Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Training Your Pets for Natural Disasters

As many of our friends are hunkered down in Florida and Georgia riding out Hurricane Irma and others are cleaning up from Hurricane Harvey, we've been spending a lot of time thinking about how to prepare for a natural disaster. While we don't live in a place where hurricanes, tornadoes, or earthquakes are likely, we do face risks like blizzards and may one day live in a place with other dangers. Since September is National Preparedness Month, it's the perfect time to focus on positive training to help your pets get through a national disaster for the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop.

Crate Training
We've written before on how much we love our crate and on the types of mischief that can be prevented by a crate. In my opinion, this is probably the most important training if you have to leave your house suddenly with your pet. Many training articles mention how dogs are not great at generalization and with crate training, I can say we've definitely seen the truth in that. Barley has stayed in a crate when I've left the house since Day 1. Rye has, too. Barley has never put up a fuss in her crate at home. Rye whimpered a little on the first few days, but quickly adjusted to being crated.

Outside of the house, though, crates are a different story. Every place we've ever rented in our travels to Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Vermont have required that pets be crated when left unattended in the rental property. While the girls willingly go into their crates, they usually bark as soon as the door shuts and it takes them longer to settle down. Since we've been in detached cottages for the most part, a little barking hasn't been a problem, but if walls are being shared, it can create problems. When we first started agility, other dogs would stay crated between their turns, but Barley would bark, snarl, and slam against the crate. For years, she has just stayed at my side at a safe distance from her classmates. The first time I tried to put Rye in a crate at our training center, she bolted out of the crate before I could get the door shut and refused to even walk by the crate room for weeks.

At that point, if we'd had to evacuate, we would have had a lot of difficulties. Even if we were staying in a hotel and not an evacuation shelter, you can't have a dog barking uncontrollably in a crate every time you have to leave the room. We've been working on crate training in new locations so that I can take the girls to agility class on the same night without them disturbing the rest of our class, so I feel more confident that the girls would handle that situation much better now.

Brain Games
Our most likely natural disaster situation would be a blizzard and we've had plenty of practice on staying inside for days on end during extreme cold, and that could be taken to the extreme with any natural disaster. Having an arsenal of brain games can make lengthy indoor stays easier on everyone.

The best part about brain games is that you don't need a lot of room to play them. We play so many different variations of the "It's Your Choice" game: sit at the door without being told and not getting up until you're released even if the door's wide open, treats in the hand that you only get if you don't nudge my hand and you make eye contact, treats on the floor or on the paws that you get when you hold eye contact, the options are unlimited. We can do a lot of our brain games right in the crate if I sit on the floor in front of it to block their escape, so they're easy to do if you're trapped in a hotel room or another type of shelter. Even if you don't evacuate, you can play games like this when you're trapped in your own house due to bad weather to keep everyone from getting cabin fever.

Mat Work
I've waxed poetic about our mat on more than one occasion (like here and here), so I'll refrain from doing that again today--but mat work is also something that only requires enough space for your mat--and can be done on a towel, a blanket, even a sweatshirt that you toss on the floor, so it's easy to adapt for any location you find yourself in. It's also a good way to get your dog to relax in an unfamiliar environment.

Training dogs to wear a harness never hurts, either.

For me, the most important thing (besides safety, of course) is making sure that my pets don't infringe on other people's comfort in a stressful situation like a natural disaster. A crate, brain games, and mat work are the best tools I have for keeping my dogs calm, quiet, and connected to me if we ever find ourselves away from home in any situation.

To our friends in Texas and Florida, we hope you're safe and that the clean up process goes smoothly, quickly, and safely. To our friends in the Pacific Northwest, we're so sorry about the fires consuming your beloved forests and we're thinking of you, too.

Be sure to visit our co-hosts, Wag 'n Woof Pets and Tenacious Little Terrier as well as the other great blogs linking up with us for this month's Positive Pet Training Blog hop where we welcome any positive training posts!

