Thursday, April 16, 2009

Pet Savings

Pet insurance is gaining in popularity. I tried VPI for a while, and was happy with the service. But as two of my dogs started getting into geriatric age, and we have three total, after about a year the premium costs outweighed my reimbursements.

After canceling our policies I decided instead to start a pet savings account. This account is with the same bank that holds my checking account and is “no fee, no minimum deposit”. The money I was spending on premiums now goes into this account. Now I don’t have to spend time on claim forms or any other administration. When we have a vet visit, the money is easily transferred between accounts via online banking.

Another benefit having pet savings accounts is availability for other unforeseen expenses, such as illnesses not covered by insurance, boarding, walking services or TRAINING. Although percentages are low right now, a savings account also earns interest. Plus, I get 100% out of it verses partial coverage of an expense.

Don’t think you can afford either insurance or extra savings? Take an honest, logical (not emotional; i.e. “but I have to have my morning latte” because no, actually you don’t) at your finances. I bet there is some discretionary spending (Starbucks, eating out, ciggies) you can and should cut back on. If you truly view you pet as a family member, shouldn’t he be budgeted for just as any other?

For many dog owners, a combination of both insurance and a savings account would be ideal. This is especially true for breeds prone to health issues such as hip dysplasia. Be sure to read all documentation provided by insurance companies to understand exactly what is or isn’t covered and at what percentage.

Those of us who have cared for ailing pets, know what an emotional trauma it can be for owners. You want to avoid finding yourself in the position of cost being the ultimate determining factor of pet care.

Friday, April 10, 2009

I'm OK, You're OK: Muzzles

We need to stop stigmatizing the use of dog muzzles. From my initial online research, it seems only the U.S. has this stigma about muzzles. Muzzle use is much more common in Europe and Canada, where there are stricter requirements for dogs in public. But a U.S. citizen sees a muzzled dog and immediately thinks something like “Dangerous dog”. I see a muzzle and think, “Responsible, knowledgeable owner”.

Muzzles prevent dogs from biting people, dogs and other animals. Dog-muzzle-store writes, “Whether walking your dog on crowded streets, visiting the vet, or seeing the groomer, there are times when it pays to safely and compassionately use a dog muzzle. Putting a dog muzzle on your dog signals to passersby, and dog care professionals, that you are watching out for their safety. They'll feel more secure, and so will you. But remember that a dog muzzle is a short-term tool, and is not to be used for extended periods.” Basket muzzles can also deter a dog from chewing and eating unwanted items such as feces, rocks and sticks.

There is a growing problem here in the U.S. with untrained dogs becoming aggressive. When a dog starts showing signs of aggression, too many owners simply keep them away from other dogs/people. Often, they foolishly think keeping them locked in a fenced yard will be enough. This typically WORSENS the problem. The dog eventually escapes, injures someone and is put down by court order. Wouldn’t it have been better to muzzle and train the dog properly?

It’s a good idea to muzzle dogs that nip/bite during play. This is especially true for retired racers/coursers like Greyhounds and Whippets. Any dog can get overstimulated and start nipping/biting. Herding breeds – Corgi’s, Australian Shephards - seem more prone to this. Instead of avoiding the dog park, use an appropriate basket muzzle until your dog is trustworthy. Instead of feeling embarrassed, focus on your dog’s enjoyment and show off what an enlightened owner you are. After all, this isn’t about you.

I have heard some people claim that muzzles are cruel. I see no sense in this feeling. OK, muzzles usually don’t look very nice. But an appropriate muzzle is comfortable for the dog. Most dogs will need to be desensitized to wearing it. But, again, when done properly the dog should have no anxiety about it. It is much crueler to stress your dog by denying him social opportunities and not provide proper training.

There are quite a number of styles to consider, all for different situations. For short-term use, vets and groomers typically use soft muzzles that keep the mouth completely closed. Dogs being trained may require a basket style that allows panting and water-drinking. Note that head halter collars, such as Halti’s and Gentle Leader’s, do NOT prevent a dog from biting.

A muzzle is not something you want to blindly purchase, just slap on your dog and leave it at that. If you want to learn more, a good place to start is your vet and local trainers.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Just Keep Calm!

We are having our roof replaced today. I probably don't have to tell you, the dogs are not happy about all the noise. When the crew first started walking around on top of our heads, Buddy and Chloe went barking mad. But I just ignored them, and continued working. After about 5 minutes they relaxed. Every once in a while, when there's a big bang or other new noise up there, one will jump up barking and get the other one in on the act as well. I don't say or do anything and they calm right back down.

The reason I detail this is to remind owners just how effective our own reactions can be on dog behavior. Too often owners unknowingly create anxiety in their dogs. I'll often get complaints from someone that she her dog is uncontrollable and high-strung. When I meet with this person, she is high-strung and anxious herself. Well, no wonder. She even makes me nervous!

I often see people treating dogs like babies. This is unfortunately rampant among the smaller breeds. Picking up your dog and carrying it around denies him of the chance to learn how to manage around other people and dogs. This fosters nervousness and diminishes social skills.

Of course there are times, in extreme situations, you should pick up a small dog or provide a dog with comfort. But the key is to find the right balance. Are you supporting your dog, or over-exaggerating the situation?

The best way to support your dog in any situation is to manage the environment as much as possible. In my current situation, I can’t stop the noise. As long as my dogs behave reasonably they can continue to hang out with me. (They’re actually resting calmly right now!) But when I leave later, or if they start becoming more anxious, I will intervene. I will put them on the lowest level to minimize irritation and make them as comfortable as possible. And when I return, we’ll step right back into our normal routine to cue them nothing has changed, all is well.