Category Archives: dogs

Why are Poodle Haircuts so Weird?

Dog hairstyles are often more complex then the longest of salon visits. Dogs are shaved, cut, brushed, trimmed, braided, clipped and colored in all kinds of perplexing fashions. Yet the most recognizable haircut belongs to the Poodle (we can split hairs here and just talk about a standard Poodle, even though the hairdo applies to mini and toy varieties as well).

You know what I’m talking about. Take one look at a recently trimmed Poodle and you see a dog with a large cotton-puff of hair on its chest, around its ankles and on the tip of its tail. You see the bare, closely shaved backside, and the hair pinned back over its’ eyes.

Perplexing, distinct, and, dare I say, functional. Yes, did you know that a Poodle’s cut is actually meant to be functional, not just stylish? Surprise!

The origin of a Poodle’s-do is still debated. Some point to ancient paintings on the walls of Roman tombs, coins, and monuments that date back to 30 AD, which bear the resemblance of Poodles. More common arguments point to late 16th – 17th century Germany, where Poodles were bred as “water retrievers”. (“Poodle” is derived from the German pudel, short for pudelhund, which means “water dog.” The German word pudeln means “splash,” and is the root of the English word “puddle.”)

It was around this time that Poodles gained their distinct cuts out of occupational necessity. The thick, cotton-like fur of a Poodle would surely weigh it down when wet, and shearing the dog’s hind quarters made it buoyant enough to float. They could now swim and maneuver more easily in the water. The long mane around the dog’s head and chest were left in tact to keep the do’s vital organs warm in the cold water. Owners also elected to keep the puffs of hair around the dog’s ankles and joints to help stave of rheumatism. Tying the Poodle’s hair back kept their eyes and mouth free to allow the dog to follow through on their retrieving tasks. Brightly colored bows were later introduced to distinguish dogs at competitions.

Of course, when we talk about extravagant hair styles, we should talk about the extremes. Poodles (especially the smaller breeds) were popular among French nobility in the 18th-century, and they pushed the insanity to another level. They even went so far as to mimic the crazy pompadours that Frenchmen sported at the time!

Today, Poodles sport one of two main styles: The Continental or the English Saddle. (Note that the Continental leaves the hair on the dog’s rear surprisingly short!) AKC competition renders these two cuts as the “standard” for competition. These cuts are meant to reflect the squareness in a well bred Poodle.

Groomers take hours to perfect the look of a Poodle before competition. Outside the arena, Poodles may spot more of a “puppy cut” that is simply meant to keep the hair short, allowing for them to swim and retrieve, like they were naturally bred to do.

I know I learned a fair amount while researching this piece, and I hope that you have learned not to take every silly hair cut for granted. Sometimes, even the craziest of things are done for the best reason!

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Popular Myths About Dogs: DEBUNKED!

Dogs are fascinating creatures. They are loyal, adventurous, curious, able to work dozens of different jobs and be our most loving companion. But there are many things we don’t know and understand about our four legged friends, and as it often happens, misunderstanding breeds misinformation. The dog world is filled with misconceptions and myths about dogs, from behavior to getting rid of worms.

Here is a list of some common dog misconceptions, a little insight into what’s actually going on:

Myth #1: Dogs only see in Black and White:

Some Russian scientists took this popular myth and turned it on it’s head. Research has proven that dogs actually see in shades of blues and yellows, but can’t see shades of red. Who knew?! Check out this link to read more.

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I love that blue shirt you’re wearing!

Myth #2: If you put garlic on your dog’s food, will it help get rid of his worms?

You’ve clearly never read my post about human foods dogs should avoid. Forget you ever heard this one. Garlic can actually be very harmful to a dog’s health, so just stick to putting garlic in your spaghetti sauces.

Myth #3: You can calculate a dog’s age by multiplying it’s human years by seven:

Research has actually shown this method to be outdated. By the time your dog reaches one year, they’ve already become a talking-back teenager, and the way they age varies from as they get older. Check this chart for exact conversions.

