So here's a challenge - in 2012 our site host (Yola) decided not to maintain blogging capability any  more.  So our old blogs are below but we couldn't add any new ones.  So we started a new blog at a different website.

The new blog "Ask Ms. Behaviour" is at Tumblr  http://dogfriendship.tumblr.com/) - the new posts show up here but look MUCH better on Tumblr...and you can subscribe to the blog by email so you get new entries delivered straight to your mailbox.  So just click the link and get the full-feature version.

You can also see the same blog material if you're a WordPress user at: http://askmsbehaviour.wordpress.com/

Ask Ms. Behaviour

Dog Friendship Inc. - dog training in Guelph, ON, Canada

CADD-C - Framework for Classifying Dog Aggression

While working on an article recently, it felt great to dive more deeply into the topic of how to classify aggression - and here’s the result - http://ow.ly/o5ot308eZNi - a classification system intended to help unify things and make them simple and useful for practitioners and dog caregivers alike.  Now before you think classifying aggression is simple, let me just say that there are a s#@! ton of ways to classify aggression out there - across all species.  This is one approach - and I would appreciate your thoughts and comments…particularly if your dog’s type was not captured or you don’t see where it would fit.

Posted 108 weeks ago

Can Things Improve?

Recently we’ve had a rash of owners whose dogs have behaviour challenges, and I’ve spent a lot of time answering the question they ask…”can things improve?” They don’t want to teach the dog tricks or do our fun-agility course, they just want to know if things can get better with their dog - a reduction in fighting, getting into the garbage or shivering with thunderstorm phobia.

So I was delighted to read the article in the latest newsletter of the society of vets in the U.S. who concentrate on animal behaviour (the AVSAB) by Dr. Megan Maxwell, behaviour consultant in Virginia, USA, talking about this very issue and some of the factors that impact a dog’s response to behavior therapy:

She agrees with me that a lot of the time it is possible to make improvements in event the worst cases.  BUT - it depends!  We can’t guarantee - and never do - that there is any guarantee of sustained behaviour change in a dog.

Here’s her list of some things that do impact of - and how fast - positive behaviour changes will occur:

1) How long has the behavior problem been occurring? Something done for many years often takes a lot of time to retain - and dogs usually revert to their “first language” when they are excited or under stress.

2) How much is the behavior problem related to the dog’s breed or his or her individual genetic or dispositional tendencies? For example, we know that dogs from pet stores have a much greater chance of being fearful.  We know that how the mom experiences the world (especially if it is stressful or there is not enough food) will have some negative effects on the pup before it is born - that carry on through their life.

3) How flexible can the family be in changing the way that they train, teach, or interact with their pet? I would also add, how consistent can they be in maintaining the training and new structure that their dog needs.

4) How much can environmental triggers be managed or controlled?

5) How well does the dog respond to positive reinforcement that can be delivered by the owner? It’s a lot easier to get a dog’s attention back on you versus the trigger tif they are interested in toys or treats - and you have some at your disposal.

To her list I would add a few more…such as “is the owner consistently using the right tools”,  “is the dog getting the medication they really need medication to help keep their sanity” or “are there any medical issues that haven’t been sorted out”. 

The answers to these questions are is what “it depends” on.  And its why I have “it depends” embroidered on my sleeve.

No guarantees, but if your dog hasn’t been doing the behaviour for a while, has good genetics and a had a sound start in life, is interested in reinforcements like food, is healthy and appropriately medicated if necessary, is in an environment that can be well managed AND if you as a trainer can change and adapt to what your dog needs - then we probably can make some good headway with your dog’s issues.  Always, though, expect the individual dog to respond in individual ways - their response to treatment is always as individual as they are.  That, we can guarantee.

Posted 113 weeks ago

My Dog Lies Down on Leash and Will Not Walk...

What a beautiful day for a walk, you think.  You head out of the door down the driveway or have just made it a short way down the street when suddenly your pup stops dead in their tracks and refuses to move.  Perhaps they even lie down completely.  While you can take comfort in the fact that many puppy-dog caregivers find themselves in the situation at some point, that doesn’t help you in the moment. The question you probably want answered is: how do get my dog moving again?

Before deciding that Fido is ‘just stubborn’ and starting to drag your dog along by the leash, there are a few things you might want to rule out as possible causes before trying the “get walking” tips that follow:

·         Time for a Vet Visit? – If putting on the brakes is suddenly happening with an otherwise healthy dog or pup, the first step is to rule out a medical cause.  For example, puppies with their very soft bones are very prone to breaking their legs or having “growing pains”.  An older dog may have arthritis or a tumour pressing on a nerve in their back, for example.  The problem is that animals in the wild try not to show their pain, so you may not be able to easily tell if Rover is stiff or stepping slightly more gingerly than usual. Always head to a professional and rule our medical issues before moving on to the suggestions below!

·         Is it Too Hot or Too Cold? – Can you imagine if you tried to walk barefoot and the pavement burned the soles off your feet?  Pavement that is too hot can actually cause the skin on your dog’s paws to blister and peel.  Even if the pavement is just fine, some dogs tend to overheat on a warm – not hot – day. Dogs with lots of muscle mass (like bulldogs, the Dogo or Cane Corso) have bodies that overheat quickly.  Brachycephalic dogs (think pugs and bulldogs with especially pushed-in and short noses) also have difficulty breathing when even slightly overheated.  At the other extreme, hairless and small breeds – like the Chihuahua or Chinese Crested – are very sensitive to the cold and cannot regulate their body temperature well.  If your dog seems reluctant to walk, notice if the day is fairly warm or cool.  Your dog may do better on a cool morning or in the evening.

·         Is the World a Scary Place? – For a new pup, leaving the safety of home can be quite terrifying. Even a well-socialized pup can have a quite normal fear period that changes how they view the big wide world out there.  Older dogs may be quite anxious in temperament and become more fearful over time. Pushing through your dog’s fear may not be the way to go – there’s a reason we no longer try to teach kids to swim by throwing them in the pool!  A behavior consultant can work with you to help your freaked-out pup know that the world can be fun and pleasant.

·         Is Pup Pooped?  - No, we’re not talking about whether your dog has had a chance to go potty along the path. If walking comes to a halt, it is indeed possible that your dog is simply dog-tired.  Young puppies can get over-exercised – we know of one youngster who was getting shin splints from being walked too much.  A ten or fifteen-minute leisurely stroll once or twice a day is more than enough for many youngsters – any more and their growing bodies start to rebel.  Older dogs can start to lose muscle condition after three or four days if they are not being active.  If your dog is very young, hasn’t had regular exercise or has been sick or stuck inside due to bad weather (or your schedule), their body may not be up to a good size hike and you may need to do some conditioning work after the vet check above.

If you have worked your way through these issues and are certain they are not the case for your dog – perhaps you think your dog might have another motive for stopping:

·         How Boring or Painful Is This? – Is walking the dog just one more thing in your busy day?  Do you march out with your dog on the same route at the same time, eager to walk quickly in a straight line and “just get the dog walked”?  While dogs do well with consistency, sometimes the routine can become just too boring. Perhaps pooch is putting on the brakes simply because they know they are going to be dragged down the street on a tight leash (and really – how much fun would that be for any dog)?

·         Not as Much Fun As Where I Was…? – If you just left the dog park with a reluctant Randy, or had a great playdate with Betsy’s bestie, your dog may simply be reluctant to leave the fun for a plain old boring trot back to home and bed.  

·         Lazy, Stubborn or Challenging the Pack Leader? – Thanks to good science we now know that it is unlikely your dog is simply being stubborn.  Generally, dogs tend to try things that get them food and play or rest and don’t really want to rule the world.  Usually they HAVE a good reason for not walking – you just don’t know what it is.  You’ll want to play detective and try and see what is happening just before your dog parks it.

·         Is My Dog’s Human Upset? – Are you having a bad day or perhaps are cross with someone?  Science has shown that dogs can sense some human emotions.  If you really feel like going home, getting into bed and putting your head under the covers, it’s possible that your dog is reflecting your mood back to you.

·         What is this Leash Walking Stuff Anyways? – If Sadie hasn’t been to school to learn good leash walking skills and hasn’t been rewarded when she is walking beside you “in the zone” and on a loose leash, it may be time for some remedial training. Dogs who understand where to walk and that it is their job to keep the leash loose are much easier to take on a Sunday stroll.

