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When Should I Socialize my Puppy?

I am a strong advocate for puppy socialization. I am a firm believer that the more experience a puppy can get in that crucial socialization window (between 8-20 weeks of age), the more successful the puppy will be in life.

But socializing an 8 week old puppy can be tricky. There immune systems are young and vulnerable, they have not been fully vaccinated. So exposing them to new dogs and new environments will leave them susceptible to illnesses.

But here’s the thing. I would rather have a puppy that is properly socialized and gets kennel cough (easily treatable) then have a dog that was kept in a bubble as a puppy and comes out afraid, aggressive and dangerous. Pickle has lived through kennel cough (twice!), and a stomach parasite, and she’s fine. She has also become skilled at reading dog signals and doesn’t pick fights with even the most persistent of pups. I’d call that a worthwhile trade off.

But why take my word for it?

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Hardware and garden stores make fun trips for young pups!

Experts are now pushing owners to socialize their puppies in safe, low risk situations, like puppy classes:

“Puppy socialization classes offer a safe and organized means of socializing puppies. Each puppy should have up-to-date vaccinations and be disease and parasite free before entering the class. Where possible, classes should be held on surfaces that are easily cleaned and disinfected (e.g., indoor environments). Visits to dog parks or other areas that aren’t sanitized or are highly trafficked by dogs of unknown vaccination or disease status should be avoided.”

Really, it takes a little common sense, but there is no reason a puppy should be sheltered until they are fully vaccinated (which happens sometime around 20 weeks!). You are wasting valuable time to adjust your dog to the world, and leave them vulnerable to behavior issues later on.

Let’s take a different approach to this. Think for a second about the number of dog that are in shelters/rescues across the country right now. How many of them do you think were surrendered (by very well intentioned owners) because that dog bit someone? How many dogs a year are euthanized because they came from puppy mills and were never socialized to the outside world?

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Even at a young age, socializing with older, respectful, fully vaccinated dog is okay for your puppy!

My point is, even owners with the best intentions can get it wrong. Being overly protective of your puppy is great and will probably save you a little money on vet bills. But what will you do when your puppy bites and seriously injures a child because they have never seen one before?

If you are still at a loss for what to do, here are a couple hints:

1) Introduce your puppy to familiar, vaccinated dogs. It will reduce risk, but still allow your dog to interact and learn lessons from the older dog.

2) If your puppy is small enough, carry it in a bag (with it’s head out to breathe). Many pet stores sell ones like these, which we used to socialize Pickle before she was vaccinated. People will get to see, pet and give treats to your puppy, and they are away from danger the whole time!

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Travel carriers are great for puppies that can’t walk on dirty sidewalks!

3) Play pass the puppy! Find a dog friendly bar, invite a couple friends, and tell them to go make friends with your puppy. No one in their right mind would refuse the chance to hold a new puppy! Kira and I still have friends that we made this way!

4) Carry your puppy through a plaza, hardware store, pet store, anywhere that dogs are allowed. The more exposures the better! Carrying them will again keep them out of harms way and you can manage their level of exposure.

5) Have a puppy party! Pickle was home for approximately 24 hours when we had 10 or so friends over for a Seahawks party. She adjusted to people coming into the house, being handled, exposure to loud and sudden noises, the whole shebang, all while being in the comfort of her own home! If you have friends with children, I’d encourage they come as well. Teaching a puppy to be respectful to children (and vice-versa) is great for a little puppy!

Socialization is all about positive experiences, so make sure your puppy is happy and comfortable with all the new situations. Starting the socialization process early will give you more chances to expose your puppy to new people, places and environments. There are ways to safeguard against your puppy being unvaccinated, and taking a few simple precautions can open a door of possibilities for where you can take your puppy. If you are willing to take the time to socialize your dog, you will create a much happier and more stable relationship with your dog!

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Remember to Water your Dog

The weather is finally getting warm out in Seattle. The temperatures peaked in the 90s last week, which means people are hitting the beach and soaking in the sun. Yay summer weather! (Sorry, the lack of sunshine around here can really mess with a person.)

But although humans are enjoying the long awaited nice weather, dogs are really feeling the heat. With the rising temperatures, it can be increasingly difficult for dogs to cool themselves.

