Friday, December 30, 2011

Dental Care for the Working and Performance Dog

Anything from retrieving game to biting a decoy, our working and performance dogs use their mouths a lot!  We have a lot invested in their chompers, so it makes sense to keep them in as good as shape as possible.  A very small amount of prevention is worth a considerable amount of money later on.  I recommend brushing a dog's teeth every day (or every other day at the least), particularly for working and performance breeds since their teeth are so critical to their function.  I like using a veterinary specific tooth paste.  These come in a variety of flavors from beef and poultry to the rather pleasant vanilla mint (which my dogs happen to really like) and are safe to be swallowed in small amounts, unlike human tooth pastes.  I also prefer using an inexpensive electric toothbrush such as a Crest Spinbrush instead of a manual brush.  It seems dogs are often more tolerant of the electric toothbrushes than the manual brushes once they get used to the vibrations because they can be moved slowly back and forth across the teeth instead of lots of small motions.  Finger brushes don't tend to work as effectively, but they can be used to introduce dogs to the sensation.  It's always best to start poking around a dog's mouth when they are pups so they get used to it.  Using a finger brush or plain finger, put a small amount of the dog toothpaste on the end of your finger and let your pup lick it off to get used to the taste.  Gradually let the dog get used to the feeling of touching their lips, gums, and teeth and always keep it positive with treats.
So what do you do when good teeth go bad?  Veterinarians use very similar tools as in human dentistry to work on teeth, so dental care for animals has really advanced considerably.  Particularly if a dog uses their mouth for their job, I aggressively recommend they see the vet and a specialist if possible.  A board certified member of the American College of Veterinary Dentistry has done extensive post graduate training on animal dentistry and particularly with high performing police or bite sport dogs, these are who I recommend to see.  A listing of the members of the ACVD is found here:

Let's also consider some nutritional links.  There is a long standing myth that kibble helps clean or scrub the teeth better than canned food.  This is absolutely not true.  Studies have shown approximately 85% of dogs over the age of 3 years old have periodontal disease and most dogs eat dry kibble.  It would be like brushing your teeth with toast.  Not very helpful!  It can pick up slowly and insidiously, but many dogs are likely in a good bit of pain and discomfort from unhealthy mouths on a lifetime of kibble.  So please brush those teeth!

You may say, "but my dog is on a raw diet and their teeth look great!  Why do I need to brush?"  This is an excellent question.  Though many dogs have very nice clean teeth on a predominantly raw diet, they also are at risk for fractures from the bones in the diet if it is not ground.  Larger weight bearing bones or "recreational" bones (or antlers and hooves!) are common culprits.  Some dogs also like to chew on sticks, rocks, their kennels, and crates, which can also fracture teeth.  Fractures to the canines and the fourth (largest) premolar are not at all uncommon.  Brushing your dog's teeth regularly allows you to check for inflamed gums (gingivitis) and any masses in the mouth (which often can be malignant tumors) as well as fractured teeth.  Fractured teeth are a problem because not only can they be extremely painful with the pulp cavity and nerves exposed, but infections can move up into the area and cause abscesses.  These are painful and may even erode the bone of the jaws, making them more likely to fracture.

A fractured tooth needs to be evaluated as soon as possible as there are ways to save the tooth, including a root canal (which keeps the tooth's place, even if it is no longer viable) or a crown amputation/vital pulpotomy (which reduces the height of the crown, or visible part of the tooth, so it can't break off further, and saves the pulp of the tooth).  A vital pulpotomy is a dental emergency and must be performed within 3 days to save the tooth.  In most pet dogs, the fractured or diseased tooth is often best left extracted so it will not cause further discomfort.  But in dogs that use their mouths, particularly bite work dogs, extracting large teeth like a canine or fourth premolar with big roots is much more risky since the tooth (both crown and root) must be pulled out.  On a large tooth, this means the root will no longer have as much support to the bones in the jaw, making a fractured jaw more likely.  A vital pulpotomy or root canal is a better choice for working dogs.  Because a fractured tooth must be addressed right away, if you are brushing and inspecting your dog's teeth each day, you can head off major problems before it starts interfering with the dog's work and health.

Lastly we can discuss routine cleaning of the teeth.  This must happen under general anesthesia for several reasons (and this is why an "anesthesia free dental" is a very poor substitute for a full cleaning).  First, the process involves a good bit of poking and prodding that many dogs just don't tolerate.  A hand scaler can lacerate the gums and the dog can subsequently bite the person trying to do the "cleaning."  The ultrasonic scaler uses a lot of water and a high pitched noise, which most all dogs would find very annoying and would not likely hold still for.  To have a complete cleaning, we inspect and clean above and below the gum line, which we are not able to do with an awake dog.  We can only access the easily visible parts during a hand scaling and not above the gum line, so the result is cosmetic at best.  The ultrasonic or hand scaler also leaves microscopic scratches in the enamel of the tooth that must be polished off when completed, otherwise the calculus simply builds back up even faster.  This is a similar process with how your teeth are polished after your dentist is done with their cleaning.  For these reasons, the ACVD has a position statement why "anesthesia free dentals" are nothing more than "tooth grooming."

In other words, if your dog's teeth need attention, consult your veterinarian or a board certified veterinary dentist on how to best keep their teeth looking and feeling their best.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Paw and Pad Care

There's an infamous saying in horses:  no hoof, no horse.  In working and performance dogs, it is very similar.  I was at attendance at the U-FLI Tournament of Champions this past weekend as the show vet and was reminded of this principle.  Flyball and other hard driving sports and activities (lure coursing, sled dog racing, agility, hunting, hiking) can really do a number on your dog's paw pads.  First, let's discuss the anatomy of the paw.  Each toe has a corresponding pad as well as a pad on the "palm" of the foot called the metacarpal (front feet) or metatarsal (back feet) pad.  The carpal or "stop pad" is located on the front legs at the level of the carpus (wrist) and the dew claws.  Both the metacarpal/tarsal pads and the stop pads are particularly prone to abrasions.

