Tuesday, March 23, 2010

What flea and tick control products are safe AND effective?

The article below shows that the very effective products we've been using to control fleas and ticks may not be as safe as we think. The problem is, they're REALLY effective. And I've never found the more natural products to be very effective at all-- and once you get a flea infestation, it is very hard to really get rid of it without exposing the whole family to an expensive and toxic extermination process.

So what I do is pay attention to the dosage-- if my dog is in the lower end of the weight range for a product that says 25-55 lbs, I don't use the whole dosage. And I don't use the products as often as they say you can use them.

My dogs can tell immediately when I apply this to their skin between their shoulders-- they lick their tongue like they just got a weird taste in their mouth. And they probably DID.

Take these products seriously and use them carefully. I remember when Frontline first came out it claimed to stay in the fat layer under the skin, and claimed that it did NOT enter the bloodstream. That was later proved to be untrue, and traces of it were found in the dogs' urine as well. So it IS systemic, it DOES invade the whole body.

My dogs still live to be about 14 years old, so I don't feel like Frontline is shaving years off of their health. But be aware that it IS toxic, and use it carefully.

More report pet injuries, even deaths, from flea and tick treatments
By Matthew Daly, The Associated Press
Posted: 03/18/2010 06:26:21 AM PDT

WASHINGTON - Products intended to treat cats and dogs for fleas and ticks kill hundreds of pets each year and injure tens of thousands, the Environmental Protection Agency said Wednesday as it outlined plans to make the products safer.

The EPA said it will develop stricter testing and evaluation requirements for flea and tick treatments that are applied to a pet's skin. The agency also will begin reviewing labels to determine which ones need to say more clearly how to use the products.

The EPA's effort follows increasing complaints from pet owners that the "spot-on" products have triggered reactions in dogs and cats, ranging from skin irritation to neurological problems to deaths. Cats and small dogs appear particularly vulnerable, the EPA said, especially when given products intended for larger animals.

Steve Owens, assistant administrator of EPA's Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances, said new restrictions will be placed on flea and tick products, with additional changes for specific products likely - including possible changes in some product formulas.

"These are poisons," Owens said. "These are products designed to kill fleas and ticks - and they do their jobs."

The EPA is committed to better protecting the health and safety of pets and families, Owens said, but added that pet owners "need to carefully read and follow all labeling before exposing your pet to a pesticide."

The agency announced last

April it was increasing scrutiny of topical flea and tick products because of the growing number of bad reactions reported.
The EPA said it received 44,263 reports of harmful reactions associated with topical flea and tick products in 2008, up from 28,895 in 2007. Reactions ranged from skin irritations to vomiting to seizures to, in about 600 cases, death of an animal.

An EPA spokesman said he did not have a breakdown of how many deaths were dogs and how many cats.

Dog and cat owners say their pets have suffered burns and welts on their skin; started to drool excessively; begun to shake uncontrollably; lost control of their legs or experienced other neurological problems after using the flea and tick treatments.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Is it necessary to "dominate" your dog?

Not really. Here is a great article about it, from the professional association for dog trainers, the APDT (of which I'm a full member, thank you).

Dominance and Dog Training

The use of dominance and pack theory in explaining dog behavior has come under a great deal of scrutiny as of late. The Association of Pet Dog Trainers wishes to inform the dog owning public about the ramifications of a reliance on dominance theory as it relates to understanding dogs, interpreting their behavior, and living harmoniously with our canine companions.

Theory and Misconceptions
Contrary to popular thinking, research studies of wolves in their natural habitat demonstrate that wolves are not dominated by an "Alpha Wolf" that is the most aggressive male, or male-female pairing, of the pack. Rather, they have found that wolf packs are very similar to how human families are organized, and there is little aggression or fights for "dominance." Wolves, whether it be the parents or the cubs of a pack, depend on each other to survive in the wild; consequently wolves that engage in aggressive behaviors toward each other would inhibit the pack's ability to survive and flourish. While social hierarchies do exist (just as they do among human families) they are not related to aggression in the way it is commonly portrayed (incorrectly) in popular culture. As Senior Research Scientist L. David Mech recently wrote regarding his many years of study of wolves, we should "once and for all end the outmoded view of the wolf pack as an aggressive assortment of wolves consistently competing with each other to take over the pack." (Mech, 2008) In addition to our new understanding of wolf behavior, study into canine behavior has found that dogs, while sharing some traits with their wolf cousins, have many more significant differences. As a result, the idea that dog behavior can be explained through the application of wolf behavior models is no more relevant than suggesting that chimpanzee behavior can be used to explain human behavior. Unfortunately, this idea that dogs are basically "domesticated wolves" living in our homes still persists among dog trainers and behavior counselors, as well as breeders, owners, and the media.

