Wordless Wednesday 11: Dogs of the Dominican Republic

Wordless Wednesday: Dominican Republic Edition

Last week, the Husband and I joined some friends for a week on the  Samaná peninsula in the Dominican Republic for some sun, sand, and a beautiful wedding ceremony.

On Saturday, a few of us went on the “Walk the Plank” zip line excursion, which involved 12 different zip lines totalling over 5,000 feet long – it was ridiculously fun!  If you’re ever in the neighbourhood, don’t pass it up.

After the zip-lining, and swimming beneath a waterfall, we stopped at a beach for some fresh beverages

REALLY fresh beverages

And during our break, we had some company.

And it wasn’t just canine company.

Sure made me realise the week was practically over and I was about ready to come home to our own furballs.

Oh, and the beach was pretty nice too.

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A Monster and a Teddy Bear

I will be the first to admit our dogs have more toys than they need.

The least intense game of tug-of-war ever.

And Moses isn’t one of those “toy-destroyers”, either.

They get dirty, mangled, chewed up, de-stuffed, but are still in suitable “play condition”, and we’ve never thrown one out.

Moses the day we got him - this toy is still in commission.

Which means we just accumulate more dog toys over time.

So, when we adopted Alma, of course we bought a couple more.

Despite our growing collection, Moses has always had one toy in particular he favours.

Moses' favourite toy is NOT the elephant.

Moses’ favourite toy is not even a dog toy, but a teddy bear he adopted early on as his own.  And we consented.

Over the years, the teddy bear has been de-stuffed, lost its head, survived a trip or two through the washing machine, yet it remains his favourite.

We’ve always rotated the rest of the toys, but the teddy bear is perpetually out.

Moses and his teddy bear

And it’s not that he even really plays with his teddy bear.  He does what you see above – and that’s pretty much it.

And yes, it’s stinkin’ adorable.

Alma, on the other hand, doesn’t give the teddy bear the time of day.

But she has also adopted a favourite.

Alma and her monster

Alma’s prized toy is her monster – one of the ones we bought the weekend we adopted her.  It’s actually very similar in a lot of ways to the teddy bear, except that she can pounce on it, toss it around, and make it squeak.

And I knew it was her favourite when I snapped this:

Alma napping with her monster.

And just like Alma with the teddy bear, Moses doesn’t really show any interest in the monster.

Though, I am happy to report that while each dog seems to have a favourite, neither gets bent out of shape if the other shows an interest.

So now a question for you:  Do your pets have any favoured toys?

The teddy bear and the monster - just waiting to be played with. Like a crusty, drooly version of Toy Story.

Preparing Your Dog for Surgery

I wouldn’t consider myself terribly lucky to have experience in this topic.

It’s an unfortunate fact that Moses has undergone two major procedures: one for bloat and one for his spinal cyst.

Take into account his neuter, and the big guy has been under the knife three times.

Moses, released from the vet after bloat in October 2009

But if I can put together some pieces of advice for others, I suppose that could be the silver lining.

First, I should note there are two kinds of pet surgeries, and we’ve experienced both:

1.  The expected.

2.  The unexpected.

Granted, not a lot of preparing can be done for the second category.

The unexpected for us was bloat, but it could be an accident, porcupine encounter, nearly anything – that’s why it’s “unexpected”.

But, as any good Girl Guide can tell you, there is a way to be as prepared as possible for those sorts of situations, including:

– knowing where the nearest 24 hour vet is located

– having a pet first aid kit on hand

– consider taking a course in pet first aid (I’ve taken one, and would highly recommend it)

– having a pet insurance policy or being otherwise financially prepared for surprise vet bills

– ensure your dog is comfortable being handled by strangers

– putting your dog on a quality diet to keep them as healthy as possible overall

– training with your dog (mastering skills such as recall, heeling, and stop can be potentially life-saving)

On the flip side, the “expected” category are the times when your dog is going into the vet and you have at least some advance notice, such as a spay or neuter, or diagnostic work (CT Scan, for example), or major surgery (like Moses’ dorsal laminectomy to remove the cyst).

And in addition to the precautions noted above that also apply, there are definitely some further words of advice I’d like to pass on.