The most common cause is either intense stop and go activity over a hard surface (ex:  flyball, chasing tennis balls on concrete) or overuse (ex:  hunting, hiking, or dog sledding over rough or icy terrain, especially without conditioning).  Unfortunately treating sore feet like paw abrasions are not an overnight fix as they are somewhat similar to a blister on the bottom of your feet.  Prevention and gradual conditioning will be the best way to avoid pad abrasions.  There are products such as Tuf-Foot and Musher's Secret that have been out for a long time to try to either toughen up or protect the foot that be worth trying.  Flyball competitors often wrap with vet wrap and tape around the carpus to protect the stop pads and declaws.  Please note that unlike horses, dogs have considerable more soft tissue in the lower leg than horses, so do not wrap the vet wrap too snugly and remove shortly after the race.  Specially made dog skid boots might be a better alternative.  

So what do you do after a long hike or hunting trip and your dog comes up lame?  Inspect the feet very carefully, looking for burrs, thorns, cactus needles, ice balls, dried mud, and so on.  Keeping a pair of hemostats to pull out the offending object may be very helpful, particularly when trying to grab it without poking yourself.  Clean the area thoroughly with soapy water and rinse.  If my dogs have a pad abrasion, I like to have them stand in a 2 quart plastic pitcher or small bucket with a warm water soak to remove excess debris and dirt, then stand again in dilute chlorhexidine solution (Hibiclens, which can be found at Walgreens or Walmart).  The sore pad can be LIGHTLY bandaged if desired, but the best solution is to crate the dog so they will rest.  The issue with some bandages is doing it too tight, which causes swelling and discomfort and even necrosis of the tissue if untreated long enough.  If you decide to bandage the feet, make sure to leave at least two toes visible so you can check for swelling and either too warm or too cold in the toes.  Some dogs will also shred and eat the bandaging material, which is never desirable.  Ask your veterinarian for pain medication for a few days if the dog is especially tender or has difficulty walking.  An infant sock can be helpful to taking the dog out to relieve themselves.  There are now quite a few brands of booties available to try as well at various retailers.

For pad lacerations, these can be very, very challenging to treat because almost any movement can break them open again.  They make take multiple times of suturing and bandaging before successfully healing.  Patience and rest is the most important thing with both pad abrasions and lacerations.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

How We Interpret Bloodwork

If you've ever gotten bloodwork back on one of your dogs either as part of a wellness screening tool or if your dog was ill and wondered what in the world all those values meant, this is a neat little cheat sheet that explains what they mean.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Canine Performance Nutrition: An Overview

This is a paper I wrote for a nutrition elective rotation I took in March 2011.  I am posting it as I believe many might find it interesting.  I'll be posting more on nutrition in the future.  Enjoy!
While the majority of dogs in developed nations enjoy fairly sedentary lives, more and more owners are including their canine companions in a variety of activities and sports.  Dogs now commonly join their owners to compete in the newer sports of agility, flyball, and dock diving.  Performance events such as herding, protection, hunting, and sledding remain popular and blur the lines between work and play for dogs and their handlers.  In addition, dogs provide a valuable service to military, law enforcement, and the community through patrol work, scent detection, and search and rescue efforts.  While nutrition is not a substitute for the correct genetics, training, and conditioning of performance dogs, many owners are very interested in the nutritional needs of their canine athlete.  To reach peak performance through optimal nutrition, owners and veterinarians should calculate the caloric needs, consider a diet that complements the performance expected based on the components of the food, and develop a feeding plan that optimizes peak performance.

Most nutritional studies of canine athletes have traditionally focused on the sports of dog racing and dog sledding.  The two average participants in these activities are greyhounds and husky-type dogs respectively.   Greyhound racing is a highly anaerobic sport that short in duration which is reflected in the type IIa fast twitch muscle fibers that dominate a greyhound’s lean muscle mass (Hill 1998), while some dog sled races such as the Iditarod are over one thousand of miles in length covered over the course of up to two weeks.  Most other canine activities fall somewhere in between these two extremes, with sports like agility and flyball being more similar to sprint racing and hunting field trials and ranch livestock work of several days duration being more similar to sledding (Toll et al. 2010).  Understanding the nature of the activity that the canine athlete is participating in is crucial for making nutritional recommendations to the owner.

In deciding a nutrition plan for a canine athlete, it is helpful to understand some of the differences in how food is utilized by the body depending on the type of exercise.  Parallels between the nutritional needs of human and canine sprinters versus marathon runners are commonly made in comparative studies of exercise physiology, though the dog in general is better suited to oxidative metabolism of fats and dogs metabolize free fatty acids at twice the rate as humans (Hill 1998).  However, most sources suggest that as in humans, sprinters such as greyhounds do best with higher levels of carbohydrates to mobilize glucose during short durations of exertion; in contrast, endurance runners such as sled dogs or hunting dogs may exhaust their stores of glycogen and may have improved performance on high protein, high fat, and low carbohydrate foods (Hill 1998).  Different studies have also shown hematological effects such as “training-induced anemia” (Hill 1998) and decrease in total protein in serum (Hinchcliff 2000) before and after strenuous prolonged exercise in sled dogs that may be exacerbated if the protein levels are not moderately high, though one smaller non-cross over study showed a vegetarian- based food did not significantly alter either blood values or performance of short distance sprint racing huskies (Brown 2009).  

