To own or not to own?

I do and don't like the idea of 'owning' an animal. What I like is that it means you have complete legal right to live with the animal -- so long as you observe your moral duty to care for it. What I don't like is that animals are not handbags or benches: they cannot be indifferent to the question of who owns them. Yet a lot of people regard pet acquisition as a matter of checking off their own list of likes, set against another list of hates, as if it's all about them. They assess only the animal as a potential baby of the family; they don't really assess themselves as potential pet parents. Of course, parent- and home-assessment is the job of responsible breeders and animal-shelter personnel. But not every breeder really cares, and not all re-homings are well thought-through. So here is my checklist for potential owners. If any of these is a problem, you should wait for however long it takes until either your expectations and commitment or your circumstances change.

  • Are you a neat freak and obsessively tidy? No, of course not: you're just properly house-proud. That's fine, but if you have a free-roaming animal such as a cat or dog or in some cases bird or rodent, you need to accept that there will be messes. (I sometimes think, with perfect equanimity, that one doesn't have a dog to make life more convenient.) Unless you are going to police all the furniture, you need to accept that there will be evidence, in fur and slobber, of your animal in most of the house. Nothing to stop you from making certain pieces of furniture 'off limits', but even this might be no protection, since a cat doesn't know an Eames chair from a mat in a shed, and cares just as little about scratches in either one. You can always buy furniture protectors, and dog blankets designed especially for your dog's side of the sofa or for an armchair. But that brings us to our next point, which is --
  • Do you have a budget big enough to make doing the right thing unproblematic? Vet bills can be unexpectedly high for thorough, quality care. In my experience, the second-highest bills fall in puppyhood, on account of the vaccines and neutering/spaying that a puppy requires (and similar costs apply to a cat). The most expensive bills come in the dog's senior years, when more things start to go wrong and the consequences of not treating them become steeper. If you can't afford to pay the bills that keep your life hygienic and your pet's life comfortable and as healthy as possible, then now is not the time to get a pet.
  • Are you healthy enough for the pet you want to keep? Some animals clearly require a good deal of physical engagement and fitness. Horses do; hamsters don't. Boxers do; Bichons don't. Be realistic about their needs and your energetic and attitudinal capacity to meet them. And then there is the question of longevity. Yours, not just the pet's. Are you going to be around 15 years from now for your cat? What will happen to the cat if you are seriously ill, incapacitated, or god forbid deceased in that time? No one can exactly predict the future, but if you can see a dark cloud on your health horizon, remember that it's not just your own life that's at stake.
  • When the novelty or fun (or both) of having the pet deserts you, momentarily or for a longer time, do you have the commitment and devotion to stay the course, as you would for needy family members? I was given a lop-eared rabbit once, for Valentine's Day. It was a thoroughly charming and delightful gift, and for me as a student living out of one bedroom in a shared house, it was just as inappropriate. It would also have been wrong for me if I had been someone that travelled often, or was planning a move to a far-flung location. Pets, unlike children, are not easily portable. Having a pet affects what sort of holidays you can take, and whether you can stay in hotels or rent certain properties or not (animals are often banned, and that means you as well). Are you prepared to accept limits on your human freedom because you have a non-human family member?

As animal lovers we have to be sure that this is the right place, and the right period in our lives, to bring a vulnerable animal into it. We have to be sure not only that they are right for us, but also that we have enough to offer them, now and for all of their lives (god willing). 



Discard the 'Down' Command: You don't need it and neither does your pup

I was faintly appalled -- before I clicked off -- by a YouTube video in which the dog owner (I hate that word, but in his case it seems appropriate enough) makes his young dog go through a number of performances like a seal or dolphin at one of those aquatic parks, for the show-off value on a video. (I describe --and deride -- such a dog owner as The Show-Off, in my book, How To Train Your Human.) Anyway, I felt sorry for the dog. I noticed that the man had to reward with treats because the good feeling between him and the dog isn't enough, and also because there is no purpose to the commands. When I have ever given my darling commands -- and I rarely have to, these days, except for her own protection -- they have always had some sensible purpose or meaning behind them. I have never ordered her about just because I can. And that's what bothered me about this man's video. He wasn't respecting the dog and that dog's needs or the dog's perspective. It was all about him and his need to be Big Man On Campus. Oh, I feel sorry for dogs that must spend their whole lives in the shadow of shallow, vain people like that!