One of the biggest misconceptions we find ourselves faced with is the definition of "dominance." Dogs are often described as being "dominant" which is an incorrect usage of the term. Dominance is not a personality trait. Dominance is "primarily a descriptive term for relationships between pairs of individuals." and moreover, "the use of the expression 'dominant dog' is meaningless, since "dominance" can apply only to a relationship between individuals. (Bradshaw et al., 2009) Dominance comes into play in a relationship between members of the same species when one individual wants to have the first pick of available resources such as food, beds, toys, bones, etc. Even between dogs, however, it is not achieved through force or coercion but through one member of the relationship deferring to the other peacefully. In many households the status of one dog over another is fluid; in other words, one dog may be the first to take his pick of toys, but will defer to the other dog when it comes to choice of resting places. Dogs that use aggression to "get what they want" are not displaying dominance, but rather anxiety-based behaviors, which will only increase if they are faced with verbal and/or physical threats from their human owners. Basing one's interaction with their dog on dominance is harmful to the dog-human relationship and leads to further stress, anxiety and aggression from the dog, as well as fear and antipathy of the owner.

Living with Dogs: What’s Important?
When it comes to living and working with dogs, the concept of dominance is largely irrelevant. This may come as a surprise to many dog owners. The truth is, when working with dogs that have a training or behavior issue, the goal of the dog professional is to develop a behavior modification or training plan that will address the problem at hand. This generally does not require understanding a dog’s motivation and emotional state, but rather focuses on what the dog is doing (behavior), and what we want the dog to “do,” helping the dog understand how to perform the desired behaviors and then rewarding him for doing so.

Far too many times dog owners have been given advice to “show the dog who’s boss” and “be the alpha.” The unfortunate side effect of this thinking is that it creates an adversarial relationship between the owner and their dog with the belief that the dog is somehow trying to control the home and the owner’s life. Such misinformation damages the owner-dog relationship, and may lead to fear, anxiety and /or aggressive behaviors from the dog. Dogs cannot speak our language and they can find themselves thrust into situations in our homes that they find difficult to comprehend, by owners trying to behave as they mistakenly believe “alpha” wolves do.

Rather than dominance, it is most often a lack of clear interspecies communication that leads to behaviors we find troubling. It is the human’s responsibility to teach our dogs the behaviors that we find appropriate, and reward them when they do the things we like. Just as importantly, it is our role to show them which behaviors are not appropriate in a constructive and compassionate manner that does not lead to further anxiety on the dog's part.

Aggression is Not the Answer
Actions such as "alpha rolls" and "scruff shakes" have no basis in fact when studying wolf or dog behavior, and they only lead to creating unnecessary fear on our dog's part toward us, fear that ultimately can lead to aggression because the frightened dog knows of no other way to protect itself other than using its teeth. We all owe it to our dogs to see the world from their point of view in order to create a more harmonious relationship. Whether we are looking at a dog or a wolf, actions such as grabbing a dog and forcing it into a down, growling at the dog, and other aggressive behaviors directed toward the animal will only lead to the animal developing a "fight-or-flight" response where the animal fears for its life. In this situation, the dog will either freeze out of fear, flee far away from the threatening animal or person if an opportunity presents itself to get away, or, fight to save itself. When we engage in such behaviors toward our dogs, we are not telling the dog we are "boss," instead we are telling the dog we are dangerous creatures to be avoided or fought off. There is no "dominance" in these scenarios—only terror and the instinct to defend oneself against attack.

If Not Dominance, Then What Do We Use?
Fortunately, many trainers and behavior professionals now present concepts that focus on building a caring and happy relationship with your dog, instead of relying on dominance. Some trainers refer to the term "leadership" or other similar terms that are less adversarial than "dominance" or "Alpha." What these trainers have in common is a desire to explain effective, non-confrontational and humane ways of living successfully with dogs. These educated approaches aim to strengthen the bond between the owner and the dog and teach owners more effective ways of communicating with another species. For dogs with behavior problems, trainers employ programs such as “Nothing in Life is Free (NILIF)” which works along the principal that the dog must “do” something to earn what he wants (i.e. sit to get dinner, walk on a loose leash to move forward, etc.) These programs are effective because the dog is issued a structured set of rules that are consistently reinforced and the dog learns what he needs to do in order to get the things that he wants such as food, petting, playtime, etc. Because dogs do not have the power of human speech and language, behavior problems and anxiety can result when they are left to fend for themselves in deciding how to live in our world without guidance that makes sense. Just like with people, we behave better and thrive in a world that “makes sense” to us and has a clear structure.

