Dog Care in Today’s Crazy World


Most of us expect to begin taking medication at some point in our lives, particularly those of us with small children. What many of us don’t expect, however, is for the family dog to begin taking medication. I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure this is the first generation to actually provide dogs with things like health insurance, plastic surgery, organ transplants and dentures.

When I was a kid, our dog seemed content eating table scraps, chewing on car tires and barking at the hot water heater. Those things were referred to as character.

Now, of course, these things are referred to as unbalanced, and require psychological treatment, a diet plan and regular nightly flossing. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that we shouldn’t provide our pets with the kind of health care they deserve. I’m just saying that I should have the option of being covered under my dog’s health plan, which — with its dental coverage — is far superior to my own.

A few weeks ago, I took our Labrador to the vet after a series of “accidents” in the middle of the night. I believed this was the result of either a) our dog having an incontinence problem, or b) the cat dipping our dog’s paw in warm water while he’s sleeping.

Our vet said the only way to be sure was to obtain a urine sample from our dog for testing, at which point he sent me home with a plastic container roughly the size of a shot glass. As I feared, our vet explained that the sample had to go DIRECTLY INTO it in order to eliminate any chance of contamination.

There was never any question that I’d be the one stalking our dog with the shot glass, trying to catch a free pour until I either got the sample or was reported by a neighbor to the SPCA.

I should add that our dog has always been a little jumpy, and a week of being stalked by someone trying to steal his urine hasn’t helped.

After obtaining the required sample, I took it to the vet for testing and had my worst fears confirmed, which is that our dog does indeed have better health coverage than we do. I also learned that a dog’s incontinence problem can be solved through a very simple, easy-to-follow combination of prescription medications, with one pill given once every other day, and a second pill given twice a day, every other day, but not on the SAME day as the first pill. After a month, the sequence is then reversed and continues until the incontinence stops completely, or both you and your dog are so confused that you don’t care WHO pees on the floor.

Being that I am an organizer, I came up with a plan to keep track of everything by color-coding the pill bottles, then color-coding the calendar to match the correct sequence. As an extra precaution, I also created a spreadsheet that can be checked-off each night and, if necessary, used as a back up in the event that we all go color blind.

Of course, none of this really mattered because our dog refused to swallow his medication.

When I tried sticking the pills in his favorite treat, it worked great. But it sort of defeats the purpose of having a prescription discount when you’re spending $40 a month on cheddar cheese.

That’s when I, the dog-wrangler, decided I could force our dog to swallow his pills by placing them on the back of the tongue and poking them down with my finger.

In retrospect, this was clearly a bad idea.

On one hand, I can tell you our dog did swallow his pill; on the other hand, I can also tell you most of his stomach contents from that day.

This brought me back to the cheese option, which I’ve stuck with for the last several days. While this has made giving prescriptions to our dog a lot easier and helped with his incontinence, the high rate of cheese consumption has created a different kind of problem — which has prompted a return to the vet.

And I’ll tell you right now that if he wants a sample of THAT in a shot glass, he can do it himself.


How Wolves Help Us Choose a Pet


Wolf DNA varies from that of a domestic dog by just 0.2 per cent. Few of us will live with wolves, but an awful lot of us live with dogs, so it is useful to understand how the social structure of wolves applies to the dog world.

People think it’s good to have an alpha dog, believing it to be the bold one who comes to say hello when you go to choose your puppy from a litter. That is not the case. Alphas stay at the back of the kennel because they have a strong sense of self-preservation. They never put themselves in jeopardy.

If you take a true alpha puppy home with you, he will be a quick learner, easy to train so that one day, when he sees the time is right, he can take over the pack. And he’ll be looking for that day, for a sign of weakness in you that suggests you are no longer capable of doing the job. Unless you are constantly one step ahead of him, he will turn into a willful rebel who pays no attention to anything you tell him.

The beta, or what we now tend to call the enforcer, is the one who comes boldly over to you when you go to view the litter. He’s the disciplinarian, the bouncer, the bodyguard; he is pure aggression. He doesn’t think; he just weighs in.

If you choose this puppy to take home without being aware of what you have picked, it could be disastrous. You and he may differ in what you view as a perceived threat. It could be another dog in the park, a neighbor or a child.

Then there’s the tester within the pack, the quality controller, a very trying pet who will be pushing your ability daily, making sure you deserve to be the one who makes the decisions.

Mid- to low-ranking individuals make good pets because they have no need to discipline or teach anyone anything. These ranks don’t seek you out when you visit the litter.

Owners have been taught they must take on the role of the alpha dog but, despite the miraculous results in problem dogs seen on television, this doesn’t always work. If you have a nervous, low-ranking animal and you behave like an alpha, or even a beta, you could destroy him.

Many people, of course, don’t get their dogs as pups. Contrary to the saying, ‘You can’t teach an old dog new tricks’; I believe you can, by going back to that time in the dog’s life when he was at his most receptive.

A pup learns basic principles from his mother: he picks up her calming signals, discovers the reward system, and learns his pack value and how to communicate with his own kind. When he stumbles out into the world at five weeks and begins to mix mother’s milk with regurgitated meat, that circle of learning increases.

So to re-educate an adult dog you feed him on the sort of diet he had in his first few months of life: a mixture of milk and minced or finely chopped meat.

After a couple of months on that he should be pliable and ready to listen, whereupon you can train him more or less as you would a puppy, heavy on reward and light on punishment.

A Veterinarian’s Story

Being a veterinarian, I had been called to examine a ten-year-old Irish Wolfhound named Belker. The dog’s owners, Ron, his wife Lisa, and their little boy Shane, were all very attached to Belker, and they were hoping for a miracle.

I examined Belker and found he was dying of cancer. I told the family we couldn’t do anything for Belker, and offered to perform the euthanasia procedure for the old dog in their home.

As we made arrangements, Ron and Lisa told me they thought it would be good for six-year-old Shane to observe the procedure. They felt as though Shane
might learn something from the experience.

The next day, I felt the familiar catch in my throat as Belker’s family surrounded him. Shane seemed so calm, petting the old dog for the last time, that I wondered if he understood what was going on. Within a few minutes, Belker slipped peacefully away.

The little boy seemed to accept Belker’s transition without any difficulty or confusion. We sat together for a while after Belker’s Death, wondering aloud about the sad fact that animal lives are shorter than human lives.
Shane, who had been listening quietly, piped up, ”I know why.”

Startled, we all turned to him. What came out of his mouth next stunned me. I’d never heard a more comforting explanation. It has changed the way I try and live.

He said , ”People are born so that they can learn how to live a good life — like loving everybody all the time and being nice, right?”
The Six-year-old continued,”Well, dogs already know how to do that, so they don’t have to stay as long.”