This is why I say: don't teach your pup the 'Down' command, as this man did. I don't know why 'Down' is even suggested to new dog owners: it is utterly useless. There is no reason ever to put a dog in a position where it is vulnerable -- lying on its belly like a sphinx -- instead of sitting prettily. Everything you need, in terms of attentiveness, restraint, and reassurance of strangers, can be accomplished with 'Sit'. I started to teach my girl 'Down' as an inexperienced dog mum, and abandoned it quickly because a) I could see that she didn't like it and wasn't taking to it, and b) I was suspicious about its utility anyway. It was a good judgement call on my part, and she and I have never looked back.

Now: 'Down' as a command to mean 'Get off' is an entirely different matter....

Dog Nutrition, Continued...

My thoughts have completely changed since my earlier idea of many months ago, through which I hoped to reduce Darling's weight by increasing the frequency of her meals but lowering her caloric intake overall.

Whatever the intent was, the consequence didn't happen. She didn't lose weight, and I am not at all sure that she actually took in fewer calories.

Not only that, but I am aware (as I should have been at the time, as I've known about insulin's effects from way back) that feeding frequently is likely to keep insulin boosted in the blood, which is not ideal. What one wants is a more occasional insulin release (from the pancreas), and a smaller insulin release in response to a less insulin-provocative food. The end result of all of this is LESS FAT STORAGE and healthier organs.

So now we are trying a different way -- now that Darling is approaching 10½. I'm trying to get her to accept one main meal a day, with some snacks here and there, but a long fast after her last meal and before the next mini-feeding the next day. If fasts help humans lose fat, boost their growth hormone, and improve their endocrine system overall, why shouldn't they help dogs as well?

Bring water, bring food

Today's message is: if you have an older dog (or an injured dog, or one that is feeling a bit insecure or uncomfortable for any reason): bring the water to your dog, and bring the food. 

Leaving a comfortable spot, when the joints are achy, might seem like too much trouble to a senior dog. Especially if it's bedtime and the moment for getting one last sip from the bowl seems to have passed. If you think your dog could possibly be thirsty, bring the bowl to your dog.

The same goes for meals. Many times I have failed to interest my 'senior' girl (now 9 1/2 years old) in her breakfast. But when I brought it to her place on the sofa, and wafted it under her nose, I got her to eat -- with accompanying noises of satisfaction. 

If you have an older dog that seems finicky, give it a try!

Giving pills to the savvy dog

I have visited this subject of pill-giving twice already, but it seems to be a sort of moving goalpost, so here are my two latest tricks.

Sweetheart has a urinary tract infection (which we discovered when her urine emerged intermittently with blood). The vet prescribed antibiotics, which come in a tablet that looks like a large flattened aspirin. I was not overly confident about being able to give my dog these pills, four a day for two whole weeks, without her balking at them quite early on. The vet tried out two very large edible pill pouches in beef flavour, and these did the trick. If they hadn't, she suggested serving them up in a thick dollop of beef-flavoured baby food (which my girl sampled there in the office and apparently liked). If these items failed when tried at home, the further suggestion was butter: coating a pill in a layer of butter helps to prevent any bitter-pill flavour from being detected. 

Well, the pill pockets worked but we ran out of them. So I did the butter-ball thing, and that was all we needed. So if your dog is very clever about pills and doesn't want to take them, try coating each one in butter, then serve up in a stew or within the dog's regular meal. I did this (my girl is used to a lot of variety, so the presence of something new in her dish is not an automatic tip-off), and I think it all got accepted as food and thus there was no suspicious picking-through. 

Who likes cauliflower?

A friend in England tells me that peacocks are fond of cauliflower. Who would have guessed? And apart from being beautiful, it's probably the only thing they have in common with my darling dog. This may seem strange to you and me, but it's one of the few vegetables -- along with peas, corn, and green beans, basil and parsley -- that she really likes. Raw carrots lost their appeal some years ago: she will only eat them boiled or roasted. Apples used to be liked, in puppyhood; now they are poma non grata -- unless grated and served with a meal. Lettuce is an alien non-food to her. Broccoli also raises no interest, even though we're told that it's the same species as cauliflower, differently cultivated. She'll eat it green, white, purple or orange, but cauliflower it must be.