The myths that resonate in “dominance theory,” such as not allowing the dog to sleep on the bed, or eat first, or go through doorways first, have no bearing on whether or not the dog will look to the owner for guidance. The specific rules of the relationship are up to the owner and are based on what they want in their household. Humane, educated trainers should strive to teach owners to positively and gently influence and motivate their dogs to act in a manner that befits their own home and tailor the "rules" to each individual. There is no scientifically validated data to uphold the belief that you must eat before your dog, or keep them from sleeping on your bed, or walking in front of you, and owners should not be led to believe this and live in a state of fear and anxiety over their dog's possible takeover of their home. In fact, the vast majority of dogs and owners have wonderful, mutually-rewarding relationships—even if the dog is allowed to sleep on the bed, eats alongside the owner, and does many other things erroneously labeled “dominance.” To help illustrate some of the myths about dominance, we have prepared a related document, "Dominance Myths and Dog Training Realities."

Final Thoughts
When choosing a trainer or behavior counselor to work with you and your dog, keep in mind that philosophies and methodologies among trainers varies. The Association of Pet Dog Trainers recommends interviewing potential trainers to determine their beliefs regarding dominance and using physical force and intimidation to train a dog, whether for obedience or for behavior problems. An educated canine professional should be well-acquainted with the latest scientific understandings of dog behavior and be willing to openly discuss their training methodologies with you.

For further reading:
American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior 2007. AVSAB Position Statement - Punishment Guidelines: The use of punishment for dealing with animal behavior problems.

American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior 2009. AVSAB Position Statement on the Use of Dominance Theory in Behavior Modification of animals.
Bradshaw J.W.S., Blackwell E.J., Casey R.A. 2009. Dominance in domestic dogs - useful construct or bad habit? Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, May/June 2009, pp 135-144.

Herron M.E., Shofer F.S., Reisner I.R. 2009. Survey of the use and outcome of confrontational and non-confrontational training methods in client-owned dogs showing undesired behaviors. Applied Animal Behavior Science, 117, pp. 47-54.

Mech L.D. 2008. What ever happened to the term alpha wolf? International Wolf.

Yin S. 2009. Dominance vs. unruly behavior. The APDT Chronicle of the Dog, Mar/Apr 2009, pp. 13-17.

Yin S. 2009. Low Stress Handling, Restraint, and Behavior Modification of Dogs and Cats. Cattledog Publishing. Davis,CA. For more information visit www.askdryin.com.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Why "dominating your dog" is not the way we train anymore

Please watch this video and you'll understand why we don't like Cesar Milan the Dog Whisperer.... clicker training does not depend on dominating your dog in order to influence their behavior. It uses scientifically proven principals of operant conditioning. The "dominate your dog" method was replaced over 15 years ago (in 1994, actually) by clicker training. We know it works. Motivation works better than intimidation!

Please feel free to comment or leave questions.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Dog or Puppy Play Date Etiquette

(A special welcome to new members of the South Bay Dog Play yahoogroup! You may be interested to know that my dog training classes start again at Petco in Rolling Hills on Tuesday June 5th, and registrations are being accepted now and until June 4th ($100 for six weeks). Class is at 6:30pm, and an overflow class is available at 8:00 pm if the 6:30 is full.)

Having a play date with one or more other dogs is a great idea, especially for puppies (though almost all dogs of all ages love them). Here are some tips to make it successful:

1. Pay attention to your dog at all times. This is harder than it sounds, because you’ll be chatting with the other people there. In this situation it is OK to suddenly interrupt the person talking to you and say, “Excuse me one sec” and attend to your dog. Remember, the purpose of this gathering is to have a positive dog-to-dog experience. That requires your vigilance and intervention in a number of situations:

a. Your dog is eliminating. If the play date is going to be at someone’s house, ask them in advance if there is an area where they prefer the dogs to eliminate. If so, take your dog over there first thing, and let her sniff around and get the message “this is where dogs go”. Later, as she’s playing vigorously, realize that this will stimulate her to have to go. Try to anticipate this, and lure her over to the potty area a few times with a treat and encourage her to go. If she doesn’t go in the right spot and squats on the patio or some other place, step in immediately with your baggie and ask if you can grab a hose to clean it off. It is bad manners to allow your dog to poop and not notice it. Your host may not notice it until after you leave, but it won’t leave a good impression. Pay attention to your dog.

