Thursday, February 26, 2009

“Expert” Advice on Eliminating Dog Odor

I was surfing a hugely popular Internet Dog portal and found a feature on how to live with a dog and make your home smell “fresh.” It advised using deodorizing products, regularly laundering any fabric the dog encounters, using air fresheners, room- and fabric-sprays and carpet powders.

All this advice probably would eliminate doggie “odor.” Good for us! But what would the dog have to say about how those things affect him?

Manufacturers of this particular range of consumer products are not required to disclose their ingredients. Many contain toxic chemicals such as acetone, limonene, acetaldehyde, chloromethane, 1,4-dioxanephenols and glutaraldehydes. In recent studies five out of six products tested emitted one or more known carcinogens.

The artificial fragrance products used in air-fresheners and room and fabric sprays contain high concentrations of potent and long-lasting synthetic chemicals. They are designed to disperse quickly into the air where they can linger on fabrics and surfaces for months. They can numb the olfactory sense, increase allergies and asthmatic reactions, and cause migraine headaches, throat irritation, fatigue, forgetfulness and irritability. Found in some products are 1-4-dichlorobenzene – a suspected carcinogen that caused liver and kidney tumors in animals.

Artificial fragrances are also used in laundry detergent. And, if you see the word "surfactant" on the label it means that the product may contain benzene and sodium sulfonates, ethanols, ethoxylates, phenols and di-, ti- and monoethanolamines. Detergents also contain phosphates and phosphate alternatives, optical brighteners and petroleum distillates. These chemicals can have toxic effects on mammals, creating chronic health problems and altering the activity of certain genes.

Do the right thing for the planet, yourself and dog in your life. NEVER use products that contain chemicals and artificial fragrances. Clean with a dilute solution of vinegar or use only eco-friendly, unscented cleaners. Moreover, learn to love the smell of a dog!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A Dance of Denial

Let’s face it, we are nuts about dogs. Not the actual animals, mind you, but the ones we have a picture of in our heads. The ones that behave just exactly the way we want them to. The actual animals do things that we think are aggravating, wrong, bad, impolite, and just plain yucky. And when they do, we will stop them immediately; we will resist and punish – automatically and unconsciously. Some of us appear to be trying to yank the dog right out of the dog.

Jack and I encountered a little Cockapoo on the other end of a man’s leash yesterday. As soon as he saw us approaching, he began to pull on the dog. In a nanosecond, he went from being about ten feet away from the man to being right at his feet. I asked if the dog was vicious and he said that he was just the opposite – the nicest dog. I asked why he was jerking on the dog’s neck that way. He said he didn’t know. The two dogs had an encounter, circling around and around to get to the parts that would give them some real information about each other. The little Cockapoo’s nose found Jack’s “down-under” region. The man yanked again. He shouted “Stop that.” I said “They are just trying to get to know each other in a way that’s natural for dogs.” He said he knew. So I asked why he felt he had to stop it. He said he didn’t know; it was just something he did.

The dog’s reality is a mirror of our withdrawal from the dynamic, vibrant, ever-changing natural world that once kept us alert and rooted us in the present moment. Today, we are indoors, safe and comfortable. We are rational and intellectual. And into this conceptual, predictable world, we have brought the dog. We have morphed the bodies of natural animals into shapes that would never survive the hunting and scavenging lifestyle from which they were very recently removed. We have come to conceive of them as little humans. We have diminished their social outlets to a few encounters with others of their kind while tethered and controlled in sterile green spaces. And even then, we try to deny them contact, closeness, a sniff or lick that connects them to their ancient heritage and tells them all.

Becoming fully present when I have communion with the dog in my life is an exciting possibility. I strive for it, after all, he gives that to me. Don’t we owe it to the one we’re nuts about to be aware of what we are doing to them and why?

Monday, February 23, 2009

Teaching Dogs to Shout

Dogs are “talking” to us all the time. The problem is that we are usually not aware enough to “listen.” We are intelligence seekers, mental multi-taskers, conceptualizes and believers. We have detached from the type of acute awareness we had when hungry carnivores were chasing us – the type that dogs, at least for now, still appear to possess today.

I went into a doggie boutique once and was greeted by four little canine store clerks. Three jumped up and down in uncontained excitement and one made only brief contact. She ran to a small chair at the end of a display counter. When I looked in her direction, she would glance from me to a spot high up on the counter then back again; me counter, me counter. I realized that she was telling me something so I walked over to see. When she had my full attention, she raised her paw upward in the direction of a box of cookies with yogurt frosting. (Good choice, I thought.) I told the proprietress that the dog was asking me if she could have the cookies, to which she replied “I know, she tells everyone about those cookies but no one ever notices.”