In addition to the basic components of the food, meeting but not exceeding the energy requirements of canine athletes can be challenging both in the trial season and in the off season.  As most greyhounds run only a short distance at a high intensity level every few days, most sources suggest that their caloric requirements are likely similar to other moderately active dogs with a life stage factor of 1.6.  On the other extreme, long distance sled dogs may require a life stage factor of over 10 not only due to physical exertion, but because of extremely cold environmental conditions (Hand et al. 2010).  A highly calorically dense diet is required to meet the needs of the long distance sled dog.  Owners and kennel workers should be aware that feeding to these levels in the off season is not advised and that they may return the dog to a lower plane of nutrition after the training and trial season is over or risk gaining an undesirable amount of weight.  Dogs that compete in other short but explosive sports such as flyball and agility are likely closer to greyhounds in their need for caloric intake and will likely not need a large increase in their rations during competition season.  Herding, police, and hunting dogs would likely be in between the extremes of caloric requirements.

Some special considerations of certain canine athletes (racing dogs, sled dogs, and hunting dogs) may include oxidative stress both from the physical exertion itself and the addition of extra animal or plant based fat sources for energy (Pasquini et al. 2010, Hinchcliff et al. 2000).  Supplementation of 400 IU of vitamin E beyond what is in typical commercially available diets have been suggested by some authors to account for the loss of antioxidants from the stress of heavy exercise and oxidation of high levels of dietary fats for sled dogs (Reinhart et al.).   In addition, dogs that rely heavily on their olfactory sense, such as detection or search and rescue dogs, may benefit from fatty acids in their diets.  Not only are certain PUFAs  anti-inflammatory, but scent detection relies on the olfactory epithelium, of which fatty acids are integrated as components of the cell membrane (Toll 2010).  As a general rule, many “weekend warrior” types of canine athletes that accompany their owners to the hiking trails or to an agility trial may not need special dietary supplements as long as their nutritional requirements are being met by feeding a high quality commercially prepared diet.  Other canine athletes such as hunting dogs or sled dogs may be fairly sedentary during all but the competition seasons when they are asked to perform strenuous and prolonged exercise at high levels.  Diet changes both at the onset and peak times of training should be gradual if possible.  It should be communicated to owners that while nutrition is vital, training, conditioning, and genetics will be of greater value for performance than supplements or special diets. 

Works Cited
Brown WY, Vanselow BA, Redman AJ, et al.  An experimental meat-free diet maintained haematological characteristics in sprint-racing sled dogs.  Br J Nutr 2009; 102:1318-23.
Hinchcliff KW, Reinhart GA, DiSilvestro R, et al.  Oxidant stress in sled dogs subjected to repetitive endurance exercise.  Am J Vet Res 2000; 61:512-17.
Hill RC. The nutritional requirements of exercising dogs.   J Nutr 1998; 128:2686S–2690S.
Pasquini A, Luchetti E, Cardini G.  Evaluation of oxidative stress in hunting dogs during exercise.  Res Vet  Sci 2010; 89:120-23.
Reinhart G, Hinchcliff K, Reynolds A, et al.  Supplementing vitamin E to sled dogs.  Iditarod website. Available at:  Accessed March 24, 2011.
Toll PW, Gillette RL, Hand MS.  Feeding working and sporting dogs.  In:  Hand MS, Hatcher CD, Remillard RL, Roudebush P, Novotny BJ, eds.  Small animal clinical nutrition.  5th ed.  Topeka:  Mark Morris Inst, 2010; 321-352.

Monday, June 27, 2011

First Aid Kits

Now that we've talked a bit about disaster preparation, let's talk about first aid kits.  The following are just guidelines and the best resource for being prepared for first aid is going to be your own veterinarian.  If they do not see emergencies, particularly after hours, know who to call if something happens and how to get there will likely be as valuable, if not more so, than using precious time when the more critical thing is to get the dog seen as soon as possible for the best outcome.  Especially if you are performing a community service (i.e.-police K-9s or SAR groups), it will likely be worth your time to inquire at the nearest emergency facility what they recommend for your precise needs.  While I have not personally taken one of the Red Cross first aid courses, they may also be a good resource and information on them can be found here:

Like human first aid kits, first aid kits for dogs will vary considerably depending on who is carrying them.  Some handlers may never have taken a first aid course in their life while others work in the medical or veterinary medical field.  It doesn't help to carry what you haven't been trained on how to use as you don't want to waste time on trying things you have not been trained to do.  In addition, the smaller the pack, the more likely you are to have it in your car or near you when it's needed.  The needs of working and performance dogs are also going to be different.  For example, a SAR dog searching the rubble pile or in the field will have a different likihood of injury than huskies in sprint races.  Flyball dogs will be subjected to different stresses on their bodies than field trial dogs.  That being said, there are a few common things that will be helpful to have in any first aid kit.  While you can purchase a dog first aid kit in specialty stores and online, you can also put your own basic first aid kit out of supplies you can get at Wal-Mart, Walgreens, or certain pet/farm supply stores for under $30.

