What to look for when adopting?

By Sindhoor Pangal, Bangalore Mirror Bureau | Apr 25, 2016, 08.58 PM IST

Is adoption right for you?

Is adoption right for you? That’s a question only you can really answer. Often people are not sure how to answer that question and eventually opt out of adoption. I’ll try to give you some tools that you can use to help you figure out. If you don’t feel confident enough about evaluating a dog, use the help of a professional to get the answers.

The most common myth people have about adopting dogs is that all such dogs carry baggage and hence is going to pose a significant challenge in settling down at home. A closer examination of this myth reveals something interesting. Yes, most dogs up for adoption are stressed to varying degrees. But the problem is not insurmountable. At the same time, raising young puppies is no cake-welk, either. They too need a lot of care and attention in the beginning. Little puppies also need a lot of patience when it comes to training them and handling their destructive phase and teenage months. So you see, petting a dog is going to be a lot of effort, one way or another.

The range of issues with adopted dogs can be quite vast, and pet parents must know what issues they are going to face, and must also understand how to face it.

First up, health issues. In order to evaluate the health of the dog, examine the dog thoroughly and talk to the shelter staff at length. Observe the coat, gait and teeth.

Observe the dog during play time and meal time. Look for large clumps of falling fur, limping of any nature, yellow teeth, reluctance to play, stiffness when trying to eat or drink water. Of course, you cannot expect a dog to be at his healthiest self in a shelter. Talk to the shelter staff and ask questions about the dog’s health history, number of infections and allergies the dog has been administered, the bowel movement of the dog, poop consistency, appetite, stomach upsets, injuries etc.

The next thing one needs to assess is the behaviour of the dog. A dog with a bite history might not be the best fit for a home, especially for first-time pet parents or for families with a new born baby. A shy dog might struggle in a very busy home. A hyper dog might be pushed over to the edge if the people in the house are too excited.

When you observe the dog, see the level of curiosity it exhibits. A curious dog is a healthy dog. Observe how he approaches people. A confident dog should be able to walk up to strangers with relative ease. If possible, take him out for a walk and observe how he deals with novelty outside the shelter. You are looking for signs of healthy curiosity, with a little bit of caution thrown in.

Ask extensive questions about the bite history of the dog. Find out how many times the dog has bitten people, or other dogs, since his arrival at the shelter, or previously, if possible. Find out as much as possible about the situation that led to the bite. Try to understand if it’s impulsive or was there a reason why the dog responded violently. Remember that shelter dogs are put under a lot of duress and they can snap sometimes. It does not make them bad-behaved dogs. So understand the situation well before evaluating the dog.

And last but not the least, evaluate your own ability to commit and your experience. If experience and commitment are high, then you are in a wonderful place where you might be able to take home the most needy of dogs and give them all that they need to flourish. I wish you well. However, if you are low on either, then you might want to objectively evaluate what you can do and take on only as much as you can. That way you do right by the dog and have an experience you will actually cherish.

Disclaimer: I advocate adoption when possible, discourage pet shop buying of dogs and am against backyard breeding.

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Snipping puppy dog tails?

Bangalore Mirror Bureau | Apr 12, 2016, 02.49 PM IST

Today I’d like to share my thoughts on tail docking, earcropping and removal of the dew claw. Such practices have been around for a long time, and each time, different reasons are cited for them. At one point, dog shows mandated such amputative procedures, making them “trends”. Now new information is emerging that suggests that we need to rethink the ease with which we opt for these procedures. Kennel clubs are gradually changing their stance on this, and governments are banning such procedures as well. It’s time for more pet parents to have informed opinions on the matter.

The dew claw is the little claw on the side of the foot, mostly in front paws, sometimes in the rear paws as well. You could consider it a bit like your thumb. Though not really an opposable thumb, it still plays a critical role in the anatomy and movement of a dog.

