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Does your Dog need a Retractable Leash? Why we think not.

Many of you reading this may not agree with the stance we take on this, but some of you may think of your leash differently after reading it. We wrote this blog because it is close to our hearts. A very good friend of ours ended up in the hospital with a broken elbow and hip when she got tangled up in a retractable leash at the park. The woman that entangled her ran away and left her there unable to walk while passerby's came to her side. The other woman has still never been found 2 years later, so no charges could ever be pressed. This left my friend with 2 surgeries, a month in the hospital (including assisted living because she lives in a walk up), thousands in medical bills, a year of physical therapy and paying for someone to care for her own dog while she was on the mend. You never really heal after all of this and retractable leash injuries are much more common than you might think. 

Does a dog really need to have the freedom to explore while a pet parent looks away and lets the lead get longer and longer and longer...Those modern day gizmos that make dog walking a fear factor sport.    

THE FIRST LEASH

German inventor Manfred Bogdahn designed one of the first retractable leashes. He got the idea for freedom on a leash as he calls it back in 1972 while walking his dog. If the lead could extend then a dog could start and stop several times along the way while not forcing the pet owner to do the same. That innovative concept forever changed the dog walking experience for man’s best friend.

LOVE HATE

But did it change for the better? These leashes generate almost as much controversy as today’s Presidential tweets. They have even polarized pet parents into extremist groups of lovers vs. haters. I can attest that retractable rage is very real because I experienced it first-hand recently when I casually mentioned that I was writing this blog.   

Why does a dog leash ignite such heated debates of good and evil? It’s because retractable leashes have proven to be mini weapons of mass destruction.    

THE MECHANICS

The leash itself is nothing more than a thin cord wrapped around a spring-loaded device housed inside a plastic handle. The touch of a button extends the cord out to lengths up to 26 feet. The extra distance feature is what people love about them. They believe that giving their dog more room to explore makes them happier and more fulfilled. On the other hand, it’s this 20 feet of slack that creates an expansive danger zone where everyone in it is at risk. At this distance, pet owners can’t control their dogs or the life threatening situation at hand which leads to very serious and sometimes fatal injuries. That’s why people hate them.  

SAFETY FIRST

It’s important that pet owners understand the basic mechanics, operating techniques, and possible dangers of a retractable leash before using them. Phil Blizzard, CEO and Founder of ThunderWorks which makes ThunderLeash, admits that safety is a concern. He says that’s why their retractable leashes come with a how-to-manual. But honestly, who reads manuals?   

FLEXI, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of retractable leashes, has a disclaimer page on its website that reads in part like this:  

A copy of the Special Precautions & Directions booklet is included in every leash packaging.

Download safety instructions:

for cord leashes
for tape leashes
for VARIO leashes

Read the special precautions below before using a flexi leash. Failure to follow these safety precautions can result in serious injury. Because this leash is retractable, it requires special precautions to reduce the risk of injury. Read this pamphlet before using your leash and save it for future reference.

Do you really want to use a product that is out right telling you it is dangerous? Remember, this is you and your best friend’s life at stake. 

Flexi's site also states "This leash should only be used by responsible people who have read and can follow all of these precautions. Anyone who uses this leash must be able to control the dog and watch the dog closely at all times to keep it from running off or wrapping anyone in the cord/tape/belt. Keep out of reach of small children. Never let anyone play with this leash."

Here are just a couple real life reasons-

  • A guy driving in a neighborhood after dark sees a man walking down the street. He then notices that his dog is walking on the other side alone. Luckily, he brakes just in time so the owner can reel in the retractable leash and bring the dog back by his side avoiding a potentially devastating outcome.   

  • An owner walks his dog alongside a busy main road. He has slung the retractable leash over his shoulder with the cord extended to about 12’ behind him. He never once looks back to see if his dog is in danger let alone if he is still there. This was an accident just waiting to happen.

DOG INJURIES

Neck-related injuries are the most common to dogs for the obvious reason:  collars/leashes. The retractable leash is the most life threatening. According to holistic veterinarian Dr. Peter Dobias the pulling action by the dog along with the repetitive stop-and-go braking by the owner applies a force on the collar which in turn presses on vital organs (thyroid gland, jugular vein, carotid artery, cervical spine, and cervical nerves). The resulting problems are often misdiagnosed and therefore not treated properly.

Here are some symptoms to watch for and report to your veterinarian if you use a retractable leash:

  • Paw licking – In response to numbness or a pins-and-needles sensation in their neck, dogs lick and chew their paws. These injuries are often misdiagnosed with allergies.

  • Armpit Scratching – this same tingling pain sensation can cause tightness of the armpit muscles.

