X-ray of a dog that swallowed a rib bone to illustrate pet choking

Prevent pet choking

June 22 is “Pet Choking Prevention” day. Which sounds like just about the most made-up, incredibly specific “holiday” ever. 

On the other hand, it’s worth a reminder to do  a spot-check to make sure that your dog is safe.

Collars can be dangerous

You’d think, as sellers of dog collars, that we’d advocate for dogs wearing collars all the time. Nope. Dogs should be naked in the house. The only exception might be if your dog is an extreme flight risk In that case, the collar they wear should have nothing dangling from it. If you’re adament that your dog wears I.D. at all times, it should be integral to the collar, either embroidered in or sliding on. 

There are just too many hazards you may not even think about to risk hanging tags. We’ve seen cases of tags being caught in floor vents the dog was lying on. 

The “naked” think holds for your fenced yard, too. Especially if you’re not out there with the dog, or if you have more than one. The most frightening story we heard was when a dog got another dog’s collar caught around its jaw when they were wrestling. It wasn’t a happy ending.

Toys can be hazards, too

We’ve all seen the warning tags on dog toys that say you should discard the toy when it becomes damaged. And always supervise your dog when playing with toys. There’s one more caution we’d add: make sure the toys, particularly solid rubber or plastic toys, have more than one opening. 

X-ray of a dog that swallowed a rib bone to illustrate pet choking
This is the actual x-ray of our friend’s French Bulldog who swallowed a beef rib bone – the straight white object in the middle.

It’s been a few years since we saw it, but there was a treat-dispensing toy that had only one hole. There were reports of quite a few dogs whose tongues were stuck in the toy and it had to be removed under anesthesia by a veterinarian. 

Chew toys and treats also fall in this category. We actually know someone whose French Bulldog swallowed an entire beef rib bone. Nobody knows how she managed to do it. Fortunately, an emergency surgery later, she was fine. And wanted more rib bones.

What will they get into next?

You wouldn’t think a snack bag would be dangerous, but apparently they are. We’ve seen stories about dogs grabbing potato chip bags, presumably to get the delicious greasy salt left behind, were trapped, and suffocated.

Aside from the beef rib story, we can’t vouch for the truth of any of these anecdotes. But, just in case, it doesn’t really take much time to tear open a chip bag completely before you throw it away. After decades, we still cut apart the six-pack can plastic holders so sea creatures don’t get trapped. And we live nowhere near the ocean. Better safe than sorry.

Pay attention

Being aware of the potential problems goes a long way toward preventing them. Take a good look at your dog’s toys, collars, and environment. It’s not a bad idea to actually get down on hands and knees for a quick survey.

It’s pretty much the same precaution you’d take to “baby proof” your house. Practically speaking, your dog doesn’t have any more common sense than an infant. It’s up to us to keep them safe. You can also teach your dog “Drop It!” – just in case.

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Picture of a small white dog with large ears to illustrate get your dog to listen

Get your dog to listen

If you’ve ever said “my dog doesn’t listen” you’re not alone. We saw it over and over again in the comments sections of our videos. This one is for everyone who has a failure to communicate with your dog.

It’s a common experience for both dog owners and parents. Sometimes you feel like you’re repeating yourself endlessly and the object of your attention isn’t paying any. While we can’t offer much help with your offspring, we can suggest ways to get your dog to listen up.

Universal truth

Picture of a small white dog with large ears to illustrate get your dog to listen

The absolute truth about dogs is that they always, every single time, do what’s most rewarding for them. This makes them selfish, but not necessarily in a bad way. It makes dogs absolutely predictable. If your dog isn’t listening to you it’s because you haven’t made it sufficiently rewarding. “Because I said so” doesn’t work with dogs any better than it works with most people.

Nobody just blindly does what they’re told. People need a reason to do something, either to prevent something bad or realize something beneficial. It doesn’t have to be a huge difference-maker, but it does have to further the objective. Dogs need a reason, too. 

Why should they?

If you want your dog to look at you when you say their name, give them some motivation. We’re setting a challenge for everyone who says “My dog doesn’t pay attention.” For the next three days, randomly and often, say your dog’s name and immediately give them a treat. That’s all. Do it at least 10 times a day. For three days. 

At the end of those three days, we can practically guarantee that when you say your dog’s name, their head will whip around to look at you. They may even come running from the other room. They’ll have a reason to pay attention.

Enjoy it while it lasts

As long as you maintain the habit of rewarding your dog for attention, you’ll get the attention. You can even start randomizing the treats – give one every second or third time instead of every time. It’s still motivating to the dog.

But if you slack off and just go back to calling your dog’s name with no reason for them to listen, your dog will quickly revert to ignoring you. Think of it as a scale with two sides. If your dog has been generously rewarded for attention, that side of the scale is much heavier than the “ignore” side. When you really need your dog to pay attention, even if you don’t have a treat on you, the chances are that they’ll do it. We learned that back in the day when our Brussels Griffon Razzmatazz was heading toward the skunk that got into our yard one night. We shrieked his name “Razzy, Come!” and he did. Even though we didn’t have a treat. It worked, because of that heavy side of the scale.

When you do something like we did, and ask for your dog’s attention without reinforcement, realize that you’re lightening that side of the scale. Compensate for that by going back to heavy reinforcement. That way the scales will always be balanced in your favor.