A bit about the anatomy of a dog: There are five tendons that attach to the dew claw. Tendons are attached to muscles. Removal of the dew claw will cause those muscles to atrophy. This is not good for the movement of a dog.

The innermost and outermost claws play critical roles in controlling the pronation of a dog’s foot. If the innermost claw is removed, the dog’s foot will roll inward when walking. The runners among us know that pronation can cause severe injuries in the knees and the rest of the leg. Leg injuries are particularly painful because there is just no escaping movement. This affects behaviour.

Then there’s the tail. Part of the spine, it is used extensively in movement, communication and expression. When a dog runs he uses his tail like a rudder, to set direction. The tail also seems to have a role in breaking when running and banking.

Anyone who has seen a dog will agree that the tail is also used extensively for expression. In fact, to most of us, the tail is the most expressive part of a dog. Latest studies seem to point to observations that might indicate that they are used in communication as well.

One might suggest that these organs get hurt if not removed. True. But that’s true of most organs. The only difference is that we perceive these organs as being unnecessary. But here’s the thing. Our appendix is unnecessary. And it does get infected too. But we don’t remove it pre-emptively. And these organs in a dog are not vestigial like an appendix. They play an active role in a dog’s everyday life. Why not address the injury when it happens instead of preemptively removing it?

Consider our street dogs. They have most of these organs intact. It’s easy to observe that not all of these dogs go around with dew claw injuries and tail injuries. In fact many of the street dog mixes have dew claws on their front and rear leg. And yet, the injuries sustained in these parts are not significantly more than injuries sustained in other parts of the body.

Nature is rarely wrong. Dogs were given these organs for a reason. While we might have erroneously assumed that they did not play a significant role in a dog’s life, we now know otherwise. So it’s perhaps time to reconsider if we really need to go around pre-emptively amputating our animals or give them the benefit of what nature designed for them.

Caring for your dog this summer

By Sindhoor Pangal, Bangalore Mirror Bureau | Mar 7, 2016, 07.20 PM IST

wolf wars
Help your dogs chill this summer

Climate change is real, they say. I have no intention of getting into that discussion here. But one thing’s for sure – Bangalore is hot now and we are all struggling to cope with this unforgiving heat. I can feel my energy sap each day. Everyday activities seem like award-worthy achievements. As I relax each evening under the fan with a glass of buttermilk in my hand and congratulate myself for having pulled through another blistering day, I wonder what my dogs are going through. I know that they have it a lot harder, so I have to work extra to ease their discomfort during this time of the year. Here is what you need to know about canine care in summer.

First up, you need to understand that dogs can dehydrate and overheat a lot easier than we can. Dogs regulate their temperature with their snouts. That means, dogs with shorter snouts find it harder still. Extremely furry dogs that were meant for cold climates also need special attention. Our very own native dogs are perhaps going to find it marginally easier. But this summer heat is going to spare no one.

Hydration is one of the most important things to keep in mind. Make sure your dog has fresh, cool water at all times of the day. For dogs that will drink it, unsalted buttermilk and coconut water are also good options. Just don’t give anything ice cold, as the extreme change in temperature can cause bigger problems. We even carry a sippy water bottle on walks for them. These days, there are a few pet-water bottles available. Look it up to see if something works for you.

Keep dogs indoors during the harshest parts of the day. Don’t walk on hot asphalt or risk severe dehydration by walking during hot hours. If you are travelling by car, don’t ever leave the dog in a closed car during these months. Even a few minutes are enough to do real damage.

At home, do all you can to keep your dog cool. Keep the fan on where your dog tends to spend most of her day. Provide light cotton blankets on the floor for them instead of thick beds. Some might like damp towels to sit on. Some dogs might like a damp floor to cool their belly on. There are cooling blankets available in the market that your dog might appreciate.

If you are going in for a summer cut for long-coat dogs, be careful with how much fur you trim off. Shaving the dog off fully is not a good idea. Dogs use their fur to capture thin films of air to help regulate body temperature.