  • Hypothyroidism – the thyroid gland is very superficial in the neck and therefore prone to physical damage. An injury can result in inflammation whereby the body creates antibodies against the gland which leads to hypothyroidism.  

  • Ear Scratching/Infections – Injuries to the upper cervical spine C1-C3 are prone to ear problems. The neck is crucial for providing the energy flow to the ears and collar injuries play a big role.

  • Epilepsy/Seizures – Pressure on the jugular vein increases intracranial pressure which increases the likelihood of epilepsy in a predisposed dog.  

But far worse, retractable leashes have been known to kill. Take the case where a dog bolted into traffic and was hit by a motorcycle before the owner could retract the cord.  Critical Care Specialist Dr. Garret Pachtinger said the dog suffered a torn trachea - not from the blunt trauma caused by the direct impact of the motorcycle - but from the pulling injury caused by the collar/leash on the cervical neck and trachea. Thankfully, the dog recovered.

BEHAVIORAL PROBLEMS

Dogs can suffer emotional trauma as well. When a runaway pulls the handle out of its owner’s hand, the sound of it dropping scares the dog. That sound creates a forever lingering fear in the animal not only of the leash, but of being walked. That behavioral symptom might even be hard for a dog whisperer to diagnose.   

But the cons don’t stop there. Retractable leashes literally teach a dog to pull which is contrary to all principles of dog training. They quickly learn that the more they pull the greater distance they can travel.  

DANGER IS EVERYWHERE

Danger is not limited to the streets.  Prompted by a serious biting incident and potential lawsuit, Dr. Paul Potenza of New Canaan, Connecticut built a half wall in his waiting area to separate standard and retractable leashed dogs which are problematic in small enclosed spaces.   

Mounds Pet Food Warehouse took an even more extreme approach to ensure the safety of their shoppers.  They banned retractable leashes from their five Wisconsin stores. Customers are now asked to borrow a standard 6-foot leash to use while shopping.  

LEASH ETIQUETTE

If you do use a retractable leash, please consider these guidelines as a code of conduct so everyone stays safe.   

  • Respect other owners/dogs around you by retracting the leash so your dog is close to you.

  • Be mindful some dogs might not be friendly.  Calming an aggressive dog is almost impossible.

  • Buy good quality leashes made with a belt or tape, not a cord.

  • Choose the right size for your dog.  Leashes are rated by weight and cheaper knock-offs are not.  

  • Constantly be aware of your surroundings looking for potential dangers.

  • Lock the leash for distances that are safe based on your environment.

Sounds simple enough, right? But human nature is a funny thing. Rules are only for other people. Be honest, how many times have you said “don’t worry, my dog is friendly” or “my dog would never do that”?  

WHAT’S A DOG?  

Let’s be real. A DOG! is a DOG! is a DOG! They are descendants of wolves and no matter how much domestication - they are still wild animals. Television host/trainer Casey Anderson of America the Wild says that despite his years of handling wild animals and even forging lifelong bonds with some never let your guard down.  

We want to believe that our best friend would never hurt anyone but we don’t really know what sensory cues trigger them to attack. It could be a noise we can’t hear or a flashback from their past. My Maru has always been highly aggressive and anti-social and that’s why I am always on high alert. As a pet parent I believe it’s my responsibility to ensure not only her well- being but that of others as well.

With retractable leashes there are just too many variables to control. And that’s why I am not an advocate. If there is an incident who should be at fault? Is it the dog, the leash, or end user? Or, maybe pet humanization is the real blame.  

MAN AND HIS DOG

Modern day pet parents treat their dogs like surrogate babies - not like man’s best friend. They send them to spas, daycare, and even snap chat with them. Is it any wonder then why retractable leashes are so popular?  Pet owners have convinced themselves that it will give their dog a more satisfying walking experience to have that extra freedom of movement. Can you say projection? It’s that kind of illogical logic that makes theses leashes top seller
 

FUN STUFF

If you’re still not a believer, spend 15 minutes online searching for information on retractable leashes. The only positives you will find are on manufacturer’s websites. That tells the story.

Whether you are pro or con on this issue, hopefully you now have a better awareness. It’s your dog, it’s your decision. Safety above all else should be the priority.

If you’re still having trouble deciding whether you’re for or against retractable leashes, grab an old leash and go for a long walk with your best friend the old fashioned way.

 

 

 

 

Dog Allergies

Spring is often regarded as allergy season for people, but did you know that summer is the worst season for dog allergies? These allergies can ruin your pup’s summer. The only good thing about seasonal allergies is just that - they are seasonal.

Can my dog have summertime allergies?

