Monday, January 17, 2011

Kirby Demonstrates "Frustration Tolerance"

 I love this video, shot by my husband earlier today. Kirby gets an "A" for impulse control and frustration tolerance...

When Baxter had his tooth pulled we had to feed him nothing but soft food for two weeks (which he loved). To be fair to Kirby, we've been mixing a bit of soft food in with his kibble as well. Kirby always has been the first one to the bowl at mealtime, but this new development has reached near-obsessive proportions. When we take him out in the morning, he does all his business immediately and heads straight for the door. I drag him back to the sidewalk and he begrudgingly follows Baxter and me on our morning walk.  Every time we stop, he tries to make a beeline for home. As soon as I let him in the door, he runs at top speed to his dish to see if breakfast has shown up yet.

Every evening about 5:30pm he starts making his little grumble sounds behind my desk chair. If I stand up, he races (no, flies is more like it) down the stairs and comes to a screeching halt in front of his food dish, panting anxiously. Mind you, this dog was two pounds overweight at his last weigh-in at the vet, so he's far from starving. To keep him from diving immediately into his bowl before all the food is in, we've been helping Kirby further develop his impulse area where he does pretty well, but not as well as his big brother, Baxter.

(Funny thing is, if we make Kirby wait before doing something, he always barks as soon as we give him the OK to do whatever he's been waiting patiently to do. It's as if the twitch to move just drives the bark right out of him.)

One of the best pieces of advice I've heard from dog trainers and animal behaviorists is the value of helping your canine companion learn impulse control by developing "frustration tolerance." Making your dog wait before running to retrieve an object or launching out the door are a couple of great examples. By helping your dog develop frustration tolerance you are, in effect, helping them survive in today's world:  a world where they are left alone for periods of time in a big house full of tempting items to chew on, where they probably don't get as much time running free as they would like and where the tasty-smelling food bits sitting on the low coffee table are for humans only. In my experience, dogs who have developed a high frustration tolerance are healthier, happier more adaptable creatures. And the same goes for their human companions.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

My Psychic iPod

Ok, this has nothing to do with Scruffy Dogs, but I just had to share what happened to me this morning. I think my iPod Shuffle is psychic. Or maybe an empath. Bear with me here...

Several years ago I was having some trouble with my feet and got some orthotics for my running shoes -- they help immensely, and I've used them to the point they're practically in tatters. So I went to a podiatrist to order another pair. The new ones are slightly different (and, after five or so years of pounding, so are my feet, so that makes sense). I seemed to get along fine while walking, but when I tried running in them the other day I got about a mile and a half away from home when I started getting shooting pains up my foot and leg. I limped home and it took several days for my foot to stop hurting.

Today I decided to get back on the horse. Perhaps it wasn't the orthotic, perhaps I just turned my foot the wrong way or something. So I put on my iPod and headed out the door. First song:  "Message in a Bottle" by the Police.  I got about three blocks from my house when the pain started shooting up my foot. I swear, the lyric was "sending out an SOS." I walked home and put my old orthotics back into my running shoes. 

I headed out the door. First song: "Stupid Girl" by Garbage.  Ha. About a half-mile into my run and the song, my foot started hurting again, to the point where I knew I shouldn't continue. I said a few choice words under my breath, turned around and started walking home. 

As I walked home, muttering to myself, on came Moby, singing "Oh lordy, trouble so hard..."

I have a psychic iPod Shuffle.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

What surgery?

One would never know that Baxter underwent surgery 8 days ago. At least not by his attitude. Yeah, the large shaved spots and Frankenstein-esque stitches are a giveaway, but Baxter seems to be entirely oblivious to it. He's more energetic than he's been in a long time. Even his slightly arthritic hips seem to be better. I have no idea if this is because of the removal of the lipoma that was intertwined with his hip muscle or if, as I've read in medical articles about humans, the cleaning of his teeth and removal of the abscessed tooth has reduced inflammation in his whole body or if he just feels better not having a toothache. Probably all of the above.

In any case, I don't care. It's as if he were years younger in the matter of a week. And that's pretty cool. I only hope I look and feel as good when I'm pushing 84!

Saturday, January 08, 2011

RESULTS: Lumps and Life III

The veterinarian just called with the results of the pathology report on Baxter's lump -- it was BENIGN! The tumor turned out to be a hemangioma (not a hemangiosarcoma, which was the worst case scenario), and the removal of it is curative.  He said they got it all and there's no reason to expect it would return. While it looks considerably different than a lipoma (it's a blood vessel tumor) it's just one of those random lumps dogs sometimes get. 