Heat stroke occurs when a dog’s body temperature exceeds 103 degrees, and can cause a slew of health issues. Dogs that experience heat stroke will pant excessively, have irregular heartbeats, become dehydrated, and even go into shock. If you have your pup out on a hot day, be wary of excessive drooling, tarry, black stools, uncoordinated movements, and unresponsive behavior. If your dog lays down and becomes unresponsive to you, something is wrong and you need to take action.

So what can you do? If your dog’s rise in body temperature can be linked to something environmental (say warm temperatures or excessive exercise), you can cool their body by either spraying them with cool (not cold) water, wrapping them in cool, wet towels or even immersing them completely in cool water. Try to avoid cold water, and gradually bring the dog’s temperature down. Any dog that has experienced heat stroke or an excessive rise in body temperatures should be brought to a vet to make sure the dog is in stable condition and that no long term damage was done.

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The sun is out, time to take a quick break by the creek!

Heat stroke can cause irreversible damage to your dog’s body, so it’s important to not only know how to recognize and treat it, but also how to prevent it from happening. Here’s a couple things to always keep in mind:

Step one: Know your dog. Dogs that have had heat stroke in the past will be more susceptible to it in the future. Dogs that are older, obese, or have thick coats are more prone to have an uncontrollable rise in body temperatures.

Step two: Water your dog. Whether it’s making sure your dog has access to plenty of water at home, if you carry an extra bottle with you on walks, giving them a chance to drink from the dish in front of Starbucks, or stopping off to give them a swim in the lake, just make sure your dog has a chance to drink and cool off. I even give Pickle an ice cube every now and then for her to lick and chew on, just to keep her cool (and entertained!). I have a friend who gives her boxer chilled watermelon, and she goes crazy for it!

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A good swim in the lake will help a    dog stay nice and cool!

Step three: Be aware. Know the signs of heat stroke. Get certified in doggie CPR. Be conscious of your environment and where you leave your dog. And for cripes sake, don’t leave your dog in a parked car when it’s hot out! Heat stroke can occur even when the temperature outside the car is 70 degrees. So don’t do it, not even for a few minutes! Don’t believe me, check this out!

So here’s the deal. While you’re out sunbathing and working on your summer tan, your dog may be having a really tough time in the sun. It is up to us as owners to be responsible and provide our dogs with whatever they need to beat the heat, whether it be a constant supply of water, a romp in the creek, or a trip to the groomers. Don’t assume your dog will be okay, and it will be a happy and safe summer for all!

Puppy Socialization Project: Day 1

I have received many questions about puppy socialization, and what it is I hope to achieve through my new business. In an effort to not only answer questions, but also give people an insight into what I am doing, I have decided to record my socialization efforts here in the blog.

I was very excited to get my first puppy client just last week, and have had several days to work with a sweet little Chesapeake Bay Retriever named Molly Brown. Molly is a very affectionate 4 month old puppy that specializes in making people smile. She is such a loving little gal, but since she’s a puppy she has proven to be loads of work for her mom and dad.

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Did I mention that mom and dad are both marine biologists, mom is currently finishing up her PhD, and they have an 8-month old baby? Yea, their busy. Busy enough to need an extra set of hands to raise their puppy and get her used to living in a city.

The goal of day 1 was to achieve a base line for how familiar Molly Brown was with her surroundings. Socialization stretches from how comfortable she is in a car, how friendly she is towards people, meeting and greeting strange dogs, and hearing strange sounds. I was hopeful that Molly would be fine meeting people and folks, but I was clueless about her exposure to the outside world.

Luckily the results started coming from the very beginning. Molly became uncomfortable and anxious riding in the car with me, something her dad warned me about, but something that seemed to stem from leaving home with a stranger. To get the full effect I had the radio tuned to some alternative rock, with enough of a bass to catch her attention. A little anxious, but in the end she was fine.

Next step was to introduce her to Pickle. Meeting a strange dog was the most intriguing part of day 1, and both dogs passed with flying colors. The result was an hour of puppy explosion, a combined 80-pounds of energy rolling around in toys and shaggy carpet. Molly shared toys, was’t possessive of bones, and allowed me to play with her body and teeth even when she was amped up. Socializing a dog and desensitizing them to touch and body handling is crucial if you ever hope to give them a bath or even hold them, so I plan on including that into all of my socializing programs. Pickle benefited from being held and roughed up by people from a very young age, and since Molly Brown shares a house with an 8-month old baby, it is good to get her used to ear tugging and tail pulling, and encourage her not to react aggressively. The obvious perk is that the baby doesn’t get bit, but I’ve seen families give up their dogs because this has become too much of an issue, which we don’t want to become a problem later.