-Vet Wrap:  2"
-Gauze squares (3" x 3" or 4" x 4")
-Medical/athletic tape

-exam gloves (I prefer nitrile/latex free)
-triple antibiotic ointment:  generic Neosporin.  Do not use on puncture wounds or extensive/draining wounds. 
-sterile saline:   for wound flush.  These now come in these neat spray bottles.  They are a bit pricey and run out quickly though
-muzzle:  no first aid kit should be without one!  I prefer the basket muzzles, but the cloth ones are easy to store)
-slip leash:  invaluable if you see a dog on the side of the road kind of thing (note:  don't put yourself or other drivers in harms way to catch a loose dog!).  Slip leashes also can double for muzzles
-the phone numbers of the nearest vet hospital and/or emergency clinic taped to the inside lid of the kit.  ALL trials should have the club secretary or other designated person call around to see who is open and what their hours are for weekend trials.  You may be able to save money by not shipping them to a more expensive emergency clinic if you call ahead to local clinics, who also appreciate the heads up on what's coming in.

All these can be stored in a small Rubbermaid-type or desk organizer type box that can fit in anyone's car or at the registration table at an event.  Small toolboxes are another way to store these.  I also recommend keeping a few items that dogs may not necessarily need, but would come in handy for the humans in your training group.  For example, I had a Benedryl "pen" last year in my first aid kit that came in very handy when a little boy at our July PSA trial was stung by a wasp.  I've also had decoys cut themselves and need a quick wound cleaning.  Other "human" items that are good to have:

-Band-aids, lots of 'em.  :-)
-Hand sanitizer
-Anti-histamine topical: often has Benedryl/generic diphenhydramine for insect stings
-Instant cold packs:  good for injuries, heat exhaustion, and insect stings.  These don't get quite as cold as reusable cold packs, but work fairly well

You can also keep a larger, more "advanced" kit if you feel comfortable doing so.  I often have people ask about suturing or stapling cuts or lacerations, particularly if they are out hunting or are doing SAR fairly far from "civilization."  You essentially have six hours as the "golden time" to suture up a wound for optimum results.  Suturing or stapling a wound also does very little good if the bleeding below the surface has not stopped.  Pressure using gauze is best while getting the animal shipped out.  Some other items to consider:

-duct tape:  ALWAYS useful.  :-)
-several paint stir sticks:  for splinting limbs, often free from paint or hardware stores
-oral Benedryl:  ask your vet for the dose for insect stings
-large beach towel or blanket to use for either a stretcher or to prevent shock
-jumbo cotton balls
-small bottle of dog shampoo or Dawn dish detergent
-rectal thermometer
-lubricating jelly
-kotex feminine pads:  for heavy bleeding
-eye irrigation solution
-booties for injured paws:  depending on the paw size, an infant or child's sock can also work in a pinch
-bandage scissors

Some working dog handlers, such as narcotics detection handlers, may also want to ask their vet about carrying reversal agents for accidentally ingested narcotics, if available.  I hope this list gives you a few things to think about.  Keep in mind it is not exhaustive and you may need different items based on the needs of your dogs (and the humans training with them!).

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Disaster Preparation

I'm back!  I spent a good bit of the last three weeks down in Joplin, Missouri helping the ASPCA with tornado disaster relief.  I also just got back from a two day seminar sponsored by SEMA on emergency animal sheltering put on by the Humane Society of Missouri.  I'd like to share a few things I learned about preparing for a disaster in consideration of your dogs, be they strictly pets or working dogs.  Before Joplin, I was a bit lax on preparing for this sort of thing as in central Missouri, we are not in hurricane or wildfire country, not directly on a flood plain or earthquake fault line (unlike many of our other Missouri residents).  We mostly just get the odd tornado watch or warning that was more of an annoyance that interrupts a TV program than something to be taken seriously.  Until I went down and saw the destruction of the worst tornado in recent history.  Just a few days after my first trip back from Joplin, the sirens rang for a tornado warning and I immediately put on long pants, boots, grabbed my cell phone, wallet, and cash, and prepared to get in our walk in closet!  After seeing the destruction, I will never take a tornado warning lightly again!  I took some video and photos from my first trip a few days afterwards seen below:

A disaster plan does not need to be complicated.  But it does need to happen.  One of the most important lessons I learned was that you must communicate!  If you must evacuate your home, have a plan outside your area to take your animals.  FEMA and other disaster agencies learned from Hurricane Katrina that people will not always evacuate without their pets. I was at a Red Cross co-location shelter for four days where they did amazingly allow animals, but many do not.  Let others know of your plans and have a meeting place both near your home and further away.  Cell phone communication the day of and after in Joplin was sketchy at best and interestingly, many used Facebook updates from their phones as a way to communicate they were alright.  You can also use something like the Safe and Well website on the Red Cross:

So in preparing for a disaster with animals, what can you do?  Here are some tips I learned both from my experience in Joplin and from the SEMA course:

