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Tag: stress

The Ace Files: What to do when your dog won’t let his claws be trimmed

Ace was born and raised a city dog, and however mean one might consider the streets of Baltimore, they (and its sidewalks) always did a good job of keeping his claws filed down to a less than deadly length.

That was a good thing, because, when it comes to a toenail trim, Ace will have no part of it.

Groomers, vets and I have all attempted it, only to receive the clear message from him that — as much as he likes to have his paws played with, as much as he likes to hold hands — bringing any sort of grooming tool near his claws is a declaration of war.

Ace’s claws, for that very reason, have always been too long.

That poses problems, to himself and others. Ace is quick to shake hands, and sometimes does so unsolicited. In Baltimore, when he was working as a therapy dog, I feared he might inadvertenly and with all good intentions rip apart the small children reading to him, and I monitored him accordingly.

They were too long when we pulled out of the city, for a year-long, John Steinbeck-inspired tour of America. But by being constantly on the go, his claws remained at least at a tolerable length during our travels.

They were too long, despite daily walks around the block, after we ended up in Winston-Salem, N.C. and moved into the apartment of my birth.

ursula 053And since becoming a country dog, when we moved to a little house in tiny Bethania, N.C., they’ve only gotten worse — to the point they may now be described as a tad freakish, if not lethal weapons.

Once again, I went out and bought some expensive clippers, having  misplaced several old and never-used ones. But the latest attempt didn’t work either. No brand, no style, no method of claw trimming seems to work on Ace.

He doesn’t snarl, or bite, he just bucks and flails and, at 115 pounds, overpowers anyone attempting to trim his nails. What’s much scarier is the immense stress it seems to cause him. His heartbeat speeds up. He pants and drools and squirms. His eyes get a frightened look. Maybe I just imagine it, but he even starts to exude an odor. The smell of fear?

Once, back in Baltimore, I asked Ace’s vet to trim his nails. Ace resisted. The vet muzzled him and tried again. Ace resisted more. Then the vet called two burly men into the room to usher Ace upstairs.

From below, I heard the ruckus. It sounded like a professional wrestling match was underway, and about two minutes later they brought Ace back down, saying they’d been unable to accomplish the task — despite their muscles and whatever implements of restraint were upstairs.

It was concluded then that the only way to do it would be by sedating him. The idea of that scares me at least as much as how stressed he gets.

For my my most recent effort, I bought the most expensive professional nail clippers I could find. I let them lay around the living room for a week so Ace would get used to them. Then I recruited a friend, and had her feed him treats as I attempted the deed. Despite even that incentive, he balked. By the time it was over, I was almost fully sprawled atop him while whispering sweet nothings into his ear. He bucked me off, and not a single nail got trimmed. (Anybody need some expensive professional nail clippers?)

I described all that to Ace’s most recent veterinarian, here in North Carolina, at his check-up last month.

He suggested we start jogging on sidewalks. Then, seeing my reaction, he suggested I find a young and energetic friend to jog with Ace on sidewalks.

He also suggested a complete blood work-up that, in addition to checking for any health problems, might also help determine how well Ace would handle sedation.

We didn’t take him up on the second offer, deciding to wait until Ace turns 9 for that.

We did consider his  other suggestion — though not to the point of taking up jogging.

Since moving to historic Bethania, and having our own back yard, Ace doesn’t go for a walk every day. Bethania doesn’t have a lot in the way of sidewalks.  Three or four times a week we take a short walk — mostly on the street — to the little post office where I pick up  my mail. Two or three times a week we walk the dirt trail that meanders through Black Walnut Bottoms, behind the visitor center.

Once in a while, Ace will hear a hunter’s gunshot there, prompting him to turn around and head home. Ace also fears loud, cracking noises — anything from a bat hitting a ball to the crackle of the fireplace. His fears, as he grows older, seem to become more pronounced, but then maybe that’s true of all species. Whatever little fears we have turn into big looming nightmarish ones. Probably, there is a drug to help deal with that. But I am increasingly fearful of pharmaceuticals.

Given the lack of options, I decided Ace needed to spend more time pounding the pavement — and at a pace quicker than the slow one at which I prefer to move along.

So we took some of the vet’s advice, and reshaped it to fit our lifestyle (OK, my lifestyle). We headed down to the golf course where I work as a bartender a couple of nights a week. (Ace not having appeared in a movie in a while, I took my new camera along, too, to test out its video capabilities.)

