A healthy mind lives in a healthy body – Dana’s story, part 7

So, our story has been on a bit of a break, because life just worked out to me. Since the last article, Dana’s story has of course continued, and is now basically forcing me to continue writing. Why? Because her development is so fast that I won’t be able to keep up with the writing otherwise. But first it’s time for part 7.

It’s well-known that being ill causes stress. A dog (or a human for that matter) who is ill won’t be able to handle environmental stressors as well as a healthy one. Of course it is important to keep any dog at optimum health, and this is also important for a dog who, like Dana was back then, is chronically stressed. We don’t want to be making the chronic stress any worse, obviously – we wanted to break that cycle. In order to have optimum health, we want a diet that works well for the individual dog, have appropriate physical and mental exercise, enough quality sleep and a minimum of environmental toxins, to name a few factors. In this post I want to address diet, because it has been a particularly large factor for us.

For Dana, a healthy digestion has always been a bit of a struggle – okay, at times it was more like a huge struggle. This was already the case when she came to us. At the time we didn’t realise yet that the dogs need to be with us at night, so they slept in a separate room. I would often find a pile of poo in the morning, and a hugely stressed Dana. One advice I got from a dog trainer was to “put her in a crate for the night, she will have to try harder to keep it in if she doesn’t want to lie in it. She’s old enough to be able to.” Wow! Can you imagine what that must be like? Desperately needing to go, not wanting to do it right then and there at all, but having no alternative? Granted, most dogs at 6 months of age can sleep through the night without needing to pee or poo. So why didn’t Dana?

We at least addressed the fact of her needing to eliminate at night when we opened our bedroom to the dogs at night. While Dana still chose to sleep next door for a long time, I was able to hear what she was doing. If she was pacing at night, I woke up and I knew she needed to go outside. I can’t count the times that I had to get up at night and stand in the garden with Dana for 20 minutes while she was eating grass because she was feeling ill, having a runny poo or even vomiting. For weeks, if not months, I barely got a whole night’s sleep. Sure, I wasn’t thrilled, but it meant that I was there for my dog, it helped her, so it was fine with me.

Starting to solve the puzzle

Obviously we consulted a vet – more than one, and on more than one occasion – and the result was always that there was “nothing physically wrong with her”. So frustrating! Eventually I heard about Nutriscan, a way of testing dogs for food sensitivities. While this is very expensive, I was definitely desperate enough to give that a go, and it was well worth it. We got the results in January 2016, and it turned out that she has multiple sensitivities, many of which are against things that are often contained in dog food geared at dogs with “allergies”: white fish, venison, potatoes, as well as some others.

So we eliminated these foods from her diet. To make it easier for her to heal, we also switched from feeding raw food, which she had been used to all her life, to highest-quality canned food, as cooked food is more easily digested than raw. From needing to go outside at night more often than not and feeling ill very often, she went to having these issues only every now and then, less and less often. A huge relief! She would still have days (or nights) with digestive issues sometimes, especially after a stressful day.

We also came to the realisation that she digests very quickly. We fed the dogs twice a day, at around 6 AM and 6 PM. Sometimes I would wake up at night just from the sound of her stomach churning. She was hungry! We can only speculate, but we think that one of the reasons she needed to go outside at night may have been that she woke up because she was hungry and her tummy hurt, and since she was awake, she also needed to eliminate. I think many people know that feeling themselves … So around March 2016, we started feeding the dogs more often: 4 times a day instead of two. The last meal of the day is at around 10 PM, to shorten the interval between the last meal of one day and the first one of the next day. We kept feeding them the same amount of food, of course, just spreading it over more meals. This was one more piece in the puzzle that was Dana’s health.

Do what works

Over time, I also learned a lesson that should have been obvious: do what works for your dog. I was and still am convinced that a diet with raw meat, balanced with some other ingredients, is the healthiest thing you can feed your dog. So after a few weeks with canned food, I tried switching Dana back to raw. It didn’t work. Every time she ate raw meat, she would get diarrhoea immediately. I gave up for a while, tried again in the autumn of 2016, by which time her digestive tract had healed enough to deal with raw food again. However, both on canned and on raw, she still had to wake me at night about once a week, and sometimes she would feel too sick to eat the morning after that. Something was still missing.

So I tried the one thing I never wanted to feed my dogs: kibble. There was only one brand of kibble I would even consider, and that is Celtic Connection. I always knew that it contains only good things: 70% ethically sourced meat, all of it dried or freshly cooked, so none of it is meat meal, great supplements, herbs, berries, no grain or other fillers, no gluten, no GMO. The one reason that kept me from feeding it to my dogs was the idea that it would be terrible for them to eat the same food every day. After all, they had been used to eating something different every day of the week all their lives. But it’s not about what I think is best, it’s about what is best for them. It was the one thing I hadn’t tried and I needed to give it a chance. So I bought a bag of Celtic Connection Lamb and Goat (the one recipe of the brand that doesn’t contain anything my dogs have a sensitivity for), and tried it.

