Archive | January 2012

My name is Shoshi and my dog eats poop.

And she eats a lot of it. Her favorite flavor is cat. Despite all the barriers I have used to keep her out of the litter box – baby gates, blocking it with furniture and plants – her drive for cat poop reigns supreme. Yesterday, on a walk, I even witnessed her poop, then turn around and eat it before I had my baggie open and ready to go. I know that dogs like poop – my darling Franny was always on a hunt for human feces in the giant open-air toilet for homeless San Franciscans, the Panhandle. But since I haven’t found any poop in the cats’ litterbox in weeks, I wondered if the quantity of poop she is eating could either a) indicate an underlying health problem or b) cause one.

Catching Ginny in the act. She is the black blob wearing a bandana and squeezing under the table and babv gate.

The art of dog poop eating is called Coprophagia. Eating feces is a behavior embedded in a dog’s genetic make-up. Before domestication, poop was a perfectly normal part of a dog’s diet, providing nourishment. Some experts even believe that poop eating both in the past and today is a way for dogs to restore enzymes that help them to digest their food better. Female dogs with a litter of puppies will eat the poop of their puppies to keep the nest clean. In households with several dogs, those lower in the hierarchy may eat the poop of the higher ups as a submissive gesture.

Though some studies have found that dogs that eat poop have a nutritional imbalance and eat poop to acquire vitamins, particularly the B vitamin, in many cases dogs eat poop just because it is delicious. Because of this, it is extremely difficult to train a dog not to eat poop; if you drop a piece of food on the ground, of course your dog is going to eat it. The good news is, poop eating is not dangerous to your dog and shouldn’t cause any health problems. The only exception is eating feces from a litter box during which your dog is likely to ingest cat litter along with the poop. Clumping litters, in particular, can clump inside your dog’s belly. In this case it can’t hurt to switch to a natural cat litter like America’s Best Cat Litter or FelinePine.

If your dog is scavenging the litter box, there are a few options. Placing it behind a baby gate lifted a few inches off of the floor may work but if your dog is anything like Ginny, she will find a way to knock it over if it isn’t completely secure. Putting the litter box up high may be an option for some homes. A great idea from Kathy Diamond Davis is to put a large cardboard box over a covered litter box with a cat-sized opening in the back of the box (the opposite end from the litter box’s entrance) creating a little tunnel for your cat and a dog-proof barrier (as long as your dog is larger than the cats).

If your dog is a connosieur of dog feces and you have a yard, clean up poop as often as possible so as not to tempt your pup. You could also try sprinkling some hot sauce (make sure it’s super hot) or bitter apple spray on feces. Outside of controllable areas, like at the park, your best defense is a strong “leave it” command.

No matter what your dog’s taste, sometimes it’s best just to turn a blind eye and remember that poop eating is perfectly natural for our canine kids.


Barrier frustration

Ginny is not an aggressive dog; far from it, in fact. She is mellow and gentle…that is, until you get her in the car. In the car, when we pass another dog, a different side of this darling girl comes out. Rather than quietly observe, Ginny explodes in to vicious barks and snarls that last until the dog is out of sight and her trance is broken. This pattern sometimes repeats itself when we are on a walk. A dog across the street can make her bark; so can a dog she actually gets close enough to meet.

Many dogs react this way to others and it is rarely true that the dog is “aggressive.” It is more likely that the dog is experiencing one of two things: fear or barrier frustration. In Ginny’s case, because she is thrilled to meet dogs when she is not facing an obstacle, I suspect barrier frustration is the culprit.

Frustration occurs in dogs like it does in humans. Getting stuck in traffic or at the end of a long line can make me want to throw a tantrum. Same with dogs. With a natural inclination to be with others of their kind, a barrier like a car, fence, or leash can result in the doggy equivalent of a screaming, crying, rolling on the ground fit.

Barrier frustration falls under the category of dog reactivity and so do the techniques for managing it. Helping the dog to establish positive associations with other dogs when at a distance (a barrier) is important. This can be achieved by sitting with your dog in a location overlooking a path that other dogs use (not a dog park). When the dog looks at another dog, mark it by saying “yes” or using a clicker and offering a treat. Putting the treat on the ground so the dog must turn away from the action is preferable to letting him eat it out of your hand. These training sessions should be kept short – no more than ten or fifteen minutes each. As your dog progresses, slowly move your position closer to the path.