So What To Do?

1.      Encourage and Reward! – Your first step is the opposite of pulling (or dragging) your dog along the ground. Simply stop dead yourself and tell your dog to “stay”.  Take a treat in your hand – it is for a reward you give only if your dog gets up and starts to move forward.  Don’t let your dog see the treat, though!  If a treat always appears after your dog lies down, they may think they are being rewarded for taking a time out.  After your dog has seen you stop and “stay” for a minute or two, say your dog’s name and invite them to “let’s go”.  Wait for your dog to get up and move a step or two and then provide a tasty treat by tossing it in the direction you want to go.  Soon your dog will understand the moving forward brings good things.  Don’t forget to occasionally give your dog a treat for no good reason – providing a reward from time to time is what drives slot machine players to casinos to play over and over again.  Instead of feeding your dog dinner and then going for a walk, consider putting your dog’s whole dinner in a treat pouch and taking it with you. A hungry pup is definitely a food-motivated pooch.  

2.      Get Active and Excited! – Act slightly excited, walk backward a few steps and then run in a circle around your dog. Often your dog will jump up to see what all the action is.  Reward this by tossing a treat a couple of feet away from your pup and head out…dropping a few more treats near your feet to keep Alfie in action.

3.      Play the Touch or Tug Game!  - Remember that we mentioned your dog’s greatest interests are usually food and play?  Take some time at home to teach two exciting games (when you are not planning to go for a walk).  If your dog always slows down when leaving the dog park or a playmates home – get out in front of them and have them play a great game with you.  Check with your trainer on how to play tug safely (played well it will not make a dog aggressive).  Or teach them to bump your hand with their nose by holding out your hand with a treat tucked in the palm.  When your pup touches your hand, say “touch” and open the palm to provide the treat.  Practice moving your hand around until your dog is eagerly following your hand everywhere so they can touch and get the treat.  Then you’re ready to take the game on the road and start playing as soon as you leave your pup’s favorite fun spots. This will convince your dog that the fun doesn’t end if you are walking away from their friend’s house.

4.      Celebrate the Return Home! – If coming home means a letdown, try to change your dog’s mindset.  While you may want to relax – and are glad to be home – as soon as you get in the door, your dog has probably been in the house all day. If returning to the house signals the end of fun for your dog, try changing it up.  Once you get in the door, play a rousing game of tug or give your dog a high value food toy.  Perhaps take time before you leave to hide some delicious treats around the room. Anything you can think of to convince your dog that being home again is a great deal can make them more eager to head back to the ranch.

5.      If You Always Reward – Change it Up! – If you have been applying what you learned in our classes – clicking and treating your way to successful loose leash walking, you may be wondering why your dog is suddenly losing interest.  It may be time to change up your reward strategy.  No longer treating every time your dog is in the correct position beside your leg, now you may want to act more like a slot machine. Pay off only occasionally for only really excellent walking.  Once in a while, make the reward a super good one.  Change like this can get your dog back in the game, playing harder.

Posted 135 weeks ago
<p><a href="http://noodle-shrimps.tumblr.com/post/147351347573/more-trouble-than-a-tribble" class="tumblr_blog" target="_blank">noodle-shrimps</a>:</p>

<blockquote><p><i>More trouble than a tribble</i><br/></p></blockquote>

<p>Had to share this - loved that Star Trek episode!</p>


More trouble than a tribble

Had to share this - loved that Star Trek episode!

Posted 136 weeks ago

Liver Does Not Make My Dog Less Afraid of the Vet!

It’s wonderful that many vet clinics are developing fear-free handling practices!  We encourage that and offer free seminars to staff at our local vet hospitals on improving their dog handling.  Lots of vets have added liver to their practices hoping to reduce fear.

The hope is that by adding something positive to the visit the dog’s response is changed from “ick” to “fantastic” - or at least neutral. However the positive needs to be added AFTER something icky happens….not right before it.  

Here at Dog Friendship we have always encouraged this “good after not so good” approach to neutralize a dog’s feelings about something unpleasant.  Trimming one nail before putting down the dinner bowl, giving a bath just before a good session of tug, or brushing your dog’s teeth just before they get to chomp down on a new squeakie toy are some useful examples. So we encourage you to give your dog great treats after you leave the vet’s office – going for a fun-filled off-leash walk, getting a (no Xylitol) peanut-butter-filled Kong toy in the car on the way home, or anything else that floats your dog’s boat.


You might remember hearing about Pavlov’s bell in grade school.  Pavlov rings a bell, the food comes into the room and the dog gets fed.  Bell rings, food happens.  After lots of pairings of bell and food, the very sound of the bell causes the dog to salivate AS IF they were presented with food.  The emotional and physical responses to the food became attached to the bell (a sound that has nothing to do with food normally).

Many people start to treat their pup before they go to the vet, knowing that something unpleasant may soon be happening to the dog.  I have certainly done this and I suspect it had more to do with my advance (guilty?) knowledge that my pup was about to have an unpleasant time.  

Then once at the vets, liver keeps being provided by the receptionist, vet tech and often by the vet themselves during a physical exam right before or during the painful procedure.  Nice, right?  Uhuh… treating before ouch just made the reward less valuable.  This is the exact opposite of what we want to do with dog training!  What we prefer to do is to add rewards after the visit to change the dog’s response to “whoo-hoo”.

Imagine that I gave you a surprise gift of $50.00 for no good reason. Awesome, right?  Now suppose right after that you walked away from me and tripped – falling and hurting your knee.  Maybe the $50 gift feels just a little less wonderful because it was combined with some pain?  

Now what if after every time I gave you $50 something pretty bad happened?  Soon you might start to feel a little less happy about the $50 bucks!

You’ve probably seen this in action – management gurus used to teach managers to give employees bad feedback “sandwiched” by compliments. Most managers decided this just meant starting a tough conversation with a fairly mild bit of praise.  Employees with managers who started conversations this way began to feel bad as soon as their boss gave them a compliment – because they knew the other shoe was about to drop.

Many experts recommend taking your vaccinated puppy or dog to the vets and providing them with lots of treats – then having NO VET VISIT and going straight home so that your dog thinks of going to the vets as fun.  Your dog learns that no shoe drops.  This is great except that most real-world dog owners do not have a lot of time for multiple vet visits where nothing happens.  We also find that treat-only visits work well if your dog has only one visit a year. Over time (and with the addition of lots of painful procedures like shots) dogs often “get wise” and learn that all the liver in the waiting room doesn’t make up for the “ouch”. So what can we do instead? There are already some great examples out there on how other somewhat tough or  perhaps fairly unpleasant experiences can be overcome on a regular basis. Exercise experts recommend that Ending an exercise routine with a fun and light cool-down leaves a positive impression about the exercise session – even if it was a really tough workout. We agree with that general approach.  To keep your dog more vet-positive, we suggest that you ensure amazing things follow the vet visit.  Playing tug or going for an off-leash hike are good examples. The pleasure your dog gets will help “soften the edges” of their experience, making them feel less concerned about their next visit.  

Got any stories about how you make your vet visit’s fun?  Here’s one woman’s story about using trick training to keep her dog functioning well - http://ow.ly/LNzG301dRpF.

Posted 140 weeks ago

Grieving Your Dog

Losing a dog can be devastating. Unfortunately we live in a society where we are expected to bounce back the next day as if nothing ever happened. For many of us, time to grieve is essential.

Please know is that you are not alone in having gone through this significant loss - many of us who own dogs have been in that sadness so deep it feels like it may not end.  

Depending on how close your relationship with your dog was, losing a dog can be as sad and difficult a grief process as if you had lost a member of your family or your best friend.   A 1991 study of people whose pet had died within the last three years (by Holcomb & Gage) showed that about half of wives and more than a quarter of husbands reported they were “quite” or “extremely” disturbed by the death of a family pet. For husbands, pet loss was rated about as stressful as the loss of a close friendship, for wives about as stressful as losing touch with their married children.

Betty Carmack, author of Grieving the Death of a Pet notes that, “People often say they grieve more for their animal’s death than they did for a spouse, parent, child, or sibling, and they seem a bit surprised by that.  But when they say it in a support-group situation, other people are nodding their heads in understanding.

