Category Archives: Caring for your Dog

Aggressive Dogs

Meghan Herron, veterinarian author of a recent study on dogs aggressive to other dogs says “the number-one reason why dog owners take their dog to a veterinary behaviorist is to manage aggressive behavior. Our study demonstrated that many confrontational training methods, whether staring down dogs, striking them, or intimidating them with physical manipulation, do little to correct improper behavior and can elicit aggressive responses.”

The use of such confrontational training techniques can provoke fear in the dog and lead to defensively aggressive behavior toward the person administering the aversive action.

Far better to use non-aversive training methods including:

  • Training the dog to sit for everything it wants (only 2% of owners reported aggression afterward)
  • Rewarding the dog for eye contact (2%)
  • Food exchange for an item in its mouth instead of forcing the item out (6%)
  • Rewarding the dog for “watch me” (0%)

With consistent and regular sessions using these positive methods, aggressive dogs slowly gain confidence in their owners and become easier to take out on walks.

“Canine aggression and other behavior problems are not a result of dominant behavior or the lack of the owner’s ‘alpha’ status,” Heron says, “but rather a result of fear (self-defense) or underlying anxiety problems. Aversive techniques can elicit an aggressive response in dogs because they can increase the fear and arousal in the dog, especially in those that are already defensive.”

These fear inducing, aversive techniques should be avoided:

  • Hitting or kicking the dog (41% of owners reported aggression in response)
  • Growling at the dog (41%)
  • Forcing the dog to release an item from its mouth (38%)
  • “Alpha roll” (forcing the dog onto its back and holding it down) (31%)
  • “Dominance down” (forcing the dog onto its side) (29%)
  • Grabbing the jowls or scruff (26%)
  • Staring the dog down (staring at the dog until it looks away) (30%)
  • Spraying the dog with a water pistol or spray bottle (20%)
  • Yelling “no” (15%)
  • Forced exposure (to something that frightens the dog, such as tile floors, noise or people) (12%)

Toilet training your new puppy

Toilet training is fundamental to a new pup’s introduction to family life. Start it the minute you get home with her.

Choose a toileting place away from the deck, thoroughfares and busy spots like the clothesline.

Give her plenty of opportunities to go to this place. Take her out to this spot before she has time to find another: as soon as she wakes from a snooze, after food, after play or if she starts to sniff or circle suspiciously.

While she is toileting say “wee” or “potty” so that she learns to toilet on command. This is useful for the last walk before bed or when travelling.

Positive reinforcement is the key to successful toilet training. Immediately reward her after she relieves herself. Praise her with a pat, “good girl” and, especially at first, give her a food treat. Try not to miss an opportunity for rewarding her for the right behaviour and she will soon learn to do the right thing.

Set an alarm to remind you to take her out again so she doesn’t make a mistake.

If she doesn’t go when you take her out, set a 10-15 minute alarm and keep her on lead,  in a crate or with you to prevent any mishaps.

Short term confinement in a crate inhibits elimination and many pups will toilet as soon as they are released. Take advantage of this by rushing her to the chosen place as soon as you open the crate.

If she soils inside ignore her and clean the area with a non-ammonia based cleaning product like Urine-off so she doesn’t use the same place again.

Punishment for toileting inside will associate toileting near you with trouble. She will avoid you and toilet training will be delayed.

Doggy dementia

Dementia affects old dogs in the same way it affects some older people with declining brain function.

Signs of dementia:

  • Disorientation: staring into space, getting lost in the house or yard, getting stuck in corners or under furniture, standing at the wrong door to go out
  • Reduced interaction with human family members: not greeting owners or seeking attention, following people around the house or losing interest in household events
  • Loss of house-training: urinating or defecating in the house, not using the doggie door or not asking to go out to toilet
  • Erratic sleeping behaviour: waking, pacing or vocalizing at night, sleeping less at night and more during the day
  • Loss of learned behaviours
  • Slow and cautious gait

An aged dog exhibiting at least one of these signs more than once a week for at least a month has dementia.

Dogs showing any signs are often severely affected within 12-18 months.


  • Diet:

Anti-oxidants delay and treat dementia. Antioxidants include Vitamin E, Vitamin C, Alpha-lipoic acid, L-carnitine and beta-carotene. Fruits and vegetables contain many of these.

Omega 3 fatty acids as found in fish oil or food supplements such as Nutricoat also help.

Hills b/d (brain diet) is a prescription diet that contains these nutrients.

  • Physical therapy:

Stimulate brain function and delay the onset of dementia with basic obedience training, scent discrimination tasks, safety-modified obstacle courses and hide and seek games.

Gentle walks or swimming delay loss of brain function as well as improve muscle function.

  • Environmental enrichment

Petting, brushing and massage stimulate the nerves and brains of old dogs. New toys, blinking lights, walks in new areas with new smells, and meeting new animals and people boost an old dog’s brain function and enjoyment of life.

Ear Infections

How common are ear infections in dogs?

Infection of the external ear canal is very common in dogs especially those with allergies or who have long or hairy ear canals like Cocker Spaniels, Miniature Poodles, Golden Retrievers or Old English Sheepdogs.

How do I know that my dog has an ear infection?

Dogs with ear infections flap and scratch their ears. The inside of the ear flap is red, inflamed and smelly. A black or yellowish discharge often develops.

Yeasts are the cause of most ear infections. They affect swimmers and those with long, narrow or hair filled ears that stay moist. Dogs with allergies to food or pollen also have warm, moist, inflamed ears that favour repeated infection.

