February 27, 2015

Five Easy Ways to Upgrade Your Dog's Diet

A class action lawsuit was filed this week against Purina Beneful, and it's caused an understandable stir in the dog community. If nothing else, this should encourage all of us to take a closer look at what we are feeding our dogs and find ways to improve upon it. It's never too late to make positive changes - when we know better, we do better - and there are simple ways to upgrade your dog's diet no matter what your budget or feeding philosophy. Here are five suggestions that I utilize myself:

  • If it is not within your budget to upgrade full-time, try feeding one meal of higher quality (such as a better kibble, canned food, or dehydrated or freeze-dried raw) or using it as a topper. Some brands I love are The Honest Kitchen and Stella & Chewy's

  • Add fresh or cooked meat and/or cooked or pureed vegetables (broccoli, sweet potatoes, green beans) to kibble meals. I will sometimes add small amounts of fresh fruit to The Ginger Sisters' dehydrated raw breakfast - Ruby loves apples, bananas and strawberries.

  • Add a beneficial supplement such as camelina, coconut or salmon oil. I rotate between all three. 

  • Educate yourself and learn how to interpret dog food labels - I highly recommend the book Dog Food Logic. Some formulas may be better than others even within a brand, and depending on your nutrition goals.

  • If you use a rotation diet, watch for coupons and BOGO offers for adding variety and quality or trying something new. Click here to order a $1 sample bundle from The Honest Kitchen (affiliate link).

February 24, 2015

New Tug Toys for Ruby Mean New Training Tools

tug toys as training tools
 Tug toy haul from the dog show.

Ruby lives to tug. She knows the word tug and she knows how to spell it, too. I've started chanting "OMG it's time for T-U-G" after supper. She knows where all her tug toys are kept, in the downstairs coat closet. Although it took some time to ensure that our tugging games did not result in finger loss due to over-enthusiasm, I have never subscribed to the myth that playing tug creates aggression. We use games of tug for indoor exercise, trick training, impulse control training and bonding. Tugging is a valuable reinforcer for Ruby since it is one of her most favorite things.

Last year at the big cluster dog show, I got her a tug toy at a vendor booth that was located next to the flyball demonstration area. That tug lasted almost a full year with use several times a week (rotated with other toys) and so my annual dog show visit this year included a mission to stock up on more. 

I ended up buying three tugs from that same vendor: a tennis ball on a stretchy pull, a colorful braided fleece and a squeaky blue fur. I debated getting her one of the tugs made with real rabbit fur but settled on the synthetic instead. As I was standing in line to pay, I heard a din of barking and thought at first that some dogs were in a fight - then I realized it was just the flyball dogs' pure, unadulterated joy. Satisfied with my purchase, I went over to watch flyball for as long as my ears could stand.

I couldn't resist one more toy at a booth in the agility arena: the one that looks most like something out of Fifty Shades of Grey, which is actually made of recycled rubber liners from milking machines! There was a time when my shopping sprees meant new shoes or trendy fashion accessories - now it's a bag full of dog toys that makes me happiest, knowing how much fun Ruby gets out of them.

So far we've tested out all four - Ruby took a while to show interest in the rubber one, but Boca likes it a lot. I think the fleece one is Ruby's favorite by far, and it would be so easy to make my own using a tutorial like this. Ruby is getting better at her release ("drop it") and I am incorporating more complex asks into our games, such as a string of cues or longer wait times. As we reserve tug toys for supervised play, I am fairly certain these new ones will keep us tugging and training through 2015. 

Do you play tug with your dog?

February 18, 2015

Boca's Ocular Ordeal: Part I

I love you even when you have a cone on your head.

I've been putting off writing this post. I thought if I waited long enough, I could tell the story start to finish and it would have a neat resolution and only one installment. It's been a month, and this will now be part one of Boca's Ocular Ordeal. Since adopting her officially last May after fostering her for three weeks, Boca has had a spot in her right eye. It is a tiny, jelly-bean shaped opacity that did not cause her any apparent problems and was diagnosed by our regular vet as a Florida Spot.

Toward the middle of January, I noticed that Boca was squinting quite a bit and her right eye was frequently tearing. Our regular vet prescribed eye drops and thought it could be allergies or some mild inflammation. We went back for a second visit in less than a week when I did not see improvement. While they did not see much uptake of the stain (which is a neon yellow liquid picked up by any abrasion on the cornea), they changed medications and said we would treat as a superficial corneal ulcer. Normally, these will heal within a few days on their own. 

Unfortunately, Boca's eye was still squinty and watering the following week, so I took her to a canine ophthalmologist at an emergency and specialty clinic where I've spent many hours with Freya, Lasya, Nina and Ruby. This was Boca's first visit. The ophthalmologist thought the spot was possibly scar tissue from past trauma and did not agree with the Florida Spot diagnosis. She did see a corneal ulcer with the fluorescein stain and recommended a procedure called diamond burr debridement, which was described as a tiny dremel that would create a new surface on the cornea to promote healing. It is a common and fairly succesful mode of treatment and although it sounded terrifying to me, only required a numbing drop. When I picked Boca up she was happy and seemed more comfortable, but in the weeks following she has still not improved. Her eye now has a large cloudy area extending over the pupil and despite being on pain medications it is clearly very irritated and continually teary. This is what is known as a 'complicated' or 'indolent' corneal ulcer. In my research I learned that they are frequent enough in Boxers that they are sometimes called 'Boxer ulcers.'