Our relationship with animals is sometimes very different from our relationships with people.  People talk about how their relationship with their animal companion is more pure.  They don’t have the conditions that relationships with people do and it doesn’t take the same effort to maintain the relationship.  There’s a lot of baggage that’s connected with relationships with people that we don’t have in our relationships with animals.”  And a lot more stability in the human-animal relationship

So it’s clearly normal to feel deep grief, to cry and to miss your friend. Research has shown that pet owners likely will feel like they have a huge hole in the middle of them that will not go away, and living with knowing that it will be difficult or impossible to replace their special animal who made them feel treasured, loved, strong, calm or whole (study by Brown, 2004). It’s also normal to occasionally think you may have seen them, or for you to put down a bowl of water or food, or take down a leash even if your dog isn’t there any more.  

Generally, after an initial shock period that can last a day to a couple of weeks, you can expect to deeply grieve for at least the first month, followed by a longer feeling of sadness.  Dog owners report that there are also surges of grief at about six months after your loss, and again at one year (or at any special anniversaries and holidays where your dog was front and center).  

There are resources on the internet and counselors that can help you get through the loss of your beloved pet, there are also resources to help your other pets adjust to the loss of their canine companion. The following are just a few resources you can access at anytime on this blog in case you, a family member, or a friend, need some extra help and understanding to help get through the grieving process:  

Pet Loss Net, Grief.com,When Your Dog Mourns (for other pets in the family if you have them), and this useful article on processing grief from Colorado State University’s Argus Institute. You can also review:

In Canada, a Pet Loss Hotline operates at the Ontario Veterinary College: 519-824-4120 x53694

Tuesday - Thursday 6:00 pm - 9:00 pm ET from Sept. through April each year (an answering service is available outside regular hours as is email: petloss@uofguelph.ca).  During the summer months, volunteers who live in Guelph check messages and return phone calls when possible.

For those south of the border, there is the toll-free ASPCA line at 877-474-3310.

Here are someother  phone numbers for the US courtesy of Dr. Levine, a behaviorist in New Jersey:

1. Chicago VMA 630-325-1600

2.Colorado State 970-297-1242
3.Cornell University 607-253-3932
4.University of Illinois: 217-244-2273

5.Michigan State: 517-432-2696

6.The Ohio State: 614-292-1823

7.Tufts University: 508-839-7966                

What if it’s not just you grieving? When a child is growing up, it’s not unusual for their pet to die (or disappear by getting lost forever or going far away with the other parent in a divorce or separation). When you’re parenting, it’s important that you handle this serious situation with care. Usually the first loss of a loved one that your child will experience can impact the way they face all of life’s future losses. And if your child has already dealt with death or divorce or has recently been through a major change, like moving to a new place or changing schools, a dog’s death may stir up the memory of that loss, too.

Don’t lie to your child, hoping to spare them pain. Instead, use this opportunity to let the child express their feelings and to learn that adults can offer comfort and reassurance in hard times. Assure the child that they are not responsible just because they yelled at the dog or forgot to give them water one day. Using metaphors like “Fluffy is asleep” or “Fluffy is with God” can create fear and conflict in a child’s mind between something that is supposed to be good (sleep or God) and something that feels bad.  Better to tell them the truth as you know it – Fluffy’s body is still present, but the essence that made Fluffy who they were is not with Fluffy’s body any more.  And of course, you can if you wish add to this discussion what your religion believes about what happens to that essence after death.

Children react differently to loss of a pet at different ages. It’s important to let children of all ages know that whatever they are feeling (sad, mad, afraid, relieved) is just fine, it’s simply information that lets them know that they need to take care of that feeling with some attention.  Encourage your child to express their feelings by talking, drawing, writing or whatever other safe way to express themselves feels right.  

Once a difficult feeling has had some attention paid to it, the feeling can change. If a child has trouble sleeping or eating, if moodiness persists and their feelings seem to last for more than a few weeks or school habits suffer significantly, you may want to discuss your child’s needs with a counsellor.  There’s also this useful resource for grieving in children -  Farewell to Fido: Helping Children When Their Companion Dog Dies by Rise VanFleet, PhD (The APDT Chronicle of the Dog, Jul/Aug 2010).

You may also especially need some personal professional support if you’re dealing with what is called “complicated grief” that may need extra time for grief or a special space to work through it.  Complicated grief is also sometimes called “stuck grief” and it can happen when you have other recent losses, a personal history of a great deal of loss, untimely deaths or deaths that happen suddenly/from no known cause, death after a long illness, feeling responsible for a death or witnessing a painful or traumatic death.

Rituals can help us make transitions when we experience losses and we humans have lots of them.  They also provide a safe space where feelings can be expressed. Perhaps some sort of ritual for your dog can help you and others who loved your dog mark and cope with this transition.  At Dog Friendship, we have marked the loss of one of our dogs by burying a small piece of hair and a dog tag along the path where we often walked - you may wish to consider if a ritual could help you?

It’s also important to recognize that having big feelings can often act be an invitation to use lousy coping strategies to avoid our feelings. Things like gambling, drinking and eating can often sing a sirens’ song to us when we are grieving a pet.  We encourage you to leave these strategies on the shelf and move toward embracing your feelings (basically by sitting around and feeling as sad and unhappy as you need to – sometimes simply saying “I’m sad and miss my dog” is part of embracing what you are feeling in the moment.  Grief and sadness are a natural part of losing a dog we love from our lives.  

Sometimes, though, we have to get through a day where the demands don’t stop because of our grief - we go to work and shop.  It is OK during those times not to be actively grieving or crying.  If you are sad, it might help at these times you need to engage with the world to imagine that your tears and unhappiness are written down and waiting for you in an envelope at home.  You can open this envelope whenever you need to and find your sadness again.  You can also use your thinking brain to distract you - a bit - from your grief.  Questions that can invite you to move towards thinking include.

  • What have I had to learn/unlearn/relearn as a result of the loss?
  • What voids do I need to fill?
  • What routines and habits can I release and which ones do I need to keep?

These may be questions a friend could ask you - and for more ways friends can be helpful if you’ve lost a dog you may want to review Dr. Sophia Yin’s article.  Most counselors and dog trainers don’t suggest getting a new dog for at least six months after your old dog has died but don’t be surprised if you find you want a new dog quite soon.  If you do feel a huge need to fill the hole in your life with another dog, you may wish to consider going to training so that your learning experience with your new dog helps you see them - and not your former friend.  Whatever your circumstances, please be gentle with yourself and find support and the care you need to help you get through this difficult time.  Our hearts are with you.

Here are a few more articles on pet grief and loss:


Its important to grieve when a pet dies by Warren Tasker, Canwest News Service, March, 2010. Many people refuse to discuss the death of their pets because the pain is unbearable. They want to keep quiet about it, hoping the sadness will dissipate over time. Perhaps, if it were discussed more openly, they could navigate through the pain and sorrow a little better. They would understand their situation more clearly and speed the healing process.

How much can you mourn a pet? by Finlo Rohrer, BBC News Magazine, January 2010. Some might think true grief is reserved for our fellow homo sapiens, but as a moving tribute from one British politician shows, the loss of a pet prompts real mourning.

The Human-Animal Bond by Judith C. Stutts, Ph.D; Adjunct Professor, Department of Clinical Sciences; College of Veterinary Medicine, North Carolina State University. If you are grieving for an animal that is sick, one that is dying, or one that has died, you are not alone.

Elders and Pet Loss by Betty J. Carmack, R.N., Ed.D.; Professor, School of Nursing, University of San Francisco. The loss of a much loved companion animal can be especially difficult for older adults, who experience the tremendous benefits of companion animals as well as the profound grief responses to a pet’s death.

Children and the Death of a Pet by Enid Traisman, MSW; Director of Pet Loss Support Services, DoveLewis Emergency Animal Hospital; Portland, Oregon. When a child experiences the death of a beloved pet, he or she may experience emotional reactions that can be painful and frightening.

The Loss of a Service Dog
by Cynthia Clay, M. A.; Marriage and Family Therapist; Service Dog user 10 years. Losing your service dog is an emotionally charged experience because of your incredibly strong bond together.

Requiem for a Service Dog Originally published in Alert , National Service Dog Center® Newsletter Vol. 5, No. 1 1994. Edited for the web and updates. The death of a beloved pet always affects the owner, and perhaps also a small group of family and friends.

