Have I gone crazy!?

I live downtown in an itty-bitty apartment with not just one, but THREE children all under the age of 5 and my hubby. We have a cat. I work as a receptionist at a vet clinic seeing lots of puppies and kittens every day. You'd think I have my fix, right? WRONG! We end up opening our heart and our home to 2 rescues... and that's it! I must be dog-gone mad!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Pepper's Progress

I have to say I'm baffled by Pepper every day.

She can be so difficult to work with; shaking, peeing on herself, running back and forth. The first step was to get her to take a treat from our hand without spasm. She's way past that now; she likes being hand-fed! Now there's the "sit", "stay", "down"... There are days where it takes her forever to settle down and understand what you are asking her to do, and days where she does it almost simultaneously as you are giving the command - without fuss or spasm! There are times when she meets a stranger and wags her tail, says hi... other times she goes mini-Kujo and won't let anyone touch her. Geesh. I've decided to celebrate the good days and ignore the bad days.

But there are other areas where there is definite progress. Despite the fact that her potty training is sporadic at best, she is doing a lot better at going for walks in the city, not freaking out w/ traffic, and holding it till her morning walk.

I sometimes wonder what I got myself into. Will it be worth it? Can she be rehabilitated? And then I wonder, why do I want a dog that I need to rehabilitate?

How much of her behavior issues is due to the big mystery of her previous life and upbringing? Or is it due to her neurotic predisposition because of genes and breed? And why do I want to be drawn to these projects of "fixing" these behaviors so that the dog is well adjusted? Well for one thing, to be able to function in society. Pepper will see a vet, possibly a groomer, other dogs, other people. She's not going to spend every day for the rest of her life inside my living room.

I guess the second reason is because I see something in her. I know that her affection is a huge step towards trust and it's not easily gained - all the more why I'm proud of her when she's affectionate with our friends, or more importantly, my kids! I can't guarantee her that my children will never hurt her or scare her (at least, unintentionally) but she chooses to give them kisses and jump into bed with them anyways. And then, there are "lightbulb" moments... Where she stops trembling enough to show you how much she actually understands, and what she is capable of! I guess that's what keeps me going...

And she is impossible not to love when she jumps on your lap, squirms belly side up, and keeps pawing at you to rub her belly, or gives you kisses and rubs her head into your neck. Even Paul can't resist giving her treats when she does a perfect repertoire of "tricks" with a face that says, "Please?!"

All this time, she's never really played with us. She always cuddles, never really engages in a game. Never chewed on anything either. It was hard to reward her, to entertain her when she wasn't getting constant attention. And then one day, I tried a chew stick available at the vet's office where I work. She loved it! She was so happy carrying her treat around... until she brought it by me and dropped it at my feet. So I picked it up and tossed it across the living room. And she runs (what I like to call "skiddadle" because her nails tap across the floor and she seems to be stuck in place) to the chew, and brings it back to me. And I say, "Good fetch!" And we do it again... and again. Then I stop throwing the chew and pick up one of her toys, a plush bone. And we play fetch with it. Thirty minutes go by and we've had our first "play" session, after 3 weeks of being home! She's more and more excited, and so am I.

And this is the moment when the lightbulb comes on for me, when I say that it is indeed worth it.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Grooming Tips

So I'm no longer working at a grooming salon as a dog bather. I decided to go for more of an office job, and was blessed with a receptionist position at a pretty busy vet clinic. One day I'll be a vet tech, but in the meantime, I thought of all the little nuances and frustrations in the grooming department and decided, since there's no conflict of interest, to share them with everyone. I hope that as you consider taking your dog to a grooming salon, you will keep these things in mind (from the other side of the counter!)

1) Start them as young as possible! Get the necessary shots, add the bordatella shot (treating kennel cough is more expensive than getting the vaccine once or twice a year), and get them in! You may not thing the grooming is needed when its only 16 weeks old and very cute and relatively easy to maintain - but that's not the point. If the dog is ever going to need serious grooming, its easier to teach the puppy and calm him when he's trying to jump out of the bathtub at 16 weeks than it is at a year! Breeds that require regular brush-out or hair cuts (huskies, poodles, golden retrievers, shih tzus, pomeranians, yorkies, etc) need to get acclimated to the noises, smells, and feels of being groomed. Breeds that don't really require regular grooming would benefit from being socialized, learn how to behave for nail trims, and reap the effects of good treatment options for their specific skin and coat. Start them young, and you will have less problems later in the long run when you need it.

I knew a woman who groomed her lab regularly. She came to us only one day because the dog was smelly and her arm was in a cast. The dog was about 6 years old. We could do everything but the nails. A nail trim by itself at Petco or Petsmart runs anywhere between $8-$12. A nail trim at the vets office (for dogs that misbehave at Petco or Petsmart) can be anywhere between $20-35 dollars depending on the difficulty and the amount of technicians required to hold the dog down for the procedure. You decide.