I’m thinking of making it a twice-a-week routine. The mile-long trot seemed to make an immediate difference. His claws weren’t really any shorter, but they were much less sharp and pointy.

Ace slept great that night, but then he sleeps great every night, with only occasional scary dreams that makes his paws flutter as he emits little whimpers. I don’t think he’s chasing rabbits in his dreams. More likely, he’s running away from scary monsters that want to clip his nails.

(Ace has appeared in one professionally made movie, and several unprofessional ones. You can see some of the latter here.)

Documentary looks at Thai dog smugglers

As many as 200,000 dogs a year are smuggled out of Thailand, across the Mekong River and into Vietnam. The cruel journeys — in which the dogs are crammed in cages — last for days. The destination is even, by Western standards, meaner yet.

While smuggling the dogs is illegal, killing, cooking and eating them is not, and remains a tradition among some  in China, Vietnam and South Korea.

This CNN report, based on a new documentary, The Shadow Trade, looks at both the supply and the demand — and the cruel road between the two.

Dogs commonly become dehydrated, stressed, and die during the trips, in which they are packed 20 or more to a cage, and 1,000 or more to a truck.

“Obviously when you’ve got dogs stacked on top of each other they start biting each other because they are so uncomfortable, any kind of movement then the dog next to the one that’s being crushed is going to bite back,” said Tuan Bendixsen, director of Animals Asia Foundation Vietnam, a Hanoi-based animal welfare group.

When they arrive in Vietnam, the dogs are bludgeoned to death and have their throats slit before they are butchered for their meat.

Some animal rights activisists say the stress all that inflicts, even before death, is intentional — that some believe the stress and fear release hormones that improves the taste of the meat.

While some of the dogs rounded up in Thailand are strays — known as soi dogs — John Dalley of the Phuket-based Soi Dog Foundation estimates 98% of them are domesticated and says some are wearing collars and have been trained and respond to commands.

“You can see all types of pedigree animals in these captured Thai shipments — golden retrievers, long-haired terriers, you name it,” says Dalley. “Some are bought. Others are snatched from streets, temples, and even people’s gardens.”

A dog in Thailand can sell for $10, according to animal rights activists, but they’re worth $60 once they are served up in restaurants in Vietnam, where they estimate a million dogs a year are eaten.

The trade is illegal in Thailand, but, with no animal cruelty laws, traders are commonly charged with illegally transporting animals.  The smugglers usually receive sentences of just a few months in jail. And the dogs taken from them often wind up being captured again by traders, and shipped again to Vietnam to become meat.

Take two dogs and call me in the morning

Call it an “aha” moment for the AHA: The American Heart Association has finally, officially, recognized that dogs are good for the ticker.

Last week, the organization issued a statement saying enough evidence now exists to make that assertion, and it didn’t even recommend dogs be taken in moderation, or consulting your doctor first.

Heartening as the news release was, the statement was overdue, or at least a few beats behind the thinking of those of us who already knew, and didn’t need studies to tell us, that our dogs are good for the heart, by which I mean the organ and more.

Dog owners are more likely to get exercise. Stroking a dog lowers blood pressure. Stress is handled better by dog owners — even when their dog isn’t with them. Studies have proven all those things.

But the mysteries of what dogs do for the heart, and the soul, have only begun to be unraveled. And on top of all the benefits to humans that can be scientifically confirmed and quantified, there’s much more dogs do for us — much of it undetectable by microscopes and double-blind studies, and part of me hopes it always will be.

Being humans, we can sometimes get so wrapped in measuring something that it interferes with treasuring that something. We can get so intent on delving into something’s complexities that we fail to savor its simplicity.

Dogs, could they speak, would tell us that, and they’d likely advise to look for the simple answer first.

How important, heart-wise, is the simple fact that a dog can give us reason to live, and love? While I am not a medical professional, or even a medical amateur, I think a heart that’s engaged and occupied is more likely to keep running smoothly than one sitting empty in the garage, getting dusty.

“Perhaps when one owns a pet one tends to be happier,” said Dr. Glenn Levine of Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, who led the committee that wrote the statement. “Pet owners might be more likely to take their medications and eat healthier meals.”

Pharmaceuticals and spinach, important as they may be, don’t make you happy to be alive, though, and want to continue in that state.