Pickle was very reliable and wore Molly out to the point of exhaustion. Perfect time for a walk and to test out some obedience skills. Turns out Molly is a decent leash walker, a great sign for a young pup. I wanted to expose her to loud traffic and people, so a walk along a busy sidewalk past groups of people was perfect. It was also trash day, and loud trucks and smashing dumpsters made for the perfect training backdrop.

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Again, the most important part of socialization is to encourage the most positive interaction between the dog and new experiences. When Molly heard a dumpster smash, she became startled momentarily. Situations like these call for encouragement, positive association, praise, whatever you can do to make the dog relax and happy. Puppies are very responsive to praise, if you get them in that crucial socialization phase then they can cope with loud noises positively, and instead of curling up in a ball afraid they will face the situation with confidence and assurance.

The day ended with two tired dogs and a little insight into the dog that I just took on as a client. I am so lucky to be working with such a sweet pup and such great owners who are really focused on getting the most from their little girl. I know that this whole project will be an experiment, but it’s good to know that I have people who are willing to work with me through the process.

I’ll be updating the progress that Molly makes and trying to raise problems that come up along the way. My goal is to create a space that owners can come to to see the process and not only get a feel for what I do, but how it can apply to how they handle socializing their own puppies at home.

Check back in this space every couple days as I offer up new updates!

Wrong Dog? Or Wrong Home?

I may be going onto a passion rant with this post, but not everything I write can be simply to inform you. The NY Times posted an article to their website today, I want you to take a peak at it here.

No worries, I’ll wait.

In the article, the author discusses how a young lab puppy was brought into a home with three cats, one dog and two children. That’s all fine and good, the puppy seemingly had been checked out by the new owners, had the go ahead by shelter workers and the foster parent. This is all fine and good.

Until it wasn’t.

The first red flag for me flies when the author says that the puppy freaked out when it first came home. The puppy is 5 months old, a crucial time in their socialization period when they are going through a “fear stage” (which happens around 16-20 weeks).  When a puppy starts flashing teeth and growling, obviously something is wrong and the dog needs to be comforted.

At this point, you’ve got two choices, dominate the dog and play alpha (and potentially drive the dog further into aggression) or console and gradually bring the dog to be comfortable with you. I personally would choose the latter, but that’s me. I agree with the author calling the shelter in the morning and I commend them for trying to let the puppy work itself out. I wouldn’t have let the puppy around my pets, let alone my children, until that was figured out with a trainer.

Luckily that was the author’s next step. What I don’t understand at this point is how the trainer didn’t sense that something deeper was wrong. Common sense to me screams that the dog is in the wrong situation. Some dogs, like it or not, simply don’t interact well with other pets. Some don’t like children. It’s a comfort thing, that’s why shelters should be on top of what the dog’s temperament is like.

If you read the article like I did, you got the sense that something bad was going to happen. Inevitably, that’s exactly what happened, with the pup first snapping at the family cat, then killing it. Something in the puppies wiring led it to believe that killing the cat was a good thing, and it left the family without one of their loving pets.

Background done. I need to figure out how to phrase what I say next without angering anyone (though inevitably I will). I am left with so many questions from this article, the least of which revolve around a shelter owner and trainer that couldn’t piece together that they placed a dog in a bad situation.

How did the author not realize, and push for, the dog needing to be re-homed? Not only were her pets in danger, but so were her children. The puppy tore things apart from day one, and was uncomfortable from the very beginning. Even despite the final act of killing the family cat, there was clearly too much going on to support the dog being there.

Hindsight is 20-20, I know. I have seen families make the gut wrenching decision to give up their loving dogs for the sake of having children, because they are tearing apart furniture or because they can’t keep up the pet’s care. And yes rescue dogs come with all the uncertainties, undocumented behavior and medical history. Rescue dogs are a crap shoot, I know.

But that is all the more reason to be educated about the dogs you are bringing into your home. Educate first, then your home will be able to save all kinds of dogs. Do your homework!

My Puppy’s Teething: Now What?