Loss of a Therapy Animal by Charlene Douglas; The Rainbow Passage. The more we understand the human-animal bond, the more we understand the feelings and emotions of grief when a pet dies.

Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement
A not-for-profit association of professional counselors and pet-lovers helping people cope with the loss of their pets.

Coping with the Loss of a Pet - An article covering grieving, the five stages of mourning, how to explain pet loss to a child, and reasons for euthanasia.

Dogheaven - A memorial/tribute site. This site charges a fee for posting memorials (portions go to charity), but also offers a number of useful (free) resources.

Grief Healing - An excellent resource from pet loss counselor Marty Tousley.  

Having to Say Goodbye - A (long) page of pet loss tips and resources from a golden retriever site. A key resource is a state-by-state guide to pet loss resources and support groups; click on the map to find resources in your state. In addition to links, poetry and basic tips, this page offers an extensive list of books for adults and children. Also graphics-heavy and slow to load.

Healing and Inspirational Poetry - Links to dozens of poems on pet loss and related topics.

Sympathy Cards for Pets - This site contains a wide range of free electronic sympathy cards for pets (dogs, cats, birds, horses and ferrets), along with links to several other pet loss card sites

Posted 146 weeks ago

When Is It Time to Let Go?

The sad fact of life is dog guardians tend to outlive their canine companions and about 90% of dog owners will have to make a decision about euthanasia.

The word “euthanasia” means “to bring about a good death.” The choice to treat a medical condition or euthanize your dog is a major one – and no one wants to be wrong. While none of us ever wants our dog to leave us, when we wish the best for them we want a them to have a gentle death without significant pain, suffering, fear or degradation.

It’s also a sad fact that no amount of anticipatory grief or advance planning - or any intellectual knowledge that you’re near the end of your dog’s life - will save your heart from experiencing the piercing pain of loss.

And yet, doing some advance planning around euthanasia and death can help you make better decisions when the time you hope never comes actually does  arrive.

First, much earlier than you think you need to - while you have a choice and some warning, you may wish to investigate your options and think about what your ideal situation would be.  If you’re like many Dog Friendship readers, you’ve invested a lot in your dog’s quality of life - now it’s time for an investment in your planning to make sure they have quality at the end of their life.  

This includes pricing euthanasia, finding out if the vet will make a home visit, checking out what happens with your dog’s remains and what your local legislation is regarding burial (can you do it at home?  in some areas have your ashes buried with those of your dog?) and handling your dog’s remains (most dog owners appear to prefer to have the veterinarian take care of cremation).  Checking out ahead of time what items the vet might try to sell you is also helpful.  

You’ll also want to understand the role of both yourself and your vet in the decision-making process.  An article in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior (2007 - 2, 35-39) noted that veterinarians are tasked with working together with the dog owner, throughout the lifetime of the dog, to promote the dog’s health and well-being. And that in critical and or terminal situations, it is the veterinarian’s role to educate the owner, so that informed decisions regarding treatment options or a decision to euthanize your dog can take place. In veterinary medicine, euthanasia means to end life painlessly. Veterinarians and owners, working in partnership to make subjective and objective assessments on your dog’s quality of life, produce the best results.

From the veterinarian, the medical approach (including: clinical history, physical exam, laboratory tests, diagnosis, prognosis and treatment) can assist in assessing you in understanding your dog’s physical health status, any potential treatments, and the likely short and long term outcomes. Dog Friendship notes that your role in the partnership is to subjectively assess your dog’s overall behavior changes and your dog’s quality of life and include both this AND the veterinarians’s opinion in your decision-making.  

What if your dog dies at home, before you have made a euthanasia decision or thought about post-death arrangements?

Until decisions and preparations can be made, place your dog in the coldest part of your home.  Put plastic down and then newspaper or a blanket to place your pet on.  Cover with another towel or blanket.

You should know that dogs’ eyes remain open after they pass away.  Both dogs (and people) die with their eyes open. This is due to a reflex that remains active even to the last minutes of life. In fact - the act of closing the eyes requires a special muscle movement, and effort is required to keep them closed. Many people and animals pass away with their eyes open. In past centuries it was a common practice to hold eyelids closed by placing coins over them. The sense of sight is generally the first to go when humans die (hearing is the last) and the same is thought to be true of dogs.  

What if your dog dies while at the vet hospital?

If your pet dies at the veterinary hospital, you may view your dog there. Most clinics will have a storage facility where your pet can be kept for a day or two.  Your dog belongs to you and you do have the right to take your dog home.

What options are available to me at time of loss of my pet?

You may want to consider burial in a pet cemetery (including mausoleum burial where a casketed body is placed in a crypt), cremation, home burial (where allowed by law), or simply having your dog’s body picked up and disposed of.

What is cremation?

Cremation is the process of reducing matter by exposing it to intense heat.  The body is reduced to skeletal remains or cremains, embalming is not needed. No casket is required for cremation.  The organization conducting the cremation may or may not allow you to view the process.  You can have the cremated remains returned to you (generally, if cremation is done in a group, an id tag marks the location of the remains and helps return the dog’s ashes to its owner). You can choose to scatter the cremains (most areas have no restrictions on this, though it would be useful to check with your local authorities).  You may also scatter in a special area of a pet cemetery or place the ashes in an urn (which can be kept with you, buried or placed in an “wall” or columbarium – an arrangement of niches erected for the sole purpose of accepting cremains).

There are now some vendors offering a process where your dog’s body is liquified by environmentally friendly chemicals.

What kind of memorial would I like?

Some folks prefer no memorial at all, others keep a picture nearby while many have spoken about keeping a favourite collar or toy.  Some folks place a headstone in the yard in the dog’s favourite spot while others use online pet memorial websites like

Rainbow Bridge



Additional Pre-planning

More questions you can do some pre-planning about include what’s important to you to have happen for your pet.  If it were within your power to provide it (and it often is), what sort of death would you wish for your dog? Chances are, you would wish the same death for your dog as you would wish yourself: to die when your dog is ready, peacefully while asleep, at home, in bed, surrounded by loved ones.  Do you support euthanasia to accomplish this, or do you prefer a natural (even if difficult) death?  Making a choice now may save you from agonizing over your decision when you are most upset. You may also wish to consider which family members will be present during a final goodbye, how the family members may want to say good-bye or provide a memorial for their pet, and how and with whom they will spend time immediately after the death or euthanasia are all important issues which should be discussed.

When you do find out your dog has a terminal illness, in many cases you will have some time before the final end is due. If you receive a diagnoses longer than two or three weeks, you may want to find out all you can about the disease and its management.  You can also learn about being your dog’s caregiver in this challenging time - the

PawPrints Network

offers an online forum, care journal and many resources like weight and lab results trackers.  The internet is great for research on disease and progressions, although your vet’s education, experience and (hopefully life knowledge of your dog) will help them interpret what the data means for your canine friend.

You may also want to think about home-based hospice care - providing comfortable care for a terminally-ill dog at home is increasingly supported by vets. Hospice care, or “pawspice,” the term coined by Alice Villalobos, DVM, former President of the American Association of Human Animal Bond Veterinarians (AAHABV) and founding member of the Veterinary Cancer Society, involves having a vet provide supportive assistance in evaluating and managing your dog’s quality of life during a time period that can span from days to months.  The

International Association of Animal Hospice and Palliative Care

is a site used by both pet professionals and individuals who are care givers and offers some useful webinars that can help.

Such care may be helpful by giving children (and adults) more time to come to an understanding that their dog is dying, or give time for a geograhically-distant family member to come home to say good-bye.  While sometimes families can find stressful times like a dog’s death can create argument and division, a well-planned end and an understanding that people can respond to life poorly when on an emotional roller-coaster can help keep things calm – and hospice time can be a lovely time for the family who will be left by providing mutual support to the other family members as they start their grieving process (see our previous blog post on

Grieving Your Dog

- the power of listening without judgement to someone’s story of their experience with the dog they may be losing can’t be understated).  It can also be a loving time of creating some photos of visits to special places, helping document cherished memories.  Check out this Whole Dog article on

things to monitor during hospice care


When Is It Time?

So how you do you know when it’s time to call an end to your dog’s suffering?  The most common advice we’ve heard is “you will know when it’s time”.  That advice seems somehow inadequate for such a big decision.  Owners we’ve spoken to tell Dog Friendship that they are never quite sure - and, in fact, your choice is likely imperfect. We can never know exactly what our dog’s needs are to the moment.  How much pain is too much?  

