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!