1.  Prepare your household

Our Moses-specific addition

Our vet was very straightforward with us: when we brought Moses home from his surgery, he wouldn’t be able to walk.  And even as he learned and got more mobile over time, stairs would be a challenge.  To this day, almost a full 16 weeks after the surgery, we’re still not having Moses take a tonne of stairs.

Luckily, the Husband has some mad construction skillz (yes, with a ‘z’, that’s how you know they’re “mad”), and was able to outfit our back yard with the ramp before the surgery.  We purchased the black rubber floor mats to help provide grip, which we also placed throughout the house to give Moses some stability on our tile floors.

The ramp proved to be invaluable as we found ourselves offering Moses considerable support in and out of the house during the first couple of weeks, and it’s been very easy for him to use during recovery.

2.  Get them groomed

We didn’t do this and I really wish we had.

Like I said, Moses was immobile when he was out of surgery.  And I don’t just mean unable to stand up – the first day was a struggle for him to even lift his head.

This limited mobility made for a lot of laying around, which, for a long-haired dog, can lead to matting.  I brushed Moses on alternating sides for over an hour each day during the first week after his cyst was removed to combat this and was barely able to stay on top of it.  It would have been off to a much better start if we had taken him into a groomer before he went in for the procedure.

Besides, if your dog is prescribed some post-op downtime in the house after an operation of any kind, it would probably be nice to have them smelling fresh.

3.  Prepare yourself

Serious procedures are stressful, worrisome and emotionally taxing over all.

Trust me.  I know.

So do what you can to divide responsibilities, get some sleep, and just find the time to cope in the way that works best for you.

For example, I had the day off we took Moses in for his CT Scan during the diagnostic process and it was the worst decision I could have made, since I was mostly left with my thoughts all day and did nothing but fret.  So the day he was in for his actual surgery, I went to work like usual, kept busy and survived the day.

It also helps if you talk through some of the potential out-comes and “what-ifs” with the family, so perhaps some tough decisions don’t cause tension and take everyone by surprise.  Like writing your own will, there are certain topics no one wants to discuss, but it’s still the responsible thing to do.

4.  Ask the vet as many questions as possible and follow their instructions

Maybe it’s just me, but the more informed I am, the more secure I feel in my situation and my decisions.  So I asked the vet some questions, did some reading on my own, and then came back with follow up questions.

Post-op care also comes with lots of information and instruction. When it has come to Moses’ recovery, we’ve followed the vet’s instructions to the letter and I must say, so far it’s turned out very well!  Sure, it was hard not to walk him for 8 weeks, and it was even harder to walk him for only 5 minutes when we were finally able.  But they don’t just make that stuff up for the fun of it.  It’s important not to push it too far.

On the other hand, it’s as equally important not to go too easy on them.

Remember that cart I mentioned that the Husband was going to build to help support Moses and aid in walking?  A prototype was made, but a functional cart never came to be and Moses walked on his own after 2 weeks out of both will and necessity.

I think a major reason why we didn’t pursue the cart building with more gusto is because a certain anecdote our vet told really stuck with us:  she mentioned how several small dogs become reliant on the carts and their use can come to mean the dog never walks without it again.  Not only did we not want that for Moses, with a dog his size, such a fate would be near impossible to accommodate long-term.

Instead, the Husband retro-fitted a seatbelt harness so that we could help him ourselves.  It was motivation for all of us to get him up at at ’em again as soon as possible.

Moses stands, with moral support only, for the first time after cyst removal (August 2011)

5.  Consider dieting (the dog, not you)

Of course, you should always ensure your dog is a healthy weight and not carrying too much extra around the mid-section (for the large breeds, too many extra pounds can literally shave years off their lifespans).  And if post-op recovery means reduced mobility and a less intense exercise regime, it makes sense to reason that your dog will therefore be burning fewer calories in a day.  Therefore, a temporary diet cut-back can prevent them from putting on some extra pounds in the meantime.  Depending on what health issues you may be encountering with your pup, excess weight can mean extra strain on their joints, and agonize any existing issues or lengthen the recovery process.

6.  Get creative

Yes, going through a major surgery with your pet is sad, stressful and expensive.  Having a bored dog going stir-crazy in the house afterwards can be additionally frustrating.  But there are lots of ways to make the best of it by working on old or new tricks and in-house games with your dog.  Hide and seek or remedial tracking exercises with toys in the house are a great way to keep them calm but still have fun and get their mind working. Give them a task by practising patience in the form of sit-stays and down-stays.