Dogs do.

The AHA isn’t saying everyone should go out and adopt a dog to lower their risk of heart disease. The statement emphasizes there’s much more involved in keeping your heart healthy, according to an NBC Today report.

“We did not want people to see this article and just go out and adopt or rescue or buy a dog …while they continue to just sit on the couch and smoke cigarettes,” said Levine, himself a dog owner.

In one study cited by the committee, researchers signed up 30 people with borderline high blood pressure who were about to adopt dogs from a shelter.

Then they persuaded half of them to wait — in the best interest of the study, if not the dogs.

Those allowed to adopt dogs right away had lower blood pressure two and five months later than those who had not adopted.

And once all the study participants had adopted dogs, systolic blood pressure was found to be lowered in the deferred-adoption group as well.

The study didn’t say whether those that adopted had lower blood pressure than those who bought dogs. Nevertheless, and even though I’m not a doctor, that’s what I’d prescribe.

(Photo: ohmidog!)

Counseling students, one lick at a time


There’s a new counselor on the staff at Loyola University in Chicago, and he’s helping students cope with everything from homesickness to the stress of final exams.

He’s a 5-year-old black Labrador retriever, named Tivo, and he’s on duty every day at the university’s Wellness Center.

Seeing a need for a therapy dog, Loyola last year asked Tops Kennels in Grayslake to help find a candidate. The kennel suggested Tivo, who, after some additional training, became a certified therapy dog.

He’s on duty from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m, and lives with the Rev. Justin Daffron, Loyola’s associate provost for academic services.

Already immensely popular with students, college officials expect Tivo to stay busy in the week ahead, the Chicago Tribune reports. Final exams start today at Loyola, and Tivo has a way of helpling students, at least for a moment, shed some of the stress that builds up.

“They’ll come in, pet him, he’ll wag his tail, lick their faces, if they want their faces licked,” said Joan Holden, associate director of the center. “If you’re a dog lover, being with a dog makes you feel better. He’ll show his tummy, wag his tail — all the things to make you feel good.”

But Tivo doesn’t just sit in an office all day, according to an article about him in Inside Loyola.

“We use Tivo with patients for calming, for outreach in the residence halls, and to be sent out with a human counselor in hopes that students can come and pet the dog as a way to connect with the Wellness Center outside the office,” says Diane Asaro, the center’s director. “It is our first time trying it, and he has already gotten such a positive and wonderful response.”

Tivo also serves as a surrogate pet to the many students who are missing the dogs they left behind, noted David deBoer, associate director and clinical psychologist at the Wellness Center.

“Tivo really serves as a comfort, pleasure, and joy for college students; a friendly reminder of the comforts of home,” he said.

Students can keep track of where “Talk With Tivo” sessions are being held through his Facebook page.

(Photo: Tivo gives some counseling to student Marc Rosenbaum; by Mark Beane / Loyola University Chicago)

Overdue: Yale law library tries therapy dog

At the Yale University Law Library, you can check out ”Legal Alchemy: The Use and Misuse of Science in the Law.” You can check out “The Supreme Court A to Z: A Ready Reference Encyclopedia.”

Or, you can check out Monty, a terrier mix whose mission, in an experimental program started this month, is to de-stress, during final exam time, the litigators of tomorrow.

You’d think a genius farm like Yale University would have figured out sooner — as some smaller and lesser known colleges have — that dogs can, physically and emotionally, help students through troubled or stressful times.

But, for the school whose mascot is an English bulldog named Handsome Dan, it’s better late than never.

In the pilot program, students can check out Monty – a  21-pound “certified library therapy dog” who provides 30-minute sessions of what ABCNews describes as “unconditional, stress-busting puppy love.”

“The interest in available slots has been high,” said Jan Conroy, a spokeswoman for Yale Law School.

In a March 10 memo, law librarian Blair Kauffman said she hoped the free, three-day pilot pet therapy program would be “a positive addition to current services offered by the library … It is well documented that visits from therapy dogs have resulted in increased happiness, calmness and overall emotional well-being.” The memo directed students to the website of Therapy Dogs International for more information.

The school has yet to decide if the program will be ongoing. Likely, it being Yale Law School, there are liability concerns — the type that are known to paralyze bureaucracies and often limit the good dogs can do, based on mostly baseless fears.