We've had several more visits to the ophthalmologist and have tried several medications including a very expensive, very heavy-duty antibiotic eye drop, all with disappointing results. Last week we tried a steroid drop but the results were not dramatic enough to warrant continuing. I can tell that the vet is as frustrated as I am and we just seem to be on the unlucky side of the statistics for this condition. Tomorrow we will see the third of three specialists at the clinic, and we are hoping for a fresh approach or new idea. There are several different surgical options and I think we may be at the point of discussing them. Because Boca already had an abnormality in that eye, it will not be covered by insurance, even though the vet wasn't able to say definitively whether the spot is the proximate cause of the issue.

The worst part of this has been seeing my poor, sweet Boca in pain and not being able to solve this and help her. Overall, I think she is handling things better than I am. She is wonderful about her three-times-daily eye drops and has a wonderful, joyous attitude. She loves getting breaks from the Cone of Woe when we go on walks and have cuddle time on the sofa. She has even figured out how to chew on Benebones and antlers with the cone on. The staff at the specialty clinic all adore her (one declared Boca her "favorite dog ever") and I've been extolling the virtues of Potcakes on the heels of her charm. The waiting game is a tough one when it comes to our beloved pets, and a medical mystery is not the prize you want to win from the veterinary grab bag. I'll continue to update as I know more, and if any of you have dealt with this eye condition I'd love to compare notes. In the meantime, I'll try to take inspiration from my easygoing island girl and keep my chin up through our latest challenge.

Further Reading:

Corneal Ulcers from Eye Care for Animals

February 11, 2015

Sunny Smile

Ruby enjoying our spring-like weather on the patio this past weekend.

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February 9, 2015

Extreme Makeover: Potcake Edition (or, Why I Gave Up My Beauty Box Subscriptions to Help A Dog In Need)

If you have been following Rubicon Days for a while, you know that I adopted the second Ginger Sister, Boca, from The Humane Society of Grand Bahama (HSGB) after fostering her for Colorado Animal Welfare League. Boca is a Royal Bahamian Potcake, the official breed of The Bahamas and a type known for their intelligence, loyalty and empathy. There is a desperate need on the islands to reduce the native population of stray dogs and find homes for those housed by The Humane Society of Grand Bahama. The HSGB is the largest animal shelter in The Bahamas and the only one on the island of Grand Bahama. They take in up to 1,500 dogs annually and have a dismally low local adoption rate of only 7 to 10 percent. This makes sense because if a person living in The Bahamas wants a dog, they can literally pick one off the street.

Unlike municipally-funded shelters in the United States, The HSGB receives limited support from the local government, and new USDA regulations have restricted their efforts to get the potcakes off the islands into loving forever homes. Since adopting Boca I have connected strongly with the local and larger Potcake community. It is an amazing family of dog lovers who recognize the unique treasures of these dogs that were once thrown away, ignored or abused on the street. I started a Colorado Potcake Meetup group and stay in touch with the director of The Humane Society of Grand Bahama, whose love and concern for each and every dog she takes in is inspiring. You can read more about the shelter director in my interview here.

When I learned this month that The Humane Society of Grand Bahama was in danger of closing, my heart went out to the cause, knowing that the shelter is the only hope for most of the islands' canine residents. I made a small donation to the GoFundMe campaign, but found myself wanting to do more. I reviewed my budget to find a way to donate on a monthly basis and I saw that I could easily cancel my two beauty box subscriptions and have almost enough to sponsor a dog. I added a few more dollars and went to the HSGB Facebook page to browse their album of adoptable dogs. One immediately caught my attention - a sweet black Potcake with a face that reminded me of my extraordinary dog, Lasya. I was astounded at the transformation Cherie made once in the hands of the HSGB - from a sad-eyed, half-bald creature to a bright-eyed smiling soul. Who needs beauty products when the HSGB is doing makeovers like these? My mind was made up - I would sponsor Cherie for $1 a day. It's not a lot, but it's something - one small thing I can do on behalf of my great love for Boca and my gratitude to those that saved her.

I know that we as dog lovers are implored on a daily basis to help all sorts of animal welfare causes. This one is so important to me because of my bond with my silly, gentle, affectionate Boca and experiencing her rescue story firsthand. Boca wins people over everywhere she goes - my aunt says her presence is as calming as a cup of chamomile tea. I want more dogs like Boca to have a chance to find families of their own, and for the HSGB to be able to continue saving them from the cruel streets and ferrying them to happily ever after. Cherie has now been living at the shelter for more than two years and is just one of the precious Potcakes that need us. I hope that by spreading the word we can find homes for more of them and also garner support for the incredibly deserving island shelter whose efforts extend across borders. Here are some ways to help:

  • Sign the Petition to encourage the local government to support The Humane Society of Grand Bahama. 