For Moses, motivating him to walk and regaining dexterity in his front legs was our focus, so we had him “high-five” a lot for food, tickle his feet so he’d move them, and would entice him with his favourite treats and practice short-distance recall to get him moving around.

7.   Be prepared for some odd behaviour

Just like people, when pets are sick or unwell, they can behave in ways contrary to their normal selves.

We saw this first hand with Moses.  He’s usually pretty laid back and tolerant, but while his condition was progressing, and while he was just gaining his mobility back, he became unusually sensitive to those around him – particularly other dogs.  By this, I mean he became clearly uncomfortable if dogs around him were getting too excited or rambunctious, likely because high-energy play could result in him getting knocked over or hurt.  So, in what was very uncommon for Moses, he kind of became the “Fun Police” for a little while there, scolding other dogs who were threatening excitement.  He also occasionally barked at passing dogs and people as we started introducing walks again – something we’d not previously seen from him, but potentially a result of cabin fever (which is my official guess based on the fact that these behaviours have since ceased, and he’s very much his “old self” once again).

There’s no real way to predict how your dog’s behaviour could possibly change, but be prepared that it could happen and don’t worry too much if you notice a few things.   If you keep to your normal interactions and training routine, and handle behaviour anomalies as you usually would (and don’t hesitate to ask for professional support or advice), you should notice that they’ll work themselves out for the most part as your dog’s health and routine also go back to normal.

8.  Stay optimistic

This can be tough.  Especially if your dog comes home a depressing sight: shaved, immobile, drugged up, unresponsive.  And it doesn’t make you a terrible person to wonder at least once “did we make a mistake going through with it?”  I know it was either the first or second night – when Moses would sadly sigh, and was unable to get up to even use the bathroom – that very thought crossed my mind, with concerns about recovery, long-term prognosis, cost, and quality of life weighing heavily.  But if you have come to the decision that going through the surgery in the first instance was in your dog’s best interest, trust your decision-making and stay positive about the days to come.

I can say for certain, for us, it was entirely worth it.

Worth it.

Of course, a lot of this advice stems from my own personal experiences, so it could be irrelevant or directly contrary to other experiences out there.

Though, at the end of it all, I just hope no one has to actually put any of this advice to use.

Single (Dog) Parenting

Alma has been a part of our family for about two and a half weeks now.

Moses and Alma

And out of the last 18 days, I don’t remember the last time I didn’t walk the dogs.

I mean, I know there have been at least two instances, but I can’t really pin-point them or remember how I made use of that time otherwise.

You see, work has taken the Husband out of town Monday through Friday at increasing frequencies over the passing months.

In the normal course, the Husband and I have an alternating dog walking schedule.  Variances to that schedule are liberally made based on work schedules, social commitments, and general will, but, suffice it to say, the dog responsibilities are typically pretty evenly distributed.

And even before we adopted Alma and the Husband was taken out of town during the week, it wasn’t a big deal.  Moses is a breeze to take care of and had pretty minimal daily exercise requirements as he continues to recover from his surgery in July.

But now Alma is added to the equation.

Moses and Alma have different exercise, training, and attention requirements to meet.  While Moses is up to 40-45 minute daily walks now, Alma needs a solid hour, together with training exercises and skill practice, as we build up patience, focus, trust, and introduce verbal signals and their meanings.

And even though the time requirements can still be met by taking them out together, I do want to walk them separately occasionally, to give them one-on-one attention, mix up the routine, and attempt to prevent potential separation anxiety between the two.

This has added up to a lot of logged dog walking time for me lately, which, on the whole, I’m not complaining about.  I like walking the dogs and spending time focussed on them.  And even though the biting winter winds have arrived in Calgary and didn’t even have the courtesy to bring the snow with them, it’s still nice to have a reason to get outside for 60-90 minutes each day.

But it’s also hard.

It’s hard to muster up the energy after a long work day – every work day.

It’s hard to walk them separately as often as I’d like, because it takes so much longer.

And it’s harder to not get frustrated.  Because when the Husband is home, I can take the night off if my head’s just not in it.