2) Obedience training is NOT just for show dogs!! I cannot tell you how frustrating it is to walk around kennels, other dogs, and other people being pulled by a lab, shepherd, or rottweiler that did not know how to behave on a leash! And if you think buying your dog a choke collar settles it for you, guess what - groomers can't use it! So obedience training, along with loose-leash walking, helps milestones in keeping it safe. I've had chunks of my feet ripped off, bruised, scratch, even busted my head because it was my muscle strength against a 90 lb creature and I could NOT let it win! Even with little dogs, teaching them to sit and stay keeps them safer and more relaxed on the table, leaving less room for injuries.

3) Do NOT bring us dogs to groom because they are too aggressive for you to do it yourself. If a dog has serious aggression issues you are putting a WHOLE lot of people at risk. Discuss with the groomer as far as policies, you may find individual groomers that can handle those difficult dogs on a one-on-one basis. But a dog bite from your dog to one of our groomers costs the company usually about $8500 in worker's compensation if she goes to a hospital (assuming it doesn't even require treatment! Prices goes up for disinfection, stitches, casts, etc)... The groomer can end up fired (I've seen it happen)... and your dog will be quarantined by the local Animal Care and Control center and have a record with them. Not good for anybody involved. It's not funny or cute if your little chihuahua acts like a demon on the grooming table and I've seen a boston terrier boarded at the local vet, at the owner's expense, for 14 days out of a bite that didn't draw a lot of blood.

Dog aggression isn't cool either! So think about these things as you first get your dog. Have it socialized. It doesn't have to interact with other dogs; most grooming places keep the dogs from socializing in the first place. But it is easier and safer for everyone involved to not have the dog lunge for an innocent 4-legged bystander's jugular.

4) Your dog is not the ONLY dog in the grooming salon! And you are not the only appointment for the 4 hours following your pet's check in. Expect it to be a drop-off/pick-up situation unless you make other arrangements with the groomer! And be patient, your dog is fine. If it wasn't, we would call you. You can expect a groomer's day to go like this: Check in dog 1, answer phone, check in dog 2, bathe dog 1, leave dog 1 kennel to dry for a few minutes, bathe dog 2, check in dog 3, answer phone, clean up dog poop from dog 2, re-bathe dog 2, disinfect kennel where dog 2 was, bathe dog 3, take dog 1 out and blow-dry, trim dog 1's nails, answer phone, brush dog 1's hair, answer phone, finish up dog 1, call you, blow dry dog 2... And groomers can do anywhere between 5-12 dogs a day (depending on the skill/speed of the groomer and how busy the grooming salon is!). Dogs with fuller coat require more time to dry. You cannot brush a wet dog - it is insanely painful and harmful to the skin. And your dog's temperament may require that the groomer move even slower with it because it may be nervous or shy.

So guess what? The more you call to ask if your dog is ready, the longer this process will take. Good grooming salons will call you as soon as the dog is done. Some may even call you 20 minutes before they estimate the dog will be done so you can pick up the dog just as it is finished.

5) Don't do "walk-ins" for full bath/grooming. Respect their schedule the way you would the vet's, or your doctor's office. Take the # and call before you stop by. Expect to make appointments, expect these appointments to be even up to a week out from when you call! The groomers are not blowing you off, they are balancing their time so that when your dog comes in they can give it the best attention and care it deserves.

6) Know the difference between Groomers, Groomer Assistants, or Bathers. Groomers can do anything on any dog as far as haircut goes. Groomer Assistants (or Bathers) can do everything but a hair cut. Some bathers have been trained in minor necessary hair trimming such as sanitary trails, feet and paw pads, and haunches - but that's it. A Bather or Grooming Assistant is not trained to take clippers down your dog's back or scissors to your dog's face. So when you call and make that appointment, be specific - don't expect for the grooming salon to be able to make last minute accomodations.

Another thing you need to consider is that groomers don't take scissors all over the dog's back to make the length shorter. They will use clippers. So just because you don't want your dog shaved to the skin doesn't mean it won't be shaved at all - it will, just with different extensions to leave the coat a certain length. So if you are expecting any kind of length off the dog's body - it will need a GROOMER, not a bather (even if it's just 1/2 inch off!)!

7) Matted dogs cannot be done by bathers. If you rub your hands over your dog's body and you feel lumps of hair, it's a mat. Mats are painful to brush out and take long hours of pulling at the dog's skin. A lot of grooming places will not even attempt to brush out mats on the belly, groin, legs, or ears because of the dangers. Mats aren't shaved through, they need to be shaved UNDER. So learn how to take care of your dog by brushing it appropriately at home and you'll be able to keep it cute and fluffy. Otherwise, don't expect a groomer to do a miracle. It will be a shave-down and start over thing.

8) There's no such thing as a "puppy cut". At least, not 85% of the time. A "Puppy cut" is literally, when you bring your puppy (under 6 months of age) to the groomer once or twice and they scissor a little here and there, maybe take clippers with an extension to the back, just to get it used to the grooming process. So learn to tell the groomer what you want - ears, face, back, legs, tail. No one can make your 7 year old dog look like it did when it was a puppy. That is impossible.

These are the things that will make us cry... and laugh through them. The best tool is education. Read up on how grooming is done for your dog even if you don't intend to groom the dog yourself - it will give you the knowledge so that you know what to expect and what to ask for. Communication is key in order for a groomer to take your instructions, translate them, do the work, and return to you the finished product you want.