One of the things you can do to help yourself is ask, “Does my dog have more good days than bad ones? More good moments than bad?” Honestly assessing this question gently can lead you to clarity about what’s happening. Sometimes we are not really looking (probably because it hurts to look), and we may need to honestly and objectively assess this fact before we can decide. In most cases it is fine to simply decide to take a week and really look at what’s happening for your dog.  Look for more than just a moment to get a clear sense – maybe a few days or a week.  For instance, some arthritis pain cases get really bad after cold, wet weather. Waiting until the weather clears may result in a totally different decision, so do be sure to give enough time to really know..  Ask your vet to tell you if you have enough time to do this observation.  

Monitoring your dog’s temperature, pulse and respiration can be of help here, and can indicate significant steps in the illness.  We suggest you check out your dog’s TPR while your dog is normal and find a baseline. In general, we suggest considering things like the shut down of major systems like the liver and kidneys/waste disposal (confirmed by your vet), lack of bowel movement, starvation, dehydration are vital to be aware of.  When your dog’s pain is not adequately managed with painkillers is another sign, or when they are clearly suffering from such cognitive dysfunction that they are not enjoying life.  One hospice specializing veterinarian uses a “HHHHHMM” scale.  Dogs are scored in each category (Hurt, Hunger, Hydration, Hygiene, Happiness, Mobility, More Good Days than Bad Days) on a scale of 0-10, with 10 being best. In general, a total score of 35 or higher is considered reasonable to maintain hospice care.  The key here is to start to recognize when your dog is starting to make their final transition and activate your plan to ensure that your dog’s death is a kind one for you both.

It’s also important for you to make sure you don’t let a friend, relative, or even your vet, make the decision of exactly when to euthanize your dog for you.  This hard choice is the greatest kindness you can do for your friend - and NO ONE knows your dog friend better than you do.  You may feel you are making a decision too soon or too late.  Don’t let anyone  judge you (including yourself) if you believe the time is right for your dog.  It is more than possible to be slightly less than perfect and still have provided your dog with what they needed most from you.

You may well be afraid of making a mistake.  However, the fear of making a mistake can actually make us more likely to make them, so we’re actually better off if we acknowledge that fear, and at the same time realize that this process is simply about loving our friends and making choices based upon what is best for them. Looking and discussing work better than worrying. Most of us make right choices when we are given safe space, correct information and support, which allows us time to come to a conclusion on our own.  

If it is almost but not quite that time, is there something else that needs to happen for you to find more peace?

We may want to share a few more ball catches at the beach, or watch one last sunset together. If we can name those things and enjoy each moment, then it may become easier to say farewell.

One owner we spoke to used the willingness to accept “the most favorite treat ever” as a barometer of when the time was right.  Many people speak of experiencing a moment where they look at their pet and suddenly a calm silence ensues when they know it is time.  The time may well be right when your dog’s body signals an end and you know in your heart there is nothing more that can prevent major pain and suffering… basically when everything that care and love can do has been done.  

Dog Friendship’s vet office was amazing during our last euthanasia.  Instead of the sterile exam room floor or table, the final minutes of the euthanasia occurred with our dog lying on a small towel in the middle of a fluffy sheepskin.  We had time in the office to grieve and say goodbye after breathing stopped - there was no rushing.  Not long after the visit we recieved a free “cast in clay” pawprint of our pet and a card signed by all the vet office staff…along with a notice saying that a donation had been given to our local pet loss hotline.  A month or so later, at Christmas, a box of cookies arrived with a note “just thinking of you over the holidays and knowing this year is different without your dog.”  While this may not be a typical vet’s office of standard care (so don’t expect this of your vet) the caring and support cemented our relationship and kept us loyal clients.

Despite the sadness and emotional turmoil that your dog’s end of life will bring, we offer a hope that with advance planning and an understanding of what may happen you can worry less about the details and spend more of those last quality moments focused on the precious time with your dog.  To quote

Dr. Richard Palmquist, Chief of Integrative Health Services at Centinela Animal Hospital, Inglewood California in an article on euthanasia:

All living things are born, grow old and pass away. Death is a part of living and if we concentrate on living then we have better, happier lives. If we face death with the same sense of love and understanding that we live our lives, then we can navigate this process and learn many things along the way. As death comes, we are faced with the importance of relationship and not with things. Sometimes just calmly being together is the greatest gift of all.

Posted 146 weeks ago

5 Spring Puppy Tips for a Error-less Season

Of course we love spring - even after a fairly mild winter.  And yet, there is MUD, garbage revealed by the snow and other charming spring things.  Here are a few tips to help make your spring pup more manageable:
1.  Leave a towel by your front door, and install a micro-fibre mat to make drying off easier.  
2.  If you do not mind the scent of wet dog, no problem - if you do, sprinkle a few drops of lavender essential oil in an 1/8th cup of water and then wet the drying towel.
3.  With all the damp, watch out for puddles that are near parked cars, have a glaze or look coloured in the sunlight – they may contain antifreeze which can be deadly to your dog.
4.  Ask your groomer to trim your pup’s paws, including around the dew claw, to reduce the amount of junk picked up while playing.
5. Watch out for spring-blooming plants - the bulbs of many can be dangerous for Fido to snack on (i.e. daffodil, tulip and hyacinth).

The best news of all - we are on the way to summer!  Here at the hall, our weather has been so good we moved a couple of classes outdoors.  Let’s hope it keeps up!

Posted 148 weeks ago

Dogs and Gum

More and more sugar-free products (especially gums) are using xylitol as a sugar substitute.  This means that dogs are much more likely to accidentally eat a substance that is poisonous for them.  As an example, I recently mentioned this to a client who had an open pack of xylitol-sweetened gum sitting on the coffee table as their puppy romped around the room.

A recent study of almost 200 dogs showed that 96% of xylitol poisonings seemed to be gum-related (possibly picked up in the house or eaten off the pavement).  These dogs were all referred to vet hospitals because they were showing symptoms – including vomiting, getting very low blood sugars and having liver issues. 

Please be aware that this is a NEW hazard for dogs and may not be one that most people are familiar with – so keep an eye out if your pup gets their teeth around a piece of gum on a walk – and make sure you store your xylitol-sweetened gum in a safe place at home!

DuHadway MR, Sharp CR, Meyers KE, et al. Retrospective evaluation of xylitol ingestion in dogs: 192 cases (2007-2012). J Vet Emerg Crit Care 2015;25(5):649-654.  DOI http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/vec.12350/abstract

Posted 157 weeks ago

2 Key Tips for Collecting a Urine Sample

“Bring us in a urine sample”, says the vet.  OK, but….how?  Often, if you are at the vet’s in person, staff will hand you a sterile sample bottle that you are intended to label and return.  But how to get your dog – especially if she is a low-squatting female  - to pee in a bottle?  It’s just not easy.  Certainly, you could practice a few times when your dog does not have a suspected bladder infection (very common in spayed females that may be incontinent) but it is pretty unlikely the average dog owner would make this a priority!

Of course, your vet can use a needle to pull a nice clean sample out of your dog’s bladder at the clinic, but why put your dog through this if you do not have to?

Consider these 2 key tips for urgent situations:

1. Make your own DIY Collection Tool

Screw or duct tape a stainless steel ladle to the end of a broomstick.  A ¼ cup size is not too intrusive for most dogs and will collect enough for a sample.

2. Save Banana Split Boats

Seriously!  These containers work better than a typical bowl does because their oblong shape and shallow depth fit better between the legs and under short dogs, and their extra length keeps your hands away from the urine stream.

Bonus tip for cats:

Catch urine samples with popcorn kernels
Replace the liter in your cats’ litter boxes with a clean box filled with UNpopped popcorn kernels. The popcorn is similar to kitty litter in texture but doesn’t absorb urine. After a cat uses this litter box, you can pour the urine into a container and then bring it to the clinic for analysis.

Posted 158 weeks ago

Vaccinations and Immunity For Your Dog or Puppy

Posted by Dog Friendship on Monday, December 5, 2011 Under: dog health
Probably many Americans know much about vaccines - rather like the very few (16%) of Canadians aged 45 to 74 who felt that they know a lot about adult vaccination and the only two-in-five (41%) who reported ever speaking with a doctor about them.  Dog vaccines may be as much as a mystery.  Like you - your has natural immunity to many illnesses.  How does the immune system work?  And does my dog or puppy need vaccines?  Why don't vaccines work all the time?  And why are there still outbreaks if dogs are mostly vaccinated?   This article doesn't give veterinary advice for your dog although hopefully gives a good overview of how vaccines and the immune system works.

