Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Nuts and Bolts: Chew Toys

Dogs need to chew.

Our foster mutts, being mainly adolescent puppies and young adult dogs, especially need to chew. Kongs are and will always be my #1 favorite dog toy, but they don't satisfy the need to gnaw. So I have spent many months experimenting with chew toys, because that arsenal of rawhides and fake bones is all that keeps our furniture (sorta) safe.

But chew toys are expensive, and not all of them are safe, and some aren't really "chew toys" at all, depending on the vigor and determination with which your mutt destroys things. And so we have this post.

Not Chew Toys: Ropes, tennis balls, soft rubber squeaky toys. All these toys can be great fun for dogs, but you should always supervise a mutt who has them, because they're easily torn apart (yes, even the tennis balls -- I've met dogs at the park who could shuck the green coating off a tennis ball faster than I could peel a banana, and then split the ball inside with one precise chomp, creating not one but three spiffy little choking hazards). Rope toys in particular seem to get shredded into dental floss really quickly in my house... and then whoever did the shredding tries to eat them, potentially resulting in some very expensive vet bills.

Also not chew toys: pig ears and dried jerky treats. They're fine treats (within reason -- pig ears have a lot of calories!), but they just don't last long enough to be worth the name. Tendons are borderline, but I've never had one last longer than a minute and a half so I don't think those are really chew toys either.

Chew Toys: Everything else in this post.

As a blanket statement, given all the concerns about the safety of imported pet foods and treats (which, as of this writing, have recently flared up again with respect to chicken jerky treats from China), I would personally look for toys made in the U.S. or Canada (and, where relevant, from animals raised in the U.S. or Canada) and avoid anything made in China.

Antlers: A relatively recent arrival on the chew toy scene, these are deer and elk antlers sawn into standard lengths. Most of the dogs I've given them to have been intrigued by the antlers but not hugely possessive of them, so I'd consider them medium-value toys on average. I stopped providing antlers after hearing one too many horror stories about dogs cracking teeth on them; they are very hard, and probably ill-advised for a vigorous chewer who likes to really crack down on her teeth. But for a less intense chewer I think they'd be fine. They last a long, long time.

Cheese Chews: Rock-hard plugs of yak milk preserved via traditional methods using salt and lime juice, these are sold as "Himalayan Chews" or "Churpi Chews." The label claims that these are cheeses traditionally eaten by the people of the Himalayas, which leads me to believe these people must have teeth made out of diamonds and kryptonite, because these suckers are hard.
The cheese softens after a little while, allowing the dog to scrape it off and eat it... and make a fair amount of mess, if your mutt's not a super neat eater. Dogs seem to value these more than just about any other chew toy I've tried (although some prefer rawhides) and may quarrel over churpis if they're resource guard-y about food. They don't last quite as long as antlers, but on the other hand I've never heard about them cracking teeth, either.

Hooves: Dried cow hooves (theoretically sometimes other animals' hooves too, I guess, but I've only ever seen cow hooves for sale). I have no experience with these. I heard too many stories about dogs breaking teeth on hard hooves and cutting open their gums on sharp ones and decided it wasn't worth the risk. YMMV but I've honestly never heard anything good about using hooves as chew toys.

Nylon and Polyurethane Bones: Nylabone, Hartz, and other companies make these in a variety of shapes, sizes, and textures. There are varying durability levels so that you can choose a bone tailored to your dog's chewing intensity.

I feel like kind of a bad owner-person because Whole Dog Journal doesn't like these fake plastic bones, but I sure do. Yeah, they're all made of chemicals and synthetic stuff. Yeah, some dogs will reject them because they probably smell and taste artificial, being made entirely of chemicals and synthetic stuff. But none of my mutts has ever turned down a fake bone and they last a long time and they don't break teeth, and generally they're not valuable enough to fight over so I can leave them lying around the house all the time.

So I guess you have to decide for yourself whether you're okay with your dog ingesting tiny scraps of plastic and choose accordingly.

Real Bones: Actual bones should be divided into two groups: baked bones (this includes the clean white sterilized ones) and raw or lightly boiled meaty bones (made at home from raw bones; as far as I know, no one sells boiled bones commercially). These are all bones from large mammals -- pigs, cows, bison and so forth.

Baked bones are too hard for your dog to chew safely, pose some risk of splintering when broken, and, in my opinion, are not safe to give to your dog. Raw or boiled bones are safer but should be further subdivided into marrow bones and knuckle bones. Marrow bones can still be too hard for vigorous chewers and should be taken away once the marrow's gone (although you can then re-stuff them with other fillings and use them like Kongs); knuckle bones can be eaten until they get small enough to pose a choking hazard. Both types last a moderate amount of time, make a pretty big mess (which may be a raw meat mess you don't want in your house), and are valuable enough to spark fights between resource guarders.

Rawhides: Rolled and/or compressed pieces of animal skin (usually cowhide, sometimes pigskin) shaped into knots, braids, circles, and all kinds of crazy designs around major holidays. May be flavored, bleached, or dyed (or painted with titanium oxide to turn them a nice pearly white -- avoid those!).