Pickle has started teething, at least we’ve started noticing. She’s lost two of her canine teeth in the last 4 days. For a while before that she was in obvious discomfort and was flicking her tongue a lot, and sure enough the teeth started to fall out.

Unfortunately, the teething process presents lots of other issues beyond lost teeth and a grumpy puppy. Puppies, and dogs in general, use their mouths to explore and discover the world. The teething process amps up their mouthing and encourages them to put more and more things in their mouths, including your expensive boots and table legs.

So what are you to do? How do you allow your puppy the comfort of chewing without them becoming disruptive? Luckily, I can provide some answers. Some solutions are for those with a puppy currently teething, others address the future anticipation of them falling out. There’s a little bit for everyone.

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1) Prepare Early

So you have an 8-week old puppy, brand new to your home. She’s curious and ready to discover all the new and wonderful things around her new home. Problem is, she’s mouthing everything, the base boards, your slippers, your hands. What are you to do?

A couple of training tips come to mind first. Teaching your pup “leave it” will be super valuable, as will “trading up”. We taught Pickle how to leave it whenever she was chewing on something that wasn’t hers. When we said “leave it”, the instant she gave her attention to us and away from whatever she was chewing on, we’d praise her and shower her with treats. This plays right into “trading up”, trading something more valuable to your dog to get her to leave whatever she is chewing on.

When walks become more common, “leave it” will become valuable for all those gross things left on the sidewalk and curbside. At least you’ll have a fighting chance when your dog does it.

I also caution you against leaving lots of valuable things on the floor with an unattended puppy. Once Pickle was potty trained, she gained free reign of the house. That meant that all shoes, books, anything that wasn’t meant for Pickle was put up on a shelf out of her reach. One flip-flop was enough to teach us to pay attention.

2) Too Late, She’s Already Teething

Okay, not a big deal. Now more than ever the important thing is to make sure your puppy knows the difference between acceptable and unacceptable things to chew. It may be a rough few weeks, but it helps to remind yourself that your puppy is losing those dreaded pin needle teeth!

First, give your pup some good things to chew on. Ice is a fantastic toy when a puppy is teething, it’s fun to chase, it numbs their gums, and even hydrates them! On a hot day it helps to cool their body temperature, so great! You can use fancy teething rings (much like for babies) but this works great for us (just make sure to watch where they go in case they melt and leave a puddle). Cool fruits and vegetables are also helpful, they are healthy, provide nutrients, and taste delicious! Apples and carrots are best (biased, maybe).

Don’t leave things on the ground you are afraid to lose. I can’t stress this enough. You have to pay attention! You should also only leave toys out that are obviously different from your puppies toys. No squeaky shoe toys, for example. Don’t confuse them.

Now that your puppy is teething, make sure to check its gums and teeth to make sure they are growing in correctly. Sometimes the adult teeth will grow in beside the baby teeth, and could potentially decay and cause abscesses that will damage the adult tooth. Check for any signs of irritation or if anything is growing in wrong, and be sure to consult your veterinarian if you have any issues.

Lastly, don’t scold your puppy. Physical or verbal abuse is never acceptable, but during a learning phase when your dog is already potentially stressed out it could have reverse effects. Just don’t do it.

Puppies are going to explore the world and use their mouths to do it. They are instinctively curious, and we can’t blame them for wanting to discover the world around them. But with a couple of simple tricks you can limit the damage to the furniture and to your wardrobe. Remember to pay attention, and don’t blame your puppy when something goes wrong. They don’t know any better, and now armed with these tools, you can teach them!

What are your tips? Leave your ideas in the comments section, on our Facebook page, or on Twitter!

Can you Trust your Dog Walker?

Professional dog walkers and sitters are not just hired to walk a person’s dog or let them out for potty breaks. Dog walkers are mainly hired to give owners peace of mind that their precious pups are being taken care of, and that their homes are safe. Most professionals are great, they do their jobs well and provide exceptional care. Most of the walkers and sitters I’ve met are incredible, but what happens when you are faced with someone not so great? Why spend your hard earned money and not get what you paid for?

People put a lot of trust in dog walkers. We are trusted with people’s homes, their belongings, and their pets while they are away at work or gone on vacation. So how can pet owners ensure that that trust isn’t broken? How can they check in on their dog walker to make sure they are getting their moneys worth?