Friday, September 1, 2017

Apples Aren't Just for Teachers with Blue Buffalo Apple Orchard Clusters

In the 9 years I've been teaching, I've never been given an apple by a student, yet I still think of apples as a back-to-school symbol. Chewy.com sent us a package of Blue Buffalo Earth's Essentials Apple Orchard Clusters in Cranberry Crunch flavor just in time for my first week back to school.

These treats seem like perfect fall snacks for pups. They look like granola clusters and only have five ingredients: apples, cranberries, yogurt, flaxseed, and apple pulp. With a list like that, I have no worries about what I'm giving the girls! There are other flavors--blueberry and pomegranate--as well, but Soth's urinary issues have given me a complex and I'm always drawn to cranberry flavored treats to give the pets a little extra urinary health boost. 

The girls only get crunchy treats when they go into their crates when I leave the house. These treats definitely have a good crunch to them! Even though they're on the smaller, when the girls started chewing them, it sounded just like someone was biting into a good, crunchy apple.

Rye was so excited about the treats that she couldn't wait long enough for me to take a picture before she dug in.

Our only problem with these treats is that the bags are small, so when I have to use two of them every day, the bag will be gone in no time. With a short ingredient list and the enthusiasm the girls had for these, I think that's a problem we can live with. These were a hit and we'll definitely add them to our list of "crate treats." 

Disclaimer: We were provided one bag of Blue Buffalo Earth Essentials Apple Orchard Clusters from Chewy.com as part of the #ChewyInfluencer program in exchange for our honest review. 

Sunday, August 27, 2017

The Soth Files

It's been a while since there's been a post dedicated to my sweet kitty boy Soth. Long-time readers know that Soth has struggled with Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD) since 2011. For the last year or so, he'd been doing really well. He was still eating his prescription food and would occasionally have brief episodes of bloody urine, but for the most part, he was feeling really good. 

Around his yearly checkup in April, I noticed he was going outside of the litter box more frequently. There were bloody puddles in the bathroom more frequently, too. When I mentioned it to the vet, she recommended trying a new prescription diet that helps with stress, which often contributes to FLUTD. For a little while, he was eating that food really well--going through two little cans and about 1/4 a cup of dry food a day. He was using his litter box regularly again and his coat looked better than it had in ages.

By early July, he was having a never-ending episode of FLUTD. He was straining in the litter box. His urine was always filled with blood, but he was still eating well. By the end of the month, he was vomiting regularly and eating less. We'd had a heat wave, so I thought he might be having hairball issues and we used a little Cat Lax for several days, which helped a bit, but didn't solve our problems. Throughout the month, I refilled his pain medication prescription a few times, which helped with the straining. 

At the beginning of August, Rye had an appointment to get a vaccination. The morning of the appointment, I woke up to cat barf all over the hallway. Soth was walking around crying and he hadn't eaten any food over night. After a quick call to the vet, Soth was coming along to his sister's appointment. 

When the vet lifted Soth's tail, we saw that he had an anal prolapse--which is something I can never unsee. He had strained so much trying to urinate that things that should be on the inside of him popped right out. Since I still had to keep Rye, who is a chicken outside of the house and yard, calm, I couldn't cry like I wanted to, but I felt like the worst cat mom in the world for not knowing he was suffering that much.

The vet ran a full blood panel on him and everything came back clean. She didn't feel any stones in his bladder and his bladder didn't have an urine in it, so based on that and that I'd been scooping urine out of the litter box still, we knew he wasn't blocked. That meant that we didn't really know what to do to help him. In 2013, we'd tried to flush his bladder out, but it had been so small and unable to expand to hold much liquid that the procedure hadn't been as successful as we'd hoped. He did have a little relief temporarily, but it didn't last for long. The vet said we could do that again to see if it gave him more relief or we could try a steroid shot to see if that helped first. 

