Friday, September 28, 2007

Treats!

Everyone loves treats! For us humans, it's salty chips or sweet goodies like chocolate, cookies and ice cream. As for our dogs, they need treat time too!

Although I know it's not vet-approved to feed them ice cream, the truth is...I do it! I buy little cups of vanilla ice cream and give it to each of them in bowl. This is the highlight of their week and I just don't have the heart to cheat them of it.

Fruity yogurt? Yes, I'm guilty of giving them little bits from the bottom of the cup when I'm done. So sue me!

Crispy plain potato chips? They love them and when I get to treat myself on NFL Sunday, they get a little treat too. Is it good for them? Probably not. Is it good for me? Definitey not. But we all share it anyway. So there!

There are a lot of things we should and shouldn't eat and the same goes for your dogs. But in the end, we're all living creatures and yes, I hate to admit it, but somehow the food that isn't good for us tastes so damn good. (and my dogs will agree with this point!) So, be healthy for 6 days of the week...feed your dog well for 6 days in a row...and on the seventh day, whichever one you choose, go nuts and have a good time. We're not here for a long time, so let's all have a good time.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

As the cooler weather comes, don't forget this!

As summer slowly seeps into autumn, the nights cool off and our heaters come on. Our dogs' coat starts to get a bit thicker in preparation for the cold months ahead. So what do you need to do?

Have lots of water on hand. Since our heater started coming on intermittently at night, I've noticed the water dish has almost run dry a couple of times. All heaters dry out the house so just a quick tip...make sure your pet has plenty of fresh, cold, clean water at all times.

And don't forget as the air gets dryer, there may be more static in your dog's hair. Make sure you also have a good conditioner to use after a bath. Whether it's a liquid that you wash out or, my favorite, an all-natural spray that you leave on, check your dog's coat and condition it according to the dryness.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

A Day in the Life of the Shih-Tzus

The boys wake up at about 6:15 a.m. when the coffee maker goes on and I plod sleepily down the stairs. Sometimes they are waiting for me after the pre-dawn wrestling match. Other days, they are sprawled amongst their beds and cushions and lazily open an eye to see who disturbs them. When they realize it's just me, they curl back up and continue snoozing. I usually try to get them to go outside, but more often than not they hear the word "outside" and go back to sleep. Some days my nagging and cajoling actually inspires them to rise, saunter slowly to the door, stick their nose out, sniff and then decide they don't feel like it and trot back in.

After I'm dressed, I come back down and my husband and I meet for our morning coffee. By this time, the boys are up and they finally will go outside, although very unwillingly some days. Then they come in to get their treat for being good and proceed to wrestle, chase each other around the coffee table and generally cause mayhem.

If my husband and I are both going to work at the same time, the boys will flop in front of the door with a heavy sigh, put their faces between their paws and stare at us as if to say "where are you going??". I feel so guilty!!! But most days, since my husband works shifts, he remains at home and I leave. Then the boys don't care...dad's at home!

Late morning and most of the afternoon is nap time. Lunch is taken between naps so by the time I get home from work, the boys are raring to go. Usually they are taken for a walk at this point, weather permitting. The jingle of the harnesses and the word "walk" is enough to send them into a tizzy, dancing around and jockeying for position in front of me to see who gets their harness on first.

After the walk, they watch us cook supper, inspect the floor for any morsels that may have fallen from the counter, and wait for us to eat because they know their food is coming too.

