Pro-Tip: DIY Kong Case

I can't  say it enough: food toys and puzzle games are mandatory for our urban dogs. Dogs who roam freely spend upwards of 85% of their day just looking for food, according to Dr. Nicholas Dodman at Tufts. That's a lot more time devoted to a job than anything most of our pet dogs experience. Most dogs just hang out, barking at the neighbors all day. They need something to keep them busy.

Most dogs prefer to eat in 30 seconds flat after the food hits the bottom of the dish. By the time you put the bag of dog food away, they are looking at you expectantly, as if to say "That would have been delicious if I took the time to taste it. Now what do we do!?! ADVENTURES!"

Having a dog eat out of a puzzle toy is the easiest thing to stave off boredom, and keep them busy for 10 minutes while you take a shower, or prepare to leave for work.

I always advise my students to go through the following routine:
-Buy 6-8 Kongs
-Fill them once a week with a mix of their Kibble and yogurt (or peanut butter, cream cheese, soft dog food, or something palatable/soft to mix with the kibble).
-Stuff the Kong and put in the freezer.
-Give dog the Kong at breakfast, dinner or as a goodie to distract from jumping on company.

The problem with this comes in two forms.
1. If the Kong is just hanging out in the freezer, the soft substance goops up the freezer, because it leaks during the freezing process.
2. If you try to put these in a bag first, they don't get quite as frozen, and your hands get yucky when you remove the Kong from the bag.

Instead, the next time you make a 12 egg omelet, save the carton. Put the egg carton on the inside of the freezer door, and put the stuffed Kongs pointy end down into the egg cartons. The cardboard (or Styrofoam) will catch all the goopy stuff you don't want to clean out in a year, and the Kongs get solidly frozen.

Don't judge me by the pre-made sweet potato casserole.
It's tasty.

Let me know what you think, and what you have used to help your dog stay busy! There are thousands of puzzle toys out there. Even just sprinkling kibble in a clean back yard (no pesticides, cocoa mulch, or other poisonous substances should be around!) can give a more sedentary dog a little break from the monotony of eating out of a food dish.



The temperature is up to a balmy 45, which means only one thing in New England- it's OUTSIDE SEASON! Activities can include hiking, running, or going to the dog park. Here are 5 easy things that you can do right now to make sure your dog is happy, healthy, and behaviorally set for the season to come!

5. Don't Keep Fido on a Leash in the Dog Park.
If you or someone you know is taking your dog to the dog park only to keep him leashed to "socialize" him, you might be doing more harm than good. Barrier Reactivity is a real thing that is quite common in the city. If you have a dog in a fenced in dog park who is leashed, chances are with every interaction that dog is having, there is tension on the leash, adding to the frustration in the leashed dog. In a matter of time (minutes, or weeks) that dog is likely going to develop frustration linked to being held back. If you are going to the dog park, and your dog is friendly, take him off leash. If you are not sure if your dog is a candidate for the dog park, read this article from the ASPCA to help you figure out how to introduce your dog to the dog park, or IF you should.

4. If Your Dog Is Off Leash, Have A Reliable Recall On Your Dog. 
I've written several times about the importance of having a reliable recall on your dog. When you say "COME!", your dog should come to you and be able to get leashed if need be without blowing you off, or introducing a game of "come chase me!" to the command. For starters, your dog might be super friendly, but the dog who he's running up to might have an issue with a charging dog bounding up to say hi. I don't like strangers tearing off across a field to embrace me in a hug, and I know for certain that my dog doesn't like it, either. If your dog can't handle off leash time (legality aside of being off leash in most parks!), you need to work on recall. Off leash time is earned, not a right for your dog. It's a matter of safety. 

3. Check These Etiquette Rules From Dr. Sophia Yin
Does your dog jump on people at the park? Do you let it slide? Read this quick blog post article and see what you can do to avoid being "that guy" at the dog park. There are great illustrations to show what to do, and what not to do, from the one and only, Dr. Sophia Yin. 

