A Barking Solution

Those who’ve been to our house know that we have a bit of an issue with barking dogs who just won’t stop. Two summers ago, we hired a wonderful positive-reinforcement trainer to help with the issue with Dusty, and we made some progress, but having two dogs who feed off one another’s barking and being able to work with only one of them at a time undid all the progress we made.

Dusty in citronella collar

Dusty in his citronella collar. When he barks, it lets out a little lemon-scented spray.

We tried citronella collars first. We were concerned mostly with Dusty’s barking because his was completely out of control. Back then, Hogan would usually stop with a diversion or a firm “no.” But Hogan eventually started trying to out-bark Dusty, so we had to buy him a citronella collar, too. The collar worked for a time with Dusty—he would bark once or twice, the collar would spray, and he’d stop. But he eventually learned the spray didn’t hurt him, and if he kept barking, the collar would stop spraying, so he’d just bark it empty. The citronella collar still works for Hogan, but we don’t like leaving it on him because he makes cute grumbly noises when he sleeps, and those grumbles set it off. More often than not, therefore, he doesn’t have it on when his imagination tells him there’s a dog walking by the house, so all hell will break loose.

We’ve also tried giving the boys time-outs (less than a minute in the bathroom), which usually works but isn’t doable in all situations.

In recent weeks, we had become so frustrated by the needless barking at any imagined change in the environment (they even start barking out of excitement when I stand up!) that my husband wanted to buy a shock collar for Dusty, which I was opposed to but did agree to investigate. After much discussion with a sales associate at PetSmart who swears by the shock collar for her beagles, I left the store with nothing because I just couldn’t bring myself to do it to Dusty, even though the sales associate said she never has to put it on her dogs anymore. I went back the next day, though, after some online investigation, and bought a vibrating collar. It worked for a few days until Dusty got used to it. I returned it. (PetSmart has a great returns policy!)

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This is one of the barking situations we don’t mind as much—at least there’s a reason for it!

Then, this past weekend, my husband bought the Sunbeam Ultrasonic Egg. It works! And it’s been four days, and it still works. And I don’t think it’ll stop working. The first night, we left the egg on overnight, and for the first time in a long time, Dusty and Hogan didn’t bark the whole way down the stairs in the morning—and they haven’t any morning since then, even though the egg has been off. They really do seem to have learned, so I think in no time at all, we may be able to pack the egg away. Just a moment ago, a car honked outside, the dogs ran from their sleeping spots to the front door all ready to bark…and they didn’t make a peep. In fact, there hasn’t been a single bark since the dogs said “Hello” and “If this fence wasn’t here, you’d feel my wrath” to the Doberman next door at 7:15 this morning. We just brought the egg outside and turned it on, and all the fence barking stopped! Exciting, indeed!

Ultrasonic Egg

The Sunbeam Ultrasonic Egg retails for $49 in Canada—not a bad price for peace and quiet.

This is a solution we wouldn’t have resorted to if Cora, our scaredy-dog, hadn’t lost her hearing because it would seriously freak her out and set back so much of the progress we’ve made with her. But Dusty and Hogan both are barkers, and they’re the only two affected by the egg.

There is a downside of the egg, however: if either of us is speaking loudly enough to be heard in a different room or if we are doing anything in the kitchen, the egg activates, instantly putting Dusty’s and Hogan’s tails between their legs. So we just leave it off unless we know a potential barking situation is looming (e.g., someone is expected at the door or we’re about to let the dogs out in the backyard, which always makes the boys noisy).

This may well be the solution we’ve been searching nearly four years to find. I thought it was one worth sharing with others!

The Switch to Raw

In April of this year, we finally made the switch to a raw diet. I’d been reading both anecdotal and scientific articles about it (some for, some against) and waffling for more than two years. What gave me the kick in the ass I needed was the premature reappearance of Dusty’s environmental allergies. He’d been on customized allergy shots since January 2013, but when the growth of new grass in the spring had him scratching so much he kept me up at night, I gave up on the allergy shots (which we’d had to adjust numerous times because of the serum overstimulating his system) and switched all three dogs to raw.

Two or three months before, I had visited Heronview Raw and Natural in Whitby and had gotten a lot of information that gave me hope that a raw diet would improve Dusty’s allergies. I also spoke to two different people whose dogs had terrible environmental allergies (one dog had spent summers in a cone for years) that were “cured” on raw diets. What did I have to lose?

The Switch

Mixing the tripe and offal in with the raw turkey--the dogs were very interested in what we were doing!

Mixing the tripe and offal in with the raw turkey–the dogs were very interested in what we were doing!

Heronview explained to me that raw has a much faster rate of digestion than kibble does, so the two couldn’t be given together, in part because of the risk for bloat, so the change had to be made instantly–not gradually as we’d been taught to do when switching a dog from one kibble to another. I worried, of course, that this switch would cause gastrointestinal issues for my dogs, particularly Dusty, who has a very sensitive stomach and had had four visits in three years to the emergency clinic because of gastro issues severe enough to dehydrate him.

