Why I have love having a dog in my life

I feel reflective today. There are so many more but these reasons are at the top of my gratitude list for having the privilege of having Zac in my life. I’m sure everyone who reads this can keep adding more when they think about their dog.

  • The enthusiastic and unrelentingly happy greeting when I return, world-weary, from a day’s work. He’s my ‘welcome home’ every day.
  • Gets me up and out the door on time in the mornings as I could never forgive myself if I left for the day without having at least 20 minutes of fun activity with him.
  • He’s my meditation. No matter how tired or stressed I am, playing or patting him and experiencing his delight from my mere presence makes all my problems fade away.
  • Finding new places to explore on walks so that going out together is never boring.
  • I’ve met and spoken to people who previously just would have been random strangers who walked on by. They stop to pat him, we get talking and I get to connect with my community.
  • Watching his enjoyment and delight in the most simple of things – a ball, a stick, a bone – makes me happy.
  • He helps me advocate for rescuing dogs as he’s such a happy and friendly character. Every dog should get a second chance.
  • He makes me laugh at least once a day. Not many people do that for me.
  • He’s undemanding of his humans but gives so much in return.

I am grateful every day for his companionship and for giving me riches that cannot be brought.

The Itchy and Scratchy Show

My dog takes great pleasure in rubbing his belly across my lawn. Not in a saucy way, though visiting trades people will always insinuate that perhaps he gets a little too much pleasure from the habit. With the warmer weather having arrived in Sydney, it’s like a switch has been turned on and Zac has started his seasonal itching with gusto. Commando crawling across the grass gives him some relief but also contributes to the vicious cycle of itching and scratching.

Staffy owners are probably nodding their heads in agreement as it’s apparently a common immune system ailment in this short-haired breed. At its worst, he scratches himself open on his belly and under his legs, or licks his feet obsessively, and it’s distressing to see his obvious and constant discomfort.

I’ve tried everything – from the very expensive and inconclusive consultation with a doggy dermatologist, to bathing him in peppermint tea. Last year was a great year – we only visited the vet once for skin troubles! I’ve resolved myself to never solving the problem fully but want to share the approach I’ve taken that works for me and provides some relief for my dog.

1. Avoid grains at all costs

The change that made the biggest difference was switching Zac to a diet entirely free of grains. Most commercial dog food is bulked up by grains such as wheat, rice and oats. The ingredients on the back of the pack are listed in order of quantity from the largest volume to smallest. I also switched from a grain-based oatmeal shampoo (typically marketed for dogs with sensitive skin) to Cedar Oil shampoo which has the added benefit of also being a natural repellent for ticks and fleas.

2. Not all dogs should eat cow

You should have seen the look on the butcher’s face when he offered my dog a piece of meat and I had to say no because it was beef. However, with modern farming practices including a lot more additives and antibiotics in chicken, pork and beef, removing this type of protein from Zac’s diet has made a big difference.

The food I use includes

  • BARF (biologically appropriate raw food) patties in kangaroo, lamb or rabbit
  • K9 raw freeze dried food– the lamb feast variety
  • Ziwi Peak air dried food – venison and fish flavour
  • Treats include lamb or kangaroo bones or jerky – really anything not made from grains of beef, chicken or pork.

Yes I pay more for his food as it is high end, but considering I only went to the vet once last year other than for his shots, compared to numerous previous trips for open, inflamed scratches that required antibiotics and other drugs, I am saving in vet fees.

3. Alternative tick and flea control

I must admit, it took me a while to get my head around this concept as it sounded like Yeti or UFO mythology to me. But Patty from Healthy Pets Naturally in Mona Vale convinced me to give it a go. For the last year I haven’t used either Frontine or Advantix as tick and flea control, or a tick collar. I live near bush land and have possums and bandicoots frequenting my yard and bringing in parasites such as the deadly paralysis tick. So I was very skeptical about switching from chemical control as I was literally taking my dog’s life in my own hands.