2. Watch the Temperature
In New England, the temperatures can go from 45 to 85 in a period of a few weeks, and then back down to 60. It's important to know what your dog can, and should, handle as it pertains to heat. Brachycephalic breeds (dogs with pushed-in-faces, like pug, bulldogs, and Boston terriers) have a harder time regulating their temperatures. Puppies don't know when to quit no matter what the weather. Older dogs might not be able to handle warm weather, either. It's also important to note the temperature of the sidewalks: if it's 85 degrees in the blistering sun at noon, it's best to not have dogs walking on the hot concrete. They can burn the delicate pads as they are the only body part that is not protected by fur. Time your walks appropriately, and be mindful of your pup. They might be stubborn, but if it's hot outside your bulldog is better for you not pushing it. 

1. If Your Dog Doesn't Like The Park Anymore, It's Totally OK!
When I was a kid, I loved the little kid park. Now that I'm older, I like a cocktail party. My needs and desires have changed greatly with my adult personality, and our dogs have changing preferences, too. Dogs who used to like playing with puppies, might not appreciate those "young whippersnappers" rudely lapping under their chins now that they are adult dogs. They might not like sharing their ball, or your affections with other dogs. Besides, at the dog park, there are a lot of dogs there, and not all are behaviorally sound, or give off good social cues. If your dog has been going to the park long enough, statistically it's bound to happen that time will toll on your dog and all the years of bad body language from a few dogs will make your dog think twice about bounding with other playmates. As your dog ages, they might really enjoy the company of 1-2 other dogs, or a play group with the same cast of characters instead of the who-knows-who-will-be-there at the local park.

If your dog is reactive in the presence of toys near other dogs, it's not fair for your dog to feel stressed out. It's best to find another outlet for your pup, where they can play without worrying that some young dog is going to take their prized ball (or worse - your attention!) Take your dog at a time when no one is at the park, or find another area to platy fetch with your dog, and make sure you have a reliable recall on your pup so you can call Fido over to you in the event another dog arrives at your secret spot. (See #4 for videos pertaining to this). It's worse to force your dog to go to the park to play around other dogs if they aren't enjoying the game anymore. Find another outlet. It's totally OK. I promise!

There is no shame in not going to the park anymore. Just think of it as the highest honor your dog can give you: they prefer you to the other dogs, which might be harder for you, but in the end, is pretty cool. 
In the interim, it's also important to work with your dog to safely instill confidence (not every dog will take your toy!) so if you would like to work with a certified professional on this, use positive techniques as aversive training can add more stress to your already stressed out pup. If your dog thinks that another dog means a collar pop or an alpha roll, they are likely to become more stressed out over time, which is the opposite of confidence training. You want your dog to look forward to other dogs, but also trust that you will provide adequate space. It's a dance and an important one, so find someone suited for this work by searching the APDT, CCPDT or KPA websites for more information. 


(Hopless) Beer Biscuits for Pups

A few weeks ago, the Husband and I brewed 2 batches of beer, and with it, we had about 2 1/2 pounds of grains that were used in the brew process that typically gets tossed out. Over the last 2 years, I had been using these grains to make dog cookies, use in baking (it's a great flavor to add to any baked goods for complexity in flavor!), but this time was special. I baked for 2 days making dog cookies for Som-Dog's second annual Pizza and Pints for Pups. Proceeds from the evening (including money spent at the restaurant and raffle!) are raised by the group to give back to the community in the form of events, education, and programs that encourage people to go out responsibly with their dogs. We also use the money to put towards education by teaching children how to say hi to dogs, what to do when there is a scary dog in the neighborhood, and how to tell someone that you don't want to say hi to their dog. It's a great group, and I'm happy to be a part of it, even in a small way.

Home-Made Beer Biscuits for the Som-Dog Event! 