Don’t get me wrong, for a dog with little to no leash experience, Alma’s walk is excellent.  But she’s still learning and figuring out the expectations.  And she’s still known to occasionally throw all 92 pounds of her enthusiasm behind greeting a passing dog or person, attempting to chase one of the neighbourhood rabbits that plague Calgary suburbs, or getting out of the way of a loud truck that has spooked her.   All of which is fine if I see it coming, too, and can appropriately and quickly respond, but those terrorists  bunnies can be sneaky little bastards.

The real ruler of the 'burbs.

Basically what I’m getting at is that I have a whole new appreciation for the single-dog-parents out there.  Whether you’re actually a single dog owner, or just the only one in the household who takes on the dog-related responsibilities, I have a whole new respect for your day-to-day commitments.

And I haven’t even been at it a full month! And I get weekend support!

So I must ask: what is your secret?  Dog walkers?  Caffeine?  Wine?

Kisses (Not the Chocolate Kind)

I’ve never been one to think that dogs who give “kisses” are overly adorable or charming.

I mean, I suppose if you’ve got it solely attached to a verbal signal, fine, and I do know lots of people find it cute and/or hilarious, but I’m just not one of them.

Maybe it’s because my dog is… errr… I mean, my dogs are (still getting used to that!) are Newfoundlands.  Which means Moses can be one panting, drooly mess, and I’ve never had a hint of desire to teach him to “give kisses”.

Can you blame me?

But you may remember that, in my brief recap of Alma’s first week home, I mentioned she had a few little things we needed to work on with her.

One of the unique little personality traits of Alma’s that we noticed right away is that she’ll lick you.

A lot.

To her credit, Alma’s not nearly as drooly as Moses – not even close – but it’s excessive and I’m not a fan.  And I can only imagine what guests will think if they come over and our adorable little Newf won’t stop assaulting them with her face – regardless of how friendly she may be.

Assaulting? Who? Alma? (Also - notice the kitten photo-bomb to the right)

Sure, to some an occasional “puppy kiss” now and then is endearing.  But when I say Alma’s licking is excessive, it is.  It’s not just when you get home from work – it’s every time she comes to see you.  (In the course of proof-reading this post before hitting ‘Publish’ – about 15 minutes – she’s racked up four counts of Attempted Licking in the First Degree.) And she’ll go for your hands, your pants, your foot, your face, your elbow… whatever she can reach.  It sure makes her one little weirdo.

Interestingly enough, she doesn’t really lick Moses at all.  But it would be no surprise to learn her dog manners are better honed than her people ones.

Now, we’ve got our plan to curb the excessive licking all laid out.

Are you ready for it?

It’s very high-tech and complicated.

We’re going to… ignore it.

And by ignore, I mean ignore.  Alma’s licking will get no reaction – not a smile, not a word.  Not even eye contact.  In fact, we may even turn away from her, to associate it with a negative consequence.

Then, the times when she approaches us calmly and politely and doesn’t try to lick us, she will be met with praise and affection and all good things.

I’ve already noticed the amount of times she approaches without licking me is increasing (albeit slowly), so we’ll just keep up the ignoring and be as consistent in our strategy as possible.  Admittedly, the ignore technique can prove to be challenging, especially when the initial knee-jerk reaction can be to laugh, say “eww”, or say “no!”  But I’ll work on it.

The Licker

But encountering this behaviour has made me very curious about its causes. So I did some reading.

Licking is a natural behaviour for dogs.  Mothers lick their newborn pups to stimulate them.  Young puppies lick their mothers to prompt her to regurgitate food for them (not just for birds – who knew?!).

But part of me is pretty sure (hoping?) Alma’s not trying to get me to throw up some dinner.

A couple of websites say dogs lick people because they like the salty taste of skin.  I’m also going to throw this theory out in our case because Alma will also lick your pants or shirt sleeves.  Or the laptop.  I’m also ruling out that it’s part of grooming behaviour.

Ever-trusty Wikipedia’s brief page on dog behaviour suggests licking can also be a friendly greeting or a bonding technique, and another random website that Google turned up suggests it can be a gesture of appeasement, goodwill, deference, or an attempt to get attention from people.

Both “dog gurus” Victoria Stilwell and Cesar Millan address this question on their websites.