That brings me to my next thought, which is that when you have a dog, you develop funny unexpected habits. I'm thinking of the fact that I never, these days, just plonk down her meal (whether it's breakfast or dinner). I always announce it like a waiter: 'sardines with peanut butter and parsley'; 'fish with cheese and hot sauce', 'cauliflower cheese with chicken and hot sauce', 'egg with tallow, peas, and basil', 'tallow, chicken broth, and fish', 'yoghurt, gelatin, and beefburger', 'meatloaf!'. It's as if I've come to believe that the advert for the tastiness of what she is about to eat must be frank and enthusiastic. If it's not good enough to say aloud, in the slightly superior and triumphal tones of a posh waiter, then it's not good enough to serve in the first place!

The limits of other people's kindness

I have had a very kind offer, by a close relative, to look after my dog for the duration of any holiday we might care to go on, my husband and I. Now, this relative and my dog are very fond of each other: that is really not the issue. But even though this person has had dogs (two, into old age) in the long-ago past, there are things that she may not remember. And I think that, especially, when you are an older more fragile person (in body and perhaps in spirit too in some ways), certain aspects of dog-care may be more than you bargained for.

For instance, my dog is now 9. That means that she is (like all of us that are not puppies) a little bit set in her ways. Perhaps the kindly relative likes her bed just so and her TV on loud (she's a bit deaf) and so on. But my dog likes bedtimes as we've always had them -- and that means sleeping in the bed with the humans. My relative has never done this before. What if she tries it and doesn't like it (the dog snores in the night, or her nails push in to the relative's flesh, or she takes up too much room, or leaves a lot of hair, or farts, as she probably will)? What then? Who should continue to suffer the consequences -- the relative or my dog?

Then there is the fact that my dog is very healthy and active and needs walks and activities, preferably something that allows her to frolic. I don't think that Elderly Relative is really up for any of that. So we'd have to hire a dog walker, and this person would have my darling's life in her hands while they were out together, and as I don't know any dog walkers personally, I don't think I would be entirely comfortable with that.

Also, being a rather senior dog at this point, and allergic to boot, my sweet girl sometimes does things that are not shall we say beneficial to the décor. While we were travelling this summer, she barfed once but somewhat extensively into the crevices of the back seat of our brand new car. (Not only do we have wees, whoopsies, and walkies, we also now have barfies.) That took a two-person effort at wiping, hoovering, brushing, and washing, let me tell you. Then there is the allergy-provoked incontinence. A full bladder's-worth of widdle on the floor (follow the puddles)? Our girl can do. To say nothing of the indoor sickness that doesn't always manage to avoid the rugs or my shoes or whatever else might be on the floor. How would Elderly Relative, with her immaculate rugs and sofas, handle that?

And if my girl needed taking to the vet in an emergency at 2 in the morning, would my relative be up for that? (This is not an unlikely scenario. When my dog had a cough that wouldn't stop, some years ago, we felt that we couldn't take the risk of waiting and at 2 a.m. we were out on the town looking for the all-night dog doc. And of course, as soon as we got there, the coughing stopped!) Even on our most recent summer vacation, we had an unexpected visit to the vet when we spotted blood drops on the carpet that had come from her tail. She also recently had an eye cloud that bloomed within a few days into a serious eye ulcer (the latter detectable only by doctor's examination). Would Elderly Relative notice problems -- and react -- as quickly as we do? Conversely, would she overreact, putting our dog through all kinds of tests that she really didn't need -- and hated?

This is just the prosaic stuff, of course. There is also the emotional connection -- the fact that I can know what Chummy needs by just glancing at her; that I am inclined to put myself out for her benefit; that I am willing and happy to pamper her. I know her, as much as anyone can know a darling of another species. I would risk myself to save her life, but Elderly Relative would not. And then too there is the simple fact that no one but Mummy and Daddy can be Mummy and Daddy. We are simply the two people in the world she loves the most. And if we left her, she might easily believe that we were never coming back.

Dogs and the power of eggs

Dinners -- and breakfasts -- had become difficult again, perhaps owing to the change of kibble (we hadn't brought the usual from home on our travels, and that was a mistake), and perhaps also to the change of surroundings. But even when we obtained a kibble that our dog had had in recent memory, and which we knew she liked, the enthusiasm for mealtimes just wasn't there. 

So I've had to adapt. 

The meals I serve now have minimal water added, so the effect is one of gravy rather than shallow soup, in the old style of Mummy's offerings (I'm Mummy, in case you hadn't guessed). I still provide lots of variety of toppings, but the kibble is briefly stir-fried in fat and sprinkled round and on top of them instead of sitting on the bottom of the bowl -- where it can be more easily avoided. Also, I simply don't give as much kibble, despite what the package advises (and I was already serving on the low side of recommendations, on account of the fresh food that makes up the difference).