I NEVER check my Facebook messages. I'm rather terrible at it. I also discovered that there is an "Other" inbox, which messages from people you don't know happen to appear. There were a couple messages from people who had dogs who loved the cookies, and who wanted to know how to get more. Two things:

1. I'm flattered, really!
2. I'm SO sorry I never got back to you all. (See disclaimer above)

If you happen to know of a person who brews at home, the recipe is easy. You can use some version of this recipe. (I've used pumpkin, yogurt and peanut butter, and other mixes. PB works best as it's clumpy and holds the cookies together, but if you like variety, there are other things you can do).

It should go without saying that the grains and hops are kept separate during the brew process, which is great because we only use the grains in making dog cookies. Hops, though great in beer, are toxic to dogs, so don't share the actual finished beer with Fido. Give them a Beer Biscuit instead.


Behind the scenes: The Case For Behavior Screening Shelter Dogs

When you rescue a dog from a shelter in MA, it's very likely that the dog has come up from a southern or mid-western state. It's awesome that we're saving 14,000 dogs (legally, though more illegally - more on that in a moment), but it's after the adoption that behavior issues start to arise.

Here is a great article from the Boston Globe showing some of the behind-the-scenes of dog rescue. It also starts to tick away at what we dog trainers have been noticing in recent years. As more dogs are being trucked into our state (or worse, outside state borders at a highway rest stop), we're noticing an increase in behavior modification medication and significant behavior problems. That's not to take away from what veterinarians are seeing: an increase in diseases that were once uncommon in the Commonwealth. If these were minor issues, the conversation wouldn't be shifting towards regulations and education. The number of cases trainers are seeing are increasing as far as wayward behavior is concerned. I love doing behavior work, but it can be an incredible burden on a family who just wanted a buddy for their kid to find out they now have to be experts in dog behavior.

We're not asking that people give up on looking to rescues for a dog. We're asking that you make certain that the dog is behaviorally and physically sound before bringing it home (the same I would argue for individuals going to a breeder). Many shelters make sure that the dogs are healthy and behaviorally fit for living in your environment,and they have trainers on staff that can help you make the best decision for you, your family and your environment. Environment, though often overlooked, matters more now that dogs from the woods are moving into apartments in the city, and it's the one element that most of us forget to consider when looking for a new companion. Many southern dogs do just fine in Boston, but many others need way more space than an urban environment will allow. A shelter that takes the time to do enrichment programs as well has behavior evaluations in the shelter are doing their part to give you the best chance of really saving a dog.



Guys! Guys! Have You Read This?!?

There is a really great article from the BBC describing the similarities in how dogs perceive certain stimuli in the brain the same as people!

To quote from the piece:

Lead author Attila Andics, from the Hungarian Academy of Science's Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest, said: "We think dogs and humans have a very similar mechanism to process emotional information."

Science is awesome.


MuttStuff Apparel Coming Next Week!

Good News, Everyone!

 I've been inspired to create some designs for positive reinforcement dog training apparel, including for disk-dog, dogs with O.C.B.D (Obsessive Compulsive Ball Disorder), agility, and dog enthusiasts. This gear will be perfect for local events, dog training class, on walks around your neighborhood.

Apparel For People: Dog Approved!

Stay tuned - store coming next week!


Follow Up: Mitigating Circumstances Case Overturned.

Back in November, I wrote a piece entitled "Mitigating Circumstances" addressing my personal and professional concerns about a dog bite case in Somerville. The TL:DR version is that a 110 pound mastiff escaped through an open door on Halloween night and attacked a 6'4 man and his German Shepherd. The GSD suffered injuries that required medical attention, and the victim suffered level 5 bites to both of his hands, requiring 5 nights in a hospital, several surgeries, months of physical therapy to regain the function in his hands, and he's still not able to walk his own dog because he's not physically strong enough anymore to even hold her leash. The city ruled to have Rocco humanely euthanized, which I, and the dog trainer involved in the case, supported.

