Tuesday, September 23, 2014

How St. John become my best friend

I didn’t start liking dogs. There’s one in the house, but he’s not one that I personally own. Well, he didn’t use to be my dog. He is a black lab, a naughty one.

Who couldn't love a face like that?
Photo: Jeff Futo,CC-BY-2.0
When the kids were small, I never allowed dogs or any pets in the house. I couldn’t be bothered with all the obligations entailed by taking care of dogs; I was parenting, and that was tough enough.

I’ve been asked by the children, not a few times, for a dog. I wouldn’t budge with my rule: strictly no four-legged creature allowed in the house. Then the kids got to the age when they started quizzing me – why the rule? I stuck to my original rationale: I couldn’t be side-tracked from parenting. That proved to be my own undoing. They had a good argument for that and a mother for a judge. I’d do my parenting thing, and they’d be exclusively responsible for the canine. They even pitched in for the budget just to keep the dog – not a cent was to come from me. Maybe it was one of those nights when you get home so tired and you have all defenses down. I should’ve called for a lawyer.

In short, I lost my case. Right the following afternoon, a black four-legged thing excitedly wiggled its irritating presence into my territory. The house was suddenly filled with shrieks and noisy footfalls. The sunshiny breakfast that I used to enjoy quietly begun to be disrupted with yelps, feeding, and running around. My privacy was invaded; I was sure I could inhale fur in the air. It didn’t help that my favourite chair got chewed on. The family had to sit again (I made sure I was alert and not harried from work) to set rules and draw territories. Things got to near-normal afterwards, but life was never to be the same again.

I’ve always been for looking at the bright side of things, even in those situations. The kids did seem to act more responsibly. They woke up earlier to do their tasks – dog walking, feeding, cleaning the kennel, keeping the air smell-free, and everything else that had to do with the dog. They learned to save for the food, grooming, and the vet. They sounded happier and funnier. I thought they spent more time hanging out together (and the dog). And that was a very good thing because I actually started to worry that they spent more time with their gadgets than with each other.  Okay, having the dog had its pluses, but I still kept my safe distance - not opposing it, but not taking any part of it either.

It went like that for years; until the day when the last kid left for university. I retired earlier than my wife did. So it was only me and St. John. That’s his name.

I don’t know too many dogs. But if St. John is typical of his specie, then I can say that you can’t be alone with a dog and continue to be unaffected. That I know now.

He sprints and zooms from one point of the yard to the other and back, like it’s some kind of a mission. On the beach, he’s like a child who never tires of the water. I can’t help but smile at his spirited antics. Then he can also walk on leash behind me, as long as I pace briskly. But he can be calm and patient, too. He loves snuggling and never grows bored just sitting with me. He kisses with no shame - you can’t say that about a lot of people.

That dogs are loyal cannot be questioned. St. John would be at my beck and call. At a whistle, he’d bounce right into my sight and wag his tail. Dogs are very forgiving, which isn’t always easy for humans. There are days when I’d be away. When I get home he’d be there looking like all he’s done was wait for me by the door. Then he’d be in his childish exuberance again, settling down only to look me in the eye.

Have I turned 360 degrees with dogs out of convenience, or forced by circumstances? Well, I don’t want to overthink about that. Like with most people in our lives, maybe St. John and I came around each other at the right time and the right place.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Economics of a Dog

Puppies are cute. But they require upkeep, including time and money. You have to spend time with your dog to keep it happy and healthy. The financial commitment to a puppy might be more than you can chew. We'll look at both in this article.

It's important to budget your money before you get a pet. This way you'll have an allowance each month for your new dog. If you desperately need money, you may want to take note of how much a canine costs to see if you can afford the financial commitment without assistance.

Size and age will be a determining factor in costs, which could range between free to thousands depending on your animal's health and what kind of spender you are.

As mentioned, the initial investment of a dog varies. You might be able to find a free dog from a friend or spend a few hundred to a thousand on a purebred. That's up to you.

If you are looking for a purebred, find one that's reputable. Those backyard breeders or puppy mills are not the place to look.

If you are OK with a mutt, a Fido, an I-don't-know-what-kind-of-mixed-dog-this-is, go to your local animal shelter. There's plenty of dogs that want to be adopted. The fees are reasonable.

Places like craigslist are not your best bet. You don't know any history of where the dog is coming from and might get a surprise, such as unexpected vet costs.

Initial investment: $500

Once you find a good animal, you should take it to the vet to get checked out. You may need to purchase vaccines or additional medical treatment depending on your animal. Expect to pay about $300 to get deworming, blood tests, microchip, and to get your pet spayed or neutered.

1st year vet costs: $300

You will also need a collar, leash, crate, toys, treats, and bedding. This will cost about $200 dollars. Don't forget you'll need a license, too, which is about $20 bucks.

Creature comfort costs: $220

Food is another cost at about $650 per year. If you choose to get pet insurance, there's another $250 dollars.

Dog food: $650
Pet insurance: $250

For a medium sized dog, you should expect to pay close to $2000 during its first year.