I'm not crazy about putting Soth under anesthesia for a procedure that probably won't be any more successful than last time, so we decided to try the steroid first. Soth also got some fluids, an anti-nausea medicine, and some antibiotics in case there was bacteria in his urine (after 6 years of this, we still haven't gotten a successful urine sample). 

 Soth's stopped vomiting daily. He isn't straining when he urinates, but he is still just able to produce a tiny amount of urine at a time and almost every time he gets up, he has to go to the litter box. He's eating--but not his prescription food and only a small fraction of what he usually eats. He's still urinating all of the place.

He's still his usual social self and is hanging out with the dogs and with me. He's been enjoying lots of extra belly rubs and chin scratches. He's been enjoying having the windows open on these cooler fall-like days. 

So now we're just at a standstill. I'm waiting to see how things are now that he's starting to eat again. We're setting up Operation Litter Box 2.0 with more litter boxes around the house to try to encourage him to quit using my carpets and the dogs' toys. And I'm still thinking about whether the risks of anesthesia outweigh the temporary relief that repeating the bladder flushing procedure might provide.

My sweet boy could use some good thoughts, though, so if you feel so inclined, send some good vibes our way! 


Saturday, August 26, 2017

Building Foundation Skills with Natural Balance Mini-Rewards

This summer has been the summer of agility. I've been going to at least two, often three, classes a week since May when Rye started her intro class. Rye has been going to at least two of those classes with me (and when Barley needed a week off because of her dental surgery, Rye did three classes!).

My little sweet potato Rye loves agility. She had no qualms about going over the dogwalk or the the A-Frame (although the teeter is sometimes still a little scary) and once she starts jumping she never wants to stop.

As we work towards being ready to go to trials, we've been trying to build strong foundation skills and our next #ChewyInfluencer package from Chewy.com arrived just in time to help with our homework this week.

Our bag of Natural Balance Mini-Rewards in chicken flavor states right on the bag that they are "great for training," so Rye and I decided to put them to the test.

We've been working on her contact behavior--or the behavior she does at the end of contact equipment like the dogwalk and the A-frame. With a fast dog like Rye, it can be good to have places built into the course where she waits while I catch up or gives me a chance to get ahead, so we're training a two-on-two-off behavior, which means she puts her front feet on the floor and keeps her back feet on the equipment and holds that until I release her. Since we don't really have the space or the money for a dogwalk or A-frame of our own (and I can just imagine Barley running up one of them and then launching herself into the dino dog's yard), we work on training those foundation skills with a plank. 

Rye has mastered the two-on-two-off behavior, but she hasn't quite mastered the holding that until I release her part. When I move, she thinks she should move, so we decided the Mini-Rewards would be great for helping with that. First, I let Rye see me put one of the Mini-Rewards at the end of the plank. That rewards her for stopping at the end of the plank when I give her the command.

Then I went back with Rye and told her to walk the plank (she's such a good little Pirate dog). 

As she neared the end, I gave her our "wait" command and she planted her front feet on the ground and gobbled up her Mini-Reward. 

Then came the hard part: standing still until I released her while I continued running past the plank. After a few tries, Rye was starting to grasp the idea. To make things even better, she got another Mini-Reward when I released her and she caught up to me. 

We've also been working on independent weaves and the Mini-Rewards were great for throwing as she got to the end of the weaves. 

After putting them to the test, we can say that Natural Balance Mini-Rewards really are great for training! In addition to that feature, they also have 5 or less calories per treat and they're easy to break up into at least two smaller treats. 

Barley also gave these a try while we were working on jumps in the backyard. With the dino dogs next door, Barley needs very high value treats to work in the backyard--whether they're out or not--or she wanders off to patrol the fence line. The Mini-Rewards were not quite high value enough for Barley to think they were worth working for in a distracting environment. She'd go over one jump to get one, but if I tried to lead out past three jumps, she'd just skip the first two and go over the last one. I had to go inside and get the big guns (cheese) to convince her to do all three. 