I got word last night that the Magistrate that heard the appeal (the appeal to reverse the initial ruling to euthanize Rocco) overturned the ruling. Rocco can go home.

As per the court order, Rocco has to be walked by someone over the age of 21. Rocco is on muzzle order every time he's outside. Rocco is deemed a dangerous dog. Rocco's owner is required to take out a $100,000 homeowners insurance policy. Rocco can still live in Somerville. Rocco still lives in Somerville.

Here is why this is more heartbreaking, and no one wins in this case.

The Officers That Are Trying To Protect Citizens:
 Both Animal Control Officers and the Police Captain were on the record for saying that they have NEVER seen a dog bite this bad in Somerville. I have lived here 10 years and seen some pretty nasty dog bites, and I can say I've personally never seen anything this bad, either. They are trained to keep the city safe, and go through extensive training to be the officers they are. Granted, they are not behavior specialists but I know that with a combined 13 years on the job in Somerville, the ACO's have a pretty good handle on what is safe and unsafe in this city. I feel that in this case, they made the right call,baring any decisions from a Vet Behavior Specialist evaluating the dog. They did the best they could for the city with the resources and information they had.

The Victim Was Trying To Save His Dog, And Himself:
The attorney who was defending Rocco's owner stated over and over that Rocco redirected his aggression, that he wouldn't harm a person otherwise, and that it was the fault of the Victim for putting his hands where they could "get bit". Redirected aggression is a real thing, but I use it as an indicator of stress in the biting dog. A dog has to be seeing red and well over threshold to bite someone, grab a hand and shake it, grab and shake, grab and shake, grab another hand and shake....that is very different from "Bite - whoops - sorry dude, I didn't mean to bite you."

The victim was trying to save his dog, as many of us would, and suffered  catastrophic damage to both hands, nerve damage, and I'm confident if it were anyone smaller, he would have died doing so.

The least graphic photo after surgery I could use.

Rocco's Owner Was Also Trying To Save Her Dog
If I got a phone call saying that Sadie attacked a person who needed surgery and 5 nights in the hospital, I'd be absolutely devastated, as any of us would be. Rocco's owner fought, including sending out a petition to save Rocco, which received over 3,000 signatures. She loves this dog, and went to bat for him. Rocco gets a new lease on life because she loved her dog.

She just wanted her dog back. In most cases, that's not too much to ask. I don't fault her for loving her dog or for trying to save him. Not at all. If she lived in a different city where Rocco would have been taken and euthanized for something far less, she'd do well to go to bat for him. But loving a dog doesn't make it a safe dog, and I feel strongly that loving a dog isn't enough to undo the stress that Rocco demonstrated he has.

My Concern: We're Saving The Dog, But To What End?
All the experts in my field, including the behavior specialist who wrote the bite scale that professionals in this industry use, that the two Animal Control Officers (who have gone through extensive training for their job), that the Police Captain used (to designate safety to the community) and that two other dog trainers used (to assess damage for behavior), and all of the respected behavior specialists in our industry who have written on the topic recommend bite level 4 only go outside to pee and go to the vet (though, many like Jean Donaldson, recommend euthanasia at level 4 because of an inability to learn bite inhibition at this stage). All the literature I came across recommends a bite level 5 and 6 should be humanely euthanized.

It's not because we don't wish to work with these dogs. The suggestion exists because of the unpredictability of the dog, the dangerous nature (even if it's otherwise "a sweet dog"), the proven inability to cope with stress related to one or more stimuli, the likelihood that this will happen again with similar or more devastating results, and the amount of stress that the dog was suffering in order to cause such a tragic event. The above considerations can only escalate with less exercise and more restriction - putting Rocco into a higher state of stress while trying to keep citizens safe.

We are using stress indicators, and science as well as our education relating to animals in order to strike a balance. No one wants to put a dog to sleep, but in the city where a dog is constantly bombarded with stressors, that dog HAS to cope in some way. If that dog can't cope, then it's on the owner to find a way to help the dog cope by seeking out a behavior specialist, a trainer, or re-home the dog before something catastrophic happens.