  • Donate to the Colorado-based Kohn Foundation, a 501c3 organization dedicated to raising funds for The Humane Society of Grand Bahama. 

  • Foster or Adopt! Both Colorado Animal Welfare League and Outpaws here in Colorado regularly have Potcakes for adoption and are always in need of foster volunteers. Transportation can usually be arranged for dogs to be adopted directly from The Humane Society of Grand Bahama into the U.S.

  • Spread the word! Please share this blog post on Facebook, Twitter (#savethehsgb) and other social media.

All photos courtesy of The Humane Society of Grand Bahama

February 3, 2015

Ruby Reviews: One Dog Organic Bakery + Discount Code

The Ginger Sisters were happy to review three kinds of treats from One Dog Organic Bakery: Ginger Snaps, Peanut Butter & Honey and Pumpkin Spice. Each recipe comes in several varieties, including gluten-free, so that even dogs with allergies can enjoy them. They also offer targeted support for immunity and joint health. The story behind the bakery is a sad one: the bakers lost a beloved pet to a recalled product. They turned their personal tragedy into an admirable mission and started making pet treats they could trust.

Everyone loves cookies, and my dad made some delicious ones for the humans in the house this weekend since Ruby and Boca didn't want to share their One Dog Organic Bakery treats, which are made with wholesome, all-natural ingredients. In addition to yummy things like peanut butter and pumpkin, One Dog Organic Bakery treats contain super-foods with known benefits such as chia seed which can reduce inflammation, and coconut oil which promotes healthy skin and coat.

The Ginger Sisters taste-tasted all the cookies, and it might not surprise you that they liked the Ginger Snaps best, as evidenced by much lip-smacking.  I loved watching their satisfied crunching and their eyes widen as they hoped for more. Rest assured that although Boca does not appear in this review due to an unfortunate accessory known as The Cone of Woe (paw bump to my friend Hailey for this nomenclature), she was able to fulfill her treat-testing duties. 

One Dog Organic Bakery is offering a 10% discount to our readers with the code RUBICON

Updated: the original version of this post contained a giveaway which has ended. 
Disclaimer: I was provided One Dog Organic Bakery treats in exchange for my honest review. All opinions expressed are my own and I only publish reviews for products I feel comfortable using in the day to day life of my pets.

February 2, 2015

Taking Responsibility for Training

Last week, a friend wrote a wonderful post about bad dogs. I could relate to every word - I've always been attracted to the more complicated, independent types. My first dog was a Chow/German Shepherd mix, and she was nearly perfect because she had an incredible nature, not because she did anything I asked. While I appreciate discerning temperaments, selective hearing, creative hobbies such as freestyle landscaping and trash can physics, I know that not everyone sees the beauty of the free dog spirit. Wild is the thing we've been selectively breeding out of our canine companions for centuries. As the guardian of a challenging, reactive dog, I'm hyper-aware of my responsibility to keep her safe and thereby keep others around us safe. I'm sure that the people who see her spinning and barking on our walks don't think she is a well-trained dog, and may have their own opinions about me and my training abilities, but they don't know the full story, the effort I've put in, or the fact that even professional trainers have declared her "a tough case."

What I know is that I take many steps to manage her reactivity. I keep her on leash, I employ safety methods such as equipment backup and two forms of identification. I installed window film to keep the peace in a complex with an increasing number of dog neighbors. Ultimately, I am responsible for every positive or negative experience that Ruby has. As an advocate of positive reinforcement, I am also responsible for living up to the tenet of "Do No Harm," even if this means risk of embarrassment or refuting the advice of someone who suggests I use training methods I don't believe in. I am responsible for identifying which behaviors are simply annoying and which are potentially dangerous. I would love for Ruby to be seen by outsiders as the dog I know and adore, but I refuse to skip steps or compromise my training values just to look good.

Positive training is a work in progress and I never want to stop learning or grow complacent. I can always do more. The winter months and early dark make it difficult for both dogs to get a decent walk, let alone one-on-one leash-walking training time. I have been having some success in redirecting Ruby to sit when she sees a car, and eventually I'd like to be able to employ this with her more formidable triggers. Her lack of recall has led to some scary incidents, and with the advent of a long line, I want to focus on improving this when the weather allows. I've also installed what I hope is a backup plan in that I've taught a "run home" cue that we practice on leash. Ruby is my squirrely girly, and Boca's recent trips to the vet have emphasized the importance of a cooperative patient. To encourage Ruby to be more receptive to handling, I have been working on a "tag" cue which is essentially a verbal indication that I am going to touch her and she is going to get a treat. I love trick training, so it's great when we can find practical applications for learned behaviors. Ruby is my responsibility, and through positive training methods, I am working toward helping her be a little less wild.

February is Responsible Pet Owners Month, and as part of the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop along with Cascadian Nomads and Tenacious Little Terrier, I invite you to share your posts about how responsibility relates to training, or any other positive training topic!