Making the best dog decision

One of the most profound responsibilities we take on as dog owners is, literally, life and death. How do you know you’re making the best dog decision? 

We’re not talking about euthanasia today. Instead, it’s the incredible uncertainty of making treatment decisions that not only impact your dog’s longevity, but quality of life as well.

Faced with choices

A friend of ours is going through it right now with her dog. The dog is nine years old, and just had surgery to remove a lump that, unfortunately, turned out to be her third mast cell cancer. Now our friend is facing some tough choices.

The veterinarian who’s a surgical specialist wants to do another surgery to make sure all the cancerous tissue is removed. A general veterinarian did the initial surgery and did get “clean margins.” 

Another veterinarian who’s an oncologist wants to use both radiation and chemotherapy to treat the dog.

To make matters more confusing, my friend’s daughter is a veterinarian. She told her mom that radiation is often very hard on dogs and affects their quality of life.

Of course none of them can predict a positive – or negative – outcome of their recommended treatment. 

Even more complex

Added onto all this, our friend is also into natural health and wellness. She’s a yoga instructor and conscientious in her diet and lifestyle. 

Not to mention that with the resources available today, she’s been researching all the possibilities of treatment, including dietary supplements, additions, and possible triggers for this type of cancer.

It can get overwhelming. What’s the right thing to do for her dog? All of the professionals she’s consulted are making recommendations based on their expertise and interest in helping her dog. All are acting in good faith. And all of them want to cure her dog. But all of them advocate for what they know best. 

Step back and breathe

Picture of two French bulldogs in the sun to illustrate dog decision.
Our dogs enjoying the sunshine at our shop.

Our friend really just needed an opportunity to talk things out, think about her choices, and her sweet dog. We’ve been friends a long time through our mutual interest in dogs and dog training. There is no “right” answer that will guarantee her dog’s longevity or health. When we first started to chat, she sounded pessimistic, as if she was expecting her dog to die any time. And then she looked over and saw her dog happily snoozing in a ray of sunshine, and realized there’s still time.

We talked over lots of options and our friend has pretty much decided what’s right for her and her dog. She’s decided to do everything that will do no harm. The supplements she’s trying may not help, but won’t hurt. For now, she’s ruled out additional surgery and radiation. Her dog has had one chemotherapy treatment and dealt with it well, so she’ll stay the course as long as that holds true.

Results not guaranteed

With our dogs unable to tell us how they feel, all dog owners take their cues from the dog’s attitude and behavior. It’s up to us to read the signals and figure out what’s going on with them. It’s not easy, especially since we never know if we’re making the “right” decision. It boils down to choosing the best you can. And living with the consequences. 

When faced with difficult choices, step back and breathe. Talk to friends and family as well as the experts. Do some poking around reliable online sources – but make sure those sources are reliable. And then make the best dog decision you’re able. 

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Go to a dog show – and how to find one

If you’ve never been to a dog show – go! They’re lots of fun and you get to spend the entire day looking at gorgeous dogs, talking to dog people, shopping for dog stuff, and eating concession-stand food!

Dog shows are like little cities that set up suddenly on a Thursday night/Friday morning and disappear by Sunday afternoon. For a few days, it’s a loud, chaotic celebration of all things dog. The bigger the show, the bigger the mayhem.

Photo of four Boston Terriers at a dog show
Boston Terriers in the ring for judging at a dog show.

This week Hope is working as a helper at a set of dog shows in our area. It’s a huge fix for dog addicts like us. When we were little girls, our mother (also a dog lover) took us to the largest show in the area every year. Back then, the shows were unbelievably crowded, the dogs had to stick around all day (called a “benched” show), and the people were happy to talk to the public – as long as they weren’t due in the show ring anytime soon.

Deciphering a dog show

Trying to explain how conformation dog shows work can get just as complicated as trying to explain baseball or football to someone who’s never seen the sport. The intricacies are many and complex – even experienced dog people like us are sketchy on some of the rules.

Fortunately, you don’t need to know the complicated stuff to enjoy a show. And with the help of the internet, it gets even easier.

Find the dogs you love

You can get started by doing an internet search for “dog shows near me.” Or even go to the American Kennel Club website and do an “Event Search.” It’s easy to do – there’s a tab for “Sports & Events.” Then it gets a little more complicated. If you want to go to a “beauty pageant” that shows off every breed, you’re looking for “Conformation” shows. Just follow the prompts, choose the area you’re in, the dates you’re available, and find the name of a show. When you see one that looks like a possibility, click on the link for “Judging Program.” 

That’s your guidebook to seeing the dogs you’re interested in. The Judging Program will tell you what time your breed is being judged, and what “Ring” the dogs will be competing in. Most shows welcome spectators, and most dog show people love to talk about their dogs. After they’re done showing and the competition is over. 

While most dog show people want to win, most aren’t heartbroken if their dog wasn’t chosen that particular day. They’re happier if they win, but they usually take it in stride and will still be receptive if you approach them to say how much you admire their dogs.

The pros may or may not

That being said, there are quite a few professional handlers at dog shows these days. These are people who show lots of dogs for lots of people. And they usually have quite a few different breeds and tight schedules, getting the right dog into the right ring at the right time. So if you approach someone who’s a bit more stressed, or not willing to spend the time, don’t be offended. They’re just doing their jobs.

The amateur dog people, the ones who are showing their own dogs, are usually the ones standing around chatting in clumps before and after their ring time. Take a mental note, and approach a likely person after they come out of the ring – when they’re being congratulated or consoled for that day’s performance.