How do eggs come into this?

Eggs are a powerful food, and I don't know a single person, on two legs or four, that doesn't love them.

So if you're serving a dog's dinner and it's got egg and the dog still doesn't like it, you know you're doing something wrong. And it's not the egg's fault: an egg is always welcome. That's why I knew I had to up my game. Darling had changed her requirements and my usual gambit of chucking an egg on top was not going to do it. Now, we're having smaller meals and more of them, and we're having them less soupy, and we're adding more fats (possibly because the kibble-makers are committed to the idea that fats are bad, and my dog instinctively knows better). 

But I still love eggs, and for most dog feeding challenges, I still advise: boil an egg. If you want a treat for your dog that has nothing manmade in it, and is utterly wholesome and satisfying: boil an egg. If you're on the road and feeding opportunities are limited: boil an egg. It's easy to transport and easy to give and it goes down the gullet just as well, however uneasy your dog might feel in transit. (My girl is a champion traveller, relaxed and no trouble at all, but then she is very seasoned, and it was more difficult when she was a puppy and we all had much less experience!) If your dog is feeling unwell or has just had a nasty shock of some kind (visit to the vet, harsh words with another dog) then feed her an egg. Egg with rice and poultry is a lovely soft combination, easy to digest. Of course, scrambled or fried eggs will be most welcome, too. Your dog might also appreciate the variety. But if you keep a couple of boiled eggs in the refrigerator, you're always ready, whatever the circumstance. Run out of treats for your prince or princess? You know my answer: some egg!

How to give a dog medicine, revisited

I thought I was an expert on how to give a dog a pill. In one of my posts below, I even gave confident advice about it.

And then something happened. 

My dogter got savvy. She knew all the tricks in the book. She decided to sift for pills, and she learned how to block them and spit them up -- even AFTER I had silently felt the triumph of giving one to her. At the age of 8 and three quarters, she has become an inviolable castle that no pill can penetrate. The only exception proved to be an antihistamine -- but that is the size of a short grain of rice. Most pills are considerably larger.

This pill-refusal was a problem for me, for two reasons. Firstly, trying to force a pill down a dog's throat (tilting the head with a treat and trying to plunge the pill in at the same time) is both unpleasant for everybody and pointless: if your dog is a Houdini of tablets, you will not succeed, but after some frothing from the bad taste, your dog will deposit the pill on the floor. Where -- according to your dog -- it belongs. Secondly, we humans are willing to take 'a spoonful of sugar' to 'make the medicine go down', and why should a dog not have the equivalent? Why should my dog not have the pain relief in amongst her meal? Of course I tried that, in pill form, and she wouldn't touch her meal at all. But then I found the solution.

Tramadol is a powerful drug. But eye ulcers are painful, and as long as one does not overdose, a dollop of Tramadol may be the answer to pain and the accompanying urge to rub -- which is not helpful for the healing of the ulcer. I didn't detect much discomfort in my girl, but she is not a complainer and I knew that this was not a picnic in the park for her. On the other hand, she rejected pills whenever she could detect them, which was nearly always. How was I going to help her? As I told the vet, I can squirt nearly anything ON her, but trying to put medicine IN her is an entirely different matter.

Fortunately Tramadol comes in liquid form. Just as essentially, it can be flavoured and thus properly disguised. I asked for chicken flavour. And today, squirting a trial amount on some chicken chunks, I found that the medicine went down. Not before my girl tested for pills, of course. She is as savvy as they come.

Update: So savvy that the liquid 'solution' of medicine-giving only worked ONCE. The next time I tried it, she refused to eat her dinner. Back to Square One. I gave her pills again but I didn't try to give them whole: I broke them in half. It seems so obvious. but when they are fairly small and you are anxious to get the medicine in, such simple expedients can be forgotten. I may have to get through quite a lot of treat to get one-and-a-half pills ingested as three doses, but so what? Anything, so long as it works!

Having my own way when she wants hers....

My 'girlfriend', as I call her, is more than 8 ½ years old. She is an active, alert dog, but movement for its own sake is less important to her than it used to be. Very often, when we arrive at one of our several haunts, she likes nothing better than to plonk herself down in the grass, to sniff and watch the world go by. I usually indulge her in this, even though I try to get her moving, as well. But in any case, we can't stay there all day -- she in the grass with her nose in the air, me standing or on the grass beside her, with my eyes on my Kindle. At some point, I have to get on with other things. But she often won't get up right away. And yesterday she wouldn't budge at all.