Myth #4: A cracked window is enough on a hot day:

Not even going there. Just read this

Myth #5: You can’t teach an old dog new tricks:

I can attest that this couldn’t be further from the truth. Sure, older dogs may suffer from hearing or vision loss, but that doesn’t mean they lose their ability to learn. This myth seems more like a human insult than a dog one.

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I may be old, but I can still learn!

One of the first lessons I teach parents about puppies is how to reduce biting. Simply give them a treat, and if their teeth touch your fingers too aggressively, pull the treat back and make a loud pitched noise. The dog will know to slow down in order to finally get the treat. I have used this trick on much older (8, 9, even 13 year old) dogs and it works great! They’ve learned a simple, new trick, and I get to keep all my fingers!

Still don’t believe me? Check out this video of MythBusters putting it to the test.

Myth #6: A dog’s mouth is cleaner than a human’s mouth:

Back story: Dog saliva was once believed to be antiseptic, and some people still believe it has healing properties. No one knows how that belief came to be, but it is still a common myth today. Trust me, a dog’s mouth is not “cleaner” than a person’s mouth. Dog saliva is capable of fighting off some bacteria, but carries it’s own army of bacteria and infectious organisms. The types of bacteria carried by humans and dogs is different, mostly because of the differences in diet. There is a reason for the term, “dog breath.”

Myth #7: Sex, litters and fixing your dog:

While compiling this post, I was surprised to see that lots of people wait before getting their dog neutered or spayed because they believe letting their dog have sex is a good thing, or that they need to have one litter  of puppies “for the experience.”

But that’s simply not true. Sex results in puppies without homes or a good support system. Female dogs will not miss “the experience” of having a litter. There remains some controversy as to how early you should have a dog fixed, not fixing your dog leads to further animal population and control issues.

Myth #8: A fenced yard should be entertaining enough:

How would you liked being locked up in one space for long periods of time? The world is full of smells, sounds, animals to socialize with and trees to pee on. It’s important that a dog is exposed to all these things, not only for their socialization, but so they have the mental and physical stimulation to keep them from becoming destructive.

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Sometimes adventure lies outside the backyard!

Myth #9: My dog should tolerate anything my children do:

This is a good way for your child to get a nasty bite wound. Children are terrible with boundaries, and they need to be taught to respect their doggie companions. Allowing a child to sit, tug on or tease a dog is disrespectful. Dogs are living animals that should be cared for, not tormented.

Myth #10: My dog understands me when I talk to him:

Even I fall into the trap of thinking I can “talk” to my dog. While dogs can understand about 500 words and a very talented Border Collie named Chaser can understand thousands, when we talk to our dogs they focus in on a few words, our tone of voice, facial expressions, and our body language.

Myth #11: Dogs wag their tail when they are happy:

A dog trainer I worked with actually debunked this for me. Dogs wag their tail for many reasons, but typically it’s because they are either happy or nervous. The important thing here is that you learn to read a dog’s body language. A stiff, rigid appearance is a good sign that your dog is nervous, even if their tail is wagging. Being able to read a dogs signals will go a long way to building strong relationships with them.

Who knew the dog world was filled with so many myths?

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Why You Should Spoil Your Puppy

Let’s be honest with each other, even the most stern efforts to keep your new puppy off the furniture, from begging at the dining table or from getting that extra treat will result in you, the owner, giving in just a little. It’s hard to resist snuggling on the couch with your new puppy. It’s even hard to resist those big eyes putting at you for table scraps. You give in, and you beat yourself up every time because you think spoiling your puppy will ruin her for life.

I’m here to help ease that guilt.

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Who wouldn’t want to snuggle with this puppy?

Before I get going, I am not a vet or a certified trainer. I am an owner, a socializer, a teacher and a volunteer who has devoted a lot of time helping other owners to turn their puppies into well-adjusted dogs. My opinions are from the dozens of dogs I have worked with and the interactions I’ve had with their owners. I have spent hours helping owners to understand that sometimes, giving in is okay.