The time to save Rocco has passed - the time to genuinely save him was months to years ago when he started demonstrating that he was stressed around dogs. That was the time that we might have been able to sincerely help Rocco.

A Muzzle Order Doesn't Fix It:
Here is my main concern, of which I would have voiced had I had the opportunity to speak at the hearing (which I desperately tried): Even if Rocco was on a muzzle order on the night he attacked, he wouldn't be required to wear a muzzle in the home. Rocco got out through an open door, so unless he is muzzled 24/7, this attack still would have occurred. This ruling does nothing to keep the city safe, or alleviate Rocco of the daily stress of dogs (and their handlers) walking by his home.

Muzzles still are incredibly painful if you are attacked by a muzzle wearing dog.
Ask Officer Tam and any of the officers who help him train K9 Max for police work:. even when muzzled and wearing the bite suit, the officers and training partners still get bruised. My concern is that an average person, perhaps my height and weight (5'4", 120lbs) walking an average sized dog in the city (between 40 and 50 pounds-like Sadie) is jumped by a dog like Rocco, even muzzled, could cause significant harm with his weight and ability to use the muzzle like a weapon. If Rocco was that "hot" seeing another dog just walk by his apartment, I'm really concerned, and justifiably so, for every person who walks by Rocco's home with a dog.

Below is a video of a TRAINED police dog, against a TRAINED partner with protective gear. Look at how this dog still uses his muzzle to punch the "victim". This trained "victim" lays down and plays dead. If this were Rocco, nearly twice the size of the Shepherd in the video, and the victim were someone my size and weight, there would undoubtedly be serious sustained injuries. Plus, most people would instinctively thrash, try to get up and run to safety, which would trigger the prey drive in the already excited dog, exacerbating the potential for more serious injury.  A kid or small dog would not have a chance.

So if Rocco gets out again, jumps through an open window, or a closed window to get to another dog/handler (which I've seen happen), an open door, or he finds another way out, the victim likely will not survive if they are of average size. If he breaks his leash, collar, or pulls the leash out of his owners hand to get to a dog across the street while muzzled, she will not be able to call him off.

 Even muzzled, serious damage can occur. If he truly is dog aggressive and won't normally go after people, it's still a lot to expect an entire city to never walk their dogs. Because leash laws exist in this city, every dog needs a handler.This dog has proven that he really can't handle dogs, or people attached to the leash of a dog.

 In essence, by the arguments the lawyer made to defend Rocco, he can't tell if the sidewalk is his territory or not, and he won't go after people, unless they have a dog. So if you have a dog and walk on a sidewalk, the onus is on you to not get attacked. But it's ok - a muzzle order will save you, and keep Rocco calm as a cucumber.

Sorry, but it was about this time in the courtroom that I literally threw up my hands and pleaded to be heard, which I was denied the opportunity.

Ban The Deed Not The Breed:
This is the rally cry of those who don't want breed bans in communities. When a dog like Rocco attacks someone, we need to separate the truly stressed out dogs who have proven dangerous to a community from the dogs who happen to be a bully breed but can cope in the city, other dogs and the people in the city.I support Ban The Deed, Not The Breed, and in this case, the deed was tragic. We also recognize that sometimes a dog will bite once to protect itself, property, is stressed, or is in pain. We need to know why a dog bit, and what can be done to make sure the dog has a good quality of life, and the communities are safe.We need to take each case individually, and I feel strongly this case is the poster child for Ban The Deed, Not The Breed. It's emotional, it's hard on everyone, and there are tough questions to take individually.

Rocco didn't bite once. He had one event, but he bit multiple times, bi-lateral tears and shredding to two hands and injured a GSD. That is different from a dog who actually bit once.