I look for treats made from thick sheets of undyed, unflavored rawhide. I avoid sticks and gimmicky shapes made from compressed scraps (most of these are dyed and many are artificially flavored, giving me even more incentive to skip them) because you don't know what's in the binders -- companies are not legally required to disclose this information, and given the kinds of crud manufacturers are willing to shove into pet food, I shudder to think what they're using to make the toys. If I can't read the ingredients on the label, I ain't buying it.

And even with all this work, Pongu's still bored with rawhides. He used to love them, but I guess he hit his saturation point months ago; now he has no interest in them whatsoever unless he's taking one away from a foster dog. Oh well. More for them... in the crate.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Stella Goes Home

Last Sunday we did our second adoption event with WAGS -- the last event before I flew to my parents' home for the holidays, and Stella's last chance to find her own home before Christmas.

For a while, it didn't look like she would get one. Several people stopped to ask about her, and one couple who considered her last week came back for a second visit, but in the end they all passed her by. Some had small kids, some weren't quite sure they were ready for a dog, and some just decided on a different cute puppy in the room. (In one case, this caused me to breathe a quiet sigh of relief -- the prospective adopter had been candid, even proud, about using what I would consider excessive physical corrections to train a previous dog, and I would not have been comfortable adopting Stella out there. Fortunately, the adopter decided to pass first.)

But then, just as I was starting to give up hope that Stella would find a real home for the holidays, one last family came into the adoption center. The younger of their two sons saw Stella wearing her bright orange vest, pointed at her, and asked "Is that dog for adoption?"


I asked Stella to Sit and Down for them, and the two boys came over for a closer look. Although Stella was a little nervous about the crutches (she'd never been in such close proximity to walking aids before, and she was already tired and stressed after a long day of being patted by strangers), she performed admirably on cue, and was cautious but friendly when asked to interact with the kids. The younger boy asked her to Sit, and she did.

And oh, how his face lit up when Stella did what he asked. I could see the magic happen. "Mom! Dad! This dog listens to me!"

After that it was mostly just trying to figure out whether this would be a genuinely good fit, puppy love aside. The parents had been looking for a larger dog, and there was a bit of hesitation when they found out that Stella was most likely part pit bull, but the kids were totally won over and they carried the day.

(This picture is not great because (a) I have zero photography skills anyhow; and (b) Stella was so uncomfortable about being crowded toward the crutches that I just took a couple of lousy shots and called it a day, rather than continue to stress her. So that's why she looks slightly nervous in this photo.)

Stella cried some and tried to come back to me when it was time to go home with her new people, which leaves me feeling a little more heart-achy than usual this time, but I'm confident that she'll soon bond strongly with her new family and hopeful that she's found her perfect home. The boys were realistic in their expectations (dogs will shed, there will probably be some potty accidents as she gets adjusted to her new home) and enthusiastic about training her, and she is a smart puppy who will thrive on the attention and continued teaching.

So that's the end of our journey with this magical little monster. Now the plan is to take about a month off to finish my current nerdbook and work more intensively with Pongupants the Fearful, and around the end of January we'll welcome in the next mutt for a crash course in civilization.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Stella's Training Updates 12/14/11

Couple of quick videos while I'm home sick from work:

Stella and Pongu doing recall drills at the dog park (and Pongu twirling around unnecessarily because he is a big showoff who likes to show off).

Stella's recall is good enough that I can call her from the opposite end of the park past other dogs who are playing, but not good enough to break her out of play if she's already engaged (unless she's playing with Pongu, because he will immediately break off play to run over when called, and then she has nobody to play with. I toyed with the idea of making a clip of this because it looks much more impressive, but that would be cheating; it's not her recall that's so great, it's his). She is pretty consistent about coming to me, probably around 80% response rate, but doesn't exactly bolt over at top speed.

So not a SUPER AWESOME FANTASTICO recall, but not half bad for the amount of practice she's had. I wouldn't expect to get a break-out-of-play recall for another month or so (and from what I've seen, most dogs never get there...). For the time she's had, she's doing really well, and while her adopters will certainly want to continue working to improve her performance, she's got a decent foundation.

And here we are doing leash walking drills in the hallway. Plz ignore my elephant butt sweatpants and general raggedy appearance. Like I said: home sick from work.

Out on the street Stella isn't as reliable about maintaining position and swerves from side to side occasionally, and she is still shy and prone to flinching if someone makes a loud noise or moves suddenly, but her performance is continually improving and she's getting pretty good at the stop/sit when the handler stops.

She's small and easy to walk anyway, which is one of the reasons I left Heel as such a low priority on her basic commands list, but there ain't a lot left on the Obedience 101 syllabus, so this is what we're doing now.

Monday, December 12, 2011

2011 in Fosters, From Pongu's POV

(I'll do a real retrospective at the end of the year.)

First Adoption Event with WAGS

Yesterday I took Stella to an adoption event with WAGS Rescue & Referral, a local rescue that does a fantastic job of placing Southern dogs and puppies in adoptive homes around here.

Stella was not real excited about getting dressed up for the party.