Your first responsibility as a pet owner is to be their parent. You are responsible for teaching a puppy to be well-mannered, obedient, respectful, and ensuring they are loved. You are NOT an overlord, depriving your puppy of all the joys of being alive. A parent does not dominate their children, rather they guide them through life’s twists and turns, and that is your job as a puppy parent.

If you’re going to take the time to raise a puppy, you should probably take some time to enjoy it, right?

This is what I tell new puppy owners: If your dog does something you want them to do (like snuggle in bed), then why is it a bad thing? Lots of dog trainers are on this kick lately that you must be the dominant alpha overlord of your dog in order for them to be good dogs. After spending a year raising my own dog, I can tell you that’s not the case. So don’t fret if you want to treat your puppy. Turns out, you’ll be treating yourself, too.

If you are okay with your dog being in the bed, then let them cuddle with you at night. Pickle is allowed on our furniture, and she crawls into bed every morning with us before starting the day. But as soon as we walk into someone else’s home, she must adopt the rules of THEIR house. If they don’t allow dogs on the furniture, then Pickle stays on the floor, it’s that easy. She is only allowed to do what we tell her, and she has learned to respect that. Are we spoiling her at home? Maybe, but it’s up to her to maintain the boundaries we have set.

When it comes to treats, string cheese is god’s gift to dog training. Puppies can’t get enough of the stuff, and when you are training you must load up on the tastiest treats you can find. Every good deed should be rewarded and praised like it’s Christmas. I know lots of trainers who believe praise is enough to convince a dog to follow your command, and I think that’s a stretch. You must build trust and rapport with your dog. Treats are the best way to maintain their focus, and front loading the treats keeps their attention through hard training sessions. You can taper the treats as your puppy becomes more responsive. And I stand by the string cheese!

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And what about table scraps? As long as it’s dog friendly, why not? Avoid certain foods from the table, but as long as the dog is taking them under your supervision and with your permission, I say go for it.

So what do you do when a vet scolds you because you are making your puppy fat? Well, you listen. A puppy with an extra pound or two is not a big deal. I would rather have a chunky puppy who listens and trains well then a slim dog that won’t come to me when called. When your dog reaches full size, and is developed enough to exercise extensively, you can easily adapt their diet and increase the exercise. They can shed the weight in a healthy way, and you still get a happy dog!

In the end, spoiling your puppy means you are building a strong and loving relationship. Don’t mistake this for saying your dog is in charge. You are the parent, it is your responsibility to act the part. But while you are spending all that time training and cleaning up after your pup, you should be able to enjoy a cuddle once in a while! If you want to throw your pup an extra piece of bacon from the breakfast table, then do it! Keep things on your terms, train your pup to respect your voice, and treating them will become a reward. You will both be happier for it!

Socialization Project: Off-Leash Dog Park

Seattle has an amazing system of off-leash dog parks. From Dr. Jose Rizal Park and its amazing view of downtown, to Magnuson Park and its access to Lake Washington, there are ample opportunities for dog owners to get their dogs out to romp with other dogs and get out lots of energy.

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Seattle skyline from Dr. Jose Rizal Park

Admittedly, I was not a fan of dog parks when we got Pickle. I had heard bad stories of dogs getting sick, other dog walkers having out of control packs of dogs, or owners who didn’t know how to behave. I had heard so much bad, that I was turned off before I even took my first trip. Luckily, the feeling went away after a couple trips. Pickle loves being around other dogs, and she was well enough socialized that I didn’t have to worry about her getting into a fight, and she does well enough that if she escapes my line of sight for a minute I don’t have to panic.

After my hesitation diminished, I started to work with new dogs at the off-leash area. Typically I’ll do this with dogs that I know have been to the park before, and owners generally grant permission first as a way to reassure me that their dogs will behave. Since I started, it’s become a great way to socialize puppies to being around other dogs, their owners and to changing environments. In the same day, I can go from a gravel covered park under the interstate, to a wooded park with little traffic, to a very dog-filled park with lake access. All with enclosed, fully fenced spaces with lots of room to run and play. It’s difficult to mimic that without off-leash access.