The result is absolutely astonishing: Dana hasn’t woken me ONCE since she started eating Celtic Connection for all of her main meals in January 2017. She hasn’t had diarrhoea even ONCE. Both she and Corey are excited to eat it every day. Since we often share our own food with them, they still get bits of fruit, vegetable, yoghurt and occasionally a little bit of meat, so it’s not as if they never get to taste anything else than their kibble. Eating the same thing every day does not seem to bother them at all so far. We have found that last piece of the puzzle, despite my reservations. It shows not just in Dana’s stool, but also in her mood: She has been increasingly relaxed since switching to Celtic Connection. I guess this blog post is starting to sound like a dog food commercial now? So what! I’m just glad that a) I found something that works for her (and for Corey too, by the way!), and b) I got over my own weird idea that I know better. Nope. My dogs know better. And I sincerely hope that other will do the same: do what works!

On a side note, it also works for my conscience. I had always been trying to find a canned food or source for raw meat where I could be certain that the animals whose meat went into the food didn’t have such a terrible life as is often the case in factory-farmed animals. This is something that Celtic Connection provides, and I’m glad.

Yep, we’re kibble fans now … 

Another positive side-effect of feeding my dogs kibble is how easily we can use it for mental stimulation now. It was always a bit of a struggle to find or somehow make treats that I could use for treat searches or food rewards. Not a problem any more. The lunch treat search has become a daily ritual. I just throw their lunch in the garden instead of serving it in a bowl. They are busy for 15 minutes, I get to watch them have fun and not do a thing, and they are tired out afterwards. Our garden is separated in two sections, so I can still be sure that they are each eating their own portion. Bonus: They like their Celtic Connection so much that I can even use it as a food reward. I know that some dogs will turn up their noses at kibble when it comes to rewards. Not my dogs 🙂

January to April 2016

Here’s some of our progress at the beginning of last year: Dana grew increasingly relaxed at home. Her urge to pounce on Corey lessened, the pacing in the evenings stopped, and she became interested in activities of us humans inside the house that would previously have frightened her. This is her “helping” us put together an Ikea cabinet in January 2016 … 😉

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Yep, super helpful … 🙂

She would still get worried about seeing people during walks, whining and pacing as soon as they appeared, even if they were far away. BUT she would calm down much more easily.

It’s funny: when I read my notes from back then, I see that I wrote: “She was sniffing in a relaxed way”. Funny because I remember exactly what that looked like. Funny because I’ve learned so much about dog body language since then, and about her specifically that I can now say: I didn’t even know what relaxation really looked like on Dana at that time. What I categorised as “relaxed”, I would now call “borderline upset”, and the way she sniffed was obsessive rather than relaxed. Sucking up smells can help a dog shut out other things, and that’s exactly what she did. But hey “not quite as upset” is better than her running, running, running with empty eyes because it was the only behaviour she had under those circumstances. I sometimes got the feeling that she didn’t even realise that I was attached to the other end of her lead. But that was an improvement over not actually wanting to leave the house …

Our relationship outside started to change, slowly. She started to react when I asked her to come away with me as opposed to freezing when she saw people on the street. We had a breakthrough when meeting dogs she had no wish to interact with. She came to me and put me between her and the dog in question, on two separate occasions. Needless to say, this made me incredibly happy! And, like a good parent, I reinforced her trust in me by protecting her from those dogs.

Her relationship with Corey had a little setback in January 2016. He had a leg injury and was not allowed to exercise, and at one point he was so annoyed with her that he snapped, and a fight broke out. Her leg had a small puncture wound as a result. Things were tense for a few days, but improved after that. It was not the first fight they had, but I’m happy to report that we haven’t had one since!

We continued our work with the essential oils, but did so more and more rarely, as she needed it less and less.

By April, we had made a whole lot of good memories together. While she would still get stressed out incredibly easily while out and about, the good vs. bad percentage started leaning decidedly towards good. I watched her self-confidence grow, and I became more secure in guiding her in difficult situations.

What to take on a dog walk: come prepared …

… or stay home. That’s always been my mantra, and it applies to taking my dogs for a walk as well, of course.

Some women have a purse full of everything they need in their everyday lives. I am not one of them: when it comes to my own stuff, if it doesn’t fit in a jeans pocket, I’m not taking it. Not so when it comes to stuff for my dogs. Over the years I have assembled a “prepared for every scenario” dog rucksack, which I take on every walk. I also often wonder what other people take along. Show me yours, I’ll show you mine? 