Just like feeling queasy when a doctor suggests breaking a bone that has already been broken to get it to heal right, or the idea of being infected with a parasite called a helminth (or other parasites/worms) to boost our immune systems, the idea of causing some limited disease to cure may also seem "just wrong" and a little creepy.  Yet vaccinations have historically been very useful tools (along with increased population health and clean water) against some diseases.

How Vaccinations Work:
Army troops (natural immune cells) are set-up ready and waiting, on duty for any expected foreign intruder to enter via the assumed, most common points of entry.  These points of entry include where dogs breathe and eat (nose/sinuses, mouth, throat, lungs -> down to the stomach and intestines) and vaginal and anal openings (full of soft tissue).

Though history, dogs living in the natural environment (which has all sorts of microorganisms) have developed an immune system that "knows" the most common "ports of entry" and has set up fortresses in these specific location.  The rest of the immune system settled elsewhere, in places like the lymph nodes (neck, groin, abdomen) and lymph tissue (spleen, tonsils, liver, digestive tract) and floating around in the blood (antibodies) in a "surveillance system".

At this point, we can compare a healthy immunce system to a well-trained army of troops (natural immune cells) sitting, ready and waiting at the point of contact to take action (destroy) the enemy (incoming virus or bacteria) in several well-designed ways (including gobbling them up).

When the troops of the natural immune system are overwhelmed by the number of enemies (viral load), the system recruits help from the rest of the immune army (called the specific/acquired immune system).  It's as though the army troops at the point of contact get on their radios and say "hey folks, we're overwhelmed up here in the nose and throat, please come and help us out"!)  

After being activated only once, the specific immune system acquires the ability to enhance the immune system's destructive capabilities and holds a memory bank of cells that hold the key to the enemy's destruction.  The result is an improved immune response to that microorganism the next time it comes around.  This memory-cell process means that a dog can be immune without having circulating antibodies in the bloodstream.(1)

Allowing the immune system to be healthy and do its job naturally is the safest way to develop healthy immunity and is very effective.  

The effectiveness of this depends on the underlying health of the dog, which is a direct result of behaviour, habit, feeding, rest, stress, hydration, exercise and other pre-existing illness or tissue/organ malfunction.
Sending a live bacteria or virus into the body through a way it's not expected (through breaks in the skin, for example) will challenge even healthy immune systems, as will an extremely aggressive virus or bacteria (or a large viral load, that might contain several virus strains).  Other ways to challenge the system may be through food allergens, chemicals, environmental pollution (like car exhausts) and antigens (dust, for example).

When the system doesn't work, your dog can get everything from a mild fever, fatigue, lethargy, headache, joint and muscle ache to respiratory tract troubles (coughing, sinus congestion, mucous discharge, shortness of breath) and digestive tract symptoms (nausea, cramps, vomiting, diarrhea).  Severe attacks (diseases that compromise the immune system) can show up as everything from infection and gangrene to convulsions and death.

In general, with a healthy dog and a functioning immune system, many "breaches" of the immune system's front door are successfully challenged.  In fact, even in ancient Greece it was recognized that humans and animals who had been infected by something and recovered were able to be around those infected without getting the disease again.  

For some, however, even an initial infection was fatal. Puppies, sick and senior dogs have what are referred to as "compromised immune systems" (immuno-compromised).  Basically that means that their normal repelling army isn't functioning as well as it should.  Their frontline system is weak and their backup (specific and acquired immunity) is also not strong.  These animals tended not to survive the first wave of the illness.  Some breed genetics also make dogs more susceptible to infection - some populations of Rottweiler dogs carry genes that mean they are unable to make protective immune responses to canine parvovirus infection.
To try to avoid the most common of the aggressive microorganisms we know about in puppies and dogs (like parvo-virus, rabies, distemper, kennel cough and so on), some owners may choose to vaccinate.  That is, to get a vet to give them a shot of the microorganism that causes the illness at a very low level - enough that a dog will have only mild effects BUT strong enough so that the secondary acquired/specific system is called out and memorizes the illness.  Then, if the dog is ever exposed to the full force of the microorganism, their immune army will be able to repel the invader with no ill effects.  

The vaccines in widespread use fall into two general categories: the core group, recommended for dogs across the board, and the non-core, which are prescribed based on a dog’s individual circumstances. The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association’s Vaccination Protocol and Ontario Veterinary Medical Association’s vacination information notes that patient’s vaccination needs should be assessed at least yearly as part of a comprehensive preventative health care strategy. The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) Vaccination Guidelines and the World Small Animal Veterinary Association’s (WSAVA) Guidelines for the Vaccination of Dogs and Cats both recommend that core vaccines should be administered at intervals of every three years or longer. They both acknowledge that studies have shown that duration of immunity is up to seven years for some vaccines. 

 There are side effects from being vaccinated.  Generally they appear to be mild according to the scientific evidence.  
A study looked for reactions occurring within 3 days of vaccination in 1.2 million dogs receiving 3.4 million doses of vaccine (some dogs receiving multiple doses during their puppy program). About 38 dogs per 10,000 vaccinated had reactions – the majority of those reactions were mild and went away in a short time.  Swelling at the site of the vaccination is possible as is vomiting and hair loss.   

There are also other known problems with vaccination:  

·          Vaccinations can fail (meaning that the dog doesn't get enough of a "dose" of the invader to develop an immune army or they haven't received the right booster).  No vaccine is 100% effective, 100% of the time.

 ·          Standard doses don't always account for your dog's own particular combination of age, heredity and size (resulting in over or under-vaccination.)  

 ·          Vaccinating can highlight an unsuspected weak immune system (and vaccinating unhealthy dogs can “drag down” their whole immune system, leading to less resistance to other challenges)

 ·          Vaccines commonly contain materials other than the organism to which immunity is desired.

 Vaccine additions have caused problems at times.  These materials may be added as:

·          Preservatives

·          Adjuvants (what the cells are floating in, sometimes used to trick the body into thinking the dead virus is live) usually added to non-infectious [killed] vaccines 

·          Antibiotics.

Preservatives and adjuvants can include toxins and carcinogens such as aluminum (alum), mercury (thimersol), and formaldehyde, although in small amounts that the manufacturers and scientists have stated are not enough to cause an issue or at the least are much less than your dog would be exposed to through diet and environment.

Also, foreign proteins can be are included if the organism was grown on foreign tissue such as chicken or duck embryos. Non-intended organisms are sometimes accidentally incorporated as contaminant "stowaways". In 1995 The Washington Post reported that MMR vaccine produced by Merck & Co. along with some influenza and yellow fever vaccines, contained an enzyme known as reverse transcriptase. This enzyme is associated with retroviruses such as FeLV, FIV, and HIV, and has the capability to alter genetic information.

Some breeds (such as the Rottweilers above) are unable to respond well to a vaccine and can contract the disease. Smaller dogs tend to have more adverse reactions.  Pregnant dogs should not receive vaccines as there's a potential for complications.  What is also important to know is that the natural course of viruses like rabies and West Nile involves mutation.  As they move through natural and different populations they change or slightly alter a part of themselves so they can inhabit a host (person or animal) in the next population whose immune system does not recognize it.  Nature can often be one step ahead of the immune system's ability to defeat it.  Some claim that vaccinating is unnecessary because most illnesses were caused by poor health - and today's dog tends to live in a healthy environment.  They also note a “hygiene hypothesis” contends that frequent exposure to immune system challenges as a normal part of everyday living helps strengthen healthy dog immune systems. 

This dialogue was complicated by a  study published in 1998 in the medical journal, The Lancet.  The study was carried out by a British doctor, Andrew Wakefield. He claimed to have found a link between the Measles Mumps Rubella (MMR) vaccine and regressive autism. The findings were based on Wakefield’s case-study series of 12 children. From the beginning, The Lancet distanced itself from the research by publishing a harsh critique alongside the study.   Scientists tried but failed to replicate Wakefield’s findings. Last year The Lancet retracted the paper and  most recently the British Medical Journal, which carried out its own investigation into Wakefield’s work, called it outright “fraud.”  Amid the controversy, Wakefield lost his license to practice medicine in England.  In a case in North America, a human Lyme vaccine was marketed and faced a firestorm of critique that it might cause arthritis, although subsequent testing showed there were actually less arthritis cases in those vaccinated than in the general population.

