to factor in your dog. The Christmas period is a time of changed routine, much coming and going of family and visitors and general mayhem. While your dog will certainly enjoy some aspects, there is also the potential for high levels of stress and upset. It is important to minimise these for your dog so everyone can have a lovely time and there are no emergency visits to the vet.

First of all, ensure your dog has a place to escape to away from overexcited children – or adults for that matter.  Do not move their bed to make space for the Christmas tree or for any other reason as you run the risk of them taking refuge behind the tree, where they might knock it over or  chew the light cable, with obvious results. If you really have to move their bed, do it  several weeks in advance so they have time to get use to the new position which should be in a quiet space that they can access easily.

During peak times of madness, pop your dog into their crate and close the door to separate them from small people high on excess sugar or just the buzz that Christmas generates. If your dog is not used to, and happy with a crate, do not suddenly introduce one a couple of days before Christmas as that will cause huge additional stress. Other sources of stress include unfamiliar items and noises such as balloons, indoor fireworks, party poppers and crackers, as well as a house full of new people.

Routine activities like walking and meal times should be kept as close to normal as possible as this will help minimise stress. A stressed dog is more likely to behave out of character, possibly growling or even nipping where they would never do so normally. Don’t blame the dog, they are coping with a lot of unusual activity and if they are used to being on their own for a significant proportion of the day, the presence of lots of people, with the accompanying noise, can be extremely unsettling. It really is kinder to put them into a quiet room in their own bed where they can relax. They are not missing out, they are having some down time. Keep them occupied with a treat filled puzzle toy. If you are visiting friends or family for a few days, it may be better to leave your dog with kennels or a home carer, if they are used to that, rather than take them with you. Book well in advance.

Christmas trees and dogsI keep mentioning stress, but what signs should you be alert for that indicate your dog is stressed? There are many, including yawning, panting, frequent licking of lips, wide staring eyes, ears pulled back, excessive grooming, chewing of paws, avoidance of eye contact, to name a few. Dressing the dog up is not a kind thing to do, even if they do look cute. Monitor dog child interactions, especially if the dog does not normally have much contact with children and vice versa. Do not set your dog up to fail by not supporting them during a challenging time of year.

Stress and excitement can also cause physical upset – vomiting or diarrhea. Try to avoid over-treating your dog ‘because it’s Christmas’ as this can have the same result. But so can inappropriate food such as too many rich left overs. There are now quite a few companies making fantastic hand-made dog treats that can be bought on line and from better pet shops which will be offering Christmas themed options. Chocolate is not a dog appropriate treat as it contains theobromine which is poisonous to dogs. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Anything containing grapes (raisins, sultanas, currents) such as Christmas pudding, mince pies, black bun, simnal cake likewise should not be fed to dogs. Avoid the chance of bins being raided for turkey carcases or other left overs by wrapping tightly and putting into an inaccessible bin outside.

Christmas doggie funTry to avoid putting unreasonable demands on your dog – edibles should not be left in their reach  such as chocolates under or on the tree. If the tail is at table height, don’t put candles, or delicate ornaments where they can be swept away by an enthusiasm of wagging. Don’t decorate your house in such a way that you dog cannot behave as normal. You can’t blame the dog if it all goes horribly wrong!

It goes without saying that you should never get a dog – puppy or rescue – at Christmas. If you want to make a new dog part of your Christmas, do the groundwork in advance, and then produce a photo as the ‘present’ or announce the intention and allow everyone to get involved in choosing who is to join the family after Christmas. It really is not appropriate to bring a new dog into your home at a time when there are so many other commitments. Do you really want to be housetraining alongside the demands that Christmas makes on your time?

Your dog is part of the family so naturally you want to involve them in the biggest family get-together of the year. A bit of forethought and preparation will make sure that it really is fun for everyone.

Do you have an older dog? – It’s time to review your routine

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Define ‘older’ dog, I hear you say. And ‘it depends’, is what I would rather unhelpfully reply! As we all know, larger breeds tend to age more rapidly, so an eight year old Great Dane is very senior whereas the same age of Jack Russell is just getting into its stride. Also working dogs such as gun dogs, search and rescue, or police dogs have a very active life and hence tend to ‘wear out’ at a younger age. Likewise, dogs that have had a hard life such as some rescues, who have not had a good diet  or lived rough can be physically older than their years would suggest. So maybe by older I actually mean aged.

Ok, so having established (hopefully) that older can be a physical state rather than a large number of years, what does it mean for dogs?  Well, just like us, their bodies wear out and what this blog aims to talk about is what we can do to reduce the impact of aging and give our dogs a longer active life, by which I mean an improved quality of life, not necessarily more years, though often the two go hand in hand (paw in paw?).