Final Thoughts:
Rocco should not be euthanized as punishment for what he did. That wouldn't be justice. Dogs don't understand punishment as it relates to our court system, and I'm not interested in "punishing" him. I think he's a deeply troubled dog that snapped. He suffered well above threshold stress for a period of months or years, and causing injury to this degree can not be trained out of him. Rocco should be euthanized because every day is a great stress for him, which culminated in one tragic event. An event that went to court, not because he killed someone or a dog - but because they survived by sheer luck of size. He endured enough stress that he saw red and almost killed a human being in his efforts to attack a dog who was not barking, who was not peeing, who was not staring at him. They were just walking, which every person in this city has every RIGHT to do safely.

Both Rocco's owner and the victim did everything they could to save their dog over the course of the last few months. For that, they both will have to live with the events of that night.

I feel awful for the victim, with 5+ full mouth bites and shredding wounds to his hands and forearms, not to mention the mental and emotional anguish that he undoubtedly will go through. He's always going to have to look over his shoulder and worry. Every time he walks at night, or hears the jangling of dog tags (or keys, or anything else that sounds like a fast approaching dog) will likely be a trigger back to that night.

I feel awful for Rocco's owner for the constant stress her dog is under, and the fear that he'll get out again and do more damage to someone else. She will also spend the rest of Rocco's life looking over her shoulder, making sure she can control his outbursts, and prevent him from attacking. It's emotionally challenging to care for a dog who is reactive, but this is something extreme and my heart goes out to her. It's going to be tough on her and on Rocco.

Personally, I don't think it's enough to keep him from biting, but to genuinely help him feel less stress overall so he can have a good quality of life. If you were exposed to an environment in which you were completely stressed every day of your life, you're eventually going to snap. It's a matter of time. Some people walk away and try something else. Some people explode and yell but can get help. Some people make the nightly news by doing something drastic. Rocco isn't a bad dog - he found a way to cope because he was stressed and the signs of  his stress were either ignored, not interpreted correctly, "I can handle it" or "I will call for help tomorrow" never happened.

Every bark, lunge or sign of stress by a dog is a cry for help, and to have an event this extreme, points to a long road of asking for help that never came.

In my estimation, no one really wins here.

If you are one of the victims or the owner of either of the dogs, I really do wish you the best of luck. I hope that the victim feels better going forward and he heals emotionally and physically. I hope the owner of Rocco is able to give him a quality life and keep everyone safe. I hope that I'm wrong and that Rocco will never be stressed out again because someone was in his corner. I hope the ACO's continue to do what they think is right for this city, and know that there are resources and behavior experts that will come to help however they can in future cases. I hope that the Police Captain sticks by his moral compass in other cases like this. 

I'm not writing this to be "that guy who pisses people off", but I'm using this case to explain why we sometimes make tough calls, and to point out all of the different angles of each case. This case, though it was very public and heard in a public forum, I decided not write the names of any of the people involved. If I work a case directly, I don't use any names - dogs or humans - or write about them publicly. Those are confidential. This, because of the nature of the case and it was heard in a public forum, lent itself to some thoughts and hopefully serves as a testimonial to train your dog or seek help before things escalate. When a trainer or behavior specialist says "things can get bad, and here is my recommendation", please know that we are saying these things because we really do care about the community, the emotional state of the dog and of the people. Sometimes we make really tough calls, and in some cases, like this, there is no easy answer. This is one of those cases. I wish you all speedy emotional healing, because this has been a long road for all of you. 


Dude, It's COLD!

I don't know if you noticed, but it's really cold out.

Yes, it's New England in the winter, but the wind  chill is putting us in the negative teens.The entire country is dealing with this intense cold, which will likely be the driving force behind the Orange Juice Price Hike of 2014.

Actual photo taken this week of the St. Joseph's Lighthouse in Michigan.
Credit: Joshua Nowicki
I've seen everything on Facebook from "get your dog inside - if it's too cold for  you, it's too cold for your dog!" to "Dogs have fur coats and will be fine. I wish I had a fur coat!"

