veterinarian merced

Leader of the Snack

         On the average day, over half of the pets that I treat are ‘heavier than ideal,’ and about 10 percent are what I would call morbidly obese—meaning that their weight is going to cause serious health problems in the near future.

         Most owners feel guilty when told their pet is too fat, but I’ve come to realize that it really isn’t their fault—the feeding of our pets is an innate human behavior—almost as basic as laughing or walking.

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         Even toddlers seem to understand this relationship. Children don’t need to be coached to share their food with the family dog. Instead, youngsters take great delight in throwing handfuls of delicious bounty off of the high chair tray and down to the waiting furry friend below.

 People Training Dogs--        This human-dog dynamic—the exchange of food for affection and protection—is probably what domesticated the dog in the first place.   Pavlov explored this relationship further when he would ring a bell before every meal for the dogs. Pretty soon, the dogs were drooling as soon as they heard the bell.  The dogs became conditioned to perform the behavior of drooling in response to the bell and not the food.

   Dogs Training People--      If you are one of those owners who gives your dog a treat every time you open the fridge or every time he does something cute, then it is time to ask "for whom the bell tolls.”  In other words--  who is ringing the bell and who is performing the behavior?  Many owners don’t even realize that their dog is the trainer who has taught the person to feed them on command. Oh, we are so easily trained . . .

         Cleverly, dogs gradually train their owners. A dog’s introductory training course starts with him asking for an extra treat every once in awhile. Then, if you are ‘smart enough’ to be trained, the dog will expect a treat whenever he performs a behavior (e.g. barking, sniffing at the treat cabinet, etc.)  You’ve entered the advanced class of dog training when your dog goes to the food bowl and then looks at you with big, sad eyes.  This passive-aggressive canine is saying “I’d eat this horrible food, if only you loved me enough to put some chicken on it.”  Tsk, tsk. 

         And you are the college level if your dog will only eat when you hand feed him.  People!  Have you lost your minds?  You’re hand feeding your dog—and I’ll bet that he isn’t that skinny, is he?  Do you really, really think he'd let himself starve if you weren't hand feeding him?

         Dogs that are overweight are at a far greater risk of heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis.  Research has proven that overweight dogs don’t live as long and they have more health problems—in other words, your dog may look fat and happy, but he’d be happier (and live longer) if he was a little leaner.

         Don’t allow your dog to be the Leader of the Snack. Instead, offer him two measured meals at specific times of the day.  Give him fifteen minutes to eat his food, and if he doesn’t eat it, then pick up the food.  Within two or three days, he will be eating at mealtime--- without drama or hesitation.   I recommend counting out a very limited number of treats.  When the treats are gone, they’re gone.  Be tough, and don’t feel silly that you’ve been trained by your dog.  After all, it isn’t all your fault, we’ve been hard-wired to do it!

 

Please feel free to distribute this article (at no charge) via all media— all we ask is that you give credit to the author Dr. Jon Klingborg. You will find him at the best veterinary hospital in Merced, California– Valley Animal Hospital. www.vahmerced.com  and www.valleyanimalmerced.com Copyright 2015 by Jon Klingborg, DVM

Harnessing Your Dog's Power

                                     "Will you be my friend?"

                                     "Will you be my friend?"

     Taking your dog for a walk is more than just good exercise, it is key to your dog’s mental well-being. Dogs were ‘designed’ as hunting pack animals, which means that they are supposed to spend a lot of time walking from place to place. During these walks, dogs learn about their pack and their neighborhood—who is in charge, what noises are normal and which are to be feared, and they burn off a lot of nervous energy, too.

             Who's in charge in this picture?

             Who's in charge in this picture?

     Unfortunately, many people don’t know how to walk their dog. First and foremost, your dog is supposed to walk at your side. When he is allowed to constantly walk in front of you, this means that he is in charge. Remember, the top dog is the one at the lead of the pack! Dogs who think they are ‘in charge’ tend to have a number of problem behaviors, including housetraining problems and incessant barking.