-have photos of your pets.  Most people have camera phones and taking a photo of each and storing on your phone will help if you become separated (assuming your phone is still operating!)
-have an emergency kit.  This kit should contain the follow:
  • 3 days worth of food (dry or canned).  I recommend keeping the kibble in waterproof bags, such as in Seal a Meal bags, to keep out both vermin and water.  Many cans have a pop top these days, but don't forget a can opener!  Collapsible bowls are also easy to find in pet supply stores.
  • 3 days worth of drinking water.  For most mammals (dogs, cats, horses, other livestock), most mammals drink approximately 1 gallon per 100 lbs of body weight per day.  This is a VERY rough approximation.  Obviously this will vary by the situation and the weather conditions
  • All medications 
  • A pet first aid kit.  These are available commercially or you can also put one together for less than $30.  In the next entry, I will cover my recommendations for a first aid kit
  • Photos of your pet and the most recent vaccination records.  Vaccine records are important to have if your pets need to boarded on an emergency basis.  Keep these in a gallon sized ziplock bag to avoid getting wet
  •  Dawn (plain) dish soap.  In a chemical spill or flood, Dawn is particularly helpful for decontaminating your pet.  There are many unknown nasty organisms or chemicals in flood waters that will need to be scrubbed off.  Remember, if your home is underwater, it's likely the farm store with the pesticides/herbicides and the auto parts store with the car batteries, oils, and solvents are too!
  • Carriers (small dogs and cats), spare leashes, and collars with extra ID tags.  For ID tags in general, I recommend putting the phone number of an out of state good friend or relative on the ID tags in case you or your phone are somehow incapacitated
-Another important tip for your emergency kit and first aid kit is to check it regularly!  When you change your clock for day light savings time, replace your battery in your smoke detector and take a moment to look at your kit to make sure it is still intact and does not require any updating of the contents.
-Crate train your animals.  Some dogs and many cats are not used to being contained in a crate, which will be enormously stressful if your animals will need to be kept there for any length of time during or after a disaster.  There are many resources on crate training dogs and cats and acclimating them beforehand is critical.  Trying to dig out a scared dog or cat from under the bed while sirens are going off is not the best use of your time.
-Microchip your animals and just as importantly, make sure the contact info is still good with the company it is under
-Do a few test runs to allow you to grab your own personal effects (wallet, cell phone, computer external hard drive or laptop, etc).  Care for yourself before you address your pets, as they won't be able to get your help if you are incapacitated.  Put small dogs and cats in carriers and large dogs on a leash or in crates in your safe area (interior bathroom/closet, basement, cellar) if possible.
-Use the stickers that are often given out at pet trade shows or elsewhere that state that animals are on the premises to alert emergency teams at every major access point, not just by the front door.

Hope that gives you a few things to think about to potentially save the life of you and your animals.  Next entry will be concerned with a first aid kit for pets.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Quick Break!

I've been going up and down to Joplin the past few days to help with the tornado effort and am likely going back down tomorrow for a few more to work with the ASPCA, so I may not post another entry for a few days.  Thanks for your patience!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Hot Weather Safety

Well, after a very cold spring, it's finally starting to heat up!  From weekend warriors to serious dog trainers, it's time to make sure everyone is safe while training!  After a long winter and a cold wet spring (at least in our neck of the woods), our dogs are not at peak condition.  Training for protection sport has been difficult and herding has been just about impossible (my dog is not the type you can chase around in the mud after sheep...) to schedule.  So how do we get them into shape for spring and summer trials or fall hunting?  Gradually!

Many handlers want to give their dogs diet supplements to get them into tip top condition for competition.  And many companies will be glad to take your money for said supplements!  Ignore the temptation for an "easy fix" and spend less money and more time on conditioning.  Please note I am not suggesting skimping on quality nutrition.  We will address the nutritional needs of working and performance dogs in later entries ad nauseum (my favorite topic!).  But in general, keeping a dog well hydrated and bringing them up gradually to a plateau of performance during trial season is going to be your best bet. 

The main goal of today's entry is safety.  Most handlers are excellent at being aware of the concerns of overheating their dogs.  However, at the dock diving trial I was at last week, I saw a Chesapeake Bay retriever in a sedan with the windows only cracked about 2-3 inches on each and it was over 80 F.  So a large part of hot weather safety is regulating the temperature of where the dog is when she's not on the training field.  Agility or rally classes tend to be no more than an hour or so, but Schutzhund training can be a nearly all day affair with some clubs.  The savvy handler will park his or her vehicle under shade and especially before a trial, shady spots are under almost as much competition as the action under the field.  So how do you make your own shade if there is none?  Basic 9 ft x 9 ft canopy tents are only about $50-60 from big box stores and most go up with a minimum of fuss for guaranteed all day shade (just watch the wind as they can blow away!).  Sun shades are another inexpensive but valuable solution to go in the front and back windshields, especially for those who drive sedans (as I do to save gas money) and who can't open up the back door like in vans and SUVs.  Some like battery operated crate fans, but I prefer the inexpensive fans that you can plug into the adapter and have a clip that can secure to the dashboard or window frame.  Wire crates give more ventilation than plastic crates, though plastic crates with two doors provide both good ventilation and shade.

Some choose to leave the car engine on so the air conditioning can run.  I have heard of at least one instance where the car stopped for some reason while the owner was away and a dog died from heat exhaustion in the car with no windows down.  Many also lock their doors while the engine is on.  If you do choose this method, it is likely wise to only do with the doors unlocked so other people can assist if there is an emergency (i.e.-your dog is almost comatose from heat exhaustion) and you are not in the vicinity.  In other words, if you leave your car on, only do so at the trial or training field where you can have a clear view of your vehicle at all times, not while parking your car at the Cracker Barrel for two hours for the post trial dinner and socializing.

Now that we've talked about safety in the car and crate, what about the dog?  Keep clean and fresh water available at all times during warm weather.  When holding a trial, particularly when it is more than 5-10 minutes from amenities like a gas station or fast food, the club ideally should provide either water in some form, either from a hose or pump or have water to sell.  In addition, someone from the club should call around to area vets to see who is open during the trial weekend so if there is an emergency (heat related or otherwise), the club can direct handlers from out of town where to take their dog.  This information should ideally be located on the trial flyer or some other central location.  Check on your dog frequently! 

Once your dog is done working, walk them out for a 5-10 minute cool down so they are not panting quite so heavily before you offer water.  This is particularly important in brachiocephalic breeds (bulldogs, Bostons, boxers, some pit bulls) and deep chested breeds prone to GDV or "bloat" (German shepherds, labs, Dobermans, Great Danes, etc).  I am honestly not sure how scientific this is, but one way to tell how hard your dog is panting is to look at their tongue.  If it is pink and flat with a rounded appearance at the tip, they are probably panting normally and may not particularly overheated. 