Dabble or dig in

You may find yourself fascinated by the whole atmosphere of dog shows. As Hope was watching the crowd outside the ring she was working at, the most wonderful part was the faces watching and delighted by the dogs. Particularly heartwarming was the group from a local group home for challenged teens. These kids loved dogs, and their interactions with both the dogs and the people brought smiles for everyone. 

Another favorite part of dog shows for us is watching the Juniors. These are children, grouped by age, that are judged on their dog-handling abilities. The applause is always loudest at the Juniors ring.

If you’ve never been to a dog show – go! Don’t worry about understanding what’s going on. Just be there in time to see the dogs you care most about, and have fun!

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Nobody needs to have a dog

Practically speaking, nobody has to have a dog. There isn’t a single circumstance in which having a dog is a necessity. There are lots of examples of dogs making life easier, better, happier, and healthier. But none where a dog is absolutely vital.

Which makes us wonder why some people have dogs. We’re not talking about dog-loving, dog-obsessed people like us. We don’t need a reason. We’re talking about people like Hope encountered teaching our Club’s puppy class.

This very nice couple has a lovely Springer Spaniel puppy. She’s well taken care of, beautifully groomed, has a nice, stable temperament, and learns pretty quickly. And we have absolutely no idea why they have this dog.

They don’t want their dog in the bedroom. Or on the furniture. She’s locked away in the laundry room when they’re not home. We got the impression she’s there a lot of the time when they are home, too. She is taken for walks a couple of times a day, but her actual time with the family seems to be limited.

Why have a dog?

These people obviously went to some trouble to find this dog. She’s well-bred, beautiful, both physically and mentally solid. The people aren’t interested in showing her, Springers aren’t a trendy breed. We just don’t understand why they have a dog at all.

Back in the day, the mental picture of the ideal nuclear family was go-to-work Dad, stay-at-home Mom, Dick, Jane, and Sally playing in the picket-fenced yard with their dog Spot. But that mythical picture dissolved long ago. Maybe they’re nostalgic and trying to create something that really never was.

The number one reason most people give for having a dog is companionship. It’s absolutely the best reason to have a dog. It’s life-enhancing having someone around who’s always thrilled to see you, makes sure you get up and move every day, gives you daily smiles, will happily share a snack, and is always ready for a cuddle on the couch.

Reasons for dogs

The second reason people say they get dogs is to get more exercise. Aside from rolling out of bed and into the yard to watch dogs do their “business,” we’re not really sure it works. It kind of depends on what kind of dog they get. Some dogs are constantly-in-motion types. Others are just as happy to sit around all day and watch television. 

The next rationale cited is mostly from young people. Their objective is practicing parenthood – trying out their skills on a dog before they commit to human children. It works, to some degree. After all, dogs are like perpetual toddlers, with a similar degree of care and supervision required. But dogs will never go away to school, become independent, or move out. Dogs are a commitment that’s intense at both ends of their lives.

All in 

Picture of a Brussels Griffon and a French Bulldog lying in a bed to illustrate have a dog

Unlike the people in puppy class, most people with dogs fall under the spell of complete, unconditional love that dogs provide. The bond is even deeper for people and dogs who do stuff together, whether it’s playing training games and dog sports, doing dog therapy visits, accompanying you everywhere, or just being there as you work from home. 

Don’t you love hearing your dog napping quietly near you? It makes the day go better, regardless of how fun or frustrating it is. And when you do get up to stretch, or get a drink, your dog is ready for action. With the added benefit that you never, ever have to go to the bathroom alone. 

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Go with your dog

Lately it seems like every day we see a news article about a small dog being stolen. And every day we see something about dogs going missing. Please, people – go with your dog!

Growing up without a fenced yard, we got in the habit of going out with our dogs every single time they needed to. Even after the fence, with a multiple-dog household, we went outside with them all the time. And it’s proven useful on more than one occasion.

Like the time the workmen left the garage door open and we caught our dog before he ran into the alley. Or the time the skunk took up residence on the porch and, luckily, the treats in our pouch were more interesting. And especially the time our dog found a chunk of rat poison in the yard and was chewing away on it. We knew which dog had the runs because we were there. Not glamorous, but useful.

Scary news

Picture of a Boston Terrier behind a fence to illustrate go with your dog

Just in the last couple of weeks we’ve seen stories about dog being stolen from yards – even though the area was covered by a door camera. We can’t even imagine how the people felt when they saw their own footage of someone opening their gate and just picking up and carrying their dog away.

The thief’s motivation could be any number of things. Some kind of ransom or reward, selling the animal, keeping it, or nightmare scenario, getting bait dogs for a fighting ring. The last was the one we used to hear about all the time. Not as much lately, although we doubt dog fighting has decreased. There are lots of sick people in the world.

Just go

We know it’s not the most convenient thing in the world to go out with your dog every single time. First thing in the morning, last thing at night. It’s much easier to let your dog out. We get it. Especially since it’s January in the Chicago area. 

Even if your dog is wonderfully well-trained to come to you, you can’t predict the squirrel in the yard. Which reminds us of a story from years ago. A relative’s neighbor let her dog out by itself every morning. One day, the dog took off, rather than efficiently doing her business and coming back inside the house. And our cousin’s neighbor was left roaming the neighborhood in her pajamas, yelling for her dog: “Whoopee! Whoopee!” A reminder to also be careful what you name your dog.

Think of the possibilities

How would you feel if something happened to your dog? Because we were there and grabbed the poison out of her mouth, the vet knew what kind it was and what to do about it. Our dog didn’t run out and get hit by a car because we were there. Because we were there, we knew which dog was sick.

We know the odds are minimal of anything bad actually happening. But, like the old saying; “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Go with your dog.

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