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Making waves at Warren G. Magnuson Park!

Being confined to an urban setting, dog parks are great! But, there are still reasons to be cautious. First, dog parks are heavily populated with strange dogs, which poses the risk for your dog picking up illnesses. Your dog should be fully vaccinated before you bring them to any off-leash area. Otherwise, you could face a heavy vet bill to pay for antibiotics to fix a stomach virus. Never let your dog eat other dogs feces, and be aware of what your dog is getting into in heavy grass (I’ve pulled Pickle and several of my dogs from leftover food, even dead rodents).

Secondly, know your dog. If you have a puppy or young dog that loves to mount or charge at other dogs, maybe a dog park isn’t the best place for them. You will be around lots of strange dogs, and not all of them will be amiable. remember, even the most tolerant dogs don’t like other dogs taking them for a ride. I have taken great strides to make Pickle good at reading signals from other dogs, and it has kept her from getting lots of scars. If your dog isn’t as aware, you need to take them somewhere else.

Lastly, and most importantly, pay attention to body language. Especially with young dogs, it is easy to be overwhelmed when you are surrounded by dozens of older, pushy dogs. If your dog is running away, cowering, tucking their tail, pay attention and don’t force them to be uncomfortable. You can do lots of damage by forcing a dog into a scary situation. Take this time to step back to a quieter part of the park, praise your dog and slowly reintroduce them. I’ve run into lots of intimidating dogs and situations that are overwhelming to me, I could only imagine what goes through the mind of the puppies I care for!

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Dog parks can be great ways to get your dog out of the house and let them run and play. When safely done, off-leash areas expose your dog to lots of good socialization opportunities. But as the human, you are responsible for keeping your dog comfortable and out of harms way. Be smart, be aware, and everyone will have a good time.

If you want to know more about the network of Seattle dog parks, visit the Seattle Park’s page. If you’d like to help out and volunteer in a dog park near you, visit the Seattle COLA page.

Puppy Versus the Vacuum Cleaner

Raise your hand if your dog hates the vacuum cleaner. I’m guessing a majority of you reading this are raising your hand and wondering “Well duh my dog hates the vacuum! It’s a loud, moving monster of a machine the dog thinks is going to eat all of us!”

Commonly, dogs hate vacuum cleaners, simply for the points you as the reader are making. They are extremely loud when running, move unpredictably (to a dog), and they are completely foreign to the common way that dogs go about their day. They see cars and people all the time, but pull the vacuum out of the closet for the weekly run through the house, and all bets are off! Dogs will run in fear of the noise, or see the vacuum as a threat and try to ‘kill’ it.

I commonly saw this with dogs when I worked in a doggie daycare. Dogs of all ages and experiences would either cower in a corner, bolt to a safe spot outside, or come streaking across the room to bark and bite at the vacuum. It was unavoidable, with one dog even getting a hold of and ripping the guard off the front of the machine!

Simply put, dogs hate vacuums.

And then there’s Pickle.

It struck me today that Pickle must not be a normal dog, one who screams and runs frightened from the ‘cleaning-machine-of-death!’ See, we had a dog stay with us this weekend, and when she left this afternoon it was time to give the house a good vacuuming. Pickle, when she hears the sound of a vacuum, decides that it’s best for her to sit close, even sometimes nosing the machine while it’s running. I don’t know why it took until today to realize that this was odd (in the best way possible), but the more I thought about it, the more I realized this was a great way to illustrate why we socialize dogs.

So I gave it some thought. I can’t stand when dogs freak out at a running vacuum (maybe it’s from all the dogs at the daycare). I don’t want to have to worry about moving Pickle from room to room just so I can run a vacuum over the carpet. To avoid the extra hassle, Kira and I committed early to getting Pickle used to loud noises. Whether it’s our NutriBullet, music in the car, what ever it is, Pickle does not get startled by loud noises anymore. She has been socialized to understand the difference between a dangerous noise and an innocent one.