Rye finds agility itself rewarding enough that she'll work for lower value treats and the Mini-Rewards were perfect for that. The Mini-Rewards also come in other flavors, including lamb and duck. If you need a training treat that's easy to break up into smaller pieces, we'd definitely recommend the Natural Balance Mini-Rewards. We use a lot of Natural Balance treats, so the Mini-Rewards will definitely become a part of our regular Chewy.com orders. 

Disclaimer: We were provided with one bag of Natural Balance Mini-Rewards in exchange for our honest review.

Friday, August 25, 2017

We Didn't Mean To

With our regular Positive Pet Training Blog Hop posts, it seems like we've spent a lot of time writing about when things go well. From those posts, you might get the impression that things always go well when we're out walking these days. And most of the time, you'd be right. Rye still occasionally struggles with loose-leash walking, but she's gotten pretty responsive to reminders to heel or to ignore squirrels and cats and dogs and leaves and trash cans. 

Most of the time, my girls are sweet.

But then there are the other times. 

Earlier this week, we were out for a quick stroll. I needed to get to campus to meet with a new faculty member and had just enough time to do our 1.3-mile loop before I needed to hop in the shower to get ready for that meeting. From the moment we left the house, the girls were in rare form.

Barley didn't want to sit when we stopped at intersections. Or when I had to pick up poop. Rye acted like she'd never heard the phrase "What's that?" before in her life. We were running behind schedule as we kept having to stop and regroup and untangle leashes. 

Once we got into the home stretch, I thought that we had finally gotten into our groove. Then the girls spotted a piece of paper in the middle of the sidewalk. It was a boring piece of plain brown paper--no signs of food particles or grease, no signs of having been peed on, nothing that should have demanded attention. But the girls zeroed in on it and planted their little feet and stuck their noses to the ground.

When they both plant their feet, I cannot get them to move for anything. I can't gently nudge them to convince them to move. I can't get them to come for a treat. However, I have found that if I take a step backwards, it usually creates just the right amount of pressure that they come with me. 

This time, though, things didn't work out. We were in front of a house where they had so severely edged along the sidewalk that there was a 2-inch wide trench along the sidewalk. The grass was also about 6 inches higher than the sidewalk. When I took a step backwards, I stepped into the trench and my heel hit that 6-inch wall of dirt and grass roots and the next thing I knew I was sitting on my butt in someone's front lawn.

Of course that made me more interesting than the paper and the girls immediately swarmed me and started licking my face. With only my pride hurt, I hopped up as quickly as possible and we hurried back home without looking around to see if any neighbors had been out to watch the spectacle. 

We didn't mean to, we promise!

Maybe one day I'll look back on this and find the humor in it, but for now, we'll be avoiding that stretch of sidewalk until we're sure anyone whose security cameras might have caught that moment have forgotten it ;)

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Pet Treater's Perfect Timing

As usual, Pet Treater came through for us right when we needed them. Rye and I got home from her agility class to find the cheerful box sitting our on front step. We took it inside and set it aside for a couple days because this week I went back to work after a summer of pup adventures. I knew we would need a little distraction from that later in the week.

The girls know this bright colorful box is full of things they are going to love. Rye is so sure that she should be able to open the box immediately that she always wants to check it out before I'm ready to do that. If you look closely at the photo below, you'll notice that one of the corners has been gnawed on--that was Rye taking matters into her own paws.

Barley's enthusiasm waned when she saw the first two items: spray-on shampoo and a Pet Head towel. She didn't know Pet Treater was working against her. Bath time is not her favorite time. I'm not entirely sure how this towel is supposed to work--it has two massaging pads that from what I gathered, you're supposed to use to massage shampoo into your dog, but the towel is microfiber for absorbing water, so I can't quite wrap my mind around how you shampoo your dog and dry your dog with the same towel. We do LOVE microfiber towels, though, because Barley takes 8+ hours to dry and microfiber towels help speed that process up a bit, so we'll at least be using that feature of the towel.

