Sunday, August 23, 2009

Should you debark your dog?

At a recent get-together, an acquaintance came up to me and asked how he can train his 8-month-old sheltie not to bark so much. I laughed. Shelties were born barking. I wish it were just a matter of some quick training. My own sheltie was with me, and obligingly starting yapping full bore…but he is debarked. My friend was horrified. “Poor thing, he can’t bark,” he said. Tux didn’t feel too bad about it. He barked like he still had his full voice, and enjoyed himself immensely.

Debarking a dog is a surgical procedure where the veterinarian cuts the dog’s vocal chords. The dog will still bark, but only a hoarse cough will come out. This is a hot-button subject between the animal rights movement and anyone who advocates the surgery. Critics feel it is cruel and painful, a mutilation of a dog for our own human purposes, as bad as docking tails and cropping ears. If done for no reason, I agree. A lot of vets won't do the procedure.

This is clearly not a medically necessary operation. So why would someone have it done? And who does get it done most often? Breeders with a kennel full of dogs often debark all of their dogs as a matter of course. I’ve seen collies, shelties, Pomeranians, and various terrier breeds, though I am sure there are others too, all chronic barkers.

I was first introduced to the idea at dog shows, where I saw collies and shelties that were debarked. I have owned both breeds. Some came to me debarked, and I know why.

There’s nothing worse than constant complaints from your neighbors. And as many of you surely know, when it is your dog barking constantly, you get sick of it too on top of the guilt. Think of that aggravation times 4 or 5 or 10.

I have resorted to debarking two of my own shelties. It’s not something I would do unless I felt it was absolutely necessary. In both cases it was either debark or give up the dog. If it is a matter of debarking or giving up the dog, I feel it is justified. I have had several collies and shelties I have NOT had debarked.

I must say that one experience was less than satisfactory. I was referred to a clinic up in Los Angeles that does debarks for only $50. Sounded good to me. I took in my sheltie, and felt like I was in an illegal abortion clinic. Dark, dreary lobby with taped up signs saying “Cash only.” I quickly realized this was a regular factory, a production line of dock, crop and debark. Pit bull and Doberman owners sat with their pups in the chairs opposite me, waiting for ear jobs.

I took my dog in the back room, where a breeder had just had four Pomeranians debarked. The dogs lay on towels on the floor along the hallway while they recovered from anesthesia. My dog was placed on the table and knocked out, and as I watched, the vet took what looked like lopping shears you’d use to trim your trees, and stuck them down Bonnie’s throat and with one big crunch, he was done.

I was having some major regrets by this point. Bonnie joined the lineup on the floor and I waited while she recovered. An hour later, she was up, happy and ready to go home. The vet said there might be some bleeding, but she should be fine. “Try to keep her quiet,” he said.

If I could keep her quiet, I wouldn’t be there, I thought to myself.

Bonnie was fine, and still is five years later. She still barks constantly, and I do mean constantly, but I love her. She is a rescued sheltie, and I realized that if I had returned her, no one else could live with all that noise either. So debarking was the right answer for me.

But I am not going back to that vet.

Photo above: Tux, left, and Bonnie right. © 2009 Terry Albert. All rights reserved.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Rylee the dog and Casey, a boy who was afraid of dogs

A client (and friend) of mine recently told me the story of their Goldendoodle, Rylee. I knew they have a special bond with this dog, but now that I know their story, I really understand just how special it is. So Diana is my guest columnist this week; I hope you will enjoy Rylee's story.

Hi Terry,

I don't know if I ever told you the story of us getting Rylee.

Casey (our son) has always been afraid of dogs, cats, characters, lighting and thunder. He grew out of the character phase (didn't get his picture with Santa until he was about 6 and we had to bribe him for that).

About 2 1/2 years ago we decided that his fear of dogs was affecting his quality of life. He wouldn't go outside if the neighborhood dog Maggie (a schnoodle) was running around. If we were out and about would move to the other side of the walk area if there was a dog. If we were at a park he would be concentrating more on the loose dogs than the baseball that he was supposed to be watching for.

We took him to a therapist for about a year. That helped get him to a point where he would see dogs and be curious but didn't want to touch them. We found a great program at Helen Woodward called Dog Smart. They bring in employees' dogs and work with kids and adults with fears of dogs. After three months Casey wanted a dog. His story is on the Helen Woodward website.