     A good walk begins with a proper leash and collar. At some point, a dog may see something that interests him on the sidewalk—a piece of food, a leaf, or another dog. A well-trained dog will respond to a slight tug on the leash that in turn creates a slight ‘pulling sensation’ on the collar. This pulling sensation should be enough to tell him when he’s at the ‘end of his rope,’ so that he stops pulling and returns to your side.

Choosing a Leash:

I prefer a long flat leash—it gives you control and is less likely to cause rope burn (than a cord leash) if you need to give a brisk tug.  Also, with a flat leash you don't have to use the handle to hold on to-- in case of emergency, you can grab anywhere on the leash and pull your dog to safety.

 

 

I don't care for self-rewinding leashes because they always have tension and pull, and that teaches dogs to ignore the pulling sensation that should be the signal to "get back to the pack." With self-rewinding leashes, dogs quickly become less responsive when you really do want him to come back.  

 

 

Collar or Harness?

 

 

There are only three times when a harness is appropriate for your dog—1) if he is pulling a sled or 2) he is a highly trained guide or assistance dog, or 3) an existing health problem demands that he not have the pressure of a collar placed around his neck.

When your dog is at one end of the harness and you are at the other end, this means that your weight is distributed across the dog’s body. A harness allows your dog to have more ‘pulling power’, which means that it is easier for him to cause injury to you—by constantly yanking on your arm and shoulder. Harnesses do not give the proper feedback to your dog—he never gets the message that he’s at the end of the leash because the force of you tugging on the leash never creates the ‘pulling sensation.’

 

 

 

Using a collar:  

When a dog is going for a walk, it is very important for his collar to be positioned high up on his neck—just below his jaw. This will create the feedback of a pulling sensation without choking and stressing your dog.

 

As training collars, choke chains (it’s more politically correct and accurate to call them “slip chains”) are probably the least understood and most abused collars out there.  When a dog is properly trained on a choke chain, he should never need to be choked!  In fact, the tightening of the choke chain is supposed to alert him before the choking occurs, so that he decides not to pull on his own.  The most common mistakes with choke (slip)  chains are that 1) they fit incorrectly (too big or too small) and 2) they are put on backwards—yes, there is a right and a wrong way to put on a choke (slip) chain (and it’s easy to choose the wrong way nearly 100% of the time.)  If you insist on using a choke (slip) chain, then read this website for a refresher course–Here’s an excellent YouTube video on the use of slip chains:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bo0BKCTncEc

 

Prong or pinch collars may look like cruel torture devices, but can work well for many dogs. These collars are designed to fit snuggly around (and high up on) the dog’s neck. If there is any ‘wobble’ to the collar, then it isn’t properly fitted.  A prong/pinch collar works by tightening evenly around the dog’s neck when he is at the end of his leash.  Once again, if a dog is allowed to tug and get ‘pinched’ repeatedly by the collar, then it will lose its effectiveness. A terrific website that covers the prong collar is http://leerburg.com/fit-prong.htm

An interesting hybrid is called the Martingale collar. With a Martingale collar, a tugging dog will feel a pulling sensation around the neck without getting choked.  These collars offer increased safety (they are less likely to accidentally snag on something and strangle your dog) with a streamlined design (they look like a flat collar.)

                        The Gentle Leader Collar

                        The Gentle Leader Collar

The perfect collar for the dog that insists on pulling and walking in front of you is called The Gentle Leader. A Gentle Leader collar fits snugly around the dog’s neck, and has an extra loop that sits loosely over the top of the nose. When a dog begins to pull on the leash, the Gentle Leader tightens under the nose—causing the dog to do a u-turn, because where the nose goes, so does the dog.  There are imitation Gentle Leader collars, but the original is still the best.  I’ve seen problem dogs begin to walk properly within 5 minutes when a Gentle Leader collar is used.

