Archive | April 2012

Heavy panting

Some nights Ginny wakes me up with heavy panting. Occasionally she gets to her feet and wanders in to the kitchen to gulp water and then returns to bed. But last night she lay there for hours, panting. Maybe she’s just feeling too lazy to get up, I thought. I grabbed a bowl of water and offered it to her. She drank a bit then turned her head away. A little later, the panting began again and she drank a little more water. But the panting continued. This is unusual; her nighttime panting is usually brief and easily quelled.

Panting is normal in dogs and usually comes after exercise or in excessive heat. Panting is also a common sign of stress and it can indicate chronic illness such as congestive heart failure, Cushing’s Disease, or respiratory disorders. Franny, my beautiful fospice dog who passed away with cancer in November, had Cushing’s. She would pant at night, too, but Franny drank ridiculous amounts of water, Ginny doesn’t. She also doesn’t display any of the other common symptoms like hair loss (on the contrary, Ginny just keeps getting fluffier) or a pot-bellied appearance. While heart failure is always a possibility, Ginny had a series of blood tests done a little over a month ago and there was nothing unusual. Respiratory failure often leads to heavy breathing throughout the day and Ginny rarely pants at unexpected times other than over night.

Heavy panting may also accompany an injury or pain. This is what concerns me. Since Ginny arrived in my home, she has dragged her back leg. It’s a stiffness that doesn’t seem to bother her – she limps a bit but enjoys walks – and manipulating her leg doesn’t cause her to flinch. But the last week or two I have noticed that Ginny’s leg has become more stiff. She has more trouble getting up and takes longer to get a “normal” gait. This change, combined with last night’s panting, may indicate that Ginny’s pain has increased. Ginny topples over quite a bit and has lately missed a occassional stair and slid backward down a couple of steps. Whether she does this because of pain or she has inadvertently increased pain, I’m not sure, but I do know that sudden behavior changes often indicate a health problem. So what next? A visit to our friendly vet!


Puppy sponges

Puppies between the ages of 3-12 weeks are sponges for new information. This is also the most critical period for them to be exposed to as many of the contexts that they will see in their adult lives in order to produce well-adjusted dogs. New challenges and experiences, lots of human TLC, dog-dog socialization and practice being alone are all important parts of a puppy’s development and failure to provide them to your new family member may result in a dog with major issues.

Some of the most forgotten stimuli for producing super puppies are things they will experience in their environment, particularly objects or noises that may appear suddenly. How to prepare your pup for a future of environmental uncertainty? Try some of these fun exercises:


Scary Objects

Dogs may be frightened by the most ordinary objects if they have never seen them before. Start a collection of “scary objects” that include cardboard boxes, an umbrella and a skateboard. Each day, place a new scary object in the middle of the living room and let your pup investigate it. Don’t force him to approach the object, let him go at his own pace.

Dogs perceive things like a man wearing a hat as a scary monster with a giant head. To help your puppy get used to “abnormal” humans, put on a silly hat, cape, cane, or other piece of clothing and interact with your puppy!


Puppies need exposure both to sudden loud noises and to more steady noises they will hear in daily life (like cars, trains, vacuum cleaners, etc.) These days you can purchase a noise desensitization c.d. that contains recordings of different common noises. Buy one (or more!) and play it for your puppy. If you are feeling more ambitious, create a playlist of scary sounds on your mp3 player or computer!

Buy or borrow a few instruments and objects that make “scary” sudden noises such as a horn, a bell, an (empty) pop gun, a megaphone with different alarm sounds, and more. Using these noise makers we can mimic an environmental change by making each noise suddenly when the home is quiet.


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