Your Dog Has A Fur Coat: He's Fine! (Or....not)
Cold is cold is cold. Some dogs LOVE this weather. That same dog who loves snow now, might not when she has arthritis, or lives in the city where there might not be as much snow to play in.

Yes, your dog is related to wolves who survive annual frigid conditions, but our domestic dogs are not wolves. For starters, snow is insulating, so for the dogs who are bred for blizzard conditions (like Huskies, Malamutes, and other double coated breeds) the snow greatly helps them survive the bone chilling cold. They curl up in the snow, let the snow fall on them, tuck their feet under their warm body, and their tail covers their nose. They let the snow fall on them and they are very well insulated. This is often not what you find with most dogs in suburban/urban environments - especially Pugs who are both short coated, and their tail won't reach their pushed in nose!

Courtesy of Dr. Sophia Yin (and her article on Cold Weather!)

The dogs that also survive these conditions, like the wolves, need to be conditioned to the cold weather and get physically prepared for it. Dogs running in the Iditarod are not dogs that have lived in a warm apartment for 10 months, then just travel north for a two week jaunt in the Tundra. They train, like Olympians, for endurance, speed, and acclimation to the weather.

Boots? Coats? For my DOG? Really? 

In the city, we shovel sidewalks, exposing the naked pads of their feet to icy concrete. This is perhaps the part I'm most concerned about. The pads of their feet are completely exposed and can get frostbite, just like our exposed skin. Add salt to those sidewalks (to make it easier for people to walk on) and your poor dog is literally adding salt to the wounds of frostbite & cuts caused by the salt.

Do your dog a solid, and condition them to boots if you live in the city.  Not only will it protect your pup from salt, and is the easiest way to prevent ice balls forming in between the paw pads (which can be very painful), but they are easier to clean than Mushers Wax (more on that in a moment). If conditioning them to boots is not an option, keep your walks brief and keep their skin safe.

Dogs can also suffer frostbite to their ears, nose, and other exposed areas. Short haired breeds (like the French Bulldog, Pointer, Greyhounds, etc) don't have enough fur or fat to be protective with these conditions, so consider getting these dogs a jacket for their morning walk.

Lastly, older dogs can't regulate their temperature as easily. If your pet suffers from arthritis or other age related conditions, a coat can help them feel more comfortable.

A Note On Mushers Wax/Mushers Secret:
I grew up with a dog-sledding team and we used wax on their paws frequently to prevent snow balls turning to ice between the dogs paws, which can cause significant pain. It is basically like chap-stick, in that it was a thin protective layer against the elements, but I wouldn't consider it a means of keeping my lips warm. It also doesn't prevent salt from cutting into the skin.

In the city, Mushers Secret is  better than nothing, but it really is designed for running in the snow. Salt on sidewalks can stick to the wax, creating a nice mess to clean up with your dog runs through your house when you get home. It's not designed to keep their paws warm, it's not designed explicitly for salt protection, and they can still get frostbite, especially if they are walking through cold slush or bare sidewalks. That being said, it is absolutely better than nothing at all. I just don't want you to think that if you have Mushers Wax on your dogs paws, that your dog is totally 100% protected, and go on an epic 8 mile walk in the city with your pup in this weather. It's much better for an epic romp in the woods on freshly fallen snow, or for a short walk around your neighborhood.

Final Thoughts:
If you are a city dweller, condition your dog to liking the boots - one boot at a time, over a period of a few days. Then add a second boot, and continue until your dog is really comfortable with the process. This will ensure your dog is comfortable and conditioned properly.

Or, just go hog wild, put all four paws in the boots, and upload your pup to Youtube.

Get your pup, especially short coated dogs, older dogs, and dogs who can't regulate their temperatures very well, a snazzy warm coat. Keep an eye on their ears, nose and paw pads, as they will likely be the first to show signs of frostbite.