Stilwell, answering a question about a situation that sounds very similar to our own, says the licking provides comfort and pleasure to the dog, and can relieve stress.  And she similarly recommends ignoring it.

Millan, answering a question that seems a little more excessive than ours (the dog licks furniture too), classifies it as a sign of anxiety (once medical reasons are ruled out – which some other online sources also discuss, but I will also rule out in our case), under-exercise/stimulation, as well as a behaviour that can increase when it receives a positive reaction from the humans.  He also hints at ignoring the behaviour, or redirecting with another activity.

While not really finding any firm answers behind the “why”, I thought of checking into licking as a calming signal, since I have noticed that the times Alma does approach without licking us, she sometimes licks her own lips and nose.  But my hunch hasn’t turned out to be validating, since licking others isn’t included in any of the lists of calming signals out there.  Still, I’m tempted to chalk it up to a sort of social awkwardness around people.

Moses, mid-calming signal

And, interesting fact: while looking up this subject, I read somewhere that black dogs use licking as a calming signal more often than lighter-coloured dogs because their facial expressions are often harder to read.  It doesn’t seem to be the case for Moses (he often yawns, as you know – which is also a clear signal for a dark coloured dog), but definitely is for Alma.

Moses & Alma

Basically, though, I’m still not exactly sure why she does it (let me know if you have any thoughts/theories/suggestions), but it’s one of Alma’s quirks that she likely once learned got her a positive reaction from people.

So we’ll see what we can do about decreasing her weirdo-factor by not encouraging the licking.

Rescue Me Week: Bubblegum

Today, I am participating in Rescue Me Week, generously organized by Mayzie’s Dog Blog.

The purpose of Rescue Me Week is to feature an adoptable pet in need of a home.  At the end of the week, 5 participants will be drawn to receive a $100 donation to a rescue organization of his/her choice.

For Rescue Me Week, I am going to write about Bubblegum.

This is Bubblegum. (Photo: Eye Catching Moments Photography, http://www.eyecatchingmoments.com)

Bubblegum is currently up for adoption through Alberta Animal Rescue Crew Society (click for her ad on their website), and has been up for adoption through AARCS for over a year now.

Bubblegum out on a hike

Bubblegum is about two and a half years old. I’ve heard her described as a Shepherd-cross and a Bernese Mountain Dog-cross, so I suppose the jury’s still out on that one.

Bubblegum’s original owners made some “training mistakes” which lead to misuse of a prong collar and Bubblegum learning to use her teeth to get out of unpleasant situations.  The owners, now afraid of their bitey dog, surrendered her to AARCS.

But Bubblegum’s story doesn’t end there.

Bubblegum is basically the resident dog at BowDog Canine Specialists here in Calgary, spending lots of time with the owners, staff, and other dogs enjoying the facilities.

Playtime at BowDog

Personally, I have had the opportunity to meet and interact with Bubblegum on a handful of occasions, and I must say, after the amount of work her dedicated foster family(ies) have put in, I seriously did not have a clue about her bitey past until I looked up her history for this post on the AARCS website and Facebook page.

Bubblegum is a sweet dog; in my experiences with her, I’ve found her to be pretty great with both people and other dogs.  And I know she’s had her hand (paw?) in helping to train new BowDog staff members in the ways of dog walking.

What do you mean you're "tired"?

Bubblegum is housetrained, and would benefit from being adopted by a household with another energetic dog.  She doesn’t have a lot of experience with small children, and even though her limited interactions have gone very well, she would best suit a home without any.  She also has experience with cats, and although she may be curious about them, it is reportedly relatively easy to re-focus her should she be tempted to chase.

However, Bubblegum is still not a dog for first-time owners.  She has a lot of energy to burn, and will require lots of mental and physical stimulation.  She responds well to training, and will need committed owners who can earn her trust, build her confidence, and help her improve her manners.  Due to her history, Bubblegum can have a little bit of leash reactivity, and can sometimes find herself getting overexcited and a little rough when playing with other dogs.  Anyone considering adopting Bubblegum will need to be prepared to do some dedicated training with her – in fact, Bubblegum comes with training classes for her and her new family, paid for by AARCS and BowDog!

The bottom line: Bubblegum is still highly adoptable, and the “issues” noted aren’t anything that can’t be worked through with the right family and the right amount of knowledge, dedication, and the awesome support system BowDog and AARCS provide.