A full shave can also cause sunburn.

It’s also a good idea to spritz cool water on your dog during particularly hot days, or after walks. Or try wiping their belly and under their paws with a damp towel. If you have a tub, you could fill some water in it and allow your dog to splash around in it. Some dogs will splash around in their water bowls and then sit on the spilled water. Just about anything to beat the heat, right?

Here, I must tell you about my teacher’s dog. Every summer, my teacher fills up a little kiddy tub with water for his dog to cool in. Last summer, the dog was very grateful for the tub. But he decided a few others needed this too. So he brought all his stuffed toys and put them in the tub. He gets it! Summers are hot for all and we help each other cope.

Pain always affects behaviour

By Sindhoor Pangal, Bangalore Mirror Bureau | Dec 15, 2015, 04.00 AM IST

I am not a dog trainer. I am a dog behaviour consultant. What that means is that I look at a dog’s behaviour, try to understand what is causing that behaviour and address the problem at its root. Behavioural problems cannot be trained out of a dog. A dog does not act abnormal out of choice. The most common culprits are health, history or the dog’s environment. While many people are keen to examine the environment and history of the dog, health is often overlooked. But unfortunately, more often than not, health is the issue.

Health is overlooked often because dogs are incredibly stoic. That, combined with their joie de vivre gives them a certain exuberance that seems to mask all signs of pain and discomfort. Often my clients will tell me, ‘But my dog cannot be in pain. Just look at the way he runs’.

What happens in most cases is that during play the dog is shot up with adrenaline. Adrenaline is a powerful hormone that can push living beings to achieve a lot. Look at what humans can do under the influence of adrenaline. We have heard of mothers lifting cars when their children are in danger. We have heard of people running with gaping wounds when they are under threat. Adrenaline, by design, makes us faster, stronger and more resilient to pain. When we play rough and tumble with our dogs, adrenaline is pumped in them and their pain momentarily disappears. They love life so much that they just play through it all. So pain is almost impossible to see in dogs until it becomes debilitating.

But for a keen observer, a dog’s pain is visible. In their behaviour, gait and habits. One needs to learn what to look for and then observe very closely.

If your dog shows sudden behavioural changes, suspect pain. Behavioural changes can include a wide range of things from sudden onset of lethargy to sudden aggression. It could manifest in odd behaviours such as the cocking of the head, disinterest in food, inexplicable whining or howling etc. Any out-of-the-ordinary behaviour needs to be noted, observed and journalled.

Once you do that, start looking. When do you notice the odd behaviour? Is it a little after meal times, a little after play time, just after waking up? A dog that shows behavioural changes around meal times could be experiencing digestive pain or discomfort. A dog that acts odd around rest times or play times might be experiencing skeletal or muscular discomfort.

Learn to watch a dog’s gait. Look for limping, hopping, skipping and kicking. Pacing is a gait in which the dog moves the hind and front leg of the same side together. For instance, the front and hind legs of the right move forward, and then the left hind and front legs move forward.

Pacing frequently indicates pain. A dog that always favours one side to sit on might have hip pain. A dog that has more callousing on one elbow might indicate favouring of one side. A dog that has over-developed front muscles might be over compensating for pain in the hind legs.

Pain is very easy to overlook in a dog. Dogs love life too much to be held back by pain. But over time, it starts affecting their musculature and the behaviour. It might cost the dog and you a lot if left unaddressed. So don’t wait for things to get bad. Develop a keen eye for your dog’s movements. Address pain early. Your dog will thank you for it.

How to choose the right vet

By Sindhoor Pangal, Bangalore Mirror Bureau | Sep 21, 2015, 08.58 PM IST

I just finished reading a book called Speaking for Spot by Dr Nancy Kay. Dr Kay is a veterinarian who writes this book for pet parents like you and me. In it she writes in her capacity as a pet parent as well as a vet, advising pet parents on several topics related to health, starting from basics such as the vet you should choose. It’s a valuable guide that I highly recommend to all.