Some also suggest that increased vaccines lead to more allergies, behavioral issues and diabetes (among other things). You may have heard the suggestion that Amish don't get as ill because their population is not vaccinated.  That’s actually one of the enduring myths surrounding vaccinations — that there are no cases of autism in the Amish (which is not true) and also that the Amish are not immunized (also not true) - see this article reviewing the myth here.   Finally, they suggest that by bypassing the initial army, and getting straight into contact with the acquired immune system, that they are overstimulating the backup system and making the initial army less capable. 

Dog owners consider vaccines love their dogs.  Sometimes in all the discussion, it seems difficult to know what to do for their best.  So, with all that - preventing disease, possible dangers and the chance that more dangers will be discovered....is vaccination worth the time, energy, expense and potential unwanted effects?  

Sometimes it seems as if there is a constant attack on the idea of vaccinations, all with the aim of finding a reason to show vaccines are dangerous, all of which seem to be being disproved over time. First it was the Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine that opponents claimed caused autism. Then it was mercury. Then it was “too many vaccines, too soon.” Each time a pet theory is disproved by science, a new anti-vaccination reason seems to surface.  That's the part of questioning the risks of the things we have done to our dogs (and ourselves!) and the point of good science - to ask questions and seek answers, and to look for causes for things with unclear causes.  So we can expect this questioning of vaccine value to continue for some time, even as science searches for new ways other than vaccines to prevent things like viruses from taking our immune army down (like identifying in the hope of blocking a "lock and key" mechanism that prevents a virus from invading DNA and spreading.)   

Another key reason that we can expect the attack to continue is that some vets and companies are marketing products designed to reduce the number of vaccines.  So if people aren't afraid of vaccines, or over-vaccination, there would be no reason for them to use products to reduce the number of vaccines.  Certainly many of these practitioners have the highest of ethics and are thoroughly dedicated to science and dog well-being first and profit second.  Dog Friendship can't help but wonder, though, if the profit imperative will not take the lead over those great qualities in the last sentence.

Capitalizing on vaccine concerns, and aimed at helping owners choose wisely about vaccinations, titer testing has been suggested as a way to know if your dog needs a vaccine.                                          

A "titer" is a measurement of how much antibody to a certain virus (or other antigen) is circulating in the blood at that moment. Titers are usually expressed in a ratio, which is how many times the tester can dilute the blood until they cannot find antibodies anymore. If they can dilute it two times only and then they don't find anymore, that would be a titer of 1:2 (a weak titer). If they have to dilute it a thousand times before they can't find any antibody, then that would be a titer of 1:1000 (a stronger titer).

A titer test does not and cannot measure immunity, because immunity to specific viruses is reliant not on antibodies, but on memory cells, which there is currently no way to measure. Memory cells don't need "reminders" in the form of re-vaccination to keep producing antibodies. (Science, 1999; "Immune system's memory does not need reminders.") If the animal recently encountered the virus, their level of antibody might be quite high, but that doesn't mean they are more immune than an animal with a lower titer.

Vaccine titers currently cost between $40-60. Clinics quoting higher prices typically do so because they aren’t familiar with the “going rate” and assume that they’re costly – as a sort of dissuasion - do not offer the tests or do not believe they are effective. Dr. Jean Dodds, whose company offers titer testing,offers tests through Hemopet (hemopet.org.)  A new in-vet-office titer test that takes about 21 minutes for results (dubbed the Canine VacciCheck) that was being marketed in the US in 2011, checks titer levels for three canine viruses: Canine Infectious Hepatitis (CAV-2), Canine Parvovirus (CPV) and Canine Distemper (CDV). Marketing focuses on three uses:

·          Determining the vaccination status of dogs with unknown vaccination history (useful to help shelters vaccinate “found” dogs) 

·          Discovering whether or not a puppy has formed immunity after a vaccine is administered (if it’s done within two weeks of the injection, when there still should be antibodies floating about, the absence of antibodies might indicate a vaccine failure)

·          Finding out if your dog’s immunity to any of those three viruses has “worn off,” and that he’s thus in need of what we call a “booster shot”

If you note above, although it’s being marketed as a way to test if a vaccination has “worn off”, it’s simply not possible to test for memory cells yet – so checking the level of antibodies present doesn’t help in this third case and may simply contribute to great revenues for vets.

Dog Friendship quotes some good advice we often apply when reviewing scientific controversy.  Review the data, make your decision based on the best available knowledge supported by dedicated and caring professionals, encourage research on the topic and change your position if the data changes.  It might be worth keeping an eye on the material from The Children's Hospital of Philadephia - fact sheets on aluminum and how many vaccines are too much - as they have publicly committed to keeping state-of-the-art material available.

It appears that the majority of vets (and scientists promoting vaccination) think that not vaccinating individual (and healthy) dogs risks the health of all dogs (especially those with compromised immune systems) and also increases the risk of preventable diseases that have been "quiet" for years.  They note that while vaccines are made by drug companies - and certainly there have been cases where drug companies seemingly manipulated data or overstated results or papered over their connections to researchers - in the case of vaccinations, we do not need to rely on a handful of studies funded by these drug companies. Vaccines are in all likelihood the single most studied public health initiative for children around the world. Vaccines aren’t considered safe because some drug company out to make a buck suggests it.  They are considered safe because there have been dozens of studies by hundreds of scientists around the world. Arguing that vaccines are by definition unsafe because they’re made by drug companies is like arguing that oats are unhealthy because your local farmer sells them to Quaker to package (of course, we could question the amount of sugar added, but that's another story).  

In the meantime, in science, there is debate about what the "right" schedule for vaccinating dogs is, and their is an assumption among most veterinary associations that there is a balanced way to both reduce risks from key diseases and to prevent un-needed effects and over-vaccination. 

Dr. Sophia Yin, DVM and dog trainer notes that vets are also concerned about keeping up population vaccination levels -- vaccinating a large enough portion of the population, generally 70%-80%.  By vaccinating this large percentage, the population of dogs develop what’s called herd immunity. That is the population develops a level of resistance that is sufficient to prevent the reintroduction of the virus from causing an outbreak. While individual dogs may be sporadically infected by the disease, the number of dogs with disease remains low. Additionally, vaccinated females produce maternal antibody which helps protect their puppies during the first couple of months while their immune system is developing.

Unfortunately, the duration of immunity for each vaccine is not currently known, according to the Ontario Veterinary Medical Association.  While pet owners can have blood tests done on their pets to assess the pet's antibody level, this does not test the level of immunity currently provided by the pet's cell mediated immune system. Until more is known about the duration of immunity, the frequency and type of vaccines administered will vary. 
You can read about vet protocols in the US for vaccinating dogs: the 2011 AAHA Canine Vaccination  Guidelines and the World Small Animal Veterinary Association Guidelines for Vaccinating Dogs and Cats. Here, in a nutshell, are the new guidelines: "Dogs and cats immune systems mature fully at 6 months. If a modified live virus (MLV) vaccine is given after 6 months of age, it produces immunity, which is good for the life of the pet (i.e., canine distemper, parvo)."
For puppies, there is an added complication of timing:
"Puppies receive antibodies through their mothers milk. This natural protection can last 8-14 weeks.  Puppies and kittens should NOT be vaccinated at LESS than 8 weeks. Maternal immunity will neutralize the vaccine and little protection (0-38%) will be produced. Vaccination at 6 weeks will, however, delay the timing of the first highly effective vaccine.  Vaccinations given 2 weeks apart suppress rather than stimulate the immune system. A series of vaccinations is given starting at 8 weeks and given 3-4 weeks apart up to 16 weeks of age. Another  vaccination given sometime after 6 months of age (usually at 1 year 4 months) will provide lifetime immunity."  Check out this article from vet Dr. Sophia Yin on vaccinating your puppy.