Once they become bright red or purplish and have a more rolled over appearance at the edges with the tip of the tongue looking "sharper" or more like a scoop, they may be getting overheated and it's time for a break. 

Having known several trainers and owners whose dogs have died of GDV (gastric dilation and volvulus or "bloat"), offering a large amount of water right after work is not ideal.  Until the average German shepherd or lab has slowed down in panting after work with a cool down, only offer perhaps half a cup of water at a time until they cool down further.  Once they have cooled down significantly and are not panting as hard, more water can steadily be offered. 

Watch for other signs, such as tacky gums, the skin between their ears on their head not being as elastic or forming a "tent" where there shouldn't be one, increased heart rate (180+ beats per minute for medium to large dogs), lethargy, and rectal body temperature of 103 F+.  The BEST treatment of dogs with heat exhaustion, besides prevention, is under some debate from emergency and critical care practitioners.  Unfortunately, most of what we know is from the human literature and humans cool themselves by sweating.  Other than a small amount of sweat produced by glands on their paw pads, dogs do not sweat and depend more on panting.  This is why boxers, some pit bulls, and other brachiocephalic breeds should be watched very closely as the cooling mechanisms in the nasal passages has been essentially squashed.  Some training clubs will keep a filled kiddie pool for the dogs to get in after working in the high heat of the summer.  One school of thought says to not completely wet the dog down on its back so heat can still escape from the top.

If you notice signs of heat exhaustion in your working dog, what should you do?  Act quickly!  Just like humans, these can progress into seizures, coma, or death.  These dogs should be moved to a cool shaded location with a fan blowing on them directly.  A kiddie pool or bath tub is nice to have on hand to wet the dog down but do not submerge them in ice water.  Most authorities state this will cause vasoconstriction of the blood vessels near the skin from the cold, but hold in the rest of the heat of the body.  Cold packs can be placed under the arm pits and in the groin area of front and back legs while the dog is being transported to a vet.  At the vet, they will likely start the dog on IV fluids and further the cooling process in a slow way to avoid what is called "rebound hypothermia" where the body's temperature dips below 100 F to compensate.  As emergencies, these episodes are harrowing, costly, and upsetting.  Accidents do happen, but keeping safety in mind when training and trialing your working or performance dog will more than pay for itself. 

Thursday, May 19, 2011

I Need a Specialist!

As a disclaimer, this is absolutely not a knock against any veterinary general practitioner!  For many, many years the GP would do (and still does!) many surgeries and procedures a human GP would never dream of doing.  Can you imagine a human GP doing a major abdominal surgery like a hysterectomy (spay)?  However, some issues are likely best seen by a specialist and a good general practitioner knows when to refer.  While specialists are usually more expensive to go see than a general practitioner, it can be very valuable for the livelihood of your working or performance dog to not delay in seeing a specialist given the time and money you have put into your dog.

In veterinary medicine, to call yourself a specialist, you must attend undergraduate college for four years and four years of veterinary medical school.  After vet school, most candidates complete one or more years in a rotating internship where they see additional cases in a broad variety of specialties typically either at an academic teaching hospital or a larger private practice.  After the internship, a residency in a specialty usually between two and four years depending on the specialty is completed and candidates sit for a board exam.  Then they can be called a specialist once they pass the strenuous board exam.

Specialties in veterinary medicine are just about as broad as in human medicine and can range from anesthesiology, dentistry, internal medicine, and radiology to neurosurgery, radiation oncology, and zoo medicine and surgery.  There are general practitioners with special interests in certain areas (for instance, my special interests are in nutrition, sports medicine, and reproduction) that go to continuing education to further hone their skills, but these cannot be called "specialists."

So how does one find a specialist for their dog?  Ideally, your local vet can help them locate and refer you to a specialist.  This is helpful as your local vet will have seen your dog progressively for the issue and can relay them to the specialist along with sending over necessary medical history, radiographs (x-rays), and so on.  But if you're not sure where to turn, here are a few common "colleges" (kind of like the overseeing governing boards for a certain specialty) where you can look up local specialties.

American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine (includes internal medicine, neurology, cardiology, oncology)

American College of Veterinary Surgeons

American College of Veterinary Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation

American College of Veterinary Nutrition

American College of Ophthalmology

American Veterinary Dental College:

The preceding list is not exhaustive and there are many other specialties out there.  In addition to the specific specialty colleges, the nearest veterinary teaching hospital is also a good place to inquire.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Practical Marker Training for the Working Dog Part II

So now that we've discussed a few practical ways for handlers and owners to incorporate marker training into some day to day husbandry and vet vets, let's discuss how veterinary professionals might be able to use reward based positive reinforcement and marker training into their practice. I know what you're probably thinking..."we have a REALLY busy practice, how can we ever incorporate this into our daily day to day?"  An excellent question!

One caveat is that reward based marker training usually works with food (but not always), so it isn't always going to be able to be used.  For example, animals about to undergo sedation or general anesthesia are not the best candidates for having bellies full of treats beforehand due to risks of aspiration.  Another is that you as the receptionist, assistant, nurse, or doctor should ask before giving dogs treats as sometimes interesting diet histories revealing food allergies/sensitivities may come to light that didn't pop up during the history in the exam room.  My own dogs are on a relatively controlled diet and I dislike pet store clerks who try to give them junk food like Milkbones or Pupperoni without me asking (after all, they don't have to clean up the diarrhea the next morning!).