In the talks I gave recently in the US, I spoke of the travails of my dog Nishi. Nishi was run over by a car a few years ago. In her journey since, her vets have played a critical role, not just in keeping her alive and thriving, but also in piecing our lives together. In fact, a mere two months after the accident, we were getting married. We had the courage to leave her behind and go get married only because she was under the able care of her loving vet, who boarded her and cared for her. We called him every day – several times on some days – and he reassured us that she was doing fine. That’s how our vet became part of our wedding planning.
A good vet is an asset. He/she understands your dog well – that means understanding the breed as well as your dog, the individual. A good vet is also one you get along well with. So, the vet’s job is no easy one. He/she has to be adept had building a good rapport with both you and your dog. But that is the nature of the job.
So, how do you go about finding a good vet? I like to pull out this nifty list from Dr Kay’s book, of important qualities. Make your own list, based on these criteria:

Do you want a young vet with enthusiasm who is well versed in cutting-edge technology? Or, a seasoned veteran who has amassed a great deal of experience and intuition?

  • Does your pup prefer female vets to male vets?
  • Are you a better fit with a doctor who offers every available option, or one who makes a strong recommendation?
  • Do you prefer a more aggressive or more conservative diagnostic and treatment approach?
  • Are you interested in holistic options rather than an exclusively Western or Eastern medical approach?
  • Does your dog have special needs?
  • Do you have multiple dogs and do they have different needs? Do you need to have different vets for each of your dogs?

Once you have your criteria listed, start asking around. Other pet parents and online forums can fill in the blanks. But stay away from people who push you hard in one direction.

You and your vet(s) are part of a team that is working towards the health care of your dog. But you and only you will be taking all the decisions for your dog. Some of them can get difficult. Your vet is your advisor in this process. So pick someone who can be a good teammate. Pick someone who understands your style of decision making for your dog and will aid you sufficiently in your decision making process.

Sometimes, the situation will demand that you have more than one vet as part of this team. Second opinions are not rare in human medicine either. Competent medical professionals do not take offense at it. In fact, they cooperate with each other for the health of their patient. So be bold. Put your dog’s health first.

Preparing for the vet and trainer

Published: Apr 14 2015 : Mirror (Bangalore)

Visits to vets can be stressful for dog and people. The place is often full of sick and stressed dogs and tense V people. Even if one walked in calm, it’s easy to get into what I call “The Collective Hospital Tension“. When it’s an emergency, the whole thing gets worse. It’s easy to get emotional, forget half the things we wanted to say, forget half the things we wanted to ask about and not to register most of what is said. We come back and ponder. The thing with dogs is that a dog cannot speak about his ailment. It all boils down to our and our vet’s ability to observe and conjecture. This is a fine skill and often fails us if we attempt it under duress. So here are some ways to prepare before going to a vet and while at a vet.