I had to decide what step then to take. I really thought we'd had enough time out, and I really did want to get back home. So I had a choice: to get quite noisy and sergeant-majorish while tugging on her lead. Or: to go in the opposite direction of quietness, gentleness, and withdrawal. I chose the latter, and slipped the collar over her head so that the physical connection between us was broken. Then I walked off with the lead, saying 'goodbye' and heading for the car. It only took a few moments of that before she had got up and was following. 

She needed that connection, the safety and comfort of having me beside her. I used the lead as a means to having my own way -- but by removing it and giving her the 'choice' of staying or coming. In the end, what she wants more than anything is to be with me. So both of us were happy.

Dogs and language, revisited

In an earlier post I argued that dogs understand words in much the same way as very small children do -- as symbolic sounds. By 'symbolic' I mean something a bit more sophisticated than merely associating sounds with phenomena: a bobcat could hear the shriek of a bird, for instance, and know that some other predator has got its dinner. A symbolic sound is not only artificial, in that there is no necessary connection between the particular sound and what it means, but it also has a certain 'shape' that is independent of individual pronunciations. This sounds a bit highflown but it isn't really: I'm just saying that dogs, like children, can recognize a word despite the many slight variations in sound that come when different people speak.

Certainly, my dog responds in the same way to the same words despite the fact that I have an English-American accent (more English in some respects and more American in others), while my husband is fully American. My pronunciation of 'water' is different from his. Other words that differ slightly include 'doggy', 'go', 'paw', and 'hurry' (I say HUH-ry; he says HER-y). Since I was responsible for most of Chummy's training -- I was at home during the day so it naturally fell to me -- I was also responsible for teaching her most of the words she knows. That means that she learned them by listening to my accent. Yet she had no difficulty in understanding the words as spoken by her other main human, even though his accent is very distinct from mine. His mother's New York accent is distinct from both of ours, in turn. But Chummy readily understands what is being said to her, regardless of who is saying it. And that suggests to me that she understands words as having a certain quality beyond mere intonation. The fact that words have an independence from any given speaker strikes me as a strikingly humanlike characteristic in dogs that are assumed to be not that clever about language. 

Flower... with flowers

Flower... with flowers

Dog lexicon

Doggy. Cat. Tortoise. Three words I think I forgot to mention below that are known by my girl with floppy ears and that definitely get a response from her. Doggies are more generally interesting, rain or shine. Tortoises can be a particular hobby or obsession. Cats are of interest, though generally less so than either doggies or tortoises. My girl will judge a cat on its individual merits: one cat that was very calm and receptive to everyone seemed to be like Valium to dogdom: there was nothing to do but look at her with a kind of wonder. Other cats get Chummy going as if they had a Dinner -- Just Kidding! sign on them. Tortoises inspire great curiosity and fascination. Beyond that, it's all in a dog's mind.

How we love our dogs, let us count the ways

It is no boast to say that I think my dog the best-loved of all dogs, and the most loving of all dogs, at the same time. I am, as a parent, perfectly entitled to say that. Indeed, as a parent, I can at least to this degree agree with Sting that 'every little thing she does is magic'. She is a flashy fawn female, in Boxer-speak, and she is very 'flashy' indeed: there are the white socks on each paw, there is the white geyser between her brows, there is the white on her flews, the white 'mantle' that starts in a jagged geometry on the back of her neck and sweeps round her chest like a shawl, and there is the 'paint drop' on the middle of her neck, some way back from where her ears are set. I love the Boxer colouring, in brindles as well as fawns: the interplay of brown, black, and usually white create a dog beauty that one always has eyes for. I had a neighbour once in Texas who certainly always had eyes for Chummy. Almost every time I saw him -- another parent of a flashy fawn Boxer, of about the same age -- he would exclaim: 'Chummy is so beautiful! Her white is so white!' As indeed it is. But I would adore her if she had no flash at all.

Dogs as talkers

Before we got our puppy -- we had seen a photo of her blue-eyed beautiful self, 'Girl Number Five' of the twelve-puppy litter -- I had all sorts of questions about what she would be like in the flesh. In particular, I wanted to know what sort of noises she would make. I was looking forward to hearing the sounds of my puppy as she reacted to the world and grew up in it.