The annual costs will be lower because you won't have the purchase price of the pet -- just food, toys, license, insurance, and medical fees if needed.

This will be about $1300 per year.

If you need money right now and don't have financial assistance, investments like dogs might not be a good fit for you.

You might come down to a point where you have to sacrifice your well-being or your animal's just to be able to afford your minimum monthly living requirements. A pup is a big financial decision.

Also, remember that when you go on vacation, you'll need a pet sitter or spend money on a kennel. On average, that will cost about $40 per day.

Now the economics of a puppy are one thing and it's apparent that a dog is expensive but that should not stop you from getting one if you want one.

They add value to your household. My dog is always wagging his tail and waiting for me when I come home. He keeps me exercising in the dead of winter.

Granted, I don't like going out there for a walk when it's 20 degrees and snowy but the exercise is beneficial.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Why Do Puppies Do the Things They Do?

I wish I could answer that question but I did do some research into puppies and thought I'd share what I found out regarding their temperaments, psychology, and just general training ideas.

Dogs are a pack animal and are social creatures. They are not like kids despite how we talk to them sometimes.

They have their own pecking order in a group and that's a lot like humans.

We have a pecking order with our families and it's a common social organization trait we all share.

Children are lower on the pecking order than parents, for instance. And a dog should fall lower in the pecking order than humans, but that can be tough if the puppy does not understand where he/she should be.

Because puppies are social animals, they want to do what's right, but they may not always know the difference between what's right or wrong.

We need to correct them with praise and reinforcement, though. There's a few tones of voice that can achieve this.

  • Baby talk
  • Commands
  • Growling tone of voice

Baby talk is that cutesy talk that can be used to praise the dog. The tone is non-threatening.

Command are direct and are words like sit and stay.

The growling tone of voice is a deeper sounding and will cause the dog to pay attention.

You can use these vocal inflections to your advantage. Here's a few ways.

Example: chewing and biting on hands

If you let a puppy chew on your hands, they'll do that for the rest of their life.

Instead, why not redirect them to a toy. Here's an idea when they are chewing on a hand: Use that growling voice, saying "don't chew."
Then give them a toy, using the baby talk voice, giving them praise.

They will be able to associate the growling voice with what's bad and the baby talk voice with what's good. In time, they will learn what's right and wrong.

The same is true about inanimate objects like a chair or shoe. Pick up a toy, stand near the puppy and use that growling voice, saying no bite or no chew. Then give your puppy the toy and praise her in that baby talk voice.

You can use your voice to your advantage if your puppy jumps up on you when he/she greets you.

Granted, jumping up on you is how your dog greets you. But you can train them to not do so.

I read one way to illustrate it's not acceptable is to step into the puppy when they jump up. It makes them think that you are still the dominate one and their behavior is not correct.

Also, you probably should not say "down" when they jump on you because that is a command similar to "sit down" or "lay down." A better word would be off so the dog is not confused.

Back to school

Obedience training can be a great way to socialize puppies with other dogs and people. It can help reduce fear of dogs and people and some inanimate objects.

Your dog will also work on agility, going up ramps and though hoops and tunnels.

But from what I read, one of the best things about obedience training is that your dog will listen to you. When that happens, it means the dog puts you at the top of the pecking order and you dominate it. You'll be able to train it easier, then.

Obedience training can lay the foundation for your puppy's social skills.

And then there's the dreaded housebreaking

During housebreaking, you should use the crate to your advantage. The crate is a dog's den. And a dog has a den instinct and will dog will avoid soiling in the den because it's a small area. Same holds true with a small crate.

Rather than let the puppy have free roaming throughout your house all the time, put the puppy in the crate when you're doing things like taking a shower, cooking dinner, cleaning, whatever

If you give the puppy full reign of your house at first, they will soil in it because they don't see your house as their den yet.

It takes time for them to learn that the house is their den and that they should not soil in there.

One way is to use leashing in the house at first.

You could tether the dog to the room that you are in at first and the dog will have a short range.

While the dog is tethered, you will be able to see if she starts the dance or paw indicating she's needs to go outside. This can help you get the puppy outside in time.

Rather than give treats after the dog goes potty, consider using verbal praise. If you do treat, make sure the treat is given immediately after the puppy relived itself. If you wait until giving the treat until the puppy is in the house, it is too late.

Don't punish your puppy if it soils in the house. If you catch them in the act, growl at them, pick them up and take them to front door and say good doggie lets go potty.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Ideas To Save A Dachshund's Back

Dachshunds have their own health issues. It doesn't matter if they are standard or mini -- or even short-hair or long-hair.

Although the biggest problem for Doxies is back issues. They are weiner dogs, afterall, and that extra length in their back is the concern.

"Each time a dog jumps up on the bed, jumps for the ball, or jumps into the back of the SUV, the spine is flexed and then acutely extended, putting increased forces at the low cervical, mid-thoracic, and especially lower lumbar spine. These recurring stresses can result in chronic fatigue and microscopic damage to the IVD." Scot Swainson, DVM, ACVS Surgeon Colorado Canine Orthopedics from http://www.canineortho.com/index.php/prognosis-intervertebral-disc-disease/9-neurosurgery/77-canine-disc-disease-101

Because we want to reduce stresses on their spine there's a lot we can do to help avoid it.