But she went, and she handled herself admirably amid the bustle and chaos of dozens of volunteers and dogs and prospective adopters all trying to find their perfect matches. Most of the dogs were newly arrived just that morning from a transport that had brought them up from North Carolina, and while some of the puppies had adjusted well enough to play around in their X-pen, a few of the dogs still looked slightly shellshocked. Others were overwhelmed by the noise and crowding.

Stella was too, at first, but by the end she was sprawled out and totally relaxed. She was able to do her more familiar tricks on cue, too. (Down was a little harder for her, and I had to revert to lure prompts, but given how many dogs are reluctant about getting into a vulnerable Down position in a strange area, that's understandable.) I was impressed. That's a huge step for her.

(These pictures aren't very good, partly because I'm a terrible photographer anyway and partly because I felt like I had to snap them on the sly, as it felt a little rude to just go taking pictures of people without asking their permission. But it maybe conveys a tiny amount of the bustle -- it was actually a lot more crowded than this looks!)

Several people were interested in Stella, but she didn't go home that day.

So she came home and played dysfunctional Fetch with Pongu, who as usual capitalized on whatever weakness he could find in the Temporary Dog's game to make sure that he, and only he, got all the treats.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Misc. Updates 12/9/11

It's been a rough week for Team Stupid.

Both the mutts came down with giardia last weekend, probably from the dog park. So they've been pooping up a storm, especially since I let it go on for a couple days figuring it was just indigestion. This wasn't a particularly good period for my sanity, insofar as two monsters with troubled bowels + spousal unit who unreasonably refuses to bolt out of bed and down three flights of stairs into the freezing cold every time an ominous squeak echoes from the living room = me making A LOT of potty runs at all hours of the night. And I mean all hours, as in making at least one run per hour for three nights on end. It's a wonder I didn't break my neck running bleary-eyed and half-asleep down all those stairs with a wailing dog in tow.

By the third night, which was by far the worst one because (a) Stella kept pooping and peeing in her crate with no warning and getting it all over herself; and (b) I had to be in court first thing the next morning to argue a first-degree murder case, I was pretty much out of Sanity points. 3:15 a.m. found me typing a surrender email to Karen, the rescue coordinator, after mopping up yet another puddle of liquid poo in Stella's crate. I'm not proud to admit it, but it's true: I was on the brink of giving up. As awesome a dog as Stella is, I just didn't know how much more I could take.

Luckily Karen talked me off the ledge. She asked me to hang onto the dog just until the end of the week, and if I was still insane on Monday, Stella could have a berth in a no-kill adoption center. It wouldn't be a home, but it'd be a place where she could sit until she got a real one.

That glimmer of hope on the horizon, coupled with the relief of having some support if I just couldn't hack it on my own, got me through the rest of the week. (It helped that opposing counsel no-showed on that murder case, too, because it would not have been pretty if I had litigated that in my state of total delirium.) And by the end of the day, after a vet visit and a couple of powder packets emptied into the dogs' porridge, things were back under control.

So I missed a day and a half from work, which sucked, and I came perilously near screwing up in court, which really sucked, but crisis was narrowly averted, thanks to Dr. Greiner at Queen Village and rescue coordinator Karen's intercession and the ever-reliable laziness of opposing counsel in this city. <3 u guys.

Anyway, the monsters now appear to be constipated, which is not great but is a hell of a lot better than the way things were before. They can't go to the dog park until their treatment is done (and I'm not sure it's a brilliant idea to take them back afterward, either, since getting the giardia diagnosed and treated cost several hundred dollars and I'm not eager to just get them re-infected again), so now it is the Crazy Bumfight Show in my house constantly.

CONSTANTLY. Our coffee table, it is doomed.

Meanwhile: Pongu missed his freestyle class this week because of the giardia, but I sent in our registration for the World Canine Freestyle Organization, so hopefully soon we will be registered dorkbutts and can then work on achieving our dorkbutt titles.

It's just as well though since this whole week has been spent working on the exercises recommended at our consultation with Leslie McDevitt on Saturday, so we wouldn't have had time to practice any new freestyle moves anyway. At Leslie's suggestion, Pongu's Prozac dosage has been upped to 30 mg/day, and every day we work through Karen Overall's relaxation protocol and practice breathing exercises, like so:

We're on Day 6 and so far Pongu is acing the relaxation protocol (although he's just doing it in the living room, since we've just started) but is mightily confused about the breathing thing. I haven't worked with him on capturing behaviors before -- we've only done shaping and luring in the past -- so this is totally new and it hasn't quite come together in his head. But he's smart, he'll get it soon. And none too soon, since his fearfulness is beginning to shade into fear-based aggression. He's discovered that ferocious barking and lunging makes people go away... a lesson I need to counteract swiftly, before it turns into biting.

For her part, Stella is (or was, before the diarrhea interlude interrupted training) working on Stay. She has a pretty good Stay indoors; we'll take it on the road soon so I can make a more impressive clip to show prospective adopters.

And that's where we are for now. On Sunday Stella has an adoption event with WAGS Rescue & Referral (who took her brother, Jackson f/k/a Hugo) where hopefully she will charm her way into a permanent home. If not, we'll continue her education in being a properly civilized mutt monster.