Well, I was not disappointed. She has always produced the most amazing array of vocalizations, such that listening to her is very much a part of our life with her, and her expressive voice is an important part of her character.

There is 1. the snurgle. The snurgle has variations but it is essentially a dog's version of purring. She snurgles when she is getting the love from us, individually or together, and she is very, very happy.

Then there is 2. the reminder murmur. This says that she is still awaiting the ride in the car/outing in the park or the meal I've forgotten to dish out. It's not a whine. It's a polite reminder.

3. The complaint. This happens when mummy's bacon is taking too long to cook or the blogs have absorbed her attention to the point that something stronger than the reminder murmur is required. I am extremely sensitive to the complaint. I apologize profusely and do as I'm asked.

4. The 'who goes there?' bark. This one is somewhat interrogational. It's insistent, but not all that indignant. It serves to ask questions first and shoot later, rather than the other way around. It's somewhat musical.

5. The 'who do you think you are?' bark. This one is rolling, crescendoing, and frankly scolding. It's no-nonsense, and makes me think of Matron in starched white. Very often it's magnificent.

6. The hum of anticipation. This happens when my doggy really wants something and she knows that I am attempting to decide what it is -- and that she may very well get it, quite soon. It seems to be an encouragement to my thought process. It says: 'Go on mummy, you can indulge me. You know you want to'.

7. The whimper of excitement. This happens when a) passing other dogs while we're in the car or b) encountering a particularly exciting tortoise. Usually accompanied by leaping, prancing, shimmying, and tail-wagging. Occurs when the emotion is too much to keep silent.

8. The wolf howl. I have heard this only twice, and each time it was delightfully unexpected: my puppy wolf-howling over a toy. I don't know what it meant, and she has never wolf-howled since. But to see an adorable non-wolfish puppy howling like her ancestors was truly something to write home about.

So that's a snapshot of my girl's vocalizations. But what about the listening end of things -- her understanding of language? I think that humans are somewhat patronizing when they say that dogs 'only understand sounds'. Well, so do we all when we first learn a language. I knew what the sound of 'sugar' meant, long before I could spell it. I associated the sound of 'bell' with the noise and look of a bell; the graphic dimension of words came significantly later and in any case was never as central to my grasp of English. Dogs do the same thing; they just don't learn syntax and how to write, as well. My dog has a wide vocabulary of heard words, even though she cannot speak them. Besides having a concrete grasp of the names of her human family (I am 'mummy', the others go by their actual names), she understands 'tortoise' (they fascinate her), 'car', 'drink', 'go', 'out', 'hurry up', 'quickly quickly', 'cross', 'sit', 'stand', 'leave it', 'give', 'come along', 'put your paws up', 'dinner', 'breakfast', 'treat', and a number of other words.

She also understands phrases. Whenever we go out, we say 'we'll be right back', so she must associate that by now with a limited time away and our return. She sits or lies on the sofa and waits for us: I never worry what she'll be doing. When we say 'would you like...' she cocks her head with particular interest because she learned as a puppy that something nice is being offered. She has heard 'I love you' thousands of times, and somehow, knowing our attitude, voice, and affection when it's said, she may be reassured by a sense of what it means.


What does a 'responsible dog owner' do?

You're in the park with your dog and the little darling drops a pile of yuck, which you now have an obligation to do something about. Do you:

a) pick it up with a plastic bag and then toss the bag somewhere that you think you'll remember to revisit later (so you don't have to carry it about now)? 

b) pick it up, and have that bag swinging unpleasantly at your side for the rest of the walk? (It's worse when people are looking at you. You smile as if to say, 'Hi, just taking this bag of whoopsie for a walk -- cheers'.) 

c) leave it for someone to catch sight of or tread on?

d) leave it but cover it with whatever natural debris is to hand?


My own answer to this survey is D. I almost always choose D, unless dogling has whoopsied on someone's lawn or property, and then I'm obliged to do B. (Very rarely have I ever done A, and then I've gone back for it later.) Poo bags, let's face it, are not What The Well Dressed Woman Is Wearing.

The reasons for choosing D are manifold. For one thing, I hate having to handle turds, even with a sheet of plastic in between. Also, I hate carrying a bag of poo. It diminishes the pleasure and freedom of the walk. And finally -- this is the kicker -- I actually think it is ecologically sounder to let excrement be broken up by nature. 