So how can you use rewards based training or marker training in practice?  Some of these were covered in the previous post, such as the use of conditioning of muzzles as a treat cup instead of punishment.  There are likely many, many applications that are limited only by your imagination (and budget for treats and time!), especially using with puppy visits.  Many puppies won't even flinch if Cheese Whiz is applied to the exam table in a six inch strip while vaccines are being administered.  Encourage puppy owners to stop by the vet's office just for "cookie exams" where they get weighed and treats and nothing bad happens.  The time you spend now with the pups will pay off when they are adults.  Unfortunately, many adult dogs with low to mid level food drives will not be interested in taking dry biscuit treats due to nervousness in a place they associate as new or previously unpleasant.  Take your time with these guys as it may prevent a bite.  For dogs who do need muzzles but that you wish to work on desensitization and counter conditioning, again, don't use a cloth muzzle!  Use a basket muzzle like in the previous post.  Jafco muzzles have holes for ventilation on the sides that can accommodate the tip of a Cheese Whiz bottle very nicely and they can be hand washed or put in the dishwasher on the upper rack, unlike leather muzzles.

Beyond just using treats in practice, how can you specifically use marker training?  One valuable application of clicker training is physical rehabilitation and sports medicine.  If a dog needs to learn how to stay in place on a physioball, disc, crossing cavelettis or ladders, or starting on the underwater treadmill, marker training is an excellent method to communicate to the dog exactly what you want.  Particularly since many rehab patients are drop off or occasionally boarding patients, either the tech or the doctor performing the rehab can spend as much time as needed to start the marker training process.  The dog will also get what you asking for (a specific behavior to perform an exercise) more quickly. 

Hopefully this post will give you some ideas on using food rewards in practice and perhaps branching out into marker training.  If anyone has any other ideas or tips, feel free to share!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Practical Marker Training for the Working Dog Part I

Marker training in some form or the other has been around for decades, but the last 10-15 years has really seen an explosion in the use of training with markers.  Some chose to use clickers, others use a verbal marker, and others use an LED, vibrating collar, or hand signal.  Whatever the handler chooses to use, training with markers is a powerful communication tool.  There are many websites, videos, books, and articles available explaining the basics of marker training, which are beyond the scope of this entry.  See the references at the bottom for more information.

The purpose of this entry is to address why handlers may want to incorporate marker training into their daily husbandry and care to make visits to the vet more pleasant for everyone.  The purpose of the next entry will be why veterinary professionals may want to incorporate marker training when working with patients.  As this is a working dog blog, we will focus on dogs, but these basic principles can also be used for cats, horses, food animals, and exotic species.  The key to applying marker training is thinking outside the box and taking your time.  Unfortunately, this is not always something that can be accomplished in a brief 10-15 minute wellness exam.  But for certain applications, the time invested will be returned many over with a more calm and cooperative patient and a happier and more compliant owner.

Many working and performance dog owners and handlers use marker training to perform complicated behaviors required for their "jobs."  Loading the marker by pairing the reward (typically food, but can be a toy) with the marker is often accomplished fairly quickly with higher drive dogs.  So once the dog understands the marker or clicker means a reward is coming, all sorts of practical things can be taught even as young puppies.  Some examples:

  • Nail trims:  start by touching the pup or adult dog on the shoulder or hip.  Mark and treat often.  Then slowly work your way down (keeping contact with their body) to the elbow or knee.  Mark and treat.  Continue on down to the hock or carpus.  Again mark and treat as necessary.  Proceed  to the feet, marking and treating, then the toes and nails.  The dog at this point should be either relaxed or very attentive that they've been rewarded for something that should not be painful or uncomfortable.  By this point, you can end the session.  By the next session, repeat the previous day's work and slowly proceed to trimming one nail at a time, marking and treating as you go.  I personally prefer a cordless Dremel tool, but the clipper style nail trimmers are fine too as long as they are sharp.  If you do choose to clip, have some quik stop powder nearby.  Inevitably I will quick a dog if I don't have some in the vicinity. 
  • Physical exam:  Just like the nail trim, practice with you as the handler inspecting the ears, lifting the lips to look at the teeth, lifting the tail, and so on.  Mark and treat often.  It is a good idea as a dog owner to learn how to take a dog's temperature for emergencies.  An ordinary quick reading thermometer with a bit of water based lubricant or petroleum jelly (both found at a pharmacy or superstore) is just fine. A dog's normal rectal body temperature runs a bit warmer than ours at around 98-102 F.  If it is above 102.5 F, consult your veterinarian right away.  Many dogs object to having their temperature taken at the vet's office.  Often by conditioning your dog to simply accept having his or her tail lifted is very helpful and your vet tech will thank you!  
  • Scale:  Most working and performance dog handlers are very mindful of their dog's weight and like to monitor weight as a way to assess body condition.  Almost all veterinary offices will be more than happy to allow you to come in to do a quick weight check on their scale and may even keep track of the weight for you.  Using marker training and using a combination of luring and shaping to gradually get the dog on the scale and to hold still, the trip to the scale does not need to be a pulling or shoving match.
  • Muzzle:  Some dogs, whether by their nature or for liability's sake because of the jobs they do, will need to be muzzled for visits to the vet.  Unfortunately, there is a stigma in the United States about muzzling one's dog.  Do not be shy about acclimating your dog to a muzzle as even bombproof therapy dogs may bite in extreme pain.  I recommend ALL dogs get used to wearing one at least temporarily.  I prefer plastic basket muzzles so the dog can breathe and pant more normally.  Some plastic muzzles, such as clear Jafco muzzle or a greyhound turnout muzzle shown below, can be used to gauge mucous membrane color without having to manipulate the dog's mouth.  I do NOT recommend cloth muzzles.  These can slip, are difficult to size, are not sturdy, and the dog cannot pant if fitted properly.  You do not want to pair the only time the muzzle goes on with some kind of unpleasantness (i.e.-blood draw at the vet).  With the Jafco and similarly styled muzzles, you can use markers to acclimate your dog to them and think of the muzzle as a treat cup and less of a punishment.