Our vet contradicted what Heronview said, saying that we should make a very gradual change over two weeks because of Dusty’s sensitive stomach. Although the vets at our vet clinic aren’t exactly pro-raw, they have been very supportive of my decision since nothing else we had tried for Dusty’s allergies had helped. One of our vets is not a fan of commercial food and feeds his dogs cooked meat and veggies, which I used to do. He told me as long as we weren’t going to a highly processed food, he’d support any decision we made, but he didn’t think our dogs should chew raw bones. Cora and Hogan don’t have the best teeth, and Dusty has a weak stomach. So we decided to buy only the ground meat with ground bone. We took his advice on that, but we took Heronview’s advice on not switching gradually.

I made sure we switched midweek, when I wouldn’t have to pay the extra-high examination fee of the emergency vet just in case.

Gastrointestinal Issues

All three dogs devoured that first meal, and I’m happy to report Dusty hasn’t had ANY gastro issues since we made the switch. Better yet, he doesn’t even pass gas anymore. Oh, could that dog empty a room before!

Measuring out one-ounce meatballs

Measuring out one-ounce meatballs

The only negative gastro effects we’ve seen were related to the fast digestion rate. Cora was so hungry by 3 or 4 a.m. that her stomach noises were waking us up. She was desperate to get outside to eat grass because she felt so sick with hunger. This issue had happened with her on kibble, too, but we had found the magic solution to get her through the night, so it had been a while. We had to start from scratch to find the right mix of feeding time, snacks, and food quantity so we all could sleep. (One interesting observation, though, is that when she was on kibble, Cora wouldn’t eat her breakfast once her stomach got that upset—we had to give her peanut butter to “prime” her tummy before she would eat; on raw, though, she gobbled down her breakfast even with that upset belly.)

Weight Loss and Gain

One of the reasons I wanted to switch all three dogs to raw, not just Dusty, is that I’d read that most dogs lose weight on raw, and Cora and Hogan were heavier than they should be. In the four and a half months they’ve been on raw, though, Cora has gained four pounds, Hogan has gained two and a half pounds, and Dusty, who was already skinny, has lost two pounds. It doesn’t sound like much, but on small to medium-sized dogs, the difference in all three is noticeable.

Reducing Cora’s and Hogan’s food has been difficult and very gradual since we have the fast digestion rate to contend with. We’re also feeding a fair amount of veggies (a puréed mix of kale, broccoli, pumpkin, green beans, spinach, and blueberries)  to fill them up some. We’ve introduced more game meats (bison, elk) in place of some fattier meats, but I’m not convinced that’s making a difference.

Skin, Teeth, and Breath

Dusty showing his pearly whites with  a little help

Dusty showing his pearly whites with a little help

One of the most amazing things to me is that none of our dogs smell bad anymore! I used to shower them every six weeks because by that point, they smelled like dogs and needed a bath. I don’t know that they’d ever need a shower again if I stuck to that criterion now. They really don’t stink—and that’s not just a mama’s love talkin’! And that awful doggy breath—especially old-doggy breath? The stink is gone there, too! What that suggests to me is that we’ve done a good thing by switching to raw. Their guts aren’t producing whatever it is that makes doggy breath and fur smell bad.

Allergies

I had high hopes that we’d get through the summer without putting Dusty on steroids (Vanectyl-P), but no such luck. A couple of weeks ago, Benadryl stopped making even a dent in the scratching. I am hopeful that, since a raw diet is supposed to strengthen the immune system, Dusty’s liver won’t be affected too much by the steroids. I also have him on supplements to support his liver through steroid season.

All in all, although it’s a little gross dealing with raw meat, tripe, and offal (I shouldn’t downplay it—it’s plenty gross doing our own mixing of it all), and although Dusty still has to be on Vanectyl-P for a month or two, I think we’ve made the right decision for our dogs’ health.

Are any of you feeding raw or considering it? I’d love to hear about your experiences with it!

A Picnic in the Park

Hogan and Dusty enjoyed watching the seagulls and the squirrels. (They barked only at the squirrels.)

Hogan and Dusty enjoyed watching the seagulls and the squirrels. (They barked only at the squirrels.)

Yesterday we decided to do something different, so after work, we packed up the dogs, their food, some wieners, buns, and salad, and headed down to the Ajax waterfront. After a decent walk, we unloaded the car, set up a big pen for the dogs (and us), lay out a blanket, and played a game while waiting for the Hibachi to heat up. The dogs seemed a little confused at first, but Hogan quickly settled in, and the other two eventually followed suit. It was a nice break for us from the everyday, and I think the dogs agreed!

Hogan never takes long to get comfortable anywhere.

Hogan never takes long to get comfortable anywhere.