I have for the last year been using a Pet Protector. It’s a metal disc that sits permanently on Zac’s collar. It apparently (yes I know this sounds like something out of a science fiction movie script): “produces Scalar waves and creates an impenetrable, protective shield around the pet” and which repel ticks and fleas. Crazy I know but the proof is in the pudding. In the last year we only found two ticks on him – the same amount he was getting when using Frontline anyway – and no fleas. We do twice daily physical tick checks which he thinks is a nice massage and so far – and long may it last – so good. The Pet Protector costs around $80 and lasts for four years so is also a much cheaper option for parasite control, other than the health benefits for the dog.

4. Washing off allergens regularly

The skin prick allergy test that the dermatologist did and that I almost had to take a second mortgage out for didn’t show our grass or the grass at our local oval being an irritant for Zac’s skin. However, under advice from Patty at Healthy Pets, I do find that stewing two bags of peppermint tea in hot water and letting it cool, then washing his feet and belly in this potion does help in the hot summer months. If I don’t have time for this, then I at the very least spray him off with the hosepipe after a walk or play.

5. Taking cortisone only when necessary

Relief-in-a-flash is provided through an injection or course of pills. Though effective, cortisone should really only be a short term intervention as it has some really nasty side effects. My mom lost her dog to diabetes earlier this year because she’d chosen to keep her on a low dose of cortisone over a long time to control the itching, with organ damage the nasty side effect.

I always keep some pills on hand and if his skin flares up, use it to bring the inflammation in control. I more regularly use cortisone cream on itching ‘hot spots’ and to give the poor pup some relief – but again monitor use as it does have a side effect of thinning the skin. All of these interventions are used under guidance and prescription of my vet.

I have to thank Patty from Healthy Pets Naturally for her fantastic advice on managing itchy skin other than chemically or through multiple doses of cortisone.

This isn’t meant to be taken as advice but is based on my own experience. If you are seeking a solution for your dog, do your own research and get input from your vet or seek a holistic health practitioner for dogs.

Shhhh don’t share this… 3 secrets you should know about dog training.

The different reactions I get when I tell people I’m a dog trainer are always interesting. It’s quite a leap for some, as I also have a full-time, corporate job that pays the bills. Others get very excited and want to know all about it. Some immediately give me the raised eye-brow, ‘aha’ look and say – “oh, so you’re like a dog whisperer”. Nothing raises my hackles faster.

While you will reap the benefit from investing in training your dog, there are a lot of outfits out there using outdated and frequently harmful techniques. So I’m going to let you in on some secrets of the trade to ensure you get the best value for the training you spend your hard-eared income on.

Dog Training Secret Number 1: Dominance died with the Dodo

The wolf theory of how dog behaviour evolved has been proven wrong, by the very person who came up with it in the first place. So the whole ‘being the dominant alpha’ method of viewing your relationship with your dog is outdated. We need to move on from obsolete practices, just as we no longer employ children to do work or allow factories to jump their effluent into our river systems.

Dog Training Secret Number 2: Punishment will always have consequences, no matter how ‘soft’ it is.

There are no secrets. Or whispering. Or any type of voodoo for that matter. Good dog training is based on established and proven learning theories. Such as: a behaviour that is rewarded is more likely to be repeated; while a behaviour that is ignored is likely not to be repeated because there’s nothing in it for the dog. Choosing techniques that punish rather than reward, for example physically hurting or restraining a dog, often have unintended and sometimes worse consequences.

Dog Training Secret Number 3: Exercise their brains and bodies

Essentially there are only three things you need to do to have a happy, well-adjusted dog. One that integrates into your life with the good manners required from a modern companion animal living in today’s society. Exercise, enrichment and training.

Make sure they get an opportunity daily to release some energy through exercise; provide entertainment and stimulation for them, especially when they are being left alone for long periods and, lastly, training new tricks exerts energy and reinforces the bond where they trust that following your guidance means good things are going to happen.

And the biggest secret of all? None of this is or should be a secret. So use this knowledge to your advantage.

Coming soon we’ll explore the questions you should ask of your dog trainer before you hand over your money and dog’s mental and psychological wellbeing to them.