Then we tackled the vacuum itself. Each time one of us pull out the vacuum, we would set treats on it to make her feel like she is being given a reward, just for approaching the machine. That extended to giving her treats while the machine was running, then slowly putting treats on the vacuum while it was on. Magically, Pickle figured out that even though the vacuum was noisy and freaked her out, it wasn’t a threat to her well being and actually something to look forward to.

Now, some people think that it’s fun to chase a dog with a vacuum. Don’t be that guy. Generating fear in a dog over something like a vacuum can manifest into a dog having issues with loud noises outside the home as well. Save yourself the trouble and don’t do it. Plus, it’s mean!

I tried to vacuum once when we were sitting for a friend’s lab mix. Soon as I hit the power button, the dog was attacking the vacuum, seeing it as a threat and trying to kill it. To those noises, the dog was not adjusted, and it came out through barking and aggression.

When you get a puppy, do yourself a favor and help it to understand the difference between safe and dangerous situations. Don’t provoke a dog to be afraid of innocent things (like chasing them with a vacuum). Though a dog may never like being around a noisy machine, they can at least know that it is safe.

Socialization people, the opportunities are everywhere!

Book Review: Animals Make us Human

Animals Make Us Human
Creating the best life for our animals 
By Temple Grandin & Catherine Johnson
(Amazon, $13.24)

I received this book as a Christmas present and couldn’t resist sharing it and raving about the information inside!

Temple Grandin, who has a PhD in animal science and is a professor at Colorado State, has a unique perspective about animals. Writing as a person with autism, Grandin has taken her position as a scientist with autism to create several works about animals and how they interact with humans.

Animals Make Us Human is a great, in depth view on how we humans can strive to maximize the happiness of our animal companions. Using years of scientific data and citing dozens of experiments, Grandin dives into everything from keeping a lion in a zoo from pacing in its cage to keeping a dog happy when you leave home.

Of course, this is a dog blog, and I was totally engage with the ideas around dog training and behavior management. Grandin challenges the traditional approach of training dogs in which humans are taught to become the “dominant”, or “alpha” figure in their dogs life.  According to numerous studies cited in the book, dogs don’t quite act like wolves in the way we once thought. Grandin takes the “Cesar Milan” approach and spins it into a new light, agreeing that even though some situations (doggie daycare, for example) may warrant having an alpha presence, these strategies aren’t necessary in everyday training.

The problem occurred with studies done on wolves in captivity, taken away from their natural setting and put in “forced packs”. These dogs, unstable and insecure, created a pack pecking order to maintain structure. This resulted in more fights and lashing out then with normal, natural wolf families. The change in environment and familiarity with their mates caused drastic changes in the way they interacted.

As a former daycare worker and as a dog owner, I loved that Grandin was able to compare two opposing sides of methodology without completely denouncing either. She respectfully presents both sides of the coin and tries to help the reader understand that old methods are born from old understanding, and as we become more knowledgable, the methods change.

Gardin dives deeper into the idea that as dogs become further removed genetically from their wolf brethren, they lose their ability to express submissive behaviors, resulting in more aggressive communication between dogs. The escalation of emotion leads to more fights between unfamiliar dogs. For example, malamutes, who are genetically much like their wolf descendants, exhibited all the submissive signs that wolves do when they greeted another dog. Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, which are clearly very much removed from a wolf, exhibit none of these traits, and are thus more feisty (putting it mildly, that is).

Understanding the ideas behind dominance and submission are crucial when training a dog, but so are understanding there particular drive behaviors. Finding an outlet for a dog’s seeking and play drives, and learning how to handle their fear, rage and panic emotional triggers, are critical to developing a dogs well being.