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Here are some tips and tricks that you can do to make sure you aren’t getting swindled by your dog walker:

Have a Journal:

Each of my clients has me maintain a journal that recounts my walks. The bathroom cycle, where we went, who we met, whether Spot chased a squirrel, it all goes in there. Not only does that give me an account of the dog’s energy and health, but it gives the pet’s owner a view into our day. Owners can use this to track whether their dog has been out, and how it went. Keep close watch of repetitive stories or how those “long walks” match up with your dogs energy. This is also a good way to make sure your walker shows up at all.

Track your Dog’s Energy:

Does that journal tell a great story of puppies and park time, yet Fido is still feisty and crazy energetic when you get home? Something may not line up. Your dog may have a brief moment of excitement when you come home, but if they are itching to play and going bonkers then you walker may have to either take longer walks, or worse, maybe they need to show up. Dogs naturally like their rest (who doesn’t) and any decent exercise should at least buy you time to eat dinner.

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Hide the Collar and Leash:

Not really ‘hide’ them, but maybe change the routine a bit and leave it on the coffee table instead of the kitchen counter. Wind the leash in a ball, leave the leash and collar apart, hang one but not the other. Do something that would be impossible to replicate so that when your walker returns from the walk you can tell if they had come or not. Sneaky, yes, but it would be an awesome indicator if your dog is getting his exercise.

Ask for Pictures:

Easy. Ask for your walker to text you a picture of your dog out on their walk. Smart phones are so common these days you would be hard pressed to find someone who wouldn’t oblige. I offer to highlight all my clients on this website, and I maintain an Instagram account that I add pictures to at least once every week. Sitting clients are especially fun, going through the usual daily routine can lead to some silly and memorable pictures. Why would you want to miss those moments? If you ask for some pictures, you don’t have to! You get to see all those great moments and be on top of what happens to your pup at the same time.

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These are just four easy tips to keep track of your dog walker. I would hope that if an issue came up my clients would have enough respect to discuss it with me. Don’t be afraid to speak up if you feel like there is an issue, as the pet owner you are in charge (you do pay the bill after all). Ask questions about the walkers experiences and really pay attention to your pooch and hopefully you can avoid any unpleasantries.

Pet owners put a lot of trust in their pet sitters. I am honored to have clients that feel safe enough to have me enter their homes while they are away, and I know that it is very easy to have that trust broken. I think that a huge part of my job is to ensure that I don’t break that trust. Following these easy and simple tips, you can make sure that you and your pets have the same enjoyable experience!

Happy Thanksgiving!

I woke up to the sunrise this morning. For this I am thankful.

I have a loving mother and father who supported my move to Seattle and continue to send their love and support everyday. Even from 2000 miles away, I know that at a moments notice they will be by my side. From them I learned not to take life for granted, that hard work pays off, and that risks are worth taking. For this I am thankful.

I have an amazing brother who is growing into a wonderful young man. I am proud of him and all the paths he has and will take. For this I am thankful.

I am surrounded by friends who I love and respect, and who I can rely on to help me through anything. They are my adopted family in Seattle, the ones who continue to welcome me into their lives with open arms. We have shared so many adventures, and they have truly shaped me into what I am. For this I am thankful.

All over the country, I have family that I know love me, from Texas to Georgia, from Florida to Colorado I know there are people who love me. For this I am thankful.

My stomach is full of food, my mind is full of knowledge. I can read, write, do math, have access to a computer and a microwave. There is a roof over my head, there is a shirt on my back. I have been given the opportunity to define myself on my terms, to take the path I wanted, to get a college degree and move across the country to start a new life. For this I am thankful.

There are so many things to be thankful for, but this Thanksgiving has given me so many more reasons. I am thankful for my wonderful and loving girlfriend, who through good and hard times has become my best friend, and the only one I could ever raise a puppy with. Of course there’s Pickle, who is growing into a beautiful, healthy dog. I am thankful for this chance to start a new chapter of my life and to start a family with the woman I love and the puppy that has stolen our hearts.

I will be sharing Thanksgiving with some of the most important people in my life, friends that have truly become family in my time here. We will stuff our faces with food that we have all been fortunate enough to prepare, watch the Seahawks take on the 49ers, and let ourselves fall victim to a food coma. For this I am thankful.

If you are able to read this blog, be thankful. If you are warm, have a full belly, be thankful. If you have your family by your side, be thankful. You are lucky.

I am lucky. For this I am thankful.