Springtime Tips

Spring is in the air! Here are some tips to get you ready for outdoor activities with your pooch.

Fitness for Fido

If your dog has had limited exercise this winter, start slowly and build up gradually. Just as you wouldn’t sit on the couch all winter and then go on a five mile run once the weather turns pleasant, so too should you help your dog build strength and stamina. Start with 10-15 minutes of you brisk walking (your dog should be trotting) and build from there. Not only is a tired dog a good dog (as they old adage says), but you can also keep your dog happier and healthier with regular aerobic exercise.

How much exercise should you aim for? Twenty to thirty consecutive minutes a day (fetch, brisk walking, jogging, swimming, or some combination of those) is great for most mature dogs. Adolescent dogs (6-18 months of age) need much more (an hour or more a day for active breed types). For dogs younger than a year, consult with your vet about the right type and amount of exercise to avoid straining growing bones, joints and ligaments. For more senior dogs, regular moderate exercise can actually help manage stiffness and obesity that would otherwise cause discomfort. What’s that, you say you want to play fetch but your dog won’t bring the ball back? In case you have a reluctant retriever, here are some tips on how to teach your dog to play fetch.

If your dog got a little pudgy over the winter, there’s no time like the present to help him get his figure back. He’ll thank you for many reasons, but especially when it gets too warm for him to cool his body mass with that tiny, little, panting tongue of his. Most dogs are overweight. And many veterinarians will not come right out and explain that your dog needs to lose weight (and the health consequences if he doesn’t). With a few exceptions for breeds who do not have a typical body shape, you should be able to see a distinct waist if you look at your dog’s back from above, a tucking up under his belly towards his back legs when viewed from the side, and you should easily be able to feel his ribs, and even slightly see them, if he turns sideways. (Here is a chart similar to the one your veterinarian uses to assess your dog’s ideal body shape.) To help him get back in shape, exercise helps, as do low-cal treats in place of processed ones or fatty table scraps. Some low-cal training treat ideas include:

  • Use your dog’s kibble as treats (just put his meal in a ziplock baggie instead of the bowl)
  • Macaroni noodles cooked in broth instead of water
  • Lightly steamed sweet potato, cut into pea-sized bits
  • Popcorn.

Leash manners

Teach your dog to walk nicely on leash. This will help get her ready for group training classes, trail walks, visits to the park and neighborhood strolls. There are many methods that are gentle and effective (Sue Ailsby’s is my favorite; scroll until you find “Leash” under Level 2). In the meantime, consider using an Easy Walk Harness, which causes you dog no pain, but prevents pulling in most dogs. If your dog visits dog parks, goes on hikes with you, or has trouble passing other dogs or people without getting over-stimulated, learn more about dog etiquette and how to train your dog to be a pleasure in public.

Parasite prevention

Believe it or not, now is the time to start thinking about flea and tick prevention. Even with the extreme winter we have had, fleas and ticks are alive and well in many areas.

The birds and the bees

Wildlife is coming out of its winter sleep and soon squirrels, birds, moles and snakes will be active and abundant.  So now is a great time to solidify your dog’s ability to come when you call, before a bunny catches his eye and bolts across the street and into the path of an oncoming car. Here are some tips to get you started and some thoughts about dogs and wildlife. Also check out the DVD called Really Reliable Recall.

Hot dogs

And, of course with warmer weather comes an important responsibility: keep your dog cool enough. Provide shade and clean water if he is going to be outside for an extended period. Leave him at home rather than risking brain and other organ damage from being trapped in a hot car. (Did you know canine heat stroke can occur in just ten minutes, even if you leave your windows cracked?) Also, exercise your dog during the coolest parts of the day to avoid overheating him.

Happy springtime!

Have a Heart, Spare Your Dog

Since you’re reading this blog, I’ll bet you really like your dog. You may even take your dog with you to run errands or for company on your way to an appointment. Now, I don’t want to alarm you (ok, maybe I do, just a little) but you may be putting your dog’s brain cells, liver, and intestines at grave risk. You could even be endangering your dog’s life. Every day, people just like you, who love their dogs and take them along on errands, put them in danger because they don’t yet know this: each breath of air that a dog exhales measures 102 degrees Fahrenheit, at 100% humidity. Therefore, as the dog waits in the car for their person to finish that errand, the car becomes filled with hot, moist air. The dog (who can’t sweat) has no way to cool off, and can suffer brain damage within minutes. When the air outside the car is warm, a greenhouse effect is created and the temperature inside the car rises dramatically within minutes. Yes, even if the car is parked in the shade, even with the windows cracked, and even if you leave the dog water to drink.summerfun

You car can reach 116 degrees within an hour—even with the windows down—when it is only 72 degrees outside. (Stanford University tested it out).  In just ten minutes, your car can reach 102 degrees if it is 85 degrees outside. When your dog’s body temperature reaches 107 degrees, nerve, liver, heart and brain damage begin to occur. If you have a brachiocephalic breed (a “short-nosed” dog like a pug, bulldog or Pekingese), an Arctic breed or a giant breed, you have even less wiggle room for safety. Talk with your veterinarian if you have any questions about your dog’s health and safety related to the heat.

You may think this does not apply to you because you’re just running into the bank to make a quick deposit, or you’re only dashing into the store to pick up a couple of items. But people just like you have lost their dogs to brain damage and heart damage after they said, “I’ll only be gone for a minute,” and then found their dog suffering from hyperthermia when they returned. Perhaps the line was longer than they’d hoped, they ran into a friend and stopped just long enough to say hello, or they spotted a great sale that kept them away from the car longer than that one minute. Canine heat stroke is a summer tragedy you can avoid.

To give you an idea of how serious a threat the heat is to your dog, it is illegal in many counties to leave your dog in your car (regardless if the windows are cracked or the car is parked in the shade) if the outside temperature is 70 degrees or warmer. Leaving your dog in your car is such a threat to your dog’s life that Animal Control Officers will break into your vehicle to save your dog.

If you see a dog in a parked car and it’s over 70 degrees, call 911 (yes, the police really do want you to call because a life and death emergency could be unfolding). They may arrive themselves, or they may dispatch Animal Control officers.

I don’t recommend trying to strike up a conversation with the dog’s owner, by the way. They may feel embarrassed and none too willing to heed the advice of someone they may consider a butt-in-ski. Instead, after you call 911, leave a  fact-filled flyer on their windshield. You can print them out yourself thanks to My Dog is Cool.

Last week I backed my car out of a space and was leaving the parking lot when I heard barking. “Uh-oh,” I thought. According to my car’s thermometer, it was 82 degrees outside. Sure enough, there was a little, black dog locked in a sedan. The windows were cracked, there was a water dish inside, and he was panting like mad. His owner was nowhere in sight. I called Animal Control, and just then someone came out of the building and approached the car. Relieved, I said, “Excuse me, is this your car?” and when she replied that it was, I told her I was glad to see her, because her dog was in distress and I was just calling Animal Control. She did not check on her dog, but rather said to me, “Have a heart, I was only in there for 30 minutes.”

Please, when it’s hotter than 70 degrees outside, have a heart. Leave you dog at home.