The same geniuses who designed the Gentle Leader collar have also redesigned the harness—and have created the Easy Walk Harness.  If a dog has to wear a harness, it is the only one that I would ever recommend. The leash clips to the front of the harness at the dog’s chest. This creates a different kind of ‘pulling sensation’ that alerts the dog when he’s at “the end of his rope.”

Once a dog is properly trained, you should be able to hold the leash between your thumb and forefinger and provide enough feedback to keep your dog from pulling.  If this doesn’t sound like a walk with your dog, then it is time to reconsider the collar and leash system you are using, and to think about a refresher course in obedience training.

Please feel free to distribute this article (at no charge) via all media— all I ask is that you give the author and Valley Animal Hospital credit.  You will find Dr. Jon Klingborg at the best veterinary hospital in Merced, California– Valley Animal Hospital. www.vahmerced.com 

Curing "Slurpophrenia"

Slurpophrenia (n.)  The insanity caused by a dog licking and slurping all night long.  

            Lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of tired, crazed dog owners in the clinic, and they are all suffering from Slurpophrenia. Correctly diagnosing and treating the cause of this disease will lead to happy dogs and happier owners.  Dogs that cause Slurpophrenia usually fall into 3 categories—the bored, the anxious, or the allergic.

            Some dogs will repeatedly lick their feet to alleviate boredom. These dogs typically start the slurping when you settle down at night to watch television.  Since your dog doesn’t want to watch TV, he needs something to do.  While compulsively licking, his body releases chemicals that relax him.  These endorphins are the dog’s natural narcotic, and some dogs seem to get hooked on them! 

           

To break the cycle of licking, you must deal with your dog’s boredom. Often, obsessive dogs will stop licking if they are given enough exercise.  Tire him out, and he won’t have the energy to be bored or lick!  Also, provide him with a special toy or a chew bone that he only gets in the evening. It will become part of his routine, and he’ll look forward to it.

            Nervous dogs will lick to relieve their anxiety. The licking behavior seems to give these stressed dogs something else (besides their worries) to focus on.   This behavior is very similar to a child who sucks his thumb—a dog’s licking is a reassuring behavior, and this encourages him to do more licking. 

            If your dog’s licking is driving you crazy at specific times—when you are leaving for work or another pet is nearby or when it is mealtime—these can all be signs of anxiety.  Once again, recognizing the underlying cause of the behavior is the key to stopping it.

            Allergies are the number one cause of Slurpophrenia.  When a dog has allergies, his skin is itchy and it drives him crazy!  Most allergic dogs will scratch and chew all over their bodies, though they tend to pick on a couple of specific areas (over the rump, ears, bottom of feet).

            Dogs are susceptible to all kinds of allergies from hay fever to flea bites to grass allergy.  Often, owners will give their dog an anti-histamine to help their itchy, slurpophrenic dog. Unfortunately, anti-histamines don’t help dogs with allergies. Instead, these drugs just make dogs sleepy. Though a dog on anti-histamines may scratch less (because he is sleepy), the itchy and inflamed skin hasn’t been treated.

            Oatmeal based shampoos can quiet down a dog’s allergic skin condition for a few days, and hydrocortisone sprays can also help. However, hydrocortisone lowers the skin’s resistance to bacteria, so your dog may scratch less and stink more if his skin becomes infected.

            In many cases, allergies are controlled with anti-inflammatory pills or injections.  After receiving an anti-inflammatory treatment, most dogs go home and sleep soundly for a few days.  Apparently, Slurpophrenia affects your dog’s sleeps as much as your own!  Whether your dog is bored, anxious, or allergic, proper diagnosis and treatment for Slurpophrenia can allow everyone in the household to get a good night’s sleep.

 

 

Please feel free to distribute this article via all media— all I ask is that you give the author and Valley Animal Hospital credit.  You will find Dr. Jon Klingborg at the best veterinary hospital in Merced, California– Valley Animal Hospital.  www.vahmerced.com.   Copyright 2012 by Jon Klingborg.