Impulse control is a major factor in barrier frustration so teaching the dog to perform an alternate behavior such as “sit” or “look at me” can keep him from getting too worked up. So can putting a visual barrier like a car between you and the other dog. Another useful technique is to keep your dog moving forward at a fast pace while maintaining focus on you or while throwing treats ahead of him on the ground. As your dog advances, rewarding him for approaching a dog nicely without any outbursts will continue to build those positive associations.

In the case of on leash barrier frustration, always remember to keep the lead loose. If you tighten up, so will your dog, and the frustration will increase!

Twenty more dog tips

An assortment of tips on dog health, training and rescue!

Tip #1: If your dog has a hot spot, cut the hair short, wash the area with mild soap and cool water, and put a black or green tea compress on a few times a day. Franny’s spot is already looking better!

Tip #2: Dogs have trouble generalizing. Teaching your dog that your toddler is not prey doesn’t mean he will understand that ALL toddlers are not prey. Socialize your dog to as many new people and situations as possible when he is a puppy to minimize accidents!

Tip #3: If you and your dog are in a stressful situation, trying panting at him. Certain kinds of panting is doggy laughter and it might help to calm your pup down!

Tip #4: Does your dog bark at other dogs on the street? Distract him! When you see another dog coming in the distance, pull him to the side and ask him to focus on you by asking him to sit, spin, catch treats, jump to touch your hand, or any other fun obedience task.

Tip #5: Does your dog seem uninterested in what you are trying to teach him? Trade in your regular treats for something “high value” like hot dogs, cheese, or chicken. Break the yummies in to itty-bitty pea-sized pieces and watch your dog become a model student!

Tip #6: The command “leave it” can make you and your dog’s walks a whole lot easier. Follow this simple training guide to learn how to teach it to your pup!

Tip #7: Is your puppy too mouthy? Let out a high pitched yelp when he bites too hard and stop the game. This will teach him to use his teeth gently on human fingers.

Tip #8: Does your dog pull on his leash? Work smarter not harder by switching from a flat collar or choke chain to a Sense-ation Harness or Gentle Leader!

Tip #9: Looking to adopt a specific breed? Don’t go to a breeder – go to a breed rescue group! Look online at for groups in your area.

Tip #10 is an ugly one…if your dog is doing a butt scoot, it means his anal sacks are full; if his anal sacks are full, he has a build up of poop-related stuff that he is not able to get out naturally. Take him in to the vet as soon as you can to have his anal glands “expressed” – a simple procedure that requires only a brave, educated set of hands and your dog’s butt.

Tip #11: If your dog pulls on the leash, try wrapping it around your waist inste…ad of holding it in your hand. This feels to your dog like pulling against a static object, instead of one with give-and-take, and will help him to learn not to pull.

Tip #12: If your dog’s eating behavior changes suddenly, it may be a sign of pain in his mouth or elsewhere in the body.

Tip #13: Well-timed & skilled delivery of awesome consequences like praise, trea…ts, and beloved toys, are a major aspect of building your dog’s confidence. The higher his confidence, the better behaved he will be in “scary” situations and around strange humans and animals.

Tip #14: There are thousands of things your dog might be allergic to including foods, plastic, plants, synthetic fibers and chemicals.

Tip #15: For some dogs, holding the leash short and tight when another dog walks by actually MAKES him react by barking and lunging. This is called barrier frustration. Next time you pass a dog on your walk, try keeping a loose leash and letting your dog sniff his new buddy.

Tip #16: If you see waxy build up, dirt-like flecks, or scabs in your dog’s ear,… they may have an ear infection. Get your pup checked out by your vet asap!

Tip #17: When at the dog park, don’t let your dog play uninterrupted for long periods of time. Dogs that get too aroused can easily slip from excitement to aggression. Step in every now and again and remind your dog that there is a world outside of his game.

Tip #18: If you encounter an angry dog, never look it directly in the eyes. Eye contact between strangers in the dog world is like challenging a man to a duel. Instead keep your head turned away and your eyes on the ground.

Tip #19: Don’t touch a sleeping deaf dog. Instead, jump up and down nearby and let her wake up to your vibrations.

Tip #20: The iphone has dozens of free apps to help you keep track of your pet’s medication, learn about health issues, find a local dog park, locate pet friendly businesses, discover new breeds, and work on training techniques!

There’s a (dog) app for that… (Part II)

Some of the more useful free animal apps for the iphone have to do with maintaining the health of your pets and yourself.  So here they are, in no particular order…







When I notice something unusual in my pets – a limp or excessive water drinking, for example – my first instinct is to research what might be wrong. ipetvet makes this process easy for you by allowing you to point out the area of concern on/in your pet’s body then gives you a number of potential symptoms to check off before offering you some possible diagnoses that provide information on causes, symptoms, and treatment. So, for example, if I notice that my dog has a new rash and hair loss, the app recommends reading up on Allergic Dermatitis, Allergies, Fleas and Ringworm. It’s definitely not an exact science but it can help to educate you while determining whether it is worth giving your vet a call.