Vaccines available for dogs include those for these key known illnesses (see description below courtesy of the Ontario Veterinary Medical Association):
  • Rabies (for more detail on the rabies vaccine and frequency check out the Sirius site)
  • Distemper
  • Hepatitis
  • Parainfluenza
  • Parvo virus
  • Leptospirosis
  • Lyme Disease
  • Corona virus
  • Bordetella (kennel cough)
  • Giardia 
  • Canine Herpes

Homeopathic and natural vets seem to be busy recommending something called a nosode.  Nosodes are homeopathic remedies made from the specific products of a particular disease (tissue containing the actual disease agents or event a vaccine containing the organisms).  There is little science showing that these nosodes are effective at this point (noted by two leaders in challenging current vet wisdom about vaccines - Dodds and Schultz in this Clean Run magazine article on vaccines.)  A key challenge with them is also that the same people extolling stories (not studies) about their value often turn out to have an ownership interest in a company that manufactures the nosode in question.

Talk to your veterinarian about the risk of viral and bacterial diseases in your area, and the need for one, two or three year vaccines.  Work with your vet to consider your pet's lifestyle.  Some pets are indoors in one home all the time, whereas others have a great deal of exposure to other pets and/or wildlife and infectious disease by virtue of their activities. Still other pets live in geographic areas that place them at greater risk for contracting some infectious diseases. At Dog Friendship, we support responsible vaccination for all dogs, being aware of the risks.

The good news is, there's a lot of research happening that is aimed at strengthening dog immune systems and reducing vaccinations.  For example, in November, 2011 researchers at Kansas State University, including Frank Blecha announced they had developed a new "army member" (peptide) that could be enhance dog immunity. 



Canine Parvovirus

Parvovirus is a serious disease affecting primarily young dogs (6 weeks to 6 months of age) although any age can be affected. The breeds at highest risk include the Rottweiler, Doberman Pinscher, and German Shepherd.

Parvovirus is a hardy virus, able to withstand extreme temperature changes, and exposure to most disinfectants. Dogs contract Parvovirus through exposure to infected dogs or infected stools.

Parvovirus attacks the gastrointestinal tract, causing affected dogs to lose their appetite, become lethargic and show evidence of vomiting, diarrhea or both. The diarrhea is often bloody and has a foul odour (that of digested blood). Some dogs develop fevers. Left untreated, Parvovirus can be fatal.

This disease is very serious and can be very expensive to treat. Vaccination against this highly contagious viral disease has proven to be very successful in preventing this disease (or lessening its severity).

Canine Parvovirus is spread through direct or INDIRECT contact with infected feces. Indirect (secondary) transfer of the virus can come from paws and shoes that come in contact with the feces. An infected dog can shed the virus in its feces for up to 3 weeks after complete recovery. A bleach/water solution of at least 1:30 (1 part bleach to 30 parts water) is an effective decontamination method for Parvo. In order to be effective, the solution must remain in contact with contaminated surfaces for at least 10 minutes.

 Canine Kennel Cough

Clinical signs of kennel cough include a dry, hacking cough and, in some dogs, nasal discharge, loss of appetite and difficulty breathing.

Kennel cough is highly contagious and is spread through sneezing, coughing and contact with infected nasal secretions. Kennel cough is most commonly transmitted when dogs are put in close proximity to one another, for example, at dog shows, in kennels, etc. In most cases, kennel cough lasts 7 to 10 days and dogs recover fully from it. In some cases, antibiotics are necessary.If your dog is on the show circuit or spends time in a boarding facility, vaccination may be recommended. Speak to your veterinarian about your dog's risk of exposure and need for this vaccine.

For Bortadella, it is possible to spray the vaccine through the dog’s nostrils, rather than by injection. The advantage is that the vaccine is most effective at the site of potential infection (rather than processed through the blood stream through the entire body). The disadvantage -  it appears possible the vaccine administered through the nose is no longer sufficiently effective beyond 6 months. Administration through the nose is also much less pleasant for the dog can be difficult with aggressive or reactive dogs. 

Infectious Canine Hepatitis

Hepatitis is a viral disease that is most common in young, unvaccinated dogs (9-12 weeks). Clinical signs may include respiratory tract abnormalities (discharge from the nose or eyes, coughing) or evidence of liver and/or kidney disease (jaundice, loss of appetite, vomiting, change in drinking and urinating behaviour). Occasionally, an affected dog develops a "blue eye" (corneal edema).

Hepatitis is spread by contact with urine from an infected dog. Prevention by vaccination is the key as canine hepatitis is often fatal. Infectious canine hepatitis is not contagious to people.


Vaccination is considered optional by most veterinarians. Giardia is a parasite that can cause chronic gastrointestinal upset (primarily diarrhea) in dogs and cats. This parasite can spread to humans. The vaccine for Giardia is new. Ask your veterinarian about the incidence of this disease in your area, and whether you need to have your pet vaccinated against this disease.


Rabies is a viral disease that attacks the central nervous system of all warm blooded animals, including humans. Rabies is transmitted by saliva, which is usually transferred by a bite from an infected animal. The disease is frequently found in wild animals such as skunks, foxes, raccoons and bats.  In Ontario, Canada it is mandatory to vaccinate yearly against rabies.

Once infected, the disease is fatal. Prior to death, clinical signs may include a change in behaviour (e.g. increased aggressiveness or increased shyness), dilation of the pupils, excess salivation, snapping at the air, a shifting gait, and facial twitching.

As the virus can be transmitted to humans, no stray dog, cat or wild animal should ever be approached. Wild animals should never be kept as pets. Your pet should be kept on its own property or leashed when off its property. To help prevent raccoon rabies, it is recommended that you cap chimneys, close up any holes in attics or outbuildings, and make sure that stored garbage does not act as a food source.

Vaccination is important to safeguard your dog from rabies. Some veterinarians recommend vaccinating every year, while others recommend a three-year vaccine. Talk to your veterinarian about the degree of risk for Rabies in your area, and about which vaccine will provide your pet with the protection it requires.

Canine Leptospirosis

Leptospirosis is a disease that impairs kidney function and may cause kidney failure. Liver disease is also common. Clinical signs may include loss of appetite, lethargy, jaundice, vomiting, diarrhea, and seizures.

There are a number of different types of leptospira that may cause the disease. Wild and domestic animals (cattle, pigs, dogs) may act as reservoirs for infection. The disease is transmitted by contact with the urine of infected animals. Stagnant or slow-moving water may provide a suitable habitat for the organism to thrive.

Canine Corona Virus

Canine corona virus infects one of the layers of the intestinal tract and may lead to vomiting and diarrhea. Infected dogs can shed the virus to other dogs. The overall prevalence of corona virus is thought to be low, and most infections are mild and self-limiting. Vaccination against this virus is available, but not all veterinarians recommend it. Speak to your veterinarian about your dog's risk for developing this viral disease.

Lyme Disease

Lyme disease is caused by a spirochete (Borrelia burgdorferi) and spread by ticks. It is a serious disease in people. Clinical signs in dogs, if they occur, are thought to include lameness, joint swelling, fever, loss of appetite and lethargy. The heart, brain and kidney may also be affected. Dogs do not generally show the classic red lesion that a human exhibits at the site of a tick bite.

The diagnosis of Lyme disease is not black and white. If the disease is suspected, your veterinarian may request a blood test to detect antibodies to Borrelia. If this test is positive and your dog has clinical signs suggestive of Lyme disease and a history of travel to a high risk area, antibiotics may be recommended.

Depending on your geographical location, your veterinarian may recommend vaccinating your dog against Lyme disease.  To assist in the prevention of Lyme disease, use flea and tick sprays, and remove any ticks from the animal promptly, if found.  

Canine Herpes

The Canine Herpes Virus is not the same virus that humans get (humans get several herpes virus types - most common is Herpes Simplex which causes the cold sores on and around the lips, another causes genital Herpes, while yet another causes chicken pox and that virus can turn into Shingles many years after a person has chicken pox.) Canine Herpes (CHV) inn the affected adult dog, resembles a head cold...sometimes sneezy and snotty, with a 3-4 day incubation period and a 3 day course and then it disappears. The virus can be fatal to puppies and the immunocompromised.


In : dog health 

Tags: vaccines  dog health  nosodes  rabies vaccination  vaccine side effects  parasites  helminths  worms 

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Blog posts are generally written by our lead trainer, Helen Prinold.  While original posts on a topic may have an older date, here at Dog Friendship we are dedicated to keeping the information up-to-date as new info is available.  If you see anything in a post that needs updating, use the contact us form to let us know. 

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