Needless to say, we are all very relieved around here. Baxter, who has seemed entirely back to his normal, earnest, goofy self for the past several days, has no idea why I keep showering him with extra hugs and kisses this morning. But he seems fine with it.


Friday, January 07, 2011

Dog Vocabulary

Today's Science Daily features an interesting article about a border collie that was able to comprehend the names of  more than 1000 objects. It describes a study in which Chaser, a border collie, was able to differentiate among objects by name, comprehend multiple names and categories for objects (e.g. toy and frisbee) and even correctly identify novel objects by process of elimination based on knowing the names of all of the other objects.

The border collie people must be all over this one...(I can't tell you how many bumper stickers I've seen around here that say "My border collie is smarter than your honor student"), but I think most people who share their lives with dogs know that this ability to identify objects by name applies to many, if not most, other breeds of dog as well.  For example, I know that Baxter not only understands that "slipper" means my fleece slippers, he also understands the concept of an object that humans put on their feet, even though we've never taught it to him. So if I ask him to go get my slippers (which he usually does perfectly, as long as there is a treat waiting for him) and he can't find the slippers (which occasionally happens), he brings down an alternative -- usually a tennis shoe. He came up with that all on his own.

Both Baxter and Kirby seem to know the difference between their toy names. "Ball" is different from "tug" or "bear" or "bunny." And they definitely know that all of the above fall into the category of "toy," which means it's something they can play with and chew on, as opposed to our human objects, which they leave alone. (For anyone who has not visited our home, let me tell you this is quite a we have a lot of books, art objects, etc. within the dogs' reach and they've never disturbed any of them, not even as puppies.)

It's great to see research into animal intelligence.  For a long time many researchers in the animal communication/animal intelligence realm, particularly those like Dr. Irene Pepperberg, who work with "pet" animals as opposed to more exotic ones like dolphins or chimpanzees, have had to go the extra mile to convince other scientists of the value of their work. To some it may seem a waste to study how smart dogs are when most of us who spend time with dogs already know it, but the value goes much broader.  It is my hope that as we realize humans are not the only intelligent species on the planet, we will be more likely to show empathy toward non-human species. Perhaps it will help us consider our place in the world in a more humble way and to think about the consequences of our actions and their impact on species other than our own.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Lumps and Life II

Baxter is doing his best "dog-shui" -- the art of placing himself right where I want to walk. He does this all the time, but today, as I gingerly step over him, I cringe slightly. I am looking down at a big, blue neck wrap and a couple of large, shaved patches on his back and hip, each with 3-4" lines of stitches. Baxter is in a remarkably good mood, all things considered.

Monday he went in to the veterinarian for several procedures: a dental cleaning, extraction of an abscessed tooth and removal of a few of his lumps. Lipomas -- or benign fatty tumors -- are fairly common in older retriever-type dogs, and Baxter has sprouted quite a few of them over the past few years. Our veterinarian does the occasional needle biopsy and usually just leaves them alone as long as they're not otherwise interfering with the dog's health. But because of the placement of a few of Baxter's lumps, our vet said he would take the opportunity to remove them if there were another reason to go under anesthesia. The bad-looking tooth needed to be handled, so Baxter went in for the works on Monday.

I always worry when anyone has to go under anesthesia. In this case I was even more worried due to Baxter's age -- he will be 12 in April. Thank goodness the surgery went well. When we picked him up Monday night Baxter was a bit bleary-eyed and the pain killers made him sway a bit when he was trying to stand still, but he ate, drank water and slept like a log. By yesterday morning, he seemed almost normal -- so much so that we had to keep him from running up the stairs and pulling on his leash when going outside (he's on exercise restriction due to a large lipoma on his hip that had some muscle involvement).  Today, without painkillers, it's pretty much Baxter as usual.

Our main concern now is that one of the lumps in Baxter's neck was not a lipoma -- the vet was surprised to see that it was a completely different type of tumor which he could not definitively identify with their equipment. He sent it off to a pathology lab and we should get the results by the end of this week. It could be benign, in which case having it removed means he's out of the woods on that one. If it's malignant, then the type of tumor will dictate next steps. Baxter's blood work was excellent and he has shown no signs of feeling unwell prior to or after the surgery, so that's a good sign that it may be localized and not too invasive.

Still, I am working very hard not to worry. Worry, it seems, comes almost as easily to me as breathing. Keeping it at bay requires conscious acts of self-control and/or complete distraction. Seeing Baxter recovering so quickly, with his sweet, mellow disposition and continued enthusiasm for little things like eating, going outside and being invited up onto the couch, is inspiring to say the least.

So my goal is to stay positive and keep my focus on helping Baxter stay comfortable, heal quickly and come through this as strong and healthy as possible. Any and all good wishes and positive vibes are welcomed!