When chronic ear infections are inadequately treated, more resistant bacteria can survive in the ear and are difficult to clear.

What about ear mites?

Ear mites cause a black discharge, scratching, and head shaking. They usually affect puppies or in contact adult dogs.

Can’t I just collect some medication?

There are several kinds of bacteria and at least one type of yeast that cause ear infections. Without knowing the kind of infection present, we do not know which medication to use.

Foreign bodies, like grass seeds, and tumours in the ear canal cause irritated ears, too. Treatment with medication alone will not resolve these problems.

The dog must also be examined to be sure that the eardrum is intact. Some medications result in loss of hearing if the eardrum is ruptured.

We examine a sample of the material from the ear canal under a microscope (cytology) to find which organism is the cause of the infection.

How are ear infections treated?

If there is a foreign body in the ear canal, we sedate the dog and remove it.

If there is a heavy build-up of debris we anæsthetise the dog and clean the canal.

We choose ear drops based on the type of organism we see in the discharge from the ear.

Flea control

Control fleas ON the dog:

  • Capstar or Comfortis tablets kill fleas and paralyse flea mouthparts preventing deposition of saliva.
  • Monthly applications of Advantage, Advocate, Advantix, Frontline, Revolution, or Comfortis throughout the year keep flea numbers as low as possible.
  • Flea powders, sprays, and shampoos kill the fleas present on your dog at the time of application but have little residual effect.

Control fleas IN the dog’s environment:

  • Professional fumigation of the house and yard will control egg, larval and pupal stages of the flea life cycle most effectively.
  • If you spray or flea bomb yourself repeat the application in 3-4 weeks to catch the next hatching of pupae.
  • Some products also contain growth regulators that prevent flea maturation.
  • Wash bedding in hot water and dry in the sun.
  • Vacuum carpets and furniture often.
  • Rake up leaves in shady places and provide outside kennels or hidey holes off the ground.
  • Flea larvae love dust so provide working dogs with concrete runs.

Do not be too quick to blame kennels for fleas on your dog. When your pets are gone pupae remain in their cocoon because the house is quiet and empty. When they return the vibrations, heat and light stimulate the emergence of adult fleas. They jump on dogs, cats, and even people looking for a blood meal.

Effective flea control depends on knowing the flea’s life cycle.

The flea life cycle

Adult fleas are only 5% of the entire flea population. The eggs they lay on the dog fall off into the dog’s environment. Flea eggs are pearly white and too small to see without magnification. They hatch into larvae in 1 to 10 days depending on how humid and hot it is.

Flea larvae eat organic debris and adult flea faeces. They avoid direct sunlight and burrow into carpet fibres, grass, branches, leaves, or soil.

Dry conditions kill larvae. Outdoor larval development occurs where the ground is shaded and moist and where flea-infested pets spend a significant amount of time. Indoors, larvae survive best in the carpet or in cracks in the floor.

After 5 to 11 days larvae pupate. While in the cocoon pupae are resistant to insecticides and continue to emerge for 3 months despite insecticide application.

Pupae emerge as adult fleas in another 5-10 days if stimulated by the vibration of passing pets, physical pressure, carbon dioxide, or heat.

When the adult flea emerges it moves towards body heat, movement, and exhaled carbon dioxide. Following the first blood meal, female fleas begin egg production within 48 hours and continue for 100 days.

This entire life cycle (adult flea – egg – larva – pupa – adult) takes 7 – 21 days depending on temperature and humidity conditions.

Flea control depends on knowing this life cycle.

Flea allergy

What is flea allergy?

Some dogs are allergic to fleas and react with non-stop scratching and biting. Normal dogs are only mildly irritated by fleas. The flea allergic dog is allergic to flea saliva. Just one flea bite causes intense and long lasting itchiness.

The dog chews, licks, or scratches over the rump, on the belly and down the legs. This causes hair loss and damage to the skin. Breaks in the skin allow bacteria in and infection to develop.

What is the proper treatment?

We must eliminate all fleas on the dog and in the environment.

Capstar or Comfortis kill the fleas and paralyse flea mouthparts preventing deposition of saliva.

Every month treat your dog with Advantage, Advocate, Advantix, Frontline, Revolution, or Comfortis to keep flea numbers as low as possible.

Fleas spend most of their life cycle off the dog as larvae and pupae in bedding, carpet, dirt and leaves. Wash bedding in hot water and dry in the sun.  Vacuum carpets and furniture often. Rake up leaves in shady places and provide outside kennels or hidey holes off the ground.  Call a professional to fumigate your house.

Flea control depends on knowing the life cycle of fleas.

Cortisone products like prednisolone block the allergic reaction and give relief from the intense itching.

If your dog develops a bacterial infection in the skin, your vet will prescribe antibiotics.

Dogs are good for you!

The doctors and scientists have confirmed what pet owners have known for centuries – dogs are good for you!

Pet ownership increases physical activity and reduces obesity, but also reduces stress and builds community.

Owning and walking a dog significantly increases the amount of walking a person does. Young girls who own a dog spend 29 minutes more per day in physical activity than their friends without a dog.

Scientists proved some years ago that obese people who diet and exercise with their obese dogs are much more likely to lose weight and keep it off than people who diet and exercise alone.

Recent studies of school age children have shown that just incidental play and interaction with the dog were enough to prevent obesity.

Children of dog-owning families were in better physical condition even if they did not personally walk the dog.

Dogs owners report that their dogs are a strong source of motivation, companionship and social support – that is great mates!

Dogs have social benefits and build community networks because owners interact with other people on walks and at dog related activities like obedience classes.