Cora didn't want to be far from the cooler!

Cora didn’t want to be far from the cooler!

Cora and Dusty supervised the cooking of the hot dogs.

Cora and Dusty supervised the cooking of the hot dogs.

Dusty spent a good part of the evening just looking handsome. It's his most important job in our house.

Dusty spent a good part of the evening just looking handsome. It’s his most important job in our house.

Hogan moved from the blanket to a spot under the chair for a while.

Hogan moved from the blanket to a spot under the chair for a while.

My pretty girl

My pretty girl

My boys

My boys

All packed up and ready to go...till next time!

All packed up and ready to go…till next time!

Cora: Less Fearful than Ever!

I haven’t updated on Cora in a while, but I keep meaning to. Time slips away all too easily.

Cora has always loved car rides. In this picture, though, there was a formerly "scary" person beside her, and she was perfectly comfortable and happy!

Cora has always loved car rides. In this picture, though, there was a formerly “scary” person beside her, and she was perfectly comfortable and happy!

Last summer, we took our scaredy-dog off the clomipramine she was on for anxiety. We slowly lowered her dose by 10 mg every week, and since we weren’t seeing any less anxiety with each tablet less, we figured it was okay to take her right off them.

In the past six months or so, Cora has made great strides. She is so close to appearing to be a “normal” dog that some people who had never met her before have been surprised to learn of how she cowered in her crate on the day we first saw her at an adoption event at PetSmart; how until very recently she hid in her “safe spot” in our house the entire time we had guests; how it took her well over a year to approach people whom she saw in our home regularly (including my mom and friends we played cards with weekly); how her fear was so incredibly bad at times that our “eat anything” beagle girl wouldn’t even take a treat from some people….

This is Cora doing one of her favourite things this past weekend: stalking a robin.

This is Cora doing one of her favourite things this past weekend: stalking a robin.

 

 

 

Yeah, she’s not really that dog anymore. We’ve had Cora for three years and one month, and she has finally emerged from her shell, although somewhat tentatively. There’s no denying that she is still cautious, but in recent months, Cora has joined her brothers, Dusty and Hogan, at the door when the doorbell rings, nearly always comes out of hiding within an hour or so of guests coming in, sniffs strangers on our walks and has even let some pet her, and, most surprising, has found her voice! We’ve heard Cora bark while awake only a handful of times in three years (we can definitely count her barks on our fingers), but two weekends ago, she barked three times in normal situations in which a dog would bark. It was shocking to hear her voice (which sounds so much like Dusty’s)! She hasn’t barked since, and because the boys both bark too much, we can’t say we’re terribly disappointed she hasn’t taken up the habit. Nevertheless, I will never discourage that in her.

She still has her "safe spot," but she ventures away from it more freely than she used to.

She still has her “safe spot,” but she ventures away from it more freely than she used to.

So it has been an eventful several months in our household. Cora is a very happy girl now. She is in her twilight years to be sure, but she still has so much life in her, and it’s been incredibly heartwarming to watch her seek it out from deep within, dust off the bad history with big sweeps of her tail, and make the most of what she has left.

And we couldn’t be happier to be the ones sharing this glorious time in her life with her!

Life is looking bright....

Life is looking bright….

To read more about Cora’s journey from fearful dog to normal dog, click on the “fearful dog” link below.

A Successful Return to Agility Trialing

Yesterday we attended our first agility trial of the year. And I’m so glad we did! Dusty and Hogan both had perfect runs and Q’d (qualified), meaning both of them are now out of Starter Jumpers and moving on to Advanced Jumpers!

We drove an hour and a half each way to get to the agility trial, and between them, the boys ran a total of 59.46 seconds, but the early Sunday-morning wake-up and the long drive were well worth that minute! Dusty won the 10″ Specials class with a great time of 23.3 seconds, and Hogan came in second with a time of 36.16 seconds (45 seconds were allotted). My boys did me proud!

Hogan and Dusty wearing their ribbons proudly, supported by their loving sister, Cora.

Hogan and Dusty wearing their ribbons proudly, supported by their loving sister, Cora.

I’ve been taking Hogan to a different agility class, this one at Dogs on Campus in Oshawa, and I think it’s been good for both me and him. Hogan’s confidence and motivation seem to be increasing in the new class, which is great to see. I really like both of our trainers, and I’ve learned different things from each of them. I’m still not a great handler or trainer (I’m too uncoordinated, I think), but I do have fun challenging myself to learn these things.

But, more important, I think the dogs really enjoy it. And while they may not care that they earned these ribbons, I know that they are being exposed to a variety of situations and events and have richer, more full lives for it. That’s what really means the most.

The video below shows our two runs and, since I didn’t want Cora to feel left out, includes her craziness at bedtime a couple of nights ago. Under her shy, frightened exterior lives a kooky little girl. Between the three of them, we have a whole lot of laughter and joy in our home!