Down the stairs: A gated community

The best solution is to block off access to stairs, so they can't go down them.

One of those kiddie or dog gates will block access and help save their back.

Ramp it up

Don't expect your doxie to jump onto and off the sofa every day and not have problems later in its life.

A good solution is a ramp -- but with sides!

Sure, a dachshund can climb up the ramp and get on the sofa. But for some reason they like to take a direct route down off the sofa -- i.e., JUMP!

The rails make sure they don't jump.

You can buy a ramp or you can make one with common hand tools. I read over at This Old House a DIY method, which is pretty cool. (Here's the link: http://www.thisoldhouse.com/toh/how-to/intro/0,,20311176,00.html)

The benefit of the DIY method is that you could carpet it with same color carpet you have in your house, or you could stain the wood the same color as your hardwood floor if you have them.

Block it off

Sometimes good intentions still don't work out. My doxie, JC, still likes to jump off things even with ramps, so I block off furniture.

I'll put a plush pillow on a chair so that way he can't jump onto the chair.

It works, but it looks silly when company comes over and all three chairs are covered with pillows.

Get on the floor

Like kids, dachshunds do well on the floor because they can't jump around on high things.

The floor can be just as comfy as the sofa or bed for a doxie. But you do need to put down one of those mattress toppers (one of the egg-crate style ones) and then put down a nice soft, blanket it over it and lots of pillows and a blankets around it.

After that you have a nice little den for your doxie, which is cozy and comfortable.

This gives them their own special spot.

No fly zones

Here's a dialog between my dog and his last flight from the sofa. (Yes, it's fictional)

JC to air control tower: I need to crash land off this sofa.
Air control tower to JC: Can't you use the ramp?
JC to air control tower: No, I wanna jump. I'm coming down
Air control tower to JC: Is your back OK?
JC to air control tower: It's OK but hurts a little

It's all good to provide ways for a doxie to get off high places, but it doesn't get to the root of the problem: Train the dog not to jump from high places.

The goal is to train them so that they behave the way we want and then give them a reward or a treat immediately afterward.

This is hard though and I have not done it. If you have, let me know how it worked. Maybe you know of a good resource as well.

What Should I Look Out for When Getting A Puppy?

Most parents get their kids a puppy and may not know what to look for when picking one out.

Let's look at a few tips to get you started when you are selecting the right puppy from there litter.

What dog is right for your family?

You need to ask yourself what type of dog is right for you and your family.

The best way to determine this is to consider different factors, including your lifestyle, the size and coat of the animal, how trainable the puppy is, barking, temperament, and the exercise needs of the pooch.

Your lifestyle determines a lot about the type of dog you should get.

Do you have time to train the puppy, socialize it with other dogs, and do you have the financial means to support it? These are all good questions you should ask yourself when getting a puppy.

A large dog will generally have more needs than a smaller dog. A bigger animal will need space and may feel cramped in an apartment.

They are more expensive due to more food being eaten, more supplies being needed, and may require more veterinary care than a smaller dog.

A smaller dog will be more vulnerable, though. He/she will be sensitive when it's cold out and you will need to be mindful of this.

They can be a little cheaper because of less food being needed and may not require as much veterinary care.

Size is important, but so is the coat on a dog. There are higher costs associated with hairy coat types because of the grooming needed on them.

Be aware that a hairy coat will shed and will need brushing regularly, so you will need to understand the maintenance required of the animal before getting one.


Dogs that don't bark may be perfect for your household; however, that's not usually the case with pooches.

Most will make some noise and that is a factor you should consider when getting a pup. This can be a factor that's associated with the breed of the dog, so you may want to do some research first.

It's common that terriers and scent hounds bark a lot to broadcast their progress in chasing prey.

Shelties and collies were trained to bark to tell the sheep to get back to the barn and keep them in line.

And some dogs will bark if they're bored so assess your own time and ability to take care of an animal.


So you've found an intelligent puppy and think it may be easier to train? They may not be the case.

Smarter breeds -- terriers, hounds, and northern dogs -- tend to be tough to train because of their independence and intelligence. They want to do their own thing.

Dogs that were breed to be herders -- such as golden retrievers, Labrador retrievers, border, German Shepard, collies -- tend to be more trainable puppies.

Also, you may find that an older dog from a rescue may be easier to train because the previous owner has already done the work.

Breed and temperament

Breed and temperament are categories that we can lump puppies into, but they are not the be-all and end-all to a dog's personality.

I've seen pit bulls that were trained by owners to be mean; I've seen pit bulls trained by owners to be loyal, compassionate, and friendly.

How you train the animal is important, but equally important is the puppies individuality.

Some breeds -- despite their temperament -- just go against it and are nothing like "their suppose to be."

That said, you should understand the breed you are getting so you are not surprise about the requirements for that puppy.

For instance, if you want a dog that lounges around and looks cute all day, you probably don't want a puppy that is notorious for being energetic.