My favorite part of this box was the For Your Human item: a 500-piece "Zombies are Nuts about Brains" puzzle. My sister and I do a puzzle almost every time she visits. This one is going to be tough because the whole thing is different shades of brown, but since it's only 500 pieces, we might be able to tackle it over a long weekend. 

We also got three bags of treats: True Hemp Chews, Health Bone thins, and Emmy's Gourmet treats. The True Hemp treats came with a little informational flyer about the benefits of hemp chews, but we have never tried those, so we're going to have to do a little research on them ourselves before we dive into that bag. 

The girls' favorite parts of this box were the bright orange toys from Bow Wow Pets: a fish and a tug toy. Rye immediately claimed the tug toy and Barley was happy with the fish. 

The toy was exactly what Rye needed after having to adjust to fewer hours with me during the week. She ran laps around the upstairs holding that toy. 

It didn't really hold up well to a light game of tug, but Rye doesn't care that the handle has come unattached already. She's still happy to play with it on her own. 

If you want to try Pet Treater for yourself, you can use code PT-20 at checkout to save 20% off your first month. For all of our cat friends, Pet Treater is launching a new Cat Pack for only $12.99 a month, but you can use code LOVEMYCAT to get the first month for $9.99--the first box is going out in September so sign up by Sept. 7 to get the first month's box!

Disclaimer: We were provided with a Pet Treater box in exchange for our honest opinion. All opinions are our own.

Friday, August 18, 2017

When The Perfect Smile Isn't Perfect

Anyone who has spent even 30 seconds browsing our Instagram page knows that Barley is basically the smiliest dog in the world, especially when we visit the arboretum.

A post shared by Beth (@eedevore) on
As you can probably guess, having anything happen to that smile would devastate me. And that is exactly what happened in January when I noticed that one of Barley's upper canine teeth had a slight chip in it. I noticed the chip about a week before her annual check up and I spent many hours debating moving the appointment up, but Barley was her normally, happy, smiley self and didn't mind me lifting her lip or poking at her tooth, so we waited it out.

By the time we got her appointment, the tooth was discolored and our vet said that usually means that a nerve has been affected. She said she could pull the tooth, but since it is a large tooth, it would be a complicated extraction because of the longer roots. She also said that a veterinary dentist might be able to repair the tooth. I decided to take a little time to think about our options.

A Google search revealed that there are 157 active diplomates of the American Veterinary Dental College, which is the program in which vets complete an additional residency (just like human doctors do when they specialize in something like cardiology or psychiatry) for several more years to become board certified in dental care. These vets receive training in more advanced dental care than the extractions and cleanings that other vets are trained in. None of these 157 diplomates are located in the state of Ohio. There was one in Pittsburgh, but depending on what part of the city you're going to, that's at least 2 hours from our house--doable if necessary, but not easy, especially during the semester when it's hard enough to find time for an appointment at our local vet between classes. There was, however, a veterinary dentist about an hour from my parents' house.

We decided to wait and watch the tooth. I wasn't mentally prepared for Barley to lose such a big tooth even though I trusted our vet to be able to extract it if necessary.

For months, Barley continued to smile, to walk her daily 3+ miles, to go to agility class, to wrestle and tug with Rye, and to eat normally. She wasn't favoring that side of her mouth or acting like she was in pain when she'd play with Rye. So, I continued to just watch.

Then about two weeks ago, I noticed that tooth had chipped a little more and was missing a larger portion. I also noticed that her other upper canine had a tiny chip that looked like the first tooth started out, except it wasn't discolored. I knew we needed to do something.

The slightly chipped tooth.

The discolored broken tooth.

We had a trip to my parents' house planned, so I researched the veterinary dentist near their house. The website was very thorough in explaining his training and the different types of procedures that could be done. My Googling didn't reveal any negative reviews for his practice, so I reached out to him to explain our situation. 

The vet explained that he didn't like to extract teeth like canines if there were other options and said he'd be happy to meet with us while we were in town and then try to fit us in for surgery during our visit if necessary. 