When we miss a dog's gentle assertions or requests, we can actually teach her to speak louder, to try harder to get our attention. Dogs who once sat quietly in front of us, making eye contact to get our attention, may begin to sit in front of us and bark. Or, they will come to our front and begin to paw-pounce us - jumping on us then quickly moving away. Not understanding this to be communication, we usually try to get the dog to stop; we may even punish the behavior. Dogs who once used a gentle paw-touch or muzzle tap may come to give us some forceful pawing and snout-shouting. A former student’s dog used to touch her gently with a paw while in bed. The dog wanted to get under the covers and couldn't unless they were lifted up for her. Sleepy and not wanting to move, my student tried to ignore those little paw-taps but they would continue and get more forceful. The little dog quickly went from a polite tap to a hard scratch to whatever part of the person that was out of the covers - usually her face. Ouch! At that point, the “request” couldn't be ignored, the covers would immediately be raised. The dog had been taught to shout.

Although they don’t use our language and have only three-ounce brains, dogs are wise beyond measure. They can show us how distracted we are and show us how to become acutely aware in the moment. The next time the one in your life begins to talk, if you’d like to help her to maintain a respectful “indoor voice,” wake up and listen.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Toxic Yard

Our yards have shrunk into small rectangles of grass from which all forms of life have been banished or have voluntarily vacated. To maintain a certain standard of appearance, we dispense bagged weed-and-feed products or pay a service to soak these areas with a cocktail of toxic herbicides and pesticides. Some of the over thirty chemicals routinely used on millions of American lawns have been found to cause lymphoma, cysts, leukemia, bladder cancer, neurological diseases, developmental disabilities and increased mortality in canines. In studies of the effects of chlorophenoxy herbicides, dogs were found to be more susceptible to their toxicity due to poor urinary clearance. It took them nearly 100 hours to clear amounts that rats could clear from their systems within about an hour. Curiously, some of the companies that make and dispense these chemicals use images of dogs on their products, marketing materials and vehicles.

The toxins we introduce to beautify our lawns and green spaces find their way inside the dog’s body through airborne particle drift or inhalation, direct skin/body contact or absorption and grooming activities or ingestion. Studies have shown higher levels of herbicides and pesticides in the carpets dogs lie on and in the house dust they inhale than in the soil of their treated yards. When the brains, immune systems and bodies of developing canines are exposed to these chemicals, the resulting damage can have life-long and life-threatening effects. We may not be spraying chemicals ourselves but there is a very good chance our neighbor or community is. Exposure to unhealthy environments can sicken and kill yet it is rarely ever considered to be the cause of the perplexing disease complexes veterinarians see in thousands of dogs annually.

If you don’t consider the beauty of your lawn to be more important than the health of the dog in your life, intend to find a better way. Feed the soil with leaf or bio-mass compost produced by your county or state. Spray weeds with distilled vinegar or just pull them out. Better yet, spread a compost made from your own yard and kitchen waste, leaves and clippings and learn to love your weeds.

Coming Unglued at the Sight of another Dog

I recently encountered a boy walking a small black dog. I watched the dog as Jack and I approached. The black dog stiffened and paused, his ears became erect and forward, his tail went up and stiffened. I looked at Jack. He slowed his pace and licked his lips a couple times. By the time I looked back to the little black dog, she was losing her composure. She reared up on her hind legs and began to issue what could only be described as a screaming bark. To see a dog that emotionally aroused is not unusual. Sadly, to see what the boy did next is also not unusual.

The boy began to jerk the leash, pulling the dog back suddenly and forcefully. The dog would lunge forward and be jerked back, forward, back. The boy shouted the dog’s name in a hard, angry tone. He shouted for her to “stop.” Jack and I crossed the street as quickly as we could – not to avoid the dog but to give her a chance to calm down and avoid the double jeopardy her friend was inflicting upon her.

Many dogs are never exposed to other canines except those they occasionally encounter on leash. When we fail to provide young dogs with canine interactions from which social lessons can be learned, we deny them an ability to acquire their own language and learn their species’ social customs. We pretty much ensure that they will lack confidence when another dog approaches. When tethered, the inevitability of closeness and contact looms, for most dogs know from experience that we will continue to pull them right along, insisting upon an encounter. The body language within the forced forward approach can make both dogs appear threatening to each other and this miscommunication can lead to stressful, unpleasant encounters. Imagine the anxiety of suddenly finding yourself confronted by a stranger whose customs you have not completely learned and whose intent toward you can not be determined or appears to be threatening.

Consider the social opportunities you have given the dog in your life. If you make an honest assessment, you can pretty accurately diagnose what motivates her reaction to other dogs. If her social calendar is always empty, she is most likely demonstrating insecurity and fear is at the root of her emotional upset. While it may look like she is launching an overt attack, we have simply not considered or misunderstood the motivation behind the behavior we see. And, we have missed all the ways in which she communicated her thoughts and feelings prior to point where she became overwhelmed by them. If you believe that social insecurity is at the root of the dog’s upset, she will only be made worse by adding pain and fear and by making her confront the object of her reaction. Jerking and shouting are not the best remedy for a dog who is emotionally upset and afraid. Move her away from the triggering stimulus, to a distance where she can maintain her composure. Talk to her calmly and happily. Kneel down beside her and see if she can look at the other dog while sitting. If you are at a distance where she can, she may still feel uncertain, but she won’t be out of control with fear and displays of aggressiveness.