The best way to handle all these drives, according to Grandin, is through proper socialization (and I obviously agree). I loved the quote Grandin used, from Patricia McConnell, “Socialization is not the same as enrichment. You need both.” I couldn’t agree more! And proper socialization can be the preventative cure to all kinds of later life issues. What I didn’t know about was a second socialization stage, between 18 and 36 months, when a dog becomes socially mature. This is a great opportunity to have your pup around positive adult-dog influences to steer them into the right direction through their teen years.

There is so much information about dogs in this book that I can get carried away. I’d also miss out on mentioning how Gardin talks about creating happy lives for your cats, for pigs, horses, birds, and captive animals in zoos. She talks about ways to stimulate their deepest instincts to help give even a caged lion a happy and content life. Believe it or not, an animal raised in the wild, yet put into captivity, tends to react better to being behind the glass in a zoo. You’ll have to read to find out why!

I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in animal science and animal psychology. Scratch that, I would recommend this book to anyone who has ever cared for an animal and wants to better understand the way they think. Not every animal is dealt the best hand, but with a little help from us humans, we can totally give them the happy and content life they need. Grab your copy today to find out how!

New Year’s Resolutions

That time has come again for everyone to make resolutions and give themselves two weeks of new hope to start the new year.

I for one am going to start running more, drink less, and get back to doing hot yoga. I have all these plans to eat better, read more, watch less Netflix and expand my business.

Seriously, I’m going to do all of these things!

You see, I have a secret weapon this year. Her name is Pickle, my sweet, hyper, lovable puppy that has entered into her “I’m going to drive you crazy with all my energy and newly found sense of adventure” phase. Over the past week or so it has become painfully apparent that the one hour walk each day won’t be enough to make Pickle nap during the day. It’ll take more than 20 minutes of food games and fetch down the hallway. So clearly we’re going to have to start running or else I’m going to go bananas trying to keep Pickle busy. Our 6am potty breaks mean not going back to bed, but instead getting up, running, doing my pushups and chin ups, and mixing up a protein shake. I’ll feel so good about myself I won’t feel like a fourth beer or a Big Mac (okay, maybe I’ll run that extra mile instead).

Physical resolution: Check.

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With all of the physical demands that come from Pickle becoming more of a brat, and with the need to expand my knowledge as my dog walking business grows, I’ll be forced to read more articles and books related to dog behavior and training. Say adios to all those status updates and tweets. I won’t have time to watch as much TV or as many episodes on Netflix, and my brain won’t feel like mush at the end of everyday.

Educational resolution: Check.

I’ll be the first to mention that training Pickle has been fairly easy, but there have been some low points. She has been so great with her potty training and commands that we forget sometimes that she’s a puppy, so when she gets distracted by an off leash dog or a squirrel, I sometimes lose my patience. Then those sweet eyes pull me back in and I can’t help but want to get on my knees and apologize to her. But as we progress with our training, and as we figure out ways to wear her out, I can take the time to take a deep breath and help her calmly and with patience. Then maybe I won’t get so easily overwhelmed by my day full of puppy play and training. It’s so hard being me!

Emotional resolution: Check.

Okay, here’s a tip for any inspiring business person. If you want to get the word out quick about your business, rent a puppy. Seriously, there are services for that. Anyway, I’m not exactly a social butterfly, so openly talking about my business is tough, no matter how excited I am about it. Pickle has given me the best ice breaker into building a client base and talking about my walking services. I want to become more vocal about all the excitement in my life, and I resolve to exploit Pickle’s cuteness to do so. I want to expand my business and become more financially stable. It’s been too long since I’ve been able to say that, it’s about time I take the plunge and start networking!

Business resolution: Check.

Every year I make small promises to myself to get a ripped set of abs, earn more money and spend less time playing with social media. This year, I am writing it all down to stay accountable. Feel free to call me out on it, and I can do the same for you! Luckily I have the power of a rambunctious puppy to keep me on track. Hopefully this year will be my year!

I’ll check back in with you on December 31.