The rucksack 

I use the “Fast Hiking Helium” model by Quechua. It’s inexpensive and it’s a good size at only 10 liters. Not too big, a ton of pockets, lots of convenient straps and very comfortable to wear. It comes with a water pouch and a tube through which the hiker can drink, but I threw that out. The dogs can’t drink from the tube, and I usually don’t take any water for myself along.

Refreshments

The most important thing to take on a walk is water. I find that my dogs get thirsty even in cooler weather conditions, and we don’t always come across natural water when we’re out and about. I transport it in a 1l platypus softbottle, which is convenient because it doesn’t take up any space when it’s empty. By the end of the walk, it usually is! We have a small collapsible silicone bowl for the dogs to drink from. It’s small, but sufficient, at a volume of 0,2 liters.

Treats need to be within easy reach, so they go in one of the small side pockets on the waist belt. We also often have a tube (this kind of thing) of liver paté or similar tasty stuff as a special treat, and it goes in the other small pocket or in some pocket on my clothing.

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Biodegradable poop bags

For us good citizens, this is a must. We use biodegradable ones because we don’t want to preserve for the next 500 years what would otherwise have been gone within weeks. I keep a roll in one of the belt pockets, within easy reach. There are few to no waste bins where we walk, so I carry full poop bags in the large front pocket until I can throw them out at home. I’m happy to report that I don’t smell them that way. Note to self: don’t forget to remove them …

In case of emergency

I have a first aid kit and I know how to use it – otherwise there would be little point to it. The kit contains various bandaging utensils, which I learned how to apply at a canine first aid class. I re-read my notes from that class every few months or so, otherwise I would forget all about it. I’ve added a few things that weren’t included: active coal tablets against poisoning, I’ve replaced the tick tweezers (of the “medieval torture device” kind) provided in the kit by O’Tom tick twisters. Not that we use them a lot, since we have very efficient natural anti-tick treatments on our dogs, but it’s good to have them anyway. And I’ve added some band-aids for humans as well. I’ve only ever had to use the band-aids, because I’m a clumsy person. The rest of the kit remains untouched. Let’s keep it that way!

Leads for any occasion

My dogs wear their harness at all times, so I don’t need to stow those away. I usually have one short lead (2-3 m) for when I need to keep my dog close, and one long training lead (10, 15 or 20 m) to give the dogs more freedom of movement in places where they can’t be off lead for some reason. Since the shortest lead I have is 2 m, that’s not something I want to hang around my neck while the dog is off lead, as so many people do. I don’t want to put it in the rucksack or hook it to the straps either, since it takes too long to get it out from there if I need it urgently. So I’ve created my very own “fast draw holster” for dog leads. Materials used: needle, thread, velcro cable ties (see below). The long training lead I can clip onto one of the straps on the rucksack and then strap it down with the elastics. That keeps it from dangling around on my back. So convenient!

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I also have a slip lead at the bottom of the rucksack, which I’ve added due to two experiences: 1) A buckle on Dana’s harness once broke during a walk. We were lucky enough that it happened close to the car and away from roads, so no harm done. But if that happend again somewhere more risky … Oops! Need to get the dog back to the car somehow. 2) Every now and then I encounter stray dogs, it’s as if I magically attract them. Taking them with me so I can return them to their owners can be quite a challenge if I have no way of holding onto them. Of course neither situation has presented itself again since I’ve added the slip lead – figures! But I’m glad, since I’d prefer to never use a slip lead on a dog. The reason I picked it is that I couldn’t think of any other way to get a “handle” on any size of dog that may need rescuing, especially if they aren’t wearing a collar or harness. Suggestions are welcome!

Break time

Sometimes I find myself wanting to take a break during a walk, sit down, just watch the world go by together with my dog. Usually there’s no convenient sitting space available just then, so I bring my own. My most recent addition to the all-round pack is a picknick blanket. I just purchased a random picknick blanket, fleece on top, rubber at the bottom, and then cut it to size so it’s big enough for myself and one dog to sit on. Anything larger wouldn’t have fit into the rucksack anymore, and I didn’t want to drag anything larger than necessary along anyway.

Various other things

Anyone who has ever had a long training lead dragged through their hands when trying to stop a running dog can attest to the fact that gloves are an absolute necessity. I keep a pair of sailing gloves in the front pocket. They give me grip on the lead even if they’re wet, prevent the dreaded rope burn, and since they leave the finger tips of index finger and thumb free, I can still find and hand out treats, which would be impossible in full gloves. Some like to use cycling gloves (with all finger tips free), but having had ample experience with rope burn on my finger tips, right above where the gloves end, I like to minimise that chance by having those other three finger covered.

