Monday, November 14, 2011

Adopting a Dog? Some Considerations

In recent years "adopting" a dog from a shelter or rescue group has become the norm. However adoption is not the only choice nor is it the best choice for every family. Personally I have "adopted" 3 adult dogs from the Calgary Humane Society, 1 adult dog from a breeder and purchased 2 puppies from breeders. There has been some significant differences in the dogs that came to me as puppies and those that showed up as adults. 

Adopting A Puppy

Puppies (4 months and under) are available through rescue. They come in a variety of mixes as well as the occasional "purebred". They tend to be adopted quickly and spend very little time sitting in a shelter or foster home. So what's different about adopting a puppy rather than seeking out one from a reputable breeder?

- Unknown history on parents including their breeds and temperaments 
- Unknown medical screening on parents
- Puppy might suffer malnutrition and lack of socialization 

A good breeder does the work before a puppy is ever born. Planning a litter should include screening both parent dogs for a variety of genetic health concerns (includes hip displaysia, blindness, skin issues, ect). Parent dogs should also have a sound temperament because behaviour problems include a genetic component.

Another concern is whether your puppy got the right start once he/she were born. This can be extremely important because what a puppy is exposed to before they are 4 months old will affect them throughout their life. Puppies need to be fed a well balanced diet and experience new people (all ages), new dogs and changes in environment. This creates a happy, confident dog as an adult.

Adopting An Adult Dog 

Adopting an adult dog can include all the challenges of adopting a puppy and more! Sometimes adult dogs are given up due to behaviour problems in the home including house soiling, biting, aggression with other dogs/pets, resource guarding or a general lack of manners. While these issues can generally be resolved with good management and a training plan they do exist. Sometimes adopters are not even aware that these issues exist at all. 

One of the most important considerations should be what you want in a dog. Make a list and screen each dog carefully. Rescues and shelters who do their due diligence should be screening all adoptable dogs with behaviour assessments. Please take these assessments seriously but consider that the dog might act different once he/she settles into the home.

A list of considerations:
- What breed(s) do I want and why? Have I researched what this type of dog was bred to do?
- What behaviour issues am I willing to work on and what is a deal breaker? 
- Do I have children and is this dog acquainted with kids? 
- Do I have time for training and integration? 
- What type of health concerns am I prepared to deal with immediately?

Choosing to rescue is indeed saving a life but it is not the right choice for everyone. Choosing a reputable breeder can be just as difficult. Dogs live between 9 and 18 years. This choice will affect you and your family for some time to come. Do not make a rushed decision and consider contacting a dog trainer to help you make that decision.

Where's Your Sit? offers pre-adoption consults where we can help assess what kind of dog would be best for you and where you should acquire your dog.

Blog entry coming next on choosing a good breeder. Not all breeders care about the future health of your dog or his/her temperament either. Screening is very important!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Health Care for Dogs

I get asked A LOT of questions about dogs particularly after someone new learns I am a dog trainer. Often enough people ask me the same ones and truth be told I'm always happy to talk about my favourite topic. I've decided to share some of these FAQ's with my blog readers for your information. 

Here's the first one: Why and how often should I take my puppy to the vet when he seems healthy?

Most Veterinarians recommend a yearly check up for all healthy pets just like humans are suppose to see their doctors once per year. Regular check ups are incredibly important for pets because they age much faster than humans and because they don't have a voice to tell you when something is wrong.

When adopting a new pet you should have a vet check preformed whether the dog is old, young, healthy or otherwise. This will give your vet an idea about what your pet's age, general body condition, weight, body temperature and other important information is when your pet is healthy. This can act as a guide to how sick your pet is when something is wrong. It also helps familiarize your pet with the vet clinic and vet him/herself when your pet feels good. This makes treating your pet when he/she is sick much easier.

Another sign for a "healthy" dog to visit the vet is a change in behaviour that is not easy to explain. This includes: accidents in the house, more frequent urination, anxiety, aggression, lethargy and loss of appetite. Many of the cases of aggression I see also include a health issue. This should make you think twice before implementing a punishment for behaviour you see as "naughty" when your dog might actually be feeling under the weather. A full vet check up including bloodwork is a must.

Your Veterinarian is a great resource and it's important you find someone that you like and trust. Personally I see 4 different vets with my dogs depending on the issue. Ask your friends and family to see who they use. Ask questions like how long have you been seeing your vet, do you like him/her, have they offered you practical advice that works? Luckily Calgary has many vets to choose from so take your time to research and find someone that is kind to you and your dog.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Solutions for Canine Anxiety

I've seen an increasing amount of clients lately who are struggling with their dog's anxiety issues. Concerns include fear of storms, strangers, other dogs, areas in the home, walks once it's dark outside and being home alone. 

While anxiety concerns in dogs can be complex here are a few solutions to help your best friend out: 

1. Create a Regular Routine
Just like kids, dogs need to be able to predict what's going happen in their day. This does not mean to live life by an exact schedule (ie. the dog eats every morning at 6am) but it does mean that your dog understands that certain events take place in order (ie. bathroom break, breakfast, walk, etc.) so they know what to expect. Dogs should also have a regular bed time and an over tired dog should get naps. 

2. Feed a Balanced and Healthy Diet
A poor diet can affect your dog's mood significantly. While the jury is still out on what the best food is to feed your dog here are a few recommendations; pick a high quality dog food instead of a grocery store product, consult with a nutrition expert (may or may not be a veterinarian), read a book on canine nutrition so you know what to look for and consider alternative diets such as raw or home made which can be a great solution for some dogs. Every dog is different and sometimes you have to try a few different options. My 4 dogs all eat differently: Russ gets Go Natural Salmon & Rice kibble supplemented with veggies, Heidi gets Go Natural White Fish or Wellness Core wet food with rice, veggies, yogurt, flax and vitamin C, and both Marco and Tank get a mixed raw food diet which is partially home made. Do your research and figure out what's best for your dog. 

3. Keep Your Own Anxiety Under Control
Owners that are also experiencing high levels of anxiety can affect their dogs. It's important to be as relaxed as possible especially when exposing your dog to something they worry about.  Some interesting products that can help both humans and dogs include Rescue Remedy, soothing music, exercise and plenty of sleep.

4. Contact a Trainer versed in Anxiety
Not all dog trainers know about anxiety issues in dogs. Contact a variety of trainers when looking for help. Dog trainers who have their CPDT-KA designation have passed an exam that includes an Animal Behaviour component. Or a trainer who has experienced in this field and has taken the time to attend seminars about this type of issue. Anxiety issues should never be addressed using coercive or forceful methods.

A few great products:

1. DAP collars, sprays or diffusers (stands for Dog Appeasement Pheromone) and is available through most vet clinics and the Calgary Humane Society. 

2. Thunder Shirts, now available through most pet stores including Global Pet Foods and Mungo's Books for Dog People. 

3. Through a Dog's Ear CD, available at the Calgary Humane Society, Mungo's Books for Dog People and of course online.

4. Rescue Remedy, great for people and dogs! Available at most health stores.

Here's Dexter one of Where's Your Sit?'s clients. Dexter is scared of bath time so he can be seen here getting more comfortable with the bath tub. Where's Your Sit? has a variety of classes and private training options to help anxious or fearful dogs.