A good diet is an obvious starting point. There are loads of places to read about what you should feed your dog and it is not a debate I am qualified, or perhaps brave enough to enter. However, for an older dog you should review the amount of exercise they are taking and also the amount you are treating them. It is almost without exception the case that as dogs get older we get softer about the number of treats, and little extras they get – after all you’ve done the training and they know the rules, so it is Ok to break them now and then, and again. But, the adage ‘cruel to be kind’ has to be recognised here. Being overweight puts strain on a dog’s heart and joints and excessively rich food or those high in salt – cheese, crisps, bacon – which sometimes get put in the food bowl or passed from the couch, are a challenge to a dog’s digestive system, whatever their age. So, keep the weight off them, even if ‘eating is their only pleasure’, and you will help slow the onset of arthritis and heart disease.

Many conditions develop slowly and may only become obvious once they are quite well advanced. Hence, getting a blood test annually to check on kidney and liver function is a good investment as if these are caught early, remedial action can be taken which will limit visits to the vet in the long term.

Don’t accept the signs of aging as inevitable. Cataracts may be an indication of diabetes so get it checked out. Now I am not an advocate of running to the vet at the first sign of anything unusual, but conditions do more readily develop in older dogs, so we have to be more alert.

And so to arthritis and joint issues. Stiffness after a walk, difficulty standing after being asleep, hesitation before getting into the back of the car or when jumping out, and when tackling steps and stairs are all indications that there is pain associated with these actions. Limping is an extreme version of this, not the first sign. You can avoid exacerbating these conditions and slow their onset through a few easy actions.
In colder weather, use a coat, especially on fine furred dogs. It’s not ‘sissy’, it is sensible to keep your dog warm and dry. If they don’t like walking in them, dry them as much as you can and put a jacket on them in the car for the journey home, to avoid them cooling rapidly after lots of activity. Help them into the back of the car – a hand under the bum to aid the jump, lift them in, use a towel as a sling, or use a ramp. As you get older you are not so much of an athlete, so don’t expect your middle aged dog to be.

Talking about being in the car – review what your dog is lying on, both from a comfort point of view and because being rocked about in the back of a car is tiring as the dog tries to brace himself against the motion. Dogs can’t hang on and a flat car boot gives no support. Options include reducing the size of space they are in by using a dog crate or blocking off part of the boot. Alternatively, use a soft bed that they can sink into or a bed with surrounding sides that cradles them. There is no point in arriving for a walk with a dog that is already exhausted from the journey getting there.

Reduce the length of walks, but increase the frequency to maintain fitness levels and muscle tone. This helps keep joints mobile and reduces the chance of inflammation and the associated pain, developing during the walk. If your dog does not want to walk, don’t make it. It is meant to be their time after all. If they would rather sit next to you on a park bench and watch the world go by or just potter about sniffing whose been around, then that is fine. However, some exercise must be maintained to promote good bowel and bladder function. Work out what exercise they do enjoy and stick with that.

Panting can be a sign of heart condition, and not a lack of fitness, as insufficient oxygen is getting round their system, as can restlessness and coughing, and a longer recovery time after walks. It is not only older dogs that can have heart disease so have them checked out get to the bottom of things and see what options there are for alleviating the discomfort.

Swimming is excellent cardiovascular exercise and avoids the percussive loading of joints that occurs during walking and running. But avoid promoting activity that results in a bouncing action through shallows as this is a loaded exercise that puts more strain on joints. The water must be deep enough to take most or all of their weight. In the winter, keep them swimming  by using a hydrotherapy pool which is warm to get into and to come out of. If available, arrange for a massage and try to learn massage techniques yourself. After all, you feel great after a spa day – it is just the same for your dog. Massage eases out tension that builds up through being in awkward positions or through compensating for discomfort. It relaxes muscles that have been held continuously in tension when trying to avoid pain or behave ‘as normal’, as your dog will try to do. If you have concerns about the skeletal health of your dog, ask your vet for a referral to a veterinary physiotherapist. They are specialists and many are also human physios who you would be quite happy to visit for your own needs, so why not consult one for your dog.

And inevitably we come to sleeping – we are the Big Dog Bed Company after all. Don’t expect your old dog to climb the stairs to sleep next to your bed. This is one reason for not letting your dog sleep in your room from the outset as he/she will certainly not understand if you ban them from the bedroom in later life. Both climbing and descending stairs is a challenging action for dogs and puts immense strain on joints.

Beds should be big enough for your dog to lie in any position they choose. A dog who is a bit wobbly on their legs can be nervous of a soft or deep bed as they don’t feel secure and fear falling, so consider something firmer like a foam cushion that incorporates memory foam or another type comfort layer. Don’t expect an older dog to step up onto a bed or over a bolster edge. Place the bed in a quiet, draft free location away from the bustle of the house. Put your face at floor level to detect draughts which may be present low down. Avoid competition for bed space by making all beds big enough for all dogs, so that your terrier does not hog the biggest bed.