This app is an easy to use system for keeping track of your pet’s vaccinations and medications. You can set reminders for administering things like flea meds and vet visits and keep track of them in a simple calendar. There isn’t much more to it, but for those with unhealthy animals, it could be an invaluable tool.







PetMD Finder

Find a vet, emergency clinic or other dog care related business with this simple app. That’s the idea, at least, but as with many of these kinds of apps, the listings they offer are extremely limited. In the “Emergency Clinic” category, for example, they don’t have a single listing in the entire city of San Francisco!  Since I know of three emergency clinics off the top of my head, I also know that this app means well but falls short of its goals.




Dog Walk

There are dozens of exercise related apps out there but Dog Walk takes these one step closer to the animal kingdom by helping you to track your walks with your best friend and decipher the calories you burn. Not only can you record the routes you commonly take, this app also has a nutrition feature to log your meals and water intake that directly subtracts your calories consumed from the calories burned on your walks with your dog. It’s a win-win for both you and your canine family!


There’s a (dog) app for that… (Part 1)

I hate to admit it but I am one of those people who sleeps with their cell phone. In my defense, it is my alarm clock; it’s also the first thing I see once my eyes are open. I find it luxurious to lie in bed, half asleep, browsing my email and the day’s weather and news headlines before rolling out from under the warmth of my covers to the demands of hungry animals. The added bonus of sleeping with your phone? It’s right there to entertain you when you can’t sleep. This was me at 3:30am the other night so I did what any animal lover would do…I looked for useful doggy apps!

It is unbelievable how many animal (and dog specific) related apps there are for the iphone (and presumably for Android). I’m talking hundreds… I’m a fan of free apps. I know, I know, the best apps often cost money but I hate spending on something I don’t know if I will use. Fortunately, many have “lite” versions that allow you to try them out for free before purchasing. Still don’t want to sift through an endless list of animal apps? Well, my friend, you are in luck because in this blog entry, straight from the comfort of my bed, I bring you reviews of some of the most interesting FREE apps available!*






Perfect Dog

There are dozens of apps to help you to learn more about dog breeds and figure out which breed might be best for you. Perfect Dog not only gives you information about AKC, rare and “designer” breeds, but it indexes them with surprisingly useful silhouettes of each type. So, if you aren’t really a fan of lanky, thin boned dogs, you can immediately rule them out without having to dig deeper into the photos and information of each breed. It’s also super useful at helping you to find that breed you’ve admired at the dog park but the name of which you’ve never figured out. The “Fetch” feature is a fun way to learn about breeds that might fit your lifestyle by allowing you to input on a sliding scale the size of your living space, the amount of exercise you are able to give, and so on. The “Groom” feature isn’t quite as useful. It’s meant to allow you to “describe your perfect dog from head to tail” but also warns you that for the best result, you can only choose one to three physical characteristics you are interested in but each time I tried this with different combinations I was confused by the results (can you say, Silken Wind Hound?).








Dog Clicker

Forgot your clicker? Never fear, there’s an app for that. Several, actually, but my favorite comes from the Continental Kennel Club. Super easy to use with no fancy features to get in the way, just open and click to your heart’s content.








DogGoes Dog Parks

I’m a sucker for a good dog park. Even before I began fostering for Muttville, I would lurk around dog parks watching the fascinating canine interactions and, admittedly, judging the humans for their strange handling techniques. San Francisco is an incredibly dog friendly place and I regularly go to several different dog parks around the city but I had no idea that there are 35 of them within the 7×7! This app maps locations, gives you reviews, and tells you whether each park is fenced or open. If you are travelling with your pup, it has a search feature to find parks in the city or zip code. For me, the free version is definitely a keeper, but DogGoes also has an upgraded version offering listings of “over 12,000” dog friendly businesses for $1.99.






Dog Friendly

If I could, I would have a dog with me every time I left the house. With Dog Friendly, you could tailor your life to do just that…well, theoretically at least. With listings of restaurants, hotels, stores and bars you can find out where you can take your dog in any neighborhood. Unfortunately, Dog Friendly has not exactly done it’s homework. In my neighborhood, there are several dog friendly businesses, including Mini Bar, 821, Ziryab, the outer sun room (or outside) at Bean Bag Cafe, the list goes on. Not one of these can be found in Dog Friendly’s app. So, while there is a lot of potential here and I love the idea, this app falls a bit short.