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Picture of a Brussels Griffon to illustrate old dogs are awesome

Old dogs are awesome

The other day on our dog training video channel we posted a little video of Tango playing “Put Your Toys Away.” It’s always been his favorite game. If we’re totally honest, it’s really the only one he plays these days. He’s 15 years old and old dogs are awesome.

When we posted the video we didn’t really expect many comments. A few “likes” maybe, but that’s about it. We got those, and one comment that we really didn’t know what to do with. It read something to the effect of “that dog’s got like 100 steps left in him.”

So what?

It’s not really mean. It’s also not nice. So what are we supposed to say in response? The best we could come up with was “Yes, and we’re planning to enjoy every one of them.”

Picture of a Brussels Griffon to illustrate old dogs are awesome

Because we do. We still think he’s adorable. Maybe even more now. He doesn’t move fast, but we give him whatever time he needs. Except when it’s raining. Then he gets carried in and out to do his business. He doesn’t really care about getting wet, but we’d prefer not. 

The vast majority of Tango’s days are spent napping. Which he interrupts for a toddle to get some water. Whenever he gets up we take him out. He’s always been really good about doing his business outside until the last couple of months. He doesn’t realize the urgency, so we take him out more than he probably needs to. 

Dimming vision

He also doesn’t see too well these days. That’s okay, too. His hearing has always been selective. But he hears “cookie!” just fine and turns in that direction.

He’s a skinny old man, so he gets all the cookies he wants now. He’s enjoying that part a lot. And while he’s never been one to cuddle or even like pets, he lets us. And we still get to enjoy the mark of true Brussels Griffon affection – he sneezes in our faces, just like always.

Gone visiting

Next weekend is our obedience club’s annual trial. It’s a long day of volunteering for us, so we bring all the dogs along. Tango loves it. He comes out to say hi! to anyone who will stop to talk to this old dog.

That could be one of the reasons we’re loving Tango’s sweet old age. When he was a young hellhound, nobody could touch him except Fran. When she got him turned around a couple of years later, we told him he owed us lots of good years to make up for those. We’re blessed that he’s giving them to us.

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Picture of a black Brussels Griffon dog to illustrate When your dog just isn't right

When your dog just isn’t right

Your dog just isn’t right. Something’s wrong with your dog. You can’t quite put your finger on what it is. But you know something’s off. What do you do?

When your dog’s not acting normally, but eating, sleeping, and eliminating pretty much like always, there aren’t any concrete symptoms. Do you have a veterinarian who will listen to your concerns? It’s at least worth a call, if not a visit.

Trust your instincts

You know your dog best. You know what’s normal for your dog; what their usual sleeping patterns, play schedule, walking, eating. When they’re reluctant, or refusing, to do some trained behavior you know they know. All of it is part of your day and when something’s not quite right, you can tell. 

Even if there’s something in the way they’re holding themselves, or walking funny. You may not even be able to tell exactly what’s different, you just know something’s going on.

Dogs are notorious for being stoic. Oftentimes, they won’t show that something’s wrong until it becomes urgent. Hopefully, even severe reactions will turn out to be nothing, but it’s better to take an unnecessary trip to the vet than to find out you should have.

We certainly have that down pat. Years ago, we came home from work to find our Boston Terrier Daemon in severe pain. Just touching him elicited screams. We’ll never forget the white-knuckle, snowstorm drive to the emergency vet. When we got there, he wasn’t yelling any longer, but he was tender to the vet’s touch. She took x-rays. He had gas. That’s all it was. And we gladly paid the bill.

Don’t wait for urgent

If you do think your dog’s got something going on, try to take notes when you see something off. If it persists for more than a day or two, take your dog and your list to the veterinarian. Physical examination and your notes together may give your dog’s doctor the clues they need to come up with an answer. In many ways, vets are like detectives. Their patients can’t tell them where it hurts, so they must rely on other clues to lead them to a diagnosis.

You never know what tidbit of data will provide the “aha!” moment for your veterinary professional. Something like knowing that your dog is spitting up between meals, rather than after, could be vital information. That led our vet to suspect acid reflux in Roc, Hope’s Brussels Griffon. A simple daily dose of an over-the-counter medication eased the symptoms and stopped the problem from worsening. 

Pay attention

One of the reasons we have a regular, weekly grooming schedule for our dogs is to check them out. Are they twitching when we brush them in a certain place? That led to the discovery that Tango’s arthritis is bad in a particular spot in his spine. Is he reluctant to let you brush his teeth or look in his mouth? That’s how we found out that Booker had a bad tooth. An infected tooth can have serious health consequences.

Picture of a black Brussels Griffon dog to illustrate When your dog just isn't right

Don’t make yourself crazy worrying about the little things you observe. Make notes and revisit them in a couple of days. Chances are whatever it was has resolved. Like when Fran’s 15-year-old Brussels Griffon Tango (pictured) is moving particularly gingerly one day. We noted it, with the recollection that he’d fallen out of bed the day before. If his movement was still off, we had the history to share with his doctor. He was fine, so the note was discarded.

You know when something’s off with your dog. Don’t dismiss your concern out of hand. Try to pinpoint the difference you notice, and be ready to share that information.

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