Another inhabitant of the front pocket is a soft dog toy: we frequently use it for lost searches. It shares its space with an ACME dog whistle, since my dogs are used to a recall by whistle. The whistle is of course around my neck during the walk, but keeping it in the rucksack the rest of the time prevents me from forgetting it at home – that would be a problem! Last but not least, there is a case full of “Corey and friends” business cards, in case we come across a nice dog 🙂

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All in all, we’re pretty well prepared, and the pack weighs only around 3 kg when the bottle is entirely full, which is not too much of a bother. Whether it’s a social walks or just me and my dogs, these things serve us well. The rucksack also accommodates my phone and keys, if need be. What do you take along when you take your dogs for a walk?

Every dog needs a friend, or: why social walks are so important

[Lees de Nederlandse versie van dit artikel]

Is your dog an only dog? Does he spend all of his time with humans? Do you ever wonder whether he is missing anything? He most likely is!

But you have more than one dog in your home, you say? So shouldn’t that be enough? Imagine you never had any close contact with any human beings besides your family. You might greet strangers or neighbours in the street when you see them. Would you call that a fulfilled social life? No? Neither would your dog.

“But he sees other dogs at the park almost every day,” you say. Are you perhaps encouraging him to “go play” with the other dogs? Do they get a nose-to-nose greeting because you’re steering your dog towards any other dog you see? Okay, that can be nice. But perhaps it isn’t nice for your dog at all. Imagine you walked up to every unfamiliar human in the street and gave them a handshake. Awkward, isn’t it? Would you start a conversation out of the blue? Go for a little run together? No? Most dogs wouldn’t either.

Strangers and friends

In fact, puppies and very young dogs might, just like human children, often spontaneously get along and start to play. Sometimes they don’t and shouldn’t be made to in that case – neither children, nor puppies, that is. But you may notice that things are different for a 14-year-old human or a 14-month-old dog, and very different for a 30-year-old human or 3-year-old dog.

When you meet a stranger in the street and you want to be polite, you nod your head or murmur a word of greeting. When a dog meets an unfamiliar dog in the street, the polite response is to curve around him and look away. A dog who runs straight up to another dog (often head and tail raised) does this either for lack of social skills – he never had the opportunity to learn what is polite – or because he is nervous about the other dog. He may want to check them out from up close to make sure that they are not a danger, or he may just have forgotten how to be polite out of nervousness. Or perhaps he wants to tell them in no uncertain terms to go away! Add two nervous humans and tense leads into the mix and you often end up with growls and flashing teeth. Not the outcome you were hoping to achieve for your dog!

When you happen to meet a friend, you will shake hands, kiss or hug. You stop and talk for a while and continue on your way. Or you meet your friend on purpose, you have dinner together and chat all evening. You’re content to have spent time with your friend. The same goes for your dog. When he meets a friend, they have a little “chat”. This may involve body contact, or it may not, depending on the personalities of the dogs as well as the situation or mood the dogs are in. Their body language and pheromone messages make it possible for them to communicate at a distance. When spending time together, they may enjoy playing with each other for a little while. But mostly, they do the things that dogs enjoy the most: they take in the world of scent around them by sniffing together. They walk together or just hang out while sniffing and communicating with one another. It makes them happy and gives them self-confidence.

“But dogs aren’t people …”

“…, so how can you compare this?” That is absolutely correct. As the examples above illustrate, polite dog behaviour is different from polite human behaviour. But we do have things in common: Both of our species have evolved to be very social, to be dependent on their social groups for food and for safety. We also depend on politeness and tolerance within our social groups. If we, dogs and humans, were constantly impolite to members of our own species, this would lead to conflict, which can at times endanger our well-being and even survival. Both dogs and humans need safety to feel at ease in their environment, and nothing is as safe as our familiar and polite social group. Being approached by an impolite stranger can feel threatening. Both we humans and our dogs have also evolved to get along with one another, and a dog-human friendship full of mutual respect and understanding can be very fulfilling for both parties. At the same time, we still appreciate spending social time with members of our own species.

My dog’s social life

So what does this mean for you and your dog? First of all, it means that your dog should never be forced or persuaded to approach an unfamiliar dog when the polite thing for them would have been to make a wide curve around each other and be on their way. Also, if your dog is showing signs of approaching a strange dog in an impolite way – watch his body language for signs, such as a raised tail and head, leaning forward, staring at the other dog –, he should be prevented from doing so, for the sake of all involved.

It also means that it would be a great idea to find your dog a friend – or even more than one. Go for walks with other dogs and make sure there is enough distance between all involved to allow for politeness, safety and communication through body language – long leads (at least three meters) and harnesses are the way to go. There is absolutely no need for crazy playing, which often just stresses the dogs and leads to a rise in tension. After a few gentle walks, sniffing the environment together, soon enough the dogs will become friends – and so will their humans! Sometimes, a friendship doesn’t work out – just like humans, dogs have their own preferences when it comes to whom they want to associate with and there is no point in forcing a relationship. In that case, you and your dog can just continue the search for a new friend. Once you and your dog have found a good dog friend, continue to meet them on a regular basis – your dog will thank you for it!