Not to mention, she’s a beautiful dog!  When I asked Hailey, owner of BowDog and fellow co-founder of Actions Speak Louder (Calgary), if there was anything specific I should mention about Bubblegum, she replied “she’s gorgeous, people always gravitate towards her”.

She’s got no shortage of personality, either!

Bubblegum!

It would be so great see Bubblegum adopted by the right family – I’m sure her wait will be worth it.

If you think you, or someone you know, might be able to give Bubblegum the home she needs, fill out an adoption application on the AARCS website or arrange a time to meet her by contacting BowDog.

I would like to thank Mayzie’s Dog Blog for coming up with the excellent idea of Rescue Me Week – what a wonderful way to pay tribute to a loved one and also help some pets in need.  When I first read about the idea, I instantly knew I would be writing about Bubblegum.  In the event I am one of the lucky five drawn for a $100 donation, I would like my donation to go to the group responsible for Bubblegum’s care:  Alberta Animal Rescue Crew Society.

Alma’s First Week

Alma has now officially been part of our household for a full week!

Alma

When the Husband and I decided to adopt a young adult dog instead of getting a puppy from a breeder, we knew there would be lots of benefits and drawbacks.

For the benefits, well, we’d get to skip all of the ‘typical’ puppy frustrations: middle of the night bathroom breaks, house training, nipping, chewing, and what I like to call general “Puppy A.D.D.” when training starts out.  We might miss out on the short – but very cute – puppy phase, but we also forego the aforementioned.  And it’s not like Moses was a terribly difficult puppy, but it’s near impossible to guarantee a Moses 2.0 no matter where we’d get a puppy.

On the other hand, adopting an adult dog has its risks.  You’ve missed some of the formative years of the dog’s life, and by the time they are around two years old, the dog’s habits, manners, and temperament can be well-established.  This is really both good and bad, because while you know what to expect, you may also have some challenges ahead.

This was a reality we accepted and prepared ourselves for.

I mean, I’ve met lots of amazing, friendly, well and easily trained rescue dogs.  But I’ve also heard and witnessed stories of dogs with serious histories to work though: obsessions, reactivities, even aggressions.

Discussions with Alma’s foster mom before we picked her up hinted at a bit of shyness or insecurity around people (which would be reasonable) and food aggression (also understandable, despite whether or not it’s acceptable).

So, given Alma’s history of neglect and unwant, we weren’t quite sure to expect.  How would she interact with us? How would she and Moses get along? And the cats? How would she adjust to life inside the house?  She’d never been walked before – how challenging would that be?

Well, it turns out, Alma’s transition has been near seamless!

Sure, we may have a couple of things to work through with her (which I will write about on another day), but it’s nothing we can’t overcome and she’s a fast and willing learner.

Alma & Moses

Alma and Moses are two peas in a pod.  We actually could not have asked that the two of them get along any better.  In fact, she seems to almost breathe new life in Moses while he’s still on the road to recovery.

She’s also very respectful of the cats and the kitten has even permitted her a couple of sniffs.

And around people?

Well, I continually find myself baffled that Alma was surrendered in the first place – she is such a sweetheart.  She’s very affectionate and, like a typical Newf, wants nothing more than to hang out where we are.  (Which makes thinking of her former life that much more sad and angering, really.)

A new walking buddy

In short, Alma’s first week has been great!

Sure, there are risks adding a second dog to any family – no matter where that dog comes from – but for us, it has only been a week and it has already been completely worth it.

A Soapbox First

Holy!  My first guest post!

That’s right, today I’m filling in over at the great blog Rescued Insanity.

I would like to thank Kristine for asking me to guest blog while she takes a well-deserved break.  It really is an honour.  And just goes to show her dedication as a blogger, as some of us out there (*ahem* yours truly) just let their blogs wane and gather dust when they are busy or away.

In any event, I did my best to include all of the key ingredients you typically find in a Rescued Insanity post: good writing; interest; humour; education; food for thought (literally, or not).

As I told Kristine, I tried my best not to drag her good name through the mud.  And I must say, the other guest bloggers that have been revealed to date have really set the bar high.

You can decide how well I kept up on those expectations.

Click here to check out Rescued Insanity.

Moses & Alma in Montana