This may sound self-serving, but I've already confessed my selfish reasons for not wanting to pick up dog-waste. The fact is that my girl is healthy so there's no chance that I am leaving contagion all over the place. She also has exquisite pooping manners: she never does her business on the pavement, trail, or thoroughfare, but only and always on verges, well off to the side, among the nasties and naturals you find in a park. And that's what got me on this 'cover it and leave it' kick in the first place. If a handful of dried pine needles or a splodge of Spanish moss can make her contribution invisible ('what dog poop, officer?'), then surely it makes more sense to let it dry up and decay naturally, like all the other turds deposited by all the other mammals in the park (who is picking up the whoopsies of the bobcats, rabbits, and squirrels?). I use far less plastic this way -- plastic that would have to go to the landfill where it would sit for an unimaginable period of disgustingness. I love plastic, but it is too much with us, to borrow a phrase. We ought to cut down on our reckless consumption of one-time-use plastic bags. When I cover a natural product with natural materials that will all decay naturally out of anyone's way, I consider that the best option from every point of view.


Delights for dog babies

These get my vote as the most adorable dog-treat ever. They're the size of jelly babies and they're... 'gingerbread men'. Grain free and without a lot of other rubbish, but they do have a bit of maple syrup, since dogs (unlike cats) appreciate sweetness, too. Dogs have tastebud receptors for sweets, but cats don't.




What can you do if your dog won't eat?

There are three reasons why dogs turn food-shy: their food isn't fresh; their food is boring; their stomach is upset or they are feeling unwell or distressed. 

Item No. 1:  We all know that dogs have extreme powers of smell -- reputedly anywhere from 10,000 times to 100,000 times more acute than a human's. This might mean that although the food you're giving him seems fine to you, the dog has detected the presence of unacceptable bacteria. Are you storing kibble in an airtight container, and is it fairly cool or have you been delving into the same huge kibble bag in the same hot kitchen in the summer for a long time? Kibble is provided with tocopherol or Vitamin E, but that's a preservative to enhance the food's keep-time, not to make it imperishable. Also, those cold cuts you've had in the fridge for a month may not be safe for anyone at this point -- even your tolerant canine.

Item No. 2:  Puppies when very young will tend to eat anything you give them. It's kibble for breakfast again! And since you are still feeding them lunch, it's the same kibble for lunch again! And oh look, kibble all over again for dinner! This pales after a while. I feed my dog kibble twice a day (she is now nearly 8 years old), but she never knows what I'm going to put on the top, since I vary the fresh-food component of her meals a great deal. If we have suitable left-overs from our own dinners, I give her that; if I'm frying eggs and turkey bacon, I'll give her some of that; or I'll open a tin of fish and give her the juice and some of the meat from that -- often mixed in with a dog-safe vegetable (her favourite is cauliflower). I also heat water to provide a sort of soup: I test it with my finger to make sure it's not too hot, but I don't give her tepid water, either. Hot water (or re-heated cauliflower boil-water, or chicken broth) intensifies the flavour of her food, just as it does for humans.

Item No. 3:  For reasons emotional or physical, your dog at times may not be willing to eat. Or she may want to eat, but find the hard kibble too difficult to digest (just as you might only want a bowl of soup rather than a full-course meal with all the fixings when you don't feel well). At these times it is fine to give your dog a soft squishy meal that goes down easily and sits comfortably in the stomach. Rice is ideal for this, mixed with fresh succulent meat or tinned meat or fish, perhaps with peas and gratings of cheese. On this occasion, hold the kibble and the dry biscuits: having a few soft meals won't do the dog any harm, will provide comfort, and will also keep his or her blood sugar on an even keel.

By the way, there's no need to throw out a perfectly good meal if your dog won't eat it right now. I drain the liquid from the refused bowl and put it aside for later, keeping the kibble somewhat dry, and then refrigerate them both. As long as the meal has retained a degree of crispness (and isn't soggy), I can usually feed it to my dog, with fresh toppings, once she has recovered her appetite.