Any dog breed can develop an allergic reaction. It all depends on how the dog’s body reacts when it comes in contact with a foreign substance.

An allergy starts when the immune system mistakes a harmless substance as an invader. When this happens, the immune system makes antibodies to combat the unknown allergen. The next time these antibodies come in contact with it, they will release chemicals which cause an allergic reaction.

Allergic reactions and their severity vary from dog to dog. However, studies show that some pets such as terriers, setters, retrievers, and flat-face breeds (pugs and bulldogs) are more susceptible to them because of certain inbred traits.  For example, terriers tend to be sensitive to certain foods. Setters are prone to skin irritation all over their body and ears.  Dogs with thick double coats, like retrievers, tend to catch and hold allergens in their fur. And pugs, like most flat-faced breeds, have breathing issues which leave them more vulnerable to airborne substances.

What are the symptoms of a dog allergy

Unlike human allergies which generally involve the respiratory tract, dog allergies are more about red, itchy skin and inflammation which can be very painful to them. Some of the more common signs to watch for are excessive scratching and chewing on certain areas of the body and a frequent rubbing up against things. If the allergy is not treated, these problem areas can lead to scabbing, hot spots, and hair loss.

A dog’s ear can be a tell tale indicator of an allergic reaction because the canals become itchy and inflamed. Other symptoms include inflamed orifices and red paws. Finally, as you might expect, pups can experience some sneezing and coughing just like people

What are the sources of summer time allergies?

Organisms that become very active during the summer are the main cause of summer allergies. They include anything from pollinating plants to aggressive insects.

Plant-based allergies are very common to dogs because sprouting vegetation tends to rub against their legs, underside, and face. Because they are low to the ground, they come in contact with certain life forms that we as humans might not.

Pollen from certain plants can also cause allergic reactions in pets. Some of these plants are:  cockleweed, pigweed, sagebrush, ragweed, timothy, bermuda, blue grasses, orchard, red top, and sweet vernal. How harmful each plant may be will vary depending on the dog.  Consult a veterinarian if your pet has come in contact with any of them.   Also, keep an eye out for plants that are toxic to pups – a list can be found here.  

Many insects (bees, wasps, hornets & ants) become more active in the summer and bites/stings from them can also lead to allergic reactions. Check your dog’s underside and face for marks. Symptoms may show within 20 minutes of a bite, while others could take 24 hours.  Again, be watchful.

What should I do if I suspect my dog has a summer allergy?

If you think your dog has a summer allergy, take your pet to a veterinarian. Please do not try to diagnose or treat the condition yourself. It would be very helpful, however, to give your vet a list of the active organisms your pet may have recently been in contact. 

What treatment options are available?

Dog allergies are hard to treat just like people allergies because there are so many variables involved. Because allergies are symptomatic, it takes a long time to find the best treatment regimen. 

Your veterinarian can prescribe medication but keep in mind that treating allergies can be expensive. The average national cost of treating plant allergies in dogs is $400 dollars.

Before going that route, you might want to first try just walking a different route, pulling the weeds in your yard, or giving your dog frequent baths to prevent allergens from being absorbed through the skin. 

You might even try some of these home remedies which have proven to alleviate symptoms:

Oatmeal

Add plain oatmeal to bath water. Oats contain polysaccharides which leave a protective film on the skin that prevents dryness and itching. If you don’t want the mess, trying using a hypo-allergenic shampoo – most contain oatmeal. Be sure to read the label.   

Apple Cider Vinegar

Apply apple cider vinegar to hot spots to help keep them dry or add it to your dog’s food to help clear a runny nose or watering eyes. 

Honey

For pollen allergies, add raw, locally sourced honey to your dog’s food. Do not substitute a shelf-brand because you need a honey that is most likely made with the same kind of pollen that is causing the allergic reaction. Gradually exposing your pet to the allergen like this should help build immunity.

Whatever you do, please do not give your pup any human medication unless your veterinarian prescribes it. While it may work, these drugs have side effects that may ultimately put your pet at risk. When in doubt, ask the professionals. 

As you can see, allergies are difficult to treat. During allergy season be extra vigilant for signs that your dog is in distress. All you can really do is try to alleviate the symptoms so they have some relief. And remember that seasonal allergies are just that…. seasonal. Now, go and enjoy the summer with your best friend! - Dustin Ford

_______________________________________________________________________________

1. “Allergies: symptoms and causes” Mayo Clinic. 2017.

2. Becker, Karen. “If your dog is itchy or your cat is wheez, you need to read this” Mercola Healthy Pets. 22 Jun. 2012.

3. K. Becker

4. “Summer Season Allergies in Dogs” Vetary Inc. 2017.