We did look at Helen Woodward but didn't want a big dog (ha ha) and weren't sure how most of the dogs temperments would be. We needed a breed that would be a good fit for Casey. A Lab or Retreiver would have been great. He started looking at mixed breeds (a Puggle, cute as puppies–not as cute as adults). He googled poodle mixes and came up with Goldendoodle. We found puppies listed on Signonsandiego. We met the litter at 3 weeks old and picked Rylee at 5 weeks (after coming two times before that). The breeder homeschools her daughters and we were lucky that they had a lot of interaction with the pups.

That's our story. We feel blessed to have Rylee in our lives.


Terry chiming in again here with an editorial comment...

I know many many people in the dog fancy scream about "designer dogs"– purposely bred mixed breeds that are then sold at elevated prices. The debate goes on and on, and I'm not in favor of it myself. BUT... once the dog is born, it is just that–a dog, not a political statement or horrendous mutation of what a dog is meant to be. I really feel it is not my job on this earth to pass judgement on others for their choices- choices that don't harm me in the least.

And in this case, Rylee is also a beloved family pet who helped a little boy overcome his fears. I certainly have no problem with that.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Board and Train for dogs

I used to work at a board-and-train facility. My philosophy is if you have a really out of control dog and have no idea where to start, this is a good option. One week isn't even close to enough. At the end of one week, the dog can learn sit, down, start walking nicely on a leash, and begin learning stay. He won't do any of these things consistently. It doesn't even start to sink in until the end of two weeks. Four weeks is the optimum; they are working well. Could you train a horse completely in one week? No. If someone tells you otherwise, they are lying.

It takes six weeks for the behaviors to start to move from short-term to long-term memory and become a habit, so it is imperative the owner continue training at home. During this transition time, the dog usually acts like he forgot everything you ever taught him, and you have to work through that period.

None of it works if the owner isn't coming in for regular lessons, at least once a week, so they learn how to work with dog. The best scenario is they take an intermediate class with their dog after the training. The whole family needs to be trained, and consistent in how they deal with the dog. If they slack off once the dog is home, he will learn what he can get away with, and revert to old behaviors.

People would often bring in their dog to board while they were on vacation and have us give him a refresher course while they were gone. Then one week is okay, with a follow up session with the owners.

There are franchises and corporate operations with great marketing. But you are looking for someone with years of experience training a lot of different breeds, not someone who just took a course and bought a business. No one solution is going to work for every dog. Your dog’s breed, temperament and history all affect how well the training will solve his behavior problems.

Photo above: Cairn Terrier by Terry Albert. © 2009 Terry Albert All rights reserved.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Hanging Door Screen: great product for dog owners

I need all the fresh air I can get here in Poway, where it is hot for at least 8 months of the year. Every evening I turn off the air conditioning and open the back door to let in some fresh air. Meanwhile, there are flies and mosquitos that I want to keep out. My dogs have always used a screen door as a scratching post. It’s just something to slam their claws against when they want in or out. And I get sick of getting up to let them in. They ignore the dog door when the back door is open. I think I’ve found a solution.

The hanging screen door shown in the photos here was the answer for me. And I have noticed several of my pet sitting clients now have them at their homes. My first one lasted about a year—only because I would forget to pull up the screen when the door was closed and… yes… the dogs would scratch at it to tell me they want in. Otherwise it should last for several years with no problems. You can easily take it down in the winter.

What’s funny is that some dogs think it is a regular screen door and won’t go through it until they see the other dogs walking right through the screen. Anna, shown here, spent awhile assessing the challenge before she worked up the nerve to try it!

The screen hooks to the sides of the door frame with Velcro hook & loop, and has magnets down the middle to keep it closed. It hangs from a tension rod (included) at the top. You can buy the instant screen door online anywhere from $16.99 to $39.99.

Amazon has them- search for hanging screen door. Improvements also carries them. Some sites also carry hanging garage door screens, but I couldn't find them when I searched just now. Maybe it is a seasonal product. Collections, etc. is where I saw them, but they are not currently listed.

Copyright © 2009 Terry Albert. All rights reserved.