Evenings start off quiet...it's a time for gnawing on bones or chewies until about 8:00...then all hell breaks loose and it's time for the wild boys. They chase each other, bark up a storm, wrestle, fight over toys and argue. Yes...they "argue". The oldest starts barking at the youngest and he responds with a high pitched yipping sound. When the "fighting" gets more intense, they are two inches from each other's faces, the older one's bark getting deeper and the younger one's yip getting higher and becoming more of a constant stream of squeaks. Yet they are not touching each other...they are just arguing! In the end, usually when the youngest lies on his back, the older one will come over, clean his face and then proceed to try and clean my face and my husband's. If we are laying on the couch it's easy for him. If we are sitting up it's more difficult as he either tries to climb up our chests or, when he's feeling particularly determined, he'll crawl up to the back of the couch, walk along it till he reaches one of us, step down to our shoulder, and lean around to lick our face. He also cleans our hands, his brother's paws and then his own paws. (He's kind of a fanatic about clean paws) And that's the routine...every night...the cleaning ritual. When that's done, the oldest one checks to make sure all the toys are together, gets the "toy du jour" (which either the yellow fuzzy dog or the purple fuzzy dog) and trots over to his bed for a nice sleep with his fuzzy friend. His brother usually joins him and the two snuggle together, ready for another tough day.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Nervous Shih-Tzu

Shih-Tzus, like any dog, particularly a small one, can develop nervous tendencies. One of the things I have noticed that causes nervousness is exposure to sudden, loud noises.

Our oldest started getting very nervous when it came time to go outside after the municipality installed some "crackers" by the lake to scare off the geese. It sounds like a shotgun going off, but it's enough to send the geese flying off. Unfortunately, it set my little guy off to the point he wouldn't even go outside to do his business. It was finally removed and now he's slowly making his way out again, albeit warily.

The second thing that happened was a carpenter started working on our basement and used an air nailer. Well, I thought our oldest was going to go clear out of his skin. He shook, he wouldn't leave my lap, and at one point he got so nervous and disoriented he pooped on the carpet...something he never ever does. We've actually started taking him to my mom's house during the day until the construction work is over...that's how badly it was affecting him.

However, loud startling noises of any kind, whether it's gunshots during a TV movie, dropping a heavy object, banging nails into the wall...any of these things start them up. I'm not saying you can't do anything around the house, but do be aware that these little guys don't know what's going on. I find lots of hugs, cuddles and playtime immediately after something startles them can do a lot to alleviate the nervous behavior that can be on the brink of development.

Friday, September 14, 2007

What Shih-Tzus like...and we wish they didn't!

My last post was the top five things that Shih-Tzus love. However, there are other things they really (really!) like that drive me nuts. Here's the list...

1. Mud. They love to eat it, roll in it, stick their faces in it and dig it up. And what a mess I end up with when my two little white pooches come tearing proudly into the house after a mud wrestling session. Their favorite mud is wet...but dry mud is okay with them too.

2. Poop. They're fascinated with their own and other dogs' droppings. However, we live next to a small, man-made lake that is a favorite gathering place in the spring and fall for Canada geese. Of course, with gaggles of geese come piles of poop, and if I take my dogs walking near the lake, they gobble up the goose poop like it's fine caviar. Not pleasant to watch, and even more unpleasant to wrestle from their mouths.

3. The latest...dead birds. See my previous post for details. Not healthy at all, and disgusting to witness. Where did my sweet little boy learn to be such a monster??

4. Moths. In the fall, they love to go outside, chase moths, toy with them and, after torturing them for while, eat them.

5. Newspaper. If I'm out for a while, I'll leave some newspaper out for them to use if they have to do their business. In an emergency they will use it. However, they prefer to take the paper and rip it into itsy, bitsy tiny pieces which they manager to scatter all over. Then they pee...on a quarter-inch piece. Sigh...

Monday, September 10, 2007

Five Things That Shih-Tzus Love!

Have you ever wondered what makes these adorable little creatures really happy? Here's a quick list of what our dogs (and their brothers and sisters) really enjoy.

1. A big blanket/comforter/afghan draped off the side of a couch or chair. They love sleeping on it, and often like to hide behind it between the blanket and couch and snooze (so watch where you're stepping!).

2. Side scratches. Not unlike the tummy scratch, they will lay on their back and contort themselves slightly sideways so you can scratch the side of their head, ears and body all the way down to their legs.