5. “Insect Bites on Dogs: Signs, Symptoms and Treatment” Pet Assure Corp. 2017.

6. “Plant Allergies in Dogs” Vetary Inc. 2017.

What is Music to a Dog’s Ear?

A soft spotlight illuminates the faded wood finish of the bar stool on stage. Oh, the stories it could tell. Looking around, I see everyone waiting for the magic to begin. Waiting for the moment when the music will give them a rush or maybe dull their pain.

I glance across the room and in the corner is Ms. Maru seated at a candle lit table with her head resting on her paws. I start freaking out. What is my dog doing in a jazz club?

Am I hallucinating? No, just dreaming. Before dialing a psychic or trying to conjure up Freud, I decide that I have enough CSI episodes under my belt to figure out what this bizarre dream means.

I do know my heightened stress has been triggered by a life changing event this year. I got engaged and while I’m extremely excited and happy, my anxiety levels are soaring off the chart. The only thing that calms me is music.

But it’s not just any kind of music but the indie instrumental jazz that my fiancé plays. Now that I think about it even high-strung Maru falls asleep listening to the rhythmic sounds of the heavy base. It’s so unlike her visceral reaction to rap . . . agitated pacing and frenzied barking.

Here’s the million dollar question. What is Music to a Dog’s Ear?

It’s not the lyrics or the melody. It’s all about familiar and unfamiliar sounds. Charles Snowdon, renowned primatologist and expert on animal sounds, believes that they enjoy “species-specific music.” That is they respond to tunes that have pitches, tones, and tempos unique and familiar to their own species.

This theory results from his groundbreaking research on Tamarin monkeys with musician David Teie. While immune to human music these primates respond to “monkey music” based on their vocal repertoire (ie monkey calls) which consists of two emotions:

1) Threats and Fear

2) Safe and Happy.

Their research showed that an upset monkey spoke in quick beats and ascending pitch while a calm monkey spoke in long notes and a descending pitch.

Here are some audio samples that illustrate these findings.

Cottontop Tamarin

 The Voice of the Cotton-Top Tamarin (courtesy, Charles Snowdon)

Sample 1
Upset monkey is mobbing a human - noisy sounds & upward-trending pitch.
Sample 2
Same monkey calmed down after couple minutes – pitch is now descending.
Sample 3
Same calmed down monkey – reduced 3 octaves to match the human range of hearing.  Notice the perfect musical intervals between the sounds.
Monkey Music (copyright, David Teie, University of Maryland)
Sample 4
Music based on fear and threat calls of the tamarin. Both the staccato beats and noise arouse anxious behavior.
Sample 5
A musical track that calms and soothes contains long, pure notes that use familiar musical scales.

It’s the same for humans. We enjoy music that falls within our acoustic & vocal ranges, use tones we understand and tempos that match our heart rates. A tune pitched too high or low sounds grating and music too fast or slow is unrecognizable.

So as much as we want to think our best friends share our taste in music, the bottom line is that dogs are simply not wired to enjoy the same songs we do.

RESEARCH

Numerous research studies corroborate that dogs do, however, exhibit a common behavioral response to certain genres of music. One such study by Deborah Wells, an animal behaviorist at Queens University in Belfast, summed up universal findings:  

Snowdon argues that classical must be defined though because its range includes everything from the soothing “Moonlight Sonata” to the explosive “1812 Overture” with live shooting cannons. “It’s about the features of the music, not the classification,” he says.  

Further studies show:

  • Longer notes tend to be calming and staccato or short, repeated notes stimulating (think saying “sta-a-a-a-y” versus “Pup-pup-pup” when calling your dog to come)
  • A tempo matching an animal’s resting heart rate tends to be calming
  • Dogs are not very keen on certain percussion and wind instruments (like saxophones & clarinets) which remind them of gunshot sounds
  • They dislike the word “no” added into songs
  • Large dogs such as Labradors have vocal ranges similar to adult males. So, it's possible they might be responsive to music in our frequency range unlike a Chihuahua. 
  • Shelters

In 2012, psychologist Lori Kogan at Colorado State University not only replicated Wells findings in her study of kenneled dogs but discovered that adoptions increased in shelters that played classical music. Quiet dogs made for a more relaxing environment so people stayed longer.

  • Hospitals & Veterinarians

In another breakthrough discovery musician Alianna Boone found that hospitalized pups tend to have lower heart rates when harp music is played which makes them more relaxed and speeds up their recovery. And, classical music is being used by some Vets to keep dogs from being anxious during their office visits.

WHO HAS THE BETTER EAR?