First up, maintain a dog diary. One diary for all household dogs will do. But keep it handy. Jot down anything out of the ordinary.Not just health issues, but life events too. Health issues can be logged as aberrations in appetite, poop, pee, skin and fur conditions, strong odours emanating from ears, nose, eyes, mouth or any other part of the dog, gait, water consumption, dandruff. Life events to log would include any change in diet or other routine, sudden stressors like being chased by a cow or getting a scare during a walk, extreme weather conditions, loud external events like construction, fireworks and loud speakers.Log behavioural changes too. These include sudden hyperactivity, loss of temper, lethargy and irritation. Telling patterns of escalating stress or deteriorating health include odd inexplicable behaviour like chasing one’s tail, self harm and lack of concentration.
When logging notes, be generous with pictures and videos.That is what we have our gadgets for these days. Here is a good way to put it to use for your dog. These pictures help you look for improvements or deterioration of any kind and will help you react sooner.
When at a vet, ensure you take your journal and point to what you think are relevant parts of the journal. It is your prerogative to get your vet to understand your dog and your home. And it is your responsibility to understand what exactly your vet is saying.Ask questions. As many as you need to ask. Get specific. Good vets are very good at providing full transparency on what they are thinking. If your vet says it’s an infection, ask all the questions: “Infection in what part of the body?“, “What kind of infection?
Fungal/bacterial/viral?“. “What kind of bacteria?“. “What is the medicine being prescribed?“. “What does each medicine do?“.Don’t be afraid of technical terms. Write them down in your journal or ask the vet to write the term down. You can seek help to understand these terms later. But log them all down so you know what you are dealing with.
Journals also help if you want to change vets or seek second Journals also help if you want to change vets or seek second opinion. Often, the second vet will want to know what has been the course of treatment this far. You can then just whip out your journal and read it out like a pro.
Apart from vets, trainers too can benefit from this journal. After all, it will be a combination of a health and behaviour journal.So while adding veterinary records, log training records too. Log each session with the trainer, what was taught, how you intend to practice it and any unexpected outcome of the training session.

The thing is, we remember in celebrations and catastrophies. But when it comes to the dog’s health and behaviour, it’s the small details that actually matter. The more nuances you catch, the sooner you can react. 

Bites due to poor health

This week, I want to talk about a very serious topic – biting family dogs. A dog is a non confrontational animal by nature and gets along well with humans and other dogs. So a bite is very uncharacteristic for a dog and really is the dog’s last effort at asking someone to back off. If a dog is feeling so cornered as to bite, we need to examine what is causing him to feel so insecure; and it’s our responsibility as their pet parents not to put them in a situation that makes them feel so desperate.

Dogs bite when stress mounts so high that they don’t see a way out. But realising that the dog is in that situation after the bite happens is a bit too late. As pet parents, we need to get good at reading our dogs’ emotions well, so that we can tell if our dog is stressed early on and take the necessary actions.

To know if your dog is stressed, check for one or more of these odd behaviours – frequent loss of temper, biting the leash or pants, mouthing excessively, copious water consumption, repetitive behaviours like digging, chasing one’s own tail, biting oneself in the same spot, scratching oneself in the same place etc.

Leading causes of extreme stress in dogs that can lead to bites is poor health, pain, hunger, being tied for long hours, being alone for long hours and punishments in the form of beating and intimidation. There are many other things that cause stress in a dog, but today, I want to focus on two things in particular.

Health and pain can be the most elusive of these, since it’s hard for us to spot what’s going on. That’s why I’d like to focus on that today. Dogs can be quite stoic when it comes to expressing pain and discomfort and we too can be a bit blind sometimes in our busy lives. We do not see the signs that tell us that our dog is suffering. Regular visits to the vet will not suffice. These days, vets run so busy that it’s easy to miss out less obvious diseases. But as pet parents, we need to watch closely and be responsible for the animal that is completely trusting us to do right by him.

Behavioural issues that have their roots in health issues will be combined with visible signs of poor health. These can include poor, dry fur, dandruff, bad breath, over or under weight, unclear eyes, funny gait etc. If your dog is falling sick frequently with repeated loose stools, tick and flea infestations, allergies etc. then you need to be concerned about his health.

Common health issues include joint problems like hip dysplasia, allergies, heart issues and hypothyroidism. These days, with all the extensive breeding going on, several of our dogs are coming with these issues coded in their genes. So unless you have one of those hardy Indies, do watch your dog closely for these recurring problems.

Behavioural issues that have basis in ill health cannot be fixed with any amount of behavioural corrections and should not be done so either. An animal in discomfort should not be kept in that state for the sake of the animal and the safety of people and animals around.

So, as responsible pet parents, it is down to us to observe the behaviour of our dogs, identify extreme behaviours and ensure that any underlying health issues are detected and taken care of.