And as our dogs are related to wolves, they are no more wolves than we are chimps. Though I love the idea of climbing trees on the equator, I'm not conditioned for it, and neither is my Border Collie to the Polar Vortex. We're staying in and staying warm.


Mitigating Circumstances

*Warning: There are graphic photos below showing injuries after a dog attack.

The Somerville Patch ran a story regarding a dog in Somerville who is slated for euthanasia after "biting a person". The quotes are from the Change.org petition to save Rocco, the Mastiff who bit the man.

The important piece that is missing from the reporting is that the Mastiff bit the man at a Level 5 of 6. Bite Level 6 is death to the victim. The injuries were significant, the man needed several nights in the hospital, and has already had multiple surgeries to help him regain use of his hands. I can't speak to this dog, but I do concur with Dr. Yin in her piece linked above: Dogs do not tend to start biting at a Level 5. There is usually a history of Level 3 and 4 bites before a Level 5 bite occurs.

It should also be stated that the other dog in the incident was a German Shepherd. A dog who isn't frail by any means of the imagination, who suffered significant injuries from the Mastiff as well, including a bite wound through the lower jaw, and wounds to the tongue, neck and legs.

If this were any smaller dog, or any person other than an adult human male, this would have undoubtedly been a more tragic case. There is a lot more to this than "Somerville wants to euthanize a dog who bit a guy". Dogs can bite - and it's often a sign that there is significant stress. I work with these dogs all the time, or refer them to others who can help them more directly if it's a significant behavior issue (which this is). The only person who should be working with this dog is a certified behavior specialist. 

It reminds me of the McDonalds Coffee Case - a case that was assumed a frivolous lawsuit, and rallied the masses. However, what wasn't stated was the severity of the victim's injuries - her sweatpants were melted to her legs, she needed multiple skin grafts, and she suffered 3rd degree burns (in some cases through muscle and down to the bone) on thighs and genitalia over 16% of her body. If you want something to ruin your breakfast, here are some of the less graphic photos of the woman's injuries in McDonald's case.

There is always more than one side to a story. I'm holding out until I know more. What I will say is that I know that the city of Somerville wouldn't even consider euthanasia for most dogs for one bite (thankfully), but this goes far beyond one bite. This also isn't a case of a Bully Breed being unfairly judged. The victim was severely injured, attacked, and mauled, make no bones about it. His dog was attacked and also needed significant medical attention. Absolutely there is fear biting, and many dogs that are considered aggressive are fearful - but not all. I see fearful dogs labeled as aggressive daily in my line of work. Something about this is different.

If this dog is going to be saved at all, public sympathy shouldn't be the deciding factor for Rocco. A legitimately certified behavior specialist (Like Dr. Nicholas Dodman, Dr. Yin, or another experienced, board certified professional), someone who has the the proper training and experience for unusual, severe cases like this, needs to be the one to recommend one way or another if this is a dog that can, and should be, saved based on the nature of this attack.

Photo of the hand after one of many surgeries.
Posted with permission from the victim and his family. 

Photo of some of the injuries sustained in the dog attack.
Posted with permission of the victim and his family. 

I do sympathize with all the parties involved. We do love our dogs like family, but we also have to consider that this just wasn't a bite. There is a lot more to this than meets the eye.

As always, cases like this need to be considered on an individual basis. Blanket breed bans are not the answer, and euthanasia is not the answer for most single bites or incidents. People who are upset over "one bite" are absolutely right! If this was just one bite, than I wouldn't be writing this. However, taking a case and looking at all the surrounding facts, aggravating circumstances, and mitigating factors, including severity of the incident, is an important step to making sure we have a safe and dog-friendly environment for all members of our community.

My sympathies are with the owner of both dogs involved, and with both families, because this is a case that is heartbreaking, no matter which way you slice it.


Dogs and Science - Breast Cancer and Dogs

Great article!

The Huffington Post: Breast Cancer And Dogs: The Next 'Canaries In The Coal Mine'? http://google.com/producer/s/CBIwwZ3DyAQ