We scheduled an appointment for the first full day of our visit. The vet tech took us back to the exam room and asked me to show her the teeth I was concerned about. While she was looking, she pointed out that it looked like Barley's right upper 4th premolar had a slab fracture as well, which the vet confirmed when he came in.

The vet took a lot of time to show us pictures and diagrams of the teeth that were affected. He explained that he didn't like to pull canines because they were such a big part of the structure of a dog's mouth. Without them, the upper lip could sag a bit and sores could form from the lower teeth rubbing on the lip. The tongue could also suffer from dryness since the teeth wouldn't be there to hold them in. He recommended a root canal to keep the tooth from getting infected and abscessing. With the premolar, much of the tooth is under the gum, so the vet explained that he couldn't tell how far the fracture went up without x-rays, but if it was fractured up under the gum then extraction would be better than a root canal because bacteria and food could get trapped in the gum where the fracture was. 

After he'd answered all of our questions and discussed our options, he said he'd look at the schedule for the week and see where he could fit Barley in for the procedure. About an hour later, the office called to let us know they could fit her in Friday.

We had to drop her off between 7 and 8 a.m. and they said since they were fitting her in, she'd have to be with them most of the day. I hated that I'd have to leave Barley all day long, but I ended up having a lovely time with my mom and Rye while we waited for Barley to be ready for us to pick her up. 

I was finally able to pick Barley up a little after 3:00. The vet spent a little while explaining the procedure: she'd needed the extraction of the premolar, the discolored tooth had needed the root canal, but the other canine didn't have an exposed nerve, so they just smooth it out a little and said it wasn't a problem right now. He also showed me the photos and x-rays they'd taken, which showed the premolar was starting to abscess although the canine wasn't and he explained the different medications (an anti-inflammatory pain medicine, a regular pain medicine, and an antibiotic).

When they finally brought Barley out to me, she was so excited and wagging her whole body. She curled around my legs like a cat and didn't want to leave my side. Everyone in the office loved her and asked if she did any therapy dog work--and I had to explain the whole wet grass thing.

My poor girl was so loopy that she wasn't entirely sure how to get in the car, but she also wasn't sure she wanted my help with that, either. Eventually, we got settled and she cried almost the whole ride home unless I was reaching back between the rows of seats and keeping my hand on her. Once we got back to my parents' house, she just wandered around and it was obvious she was confused about just about everything. 

I felt like a nurse for a few days as I handed out multiple pills a day (not to mention that Rye and Soth were also on medication), but after about 24 hours, Barley was less confused except for the hours right after her pain medicine was administered. The vet had said she could resume activity when she wanted to as long as she wasn't carrying things in her mouth, so I just let Barley decide what she felt like doing. She thought she might want to go for a walk the day after her surgery, but we made it .25-miles before she decided she wanted to go back to the house. The next day, though, she made it for two miles (but then decided she didn't feel like an evening walk). By Monday, she wanted to play with Rye and I had to keep refereeing to make sure she didn't put Rye's head in her mouth or try to play tug with Rye. She was back to a full three miles of walking between her morning and evening walk by Monday.

We came home on Tuesday and she handled 14 hours in the car like a champion. I decided to keep her home from agility this week and took Rye instead--which Barley was not happy about. The vet said she could do agility again when she felt ready, but since she was still on pain medicine, I didn't want her to be confused or have a negative reaction to her classmates because of it. Rye had fun running off energy after a day of travel and Barley will be back to her routine next week.

She's done with all of her medications and seems to be feeling 100% like herself. She still has stitches in her mouth from the extraction, so she has another week of wet food only and no tugging with Rye, but she wants to be back to her normal life. I had to intervene when she tried to grab a stick from Rye and she's snuck snacks out of the trash can on more than one occasion despite my efforts to make sure she's only eating soft things.

We have a follow up appointment with our regular vet next week just to make sure the stitches absorbed properly and everything has healed, but my happy girl is already back to her usual smiley self.