Humans hear up to 20,000 Hz while dogs hear up to 45,000 Hz. This doesn’t mean they hear twice as good but they can distinguish sounds at four times the range and hear frequencies twice that of humans.

Louisiana State University Professor George Strain charted hearing ranges for animals based on his own experimental studies.

dog-music
  1.  Frequency Hearing Ranges in Dogs and Other Species

Turn Down the Volume

Did you know that dogs hear sounds of music much louder than humans? The pain threshold of noise is 125dB and the loudest rock concert is 130db – the same sound level as a jet engine. The fact that there are speakers now that can literally melt the wax in a human ear should make you think twice before cranking up the volume on a Saturday night. You could seriously damage your dog’s hearing.  

MP3

Are you a pet parent who feels guilty leaving your pup home alone? Do you keep your radio or iTunes streaming all day hoping he will be entertained and not so lonely? It’s all good.

Understanding what your dog needs is important. Knowing that he would rather listen to silence than Metallica or Brittney is a good first step. Now, what about those Mp3 players?

What does your dog hear when listening to digitally compressed music files? Unlike humans who can’t hear the broken sounds, they may process the so-called music as high frequency squeaks or loud mechanical noises from a car or train - both of which could frighten or at the very least irritate them. Knowing your audience is the key to providing good care.  

Can Dogs Really Sing?

Howling has a high-pitched piercing quality that can be found in lots of music. So while you think your dog is singing to a song he might be hearing what he thinks is another dog in the distance calling out to him and he’s just trying to answer back.

Howling is how dogs talk to each other which traces back to their wolf ancestry. Recordings of wolves have shown that each will change its tone when others join their group so they won’t sound alike.

That goes the same for dogs howling along with a group of singing humans. They purposely “sing” off key so they stand out. In fact, you can tell one dog from another by the tone of their howl. And, it’s not just high pitched music that can get a dog howling but high pitched sopranos, sirens and ringtones.

So, as much as we want to believe dogs can sing, they are really just howling in reaction to high pitched noises. Sorry Pet Parents! You may want to hold off booking that Hollywood agent.

Dog Fame

Check out Knuckles who found internet fame on You Tube with his video, “Knuckles the Dog Singing to Law and Order” which has over 38,000 views.

Veterinary neurologist Susan Wagner believes that it has more to do with higher-register notes in the theme song. “Dogs don’t like hearing high-pitched sounds. The higher pitched, upbeat and complex theme could make them howl. That would be my hypotheses,” she said. He may not really be singing, but he is so darn cute - it’s worth a click.

Or check out Xena ‘The Diva Dog’ who sang to Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” on Belgium’s America’s Got Talent show. It’s a perfect example of howling. Oops! I mean singing.

Dogs on Broadway

A singing dog on the internet is one thing but entire musical scores written for dogs are over the top. Two well- known arrangements are: EXPEDITION, written by a Julliard composer and performed by a jazz trio and Siberian Husky & HOWL, a Carnegie Hall musical work performed by twenty voices and three dogs - written by Bette Midler’s arranger.  

How Many CD’s Does Your Dog Own?

If you think that's wild then think about an entire music industry catering to just canines. "Through a Dog's Ear" by Lisa Spector is one of the most popular CD's composed for dogs. These streamlined versions of classical pieces by the likes of Bach and Beethoven have minimal instrumentation and are recorded at a slower tempo with the higher frequency notes removed. 

Bioacoustic Research Inc. has sold more than 250,000 CD downloads of the album. But as mentioned earlier again there’s no evidence this so-called genetically modified music has any effect on a dog's behavior. In fact, in most cases they ignore it. Dogs seem to respond better to live music with pure tones. 

Dogs & Beatles

Want to impress your friends with a little trivia? Paul McCartney added the sound of a high frequency dog whistle to the end of “A Day in the Life” on the original vinyl release of the Sgt. Pepper album.  

The sound was never copied accurately onto CD’s because they don’t have the necessary frequencies. So if you want to have some fun, play the song and watch your dog’s reaction. They will be listening to the 15 KHz sound only they can hear.

So how does all this relate to my dream?

I guess it was my subconscious telling me what Maru instinctively already knew. I needed to calm down and quickly because I was ready to crash and burn. She made me realize that old saying “music soothes the savage beast” is true for both of us. While she and I may not be able to enjoy all the same kind of music, we are in complete harmony.

As a thank you treat to Maru I’m going to put on some old school vinyl with calming bass notes. We’re going to go belly up on the sofa and nod off into dreamland. But this time, I will be the one sitting in the corner of the jazz club with my head against my fiancé’s shoulder letting the music sweep me away.

It’s either that, or you’ll find me howling at the moon!