3. A big cushion. I bought a body cushion for the cottage but ended up bringing it home when we redecorated. It's got a velvet like cover and is approximately 4 feet long. They love to sleep on it - one on either end - at night. But not on top of it...they sleep like we do on their backs with their bodies on their sheepskin rugs and their heads and necks on the pillow. They also love to scratch at it, fight with it, drag it around and, at times, it can serve as the barrier when they're chasing each other in circles. Overall, an excellent $14.99 investment.

4. Sitting at the highest point of a chair or couch. Our little guys love being up high and have made the top of the couch's back cushion a favorite resting place. I put a blanket there and they both park themselves side by side and gaze out the window, watching people and dogs go by, storms, birds, bugs and, sometimes, absolutely nothing at all.

5. Music. Our little guys love soft, easy-listening music. We have a channel on TV that just shows continous weather information and in the background they play relaxing music. I often leave that on for them when we go out and often, when I'm doing housework and don't want them in the way, I'll put it on and they automatically wander over to their cushion and settle in for a nap.

These are just a few things that we've noticed, and I'm sure the list will grow over time. But if you're wondering how to make your Shih-Tzu happy, give some of thse things a try.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Rocki Returns to his Wild Roots

The boys went tearing outside this evening for the ritual barking when the neighborhood collies passed by the yard. So I didn't think it was too unusual when Rocki went from the patio to the grass. We always joke that Rocki must be part Husky because no matter what the temperature, he wants to frolic around outside.

Today was a bit different. He was sitting quietly in the grass chewing. His older brother, Bruiser, wouldn't go near him but seemed quite agitated. Again, not anything too unusual since Bruiser doesn't like Rocki to be too far away, yet he won't join Rocki on the grass because it was a bit damp and Bruiser, being a bit of a primma donna, doesn't like to get his feet wet.

After a few minutes, I see the back of Rocki and he is still sitting quietly chewing. I figure he has dragged out the bone from yesterday evening. And then I see the bone in question...it's in the kitchen. So I go out on the patio and call to him. He sits up, turns around wagging his fluffy tail, and I see what he's been chewing on...it's a fat, white dead bird! Then I look...there are feathers scattered here and there along with the tail. I thought I was going to puke.

I called to him from the patio. He stared at me with this poor bird in his mouth and refused to move. I croon, I cajole, I yell...I'm waving my hands calling "no"...the neighbors must have thought I was nuts. Although I had no shoes on, I started walking onto the cold, wet grass to get him. Rocki runs a bit further with his prize, turns to look at me, and then takes off again. I run back into the house, get my shoes, and go after him.

He's back in the grass chewing away at his bird. I'm trying so hard not to hurl at this point. Rocki's having a grand time...he's dining on fresh meat and being chased...two of his favorite things. Life is sure grand in this joint! I finally grab him and he will not let go of the damned bird. I start yelling at him and his grip tighens. I go to reach for it, but I can't touch it!! I feel ill again. Bruiser has now decided that wet grass isn't so bad after all and is dancing around us yapping at me and his brother. Bruiser nips at Rocki's ear and Rocki drops the bird. I quickly grab a cardboard box I was using for weeds, dump them out and cover the mangled carcass. Rocki then realizes that his prized possession his gone and starts anxiously sniffing around the box, trying to figure out how to get around it. Then he lunges for the tail feathers and tries to wolf those down. Choking back what's coming up, I grab it from him and thow it over the fence, scoop him up and take him into the house. Bruiser follows, angrily yapping at his brother. Rocki makes a beeline to the back door and waits. And then he barks to go out. I tell him "no". He starts jumping and scraping at the door...he wants his bird and he's going to get it!

In the end I managed to elude the two dogs, sneak out the door, pick up the bird with a wad of 50 paper towels, and run it to the garbage. Then I let Rocki back out. He has been outside for the last half-hour sniffing every blade of grass throughout the yard looking for his meal. It's in the garbage...I'm having a drink.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Raw Food Diets - Are They Healthy?

Proponents of the raw food diet basically say that dogs should be fed raw meat, vegetables and bones...basically what they would eat in the wild. In addition, they say that your dogs should never eat grains, rice or other carbohydrates. Why? Apparently, grains are one of the biggest sources of allergies in dogs and, because grains make up the majority of commercial dog food, our pets will be free of allergy-related symptoms once they start the raw food diet (and they won't have flatulence).