Doggy dental hygiene

A few quick tips:

  • Dog teeth should be cleaned a few times a week, at a minimum. But every single day is not too much, according to my favourite vet. I clean my dog's teeth every day that I remember to do it, which is most days. My advice is: do it when you think of it, otherwise it's easy to get distracted and another day slips by without a cleaning.
  • Dog toothpastes come in different flavours: peanut and poultry are common ones. Your dog may prefer one over another.
  • Wet the toothbrush thoroughly first. Dog toothpaste is on the gummy side and you want some lubrication so the dog doesn't feel as though you might as well be using peanut butter. Dogs can't rinse afterwards, of course, so teeth-cleaning could be a bit mouth-drying. You might even want to offer your dog a drink of water afterwards.
  • Because the toothpaste is a bit gummy, it dries in tiny clumps within the bristles and at their base. I clear these dried clumps out with toothpicks, regularly.
  • Check the date on the toothpaste tube or container. It does expire, and you don't want to be giving 'off' toothpaste to your baby.
  • If your dog is resistant to having a cleaning, try to be brief to begin with, and make sure you're being vigorous but gentle. I get as much paste spread around my dog's teeth as quickly as I can, so that one side doesn't get emphasized or get most of the paste to the detriment of the other side. I cup my girl's lower jaw and gently scrub around, so I can't see what I'm doing but it doesn't matter -- because I feel where the brush is going. I try to mimic, in an approximate way, the sort of motion I use in my own mouth. I can't brush the backs of her teeth this way but at least I can get up to a full minute of cleaning accomplished. Once in a while I inspect her teeth by lifting her flews to make sure I'm not missing anything.
  • Don't pay extra for 'dog' toothbrushes. The intriguingly non-human ones I've found to be costly and unusable; the more straightforward ones are still expensive but simply look like cheap vintage-model human brushes (a popsicle stick with same-length bristles sticking out at one end). I also find that the dog toothbrushes are often too large and unwieldy. So I now use a real, high-quality human toothbrush for my dog. It works just fine.
  • Soft food is generally not good for dogs' dental health, but crunchy, crispy food generally is good. The best store-bought meal is probably hard kibble with fresh food mixed in or sprinkled on top, with some nice warm water to create a 'soup'. My girl likes chicken and fish as a topping -- and, if you can believe it, cauliflower. She also likes a touch of hot sauce. But the kibble is the basis of the meal and it's also helpful in keeping those pearly whites strong.

Dental equipment, ear cleanser, and a curry comb for hair. The last for my shorthaired breed is optional; the second is important at times; the first is essential ALL the time.

Do dogs get enough to drink?

Always when I hear a dog barking -- howling, really -- in the distance, I feel sorry for it. (Yes, and if it goes on and on, I also feel annoyed.) Apart from the obvious thought that the dog has been left out on its own and is lonely, I sometimes wonder whether anyone has provided it with enough fresh water to drink. I mean, how could they? It's a hot summer's day and the dog is left in a backyard or free to roam the countryside where it lives. Unless someone is willing to put out ten (at least) large bowls of ice water, the last of which will still be fresh and cool when the first is dried up and the second-to-last is mainly slobber, how are such dogs getting enough water?

Humans get dehydrated and often seem barely to notice it. But the dehydration of dogs, with their panting tongues, can't be ignored. And dogs need drinking water in a way that we don't, since we can perspire to cool ourselves but dogs rely on that wet panting mouth. 

We are big drinkers in my family, and I don't just mean of the alcohol variety. Our attitude to water is 'don't leave home without it'. This is partly because we live and vacation in warm climates. But it's also because we have a very heat-sensitive dog -- a Boxer, the star of How To Train Your Human -- who needs a drink at the immediate end of every outing or walk. As soon as she's back in the car, I whip out the dog-drink dispenser with fridge-chilled water and she happily slurps away (she loves the car as if it were a chariot of heaven, so she's often out with us in it). On long trips, we bring two of these bottles, and use them, too. When she steps forward on the console to ride between us, and gives me that "significant look", I know that she wants water and I give her some. We humans also have a bottle of water or thermos of tea in for us: there's nothing worse than being stuck in a traffic jam or unable to stop when your brain feels like it's drying up for lack of moisture!

One thing I've noticed with Chummy is that, just like a human, she may not always realize that she's thirsty. She may get up on the bed on a warm night, and we've settled in and it seems that the time for being at her water bowl has passed. Sometimes I check her bowl and see that -- oops, it's dry or nearly dry or got bits floating in it. I am constantly refilling that bowl, but sometimes I get distracted and forget to check. If I think that my dog may not have had all the water she wants, I'll bring the refreshed water bowl to the bedroom and offer it to her. When she's sleepy, it takes her a few moments to decide whether she wants it or not. I don't pull it away too quickly: she doesn't decide instantly as a human might. Sometimes she shows no interest, but other times -- after a little suspense for me -- she dips her head down, and I feel so glad that I thought to give her that last comfort before sleep.