The next entry will discuss how marker training can be used by veterinary professionals to lower stress for all parties.  For more information on marker training, I recommend checking out:

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Importance of Warm Ups

Having done soccer through high school and five years of martial arts in college and grad school, it would be almost unheard of to do no stretching before a practice or competition.  But we ask this of our working and performance dogs all the time.  We love to see them hot out of the crate and ready to work, right?  That way their drive is probably at the tops right as they come out onto the field or arena.  The problem with this is that most dog sports from KNPV to doggie musical free style is that they can be very fast paced with a lot of forces put on the body that the canine athlete goes through.

I had a rather rude awakening while I was doing an externship at the University of Tennessee doing a rotation in physical rehabilitation.  On the last day of the rotation, I brought my own dog in so the head rehabilitation faculty member could do an assessment.  Being a dog I have considered breeding in the future, I of course dutifully had his hips and elbows radiographed and submitted to OFA (among a number of other tests).  Fawkes's hips were read as OFA Good and his elbows were normal at 26 months of age.  So I was surprised at just the age of barely four, she noted on her assessment that his lumbosacral area where the hips joint the spine, he was already somewhat sensitive there, likely from doing what he is asked to do as a performance dog:  bites on the bite suit or the hard Schutzhund sleeve that put pressure on his neck, twists in the air for dock diving and disc catching that put pressure on his lower spine, and pivots and fast turns during herding that put pressure on the spine and leg joints.  Here are some visual examples with the first being with catching a disc and the second at a dock diving competition in extreme vertical (high jump where the toy is suspended on a boom eight feet out from a dock at least five feet from the water).

So while I had done several seminars on conditioning the canine athlete and had certainly heard that warming dogs up is a good idea...I never really did it.  It was quite the wake up call.  I want my dog to be training and competing as long and as comfortably as possible, so with all the activities my dog is asked to do, we're going to have to work on this.  Some good stretches are as follows:

-cookie stretches:  have the dog take a treat so they flex their up to the sky and down their chest using the treat as a lure.  Then repeat holding the treat to take at their right and left shoulder.  Then have them take the treats from each of their hips
-play bow:  using another treat to lure, place the treat in between the dog's front paws.  The head should go down.  With additional reps, move the treat toward the dog's chest but still between the front legs.  You can use a marker word or clicker to mark when the elbows go down but the hind end stays up in the air
-sit to stand:  have the dog go into a sit to stand or "sit pretty" on carpet (easier to grip than wood or tile) by luring them with a tasty treat over their heads.  This strengthens the core muscles of the abdomen and back, which is especially important for dogs prone to lumbosacral problems such as German shepherds.
-playing tug:  especially important for dogs who spend more time on just their hind legs, such as Schutzhund.  Using a two handled tug, move laterally back and forth and forward and backward with the tug slowly at first so the dog is used to being on their hind legs to develop hind leg awareness and core strength.  For dogs who don't like to play tug, encourage them to do doggie dancing on their hind legs for just a few seconds at a time to increasing intervals.

There are many other stretches and activities to do with your active dog before stepping out onto the training or trial field that are beyond the scope of this post.  In addition, a foundations agility class is helpful for nearly all dog sports so dogs understand that yes, they do indeed have back feet and to be aware of them.  Next post, we'll talk about marker training and how to incorporate it into many aspects of sports medicine.


Hello everyone!  Welcome to my blog.  I'll be writing posts about the health and wellness of dogs, with particular attention given to the needs of working, working sport, and performance dogs.  I started this blog because while the majority of dogs seen by vets fit somewhere in between couch potatoes and weekend warriors, dogs that do herding, protection sport, field trials, military working dogs, police dogs, hunting, agility, dog sledding, racing, and so on are a bit different.  I try to learn as much as I can about the different working and performance sports so as to better serve the canine athletes and their owners and handlers.

As an introduction, I earned a doctor of veterinary medicine degree, masters and bachelors degrees in biological sciences, and a bachelors degree in religious studies all from the University of Missouri.  My special interests are in clinical nutrition, canine sports medicine, behavior, reproduction, and holistic medicine. 

I currently have three working sport dogs (and one old pet dog).  Fawkes (Ordre du Phenix du Dantero BH, AD, CGC, TT) is a four year old Belgian Malinois and my main dog I train with.  We've trained or dabbled in protection sport (PSA, teeny bit of Schutzhund), herding, dock diving, and disc.  If it looks fun, we'll try it!  We hope to be getting more titles in dock diving and PSA this summer.  *fingers crossed*  Lily TDI, PALS cert., CGC, TT is a 6 year old Belgian Malinois who was a rescue.  My husband handles her in herding and I dabble a bit with her in PSA.  Elsa vom Gestalt CGC, PALS cert. is a 12 year old Rottweiler who is a shelter dog, a certified therapy dog, and a very natural herding dog.  Buck CGC is a 14 year old husky/Rottweiler mix. 

This is Fawkes and me below.  Pretty handsome fellow, eh?  Welcome to my blog and feel free to leave questions and comments!