Stay tuned for Part 2 of doggy app reviews!

*The author is not affiliated with or compensated by any of the app makers.


Dogs are susceptible to many of the same emotional/mental diseases that affect humans. At the SF SPCA this weekend, I had the chance to see one of these up close: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). One beautiful, adoptable dog at the shelter – Beck – is suffering from severe OCD; he is obsessed with shadows and light.

Many dogs are distracted by the movement of light and shadows on the ground or wall but Beck literally cannot stop watching them. When he is in an obsessive loop, he is literally incapable of taking his eyes off of shadows playing on the ground. He will not respond to the things he typically loves – like a ball or human attention – he just moves over and over the spot that has caught his interest becoming increasingly worked up and panting hard. I caught Beck on tape (with SF SPCA intern, Steve) caught in a obssessive loop. Notice how he doesn’t acknowledge the ball or any action Steve makes. He is taking treats, but only when he notices them on the ground.

Beck was put on a fast acting anti-anxiety medication, Clomipromine, to help alleviate the symptoms of OCD but, unfortunately, it does not seem to be taking. Some anti-anxiety medications may even exacerbate the problem. Beck will now be placed on another type of med but we won’t know if it is working for him for four to six weeks. In the meantime, he will continue to be at the mercy of his obsessive behavior.

There is no single reason why a dog may develop OCD. It typically begins with social maturity between the ages of one and three. Medical professionals agree that there is a hereditary component to the disease. Dogs suffering from pain, high stress, or the sudden loss of vision, hearing, or smell are at higher risk of developing the disease. A history of abuse or high stress may also lead to OCD in some cases. There is also no single manifestation of OCD in dogs. Some obsessive compulsive behavior includes: paw licking, tail chasing/biting, scratching, barking, and pacing.

If you suspect your dog may be suffering from OCD, talk to your vet about medications that could help to normalize his behavior.

The rich life of a deaf dog

Most dogs can hear frequencies 2-3 times what a human can hear. But not Ginny. Ginny can’t seem to hear anything at all. She is deaf. Deafness is fairly common and dogs and doesn’t just afflict older mutts; some dogs are deaf from birth. There is no way of knowing how long Ginny has been deaf (though I do have a theory that her chronic allergies led to chronic ear infections that resulted in hearing loss) but luckily, with a healthy nose and eyes, she probably doesn’t miss her hearing much.

Owners of deaf dogs face some unique challenges but not all hope is lost when it comes to training. Deaf dogs can’t hear commands but they can read your facial expressions. They can also understand hand signals just like deaf humans. The Deaf Dog Education Action Fund recommends using basic obedience signals combined with American Sign Language signals for things like “car” or “walk.” With a little work, a dog can learn dozens of signs! Many deaf dogs have just enough hearing that they can hear the sound of a clicker. Clicker training is a great reward-based training method that help you to develop a great relationship with your pup.

The two biggest obstacles to deaf dog ownership come when the dog’s back is turned. If he is not looking at you or is asleep, you may have difficulty controlling or comforting him. Unless your dog sticks to you like velcro, you will have to keep him on a leash 95% of the time. When I take Ginny to the dog park I let her off leash but I am sure to follow her around and keep an eye out. I have tried to walk her unleashed in safe spaces but after a minute or two she becomes distracted and I find myself chasing after her. To avoid any devestating accidents, the minute she steps out of the boundaries of a safe space like the dog park, the leash goes back on.

The first time I woke Ginny up from a deep sleep, I gently brushed her back with my fingertips. She jumped up, completely disoriented, took several steps backward and fell over. It took me a full 60-seconds to calm her down by getting low, stroking her slowly until she could get her bearings and her heartbeat slowed. Now I take the earthquake strategy: I stand near her bed and jump up and down a couple of times and let the vibration wake her. Instead of freaking out, she slowly opens her eyes, looks at me, then stands up and comes to greet me with a wagging tail.

And, lets face it, there are lots of other positives that come with doggie deafness: I can play the music in my car as loud as I want and it won’t bother her; I can wander around the house while she is asleep without waking her and without her following me around; when other dogs in the building bark, she doesn’t get all worked up and join the chorus.

Don’t let deafness come between you and an amazing dog! For more information, check out these books:

Living with a Deaf Dog by Susan Cope-Becker

Hear, Hear! A Guide to Training a Deaf Puppy by Barry Eaton

The Pocket Dictionary of Signing by Rod R. Butterworth and Mickey Flodin


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