b. Your dog is pestering another dog. This includes barking at it incessently, but watch the other dog’s body language—just because it’s annoying you doesn’t necessarily mean it’s annoying the other dog. If your dog is chomping on another dog trying to get it to run, and that other dog is trying to ignore her, give your dog a chance to get the message and stop (this is the value of these play dates, the dogs learn socialization skills and they have to learn the dog rules from other dogs). If she doesn’t “get it” relatively soon, go in with a treat, lure her over to you, and take her collar. Treating frequently, make her sit for a moment and see what the other dog does—does he seem relieved or does he come back into engage your dog in play? If he comes back in, let them off to play again. If he seems relieved, work with your dog for a minute on eye contact with you, treating frequently and generously. Then let her off again to go play. If she re-engages the same was as before and doesn’t get the “I’m ignoring you because I don’t want to play this way” hint, try to change up the game. Introduce a toy and let her chase it, and see if they can engage in tug of war or keep away. If none of that works, consider ending the session for now. The other dog may be done playing.

c. If your dog is being pestered by another dog, and the other owner is not proactively – and effectively—stepping in, you may need to, but be gracious about it. I find a lot of owners will try to correct their dog by verbally scolding them (as if that does anything). It’s just annoying and doesn’t work. If you are sure your dog is not having fun and wants to be rescued, take some treats and try to engage the other dog as we mention above—but rather than making them sit and do some commands (which the other owner may resent) try to engage them in coming to you by luring with a treat, and then introduce a new toy. If that’s not working, ask the other owner if you two can both put your dogs on leashes for a few minutes and give them a break, because you can sense that your dog is wanting a little break. If that doesn’t work, look at your watch and gasp that you did not realize how late it was and that you have to go. And go.

d. If your dog is jumping on furniture or into flower beds, correct immediately, and be physically close enough that you can do this without having to scream across the whole yard. Call your dog to you and reward generously, and say “uh uh” if it heads back into that area. Reward often and generously.

e. Your dog may grab something in its mouth it should not have and run off with it (one case that comes to mind is a pup who grabbed some peat and dirt plugs used for starting seedlings). In all cases, deal with it first, and quickly, and then do any apologizing to the host. They’ll really appreciate how on top of your dog you are. No one expects these dogs to be perfectly behaved, so as long as you’re catching it and correcting it quickly, you’ll stay in good graces. If your dog breaks anything, turn to the host and say sincerely that you insist on paying for that. There is no need to end the play date over something like that.

f. Continue to work on vocal signals with your dog such as “uh uh” (which means – if you teach her this meaning—“Stop what you’re doing”) and click and treat for reinforcement (for coming over to check in with you, for example). Don’t expect “uh uh” to have any effect on your dog if you have not worked in advance with it as a signal.

2. Come prepared with baggies and lots of treats, and a toy or two. These are all required props for the situations above.

3. Ask your host before giving her dog any treats—when you give a treat it will reinforce whatever behavior was happening right then, and depending on what your host is working on with her dog, she may or may not want to lose control over that.

4. Don’t forget to reward “laying calmly in the presence of another dog”. This is easier to do once the dogs are exhausted from playing! But if they do plop down on the floor for a break, go ahead and reward that. Being calm in the presence of other dogs is a very valuable behavior and we want to build that “muscle”.

5. Ask in advance how much time the host has for the playdate, or suggest an end-time yourself. In other words, don’t wear out your welcome. Once the pups are playing, it may be awkward for the host to suggest that you wrap it up if the pups are having a rollicking good time. Keep an eye on the clock and exit gracefully.

6. When it’s time to wrap it up, don’t call your dog to you. Take a treat to your dog, take her by the collar and reward her, and then pull out the leash you’re hiding in your coat pocket. Clip it on and give her another really good treat. Try to compensate for the disappointment that you are pulling her out of the party. Don’t call her to you, because if you do it will poison your recall command (we don’t want to call our dogs to us when we’re about to end all the fun – it makes them not want to obey us when we call them. After all, they’re not stupid!). Other times, by the way, you should go up to your dog, take her by the collar, reward her, and then free her to keep playing. Don’t let the “I’m going for your collar” movement be a signal that the party is over.

7. Take into account your dog’s size and energy level. We have one young dog in our group who is just too exhuberant for most other dogs’ taste, and although he’s the same age as some others in the group, he won’t let up and becomes annoying. We let him play with my dogs (who can handle him) but we don’t include him when we have other dogs over to play with our three. He would overwhelm and frighten a dog with a softer personality. So pick the dogs carefully who will play together.

This may all sound a little over the top, but a dog play date is much more about dog training and development than it is about people socializing. Go have coffee with your friends when you want to focus on them. When the dogs are playing, you need to be right in there—much more so than when children are playing. Much more so. Relax and have fun, but be super attentive.