Slippery floors such as wood, lino, tiles or laminate are challenging for dogs that are unsteady on their feet. We like them because they are easy to keep clean, especially when you have dogs, but consider putting runners down on key routes your dog takes so they can move about with confidence. Slippery floors create anxiety which leads to tension and muscle spasms and pain. An elevated food and water bowl can help even small dogs and are a must for tall dogs from the outset.
Probably most important of all, take time to be with your older dog. If you have multiple dogs, don’t just expect them to keep up with the youngsters, or be left behind. Give them time alone with you. Your oldest dog probably had you to themselves at one time. Give them that opportunity on a regular basis away from the pressure and hassle of the younger members of the family – human and four legged. You owe them patience and understanding for all that they have brought to you during their younger years and will continue to do in their wonderful smelly, slobbery, wobbly way, just a bit more slowly than they used to.

Caring for an Older Dog – is it time to review your routine?

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The initial idea for this blog was that it would look at issues of choosing appropriate beds for older dogs, those with joint issues and arthritis. After all, that is what we do – try to provide the most appropriate sleeping environment for all our doggy clients. However, having recently seen how the oldest dog in families with multiple dogs can get side-lined in the everyday mayhem that is normal life, I have wandered off target to look more broadly at the care of older dogs. Not in a clinical sense, of course because I have no veterinary training, but more as a request to look more intensely at your older dog and ask, is he/she in as good a place as they can be and should I be doing things differently now?

Fruin aged 13Old age creeps up on us and on our dogs too. For a long time we still see the puppy and it is often not unless illness hits that we truly recognise and acknowledge that they are getting older. Then many of the changes in them tend to be dismissed as, well, they are getting on a bit. But we really should stop and look at how we are interacting with our dog, how they are responding to other dogs and life in general. If there have been changes in their behaviour, it is not old age per se that is causing them, but rather conditions that often come with old age – heart problems, arthritis, diabetes, and a reduction in the effectiveness of key organs like the liver and kidneys. Because these things often occur gradually, we fail to detect that there are issues until they have become quite severe.

So without wanting to suggest you become paranoid about your dog’s health, you might want to carry out a regular review of the basic signs of dog health – energy levels, appetite, water consumption, quality and frequency of weeing and emptying of bowels, brightness of eye, teeth and gum colour, condition of ears. If you do these from an early age, not only will your dog be easier for a vet to examine, but you will pick up problems earlier which will improve the potential for a good outcome and save you money in vet bills. This applies equally to young and older dogs.

Unfortunately, many of the symptoms of a broad range of conditions are similar, so even the professionals can find it difficult to track the source of a problem immediately. If you detect change, monitor for a couple of days, unless the symptoms are acute, of course, and note down in writing what you observe. That way, if you do end up going to the vet, you have both a record of the progression of the condition and also an aide memoire, enabling you to recall all the symptoms, not just those that come to mind in the moderately stressed environment of a vet consulting room. This will help with diagnosis. Also, don’t throw away your notes. Keep for future reference as there may be a long term pattern that emerges when you refer back so them a few weeks or months later. You might want to consider keeping a doggy diary which keeps everything in the same place and avoids you loosing scraps of paper. You can spare 5 minutes a day, no matter how busy you are. There are even Apps you can use, so you can make notes when out on the dog walk.

OK, so I have said nothing about specific things to think about in relation to caring for an older dog, but hopefully got you started and that will come in the next post.

What do you think needs to be considered with older dogs?


Opening words – how we got here….

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Well, here we go into the mad world of blogging. I’m not sure I have enough to say, or at least enough that is worth saying, but we’ll see.

It is amazing where things take you. This whole dog bed business (or is it madness?) and hence this blog is because we couldn’t get a decent dog bed for Ludvic. A decent bed being one that the contents didn’t wander about, ending up in a doughnut round the edge of the bed with the dog lying on nothing more than the cover fabric in the middle. So many dog beds are just not fit for purpose.

The second criteria for a decent bed was size – how come there were no big beds around? Anything larger than a Labrador and tough – no bed suitable for you. Then we went to Crufts and at the recommendation of a friend with deerhounds, found Wilma Beds. They weren’t cheap, but the quality was obvious and at the time their extra large was quite the biggest bed on the market.

Ludvic loved his Wilma Bed and it was absolutely great –  well filled, channelled to stop that filling moving about, and huge.

 Ludvic enjoying his Wilma bed

However, being a  shaggy mutt, or more politely, a mid to long haired  German Shepherd, if he got wet, he was wet for hours even after having been thoroughly dried with a towel.  There is only so long you can insist your furry friend lies on a piece of vet bed while he dries and the pained look on his face often led to him being allowed onto his proper bed far too soon. The result was the bed got soaked, so bed and dog took even longer to dry. Net result, smelly bed and smelly dog.

If we  were having problems finding decent beds then others must also be having similar difficulties, so what did we do? Started making them ourselves! Obvious isn’t it? Not!

It took a while to get good materials and manufacturing  in place, and get the beds and cover fabrics thoroughly tested, so it hasn’t been a fast process. But that is how we got here. All we need to do now is spread the word and get decent dog beds to be the norm, rather than the exception. You need a good nights sleep to function properly, so doesn’t your pooch deserve to have a decent bed too?

Ok, so that is how we got here. Have you found yourself doing something out of the ordinary for rather bizarre reasons? if so, why not tell us about it?