When can your dog eat chicken bones? Apparently on the raw food diet. I was taught to never give a dog chicken bones, but it seems you can if they're raw because raw bones are not dangerous - they are soft enough to bend easily and break well for the dog to digest.

Those in favor of the diet claim dogs are healthier, have more energy, require fewer trips to the vet, have fewer weight problems, produce much less stool and stool is firm and disintegrates easily. Apparently raw food also cleans the dogs teeth and reduces body odor.

And now, the other side of the coin. From what I've read, those not in favor of the raw food diet claim that there is not enough evidence to support the health claims and there are nutritional imbalances, meaning your dog is not getting enough of the vitamins and minerals they need.

If you decide to start your dog on a raw food diet, there will be a period of detoxing where your pet will be vomiting, have diarrhea, bad breath and itchy skin. Also, I've read that their fur can fall out but it's to make way for the new growth.

There does not appear to be a lot of vet support for raw feeding, however, many vets are like doctors - they benefit from commercial dog food manufacturers much in the same way medical doctors get kickbacks from pharmaceutical companies.

From what I've read, the raw food diet is more expensive and time consuming than buying a big bag of commercial dog food at the grocery store, but the choice is yours. Read...read...and read some more!

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Grooming the Shih-Tzu's eye area

The eye area, and the face in general, are the hardest parts of grooming simply because you need your dog to sit perfectly still in order to cut away in these delicate areas.

The most important tool? Sharp, snub-nosed scissors. I picked mine up at a holistic pet shop where the owners regularly show their dogs so they had a lot of expertise in grooming and actually cater to people who groom their dogs for show, so they had all the right supplies. However, many pet stores carry grooming equipment. The owners explained to me that the snub-nose is most important because if your pet does move, there is no pointed tip to harm them.

Now I have trained my boys to sit still by using voice commands...speaking gently to them and raising my voice slowly and adding firmness if they continue to squirm around. Now they will lay in my arms or sit quietly on the floor while I groom their face. This method of training requires an inordinate amount of patience (which, thankfully, I have). However, I know people that have little or no patience and the methods they employ are to place the dog on higher ground such as a grooming table, the washing machine, bathroom counter or other place which is high enough that your dog will be afraid to jump. Therefore, there is limited mobility.

I know one person who actually put his dog in a sling that suspends in the air and the dog doesn't move simply because she is petrified of being suspended. Whether this is right or wrong is not for me to say since I haven't actually seen the contraption, but if it works and it doesn't hurt your pet, it should be okay.

Of course, I recommend my method but it's certainly not for everyone. Usually, what works best is a combination of a high table and some voice training. And that is the biggest hurdle you will face.

At first, it's a bit tedious to get the area trimmed neatly because, let's face it, dogs have no patience. Even after some training they'll sit still for a bit but then they have to move around. Unfortunately, until you get the angles right, you'll be trimming and checking and retrimming for a while while your dog loses more and more patience. Sometimes you end up letting them go and realize later that their little faces look a wee bit crooked. But it is practice that makes you better. I've found through my own experience that making little cuts in the fur and taking a bit more time ends up producing a much nicer cut overall because if you make a mistake, you can go back. If you cut too much off with the first snip and you've messed up the angles, it's hard to recut to balance the look of their face.

If your dog's hair is long it's a bit easier as the hair on the side of their nose is growing down and doesn't really require too much trimming. However, it's a lot trickier to attain balance if you've had their face groomed short to match their body.

Grooming the Shih-Tzu's face is not for everyone. Either your dog won't sit still long enough, or you can't even come near them with the scissors, or you don't get the angles right. At the bare minimum, try to just get the areas around the eye so the hair is not touching the eyeball because that is what can lead to eye irritation and infections. For the rest of the face, leave it to a professional groomer.

And if you absolutely cannot do anything with your dog's face, take him or her to the groomer every three weeks for a face touchup.