Monty, for example, though he is said to be hypoallergenic, will hold his visits in a “designated non-public space” in the library to eliminate “potential adverse reactions from any library user who might have dog-related concerns.”

Concerns have also been expressed about the sign-up list for Monty being in a visible spot. That, the overly fearful fear, results in students having to expose their need for a mental health session — or at least some time with a dog — in public.

Monty — whose full name is General Montgomery – belongs to librarian Julian Aiken. And the pilot program got started after a Yale legal blog jokingly suggested making Monty available for checkout.

Therapy dogs have been introduced at Tufts University in Massachusetts, Oberlin College in Ohio and UC San Diego to help students get through the pressures of mid-terms and finals.

Sled dog slaughter leads to calls for ban

The slaughter of 100 sled dogs in Canada has reenergized efforts by some animal activists to ban or boycott dog sled rides, the Associated Press reports.

There are hundreds of North American businesses offering dog sled rides as part of winter vacation getaways — from New England to Alaska — but the industry is not regulated or licensed, and kennels go largely uninspected.

And some animal welfare activists suspect that the kind of “culling” that took place in British Columbia takes place regularly, if on a far smaller scale.

“I don’t think society is willing to accept that animals, particularly dogs, should be killed just because they are surplus or don’t suit the purpose they were born for,’’ said Debra Probert, executive director of the Vancouver Humane Society, which has called for a provincial ban on tour businesses.

The 100 dogs killed last April belonged to Howling Dog Tours Whistler Inc., and its parent company Outdoor Adventures Whistler, located in British Columbia. The dogs were killed by a company employee, who shot some dogs and slit the throats of others.

The incident came to light when he applied for workers’ compensation, saying he has suffered posttraumatic stress since carrying out the orders from his boss.

Documents from the workers’ compensation probe said the company acquired the dogs in anticipation of extra business during the Olympic Games in Vancouver, and that the animals were destroyed after bookings fell. But in a letter to the editor published in the Vancouver Sun newspaper, Howling Dog’s owner, Joey Houssian, said “some old and sick dogs needed to be put down’’ and the company thought the worker assigned the task would perform the culling “in a professional and humane manner.’’

NC college starts pet-friendly dorm

Lees-McRae College, located in the mountains of North Carolina, has designated its first pet-friendly dormitory, allowing students who live there to bring along their dogs, cats, birds, fish, ferrets, and hamsters.

With the opening of the Spring 2011 semester, Bentley Residence Hall went co-species. 

“I am so excited that Lees-McRae College has joined the ranks of pet friendly colleges and universities.  We love our pets and we recognize that students who are pet owners are generally responsible and caring individuals,” said Barry M. Buxton, president of the Presbyterian college. “We want to encourage pet adoption and awareness that all of God’s creatures are sacred.”

Students living in Bentley Hall are now allowed to bring their pets from home to school with them to live in their rooms. Under the new policy, qualifying students can have fish, hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs, birds, ferrets, cats and dogs under 40 pounds. (We’d argue dogs over 40 pounds are sacred, too.)

Previously, students were only allowed to have fish in residence hall rooms.

Under the new pet friendly policy, faculty and staff are also encouraged to bring their pets to campus.

“It is great to be able to have my two dogs for companionship while I am studying and doing homework in my room,” said student Lauren Lampley, owner of Shih Tzus Heidi and Buckley. “This responsibility also forces me to manage my time well enough to take care of them and make sure I make time to spend with them.”

The approved pets for the inaugural pet friendly program include a Boston Terrier, a small Labrador retriever, two Shih Tzus, a pomeranian/Chihuahua mix, a miniature dachshund, a Maine coon mix, a Siamese mix, a leopard gecko, a Dutch rabbit, two ferrets and two birds.

The new policy represents the latest in a trend toward colleges welcoming pets, noted Joshua Fried, director of Petside.com: “We know how much the companionship of a pet can benefit a college student, particularly in the form of stress-relief and as a remedy for homesickness.”

“Now I have two alarms,” one student joked. “When I ignore my alarm clock, my dog licks my face and my nose until I get up. She really cares about my education.”

Lees-McRae College, a four-year, co-educational liberal arts college, is located in the Blue Ridge Mountains of northwestern North Carolina in the town of Banner Elk.

(Photo courtesy of Lees-McCrae College)

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