Sunday, November 21, 2010

Official Vet Report: "He's a Chill Shiba"

There have been so many sad reports about Shibas on the internet lately. And each time I read one, I force-snuggle Zuko and tell him he has to live forever. To help ensure that, I scheduled a vet appointment and took him in for a full check-up. He more or less seems like a super-healthy dog, but I can be a bit of a paranoid puppy mommy at times.

I'll say upfront: our vet is amazing. He really likes Shibas and has worked with them a good bit. I like him both as a doctor and as a person. He never says "do this" - instead he says "this is what I think and would recommend, but it is your choice". He gives you the information and let's you stay in charge of your pet's health.

First thing that came out in the exam was Zuko is a bit chunky. I knew it as soon as he stepped on the scale: 31 pounds. He was 28 pounds. Oops. Someone has been getting a little too much cheese! The doc said it wasn't too bad and Zuko carries it well, but he'd be better off a couple pounds lighter.

The rest of his physical exam was good: heart, lungs and so forth - all good. Teeth are starting to get some plaque but not too bad. During this entire time Zuko was standing on the table being a good dog. He wasn't thrilled, but no shaking, no whining, just the "martyred Shiba" look. Of course, he was also getting a little bit of spray cheese, so it wasn't all that bad.

Then came time for the blood draw. Oh boy. Our vet did it there in the room with me present and two nurses holding Zuko. I was ready for the Shiba scream. I was ready for thrashing, violent craziness. Nothing. I am not kidding - he didn't even whine. He did tuck his tail, which is the first time I've ever seen it truly tucked! I was so proud of the little dude I gave him tons more spray cheese. As soon as he came off the table, the tail curled back up and he decided he wanted to go explore the rest of the clinic since his leash wasn't yet attached. As usual, he bounces right back after "trauma".

So why the bloodwork? I told the vet I have a lazy Shiba. He gets the zoomies, he goes nuts at the beach, he's a monster at daycare - but given what I have always heard about the breed, he seems lazy. And I wanted to rule out any underlying medical issues. The doctor tested his thyroid and blood levels, and checked for heartworm. We received the results Saturday morning: all clear.

Official vet report: "He's a chill Shiba". We have that shocking rare Shiba, probably almost as rare as a Shibasquatch*: a mellow, chill Shiba.

One final note: We did start him on Heartgard. Northern California rarely has cases of heartworm due to the fact we really don't have many mosquitoes here. Dr. Layba has never recommended it, but we discussed it this time. He said he and his fellow Bay Area vets have seen a slight rise (meaning a couple cases a year) and if Zuko is what he called an "adventure dog" and goes everywhere with us, then it would not hurt to have him on it. I tend to believe we over medicate ourselves and our animals, but I also believe in preventative care so I made the decision to start him on it. Of course, the nice tasty chewable "pill" was rejected by Zuko. I broke it up into smaller pieces and he spit them out. So I had to wrap each piece in cheese to get it in him. Day one of his diet and he figured out how to get a whole slice of American cheese!!

-- Posted by Paranoid Puppy Mommy

*Shibasquatch is a Twitter hashtag reporting the odd occurrences of a Shiba being spotted off-leash and behaving. Much like the Sasquatch, the Shibasquatch has true believers and those who think this is just a myth. For more information, run a Twitter search!

"I believe in Shibasquatch"

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Leash Monster: Training update!

Lots of changes in our world recently and I'm way behind on blog posts! So without further ado, an update on Zuko's on-leash snarling.

I mentioned before I wasn't sure we were getting the most we could out of the group classes. Zuko's "issues" are pretty specific and random. Or so they seem.

Then I got the brilliant idea to talk to the folks at his daycare. They run a huge gig there, lots of dogs, all cage-free. They are separated into size and activity groups for indoor romping and go outside in their groups. Some days they have upwards of 50 dogs! And with all that chaos, they still get stellar reviews on Yelp - so they must be doing something right.

One of the guys there, Scott, trains service dogs and is always there. He knows Zuko well, and I asked him one day if Zuko is snarly with other dogs. He said he isn't, unless the other dog won't back off and listen when Zuko says he's had enough rough playing. He said when they see that, they will either move the other dog into a high activity group or put Zuko in a lower activity group. He was also very clear that while Zuko snarls, he has never seen him try to bite a dog and it is his opinion it is not in Zuko's nature to actually bite and be aggressive. The snarling is him communicating the way dogs communicate.

We started talking about on-leash issues and Scott told me what they do to get the dogs' attention in playgroups. Zuko has always been good with his name, so they do use that and reward him with treats for focusing on them. Also, they use "look". In obedience, we learned "watch" - with a point to your eyes as the hand signal. I was standing there with treats and Zuko was fixated on me - then Scott said "look" and Zuko's head whipped around to look at him.

Interesting, right? Such a little thing, but to have consistency in the command used makes a difference. Zuko spends anywhere from 5-8 hours, 2-3 times a week at doggie daycare. They are working with him all the time and if I am using a command they are not using, guess who is losing? (Me).

So now on our walks, I take cheese or the Natural Balance sausage-roll treats and whenever he sees another dog, I do a "look" and he responds. He will cheerfully walk right past another dog, looking at me for treats. In class, the idea was to use "leave it" to create this behavior. Zuko knows "leave it" when it comes to icky stuff on the ground and other objects, but he was just not getting it with dogs. By using "look" I'm leveraging a command that turns his focus away from the dogs and one that he already knows is always rewarded with some good stuff.

We've had zero snarling incidents for about a week now. That isn't to say he hasn't TRIED to snarl. I have found one certain pattern: puppies. Young puppies, under probably 6 months or so, set him off. I am not 100% sure if he just gets all excited and is lunging at them to play or he's ready to put them in their puppy-place as an adult dog. Considering how violent-looking Shiba-play is, it probably doesn't matter which one it is - both are scary to a little puppy! Usually the pups give a yelp and back off. This week I've been able to catch him before he gets into full lunge and draw him back to me with the "look" command.

For now, I'm happy to have a good way to intervene and reward Zuko for focusing on me. In theory, he should start to look at me in anticipation when he sees another dog, right? :-)

Next step will be working on "go say hi" - for that, I think I may leverage private training with Scott. The benefit of working with a private trainer at a daycare is we can bring dogs in all day long and test Zuko! 

Good Dog?
-- Posted by Zuko's slacker mom/typist

Saturday, November 6, 2010

National Shiba-Inu Meet-up: Survey says...

Well, I'm not really sure what the survey says. :-) Other than people seem to really want to do this and price for a hotel isn't the biggest factor.

A few factors that do stand-out:

1) For those who cannot fly with their Shiba, driving means we should really aim for the "middle" of the US.
2) Time of year is important: cooler weather is preferred, but too early in the spring or too late in fall will prohibit drivers from the West coast and the North from being able to make it due to storms and snow.

Click photos for the full results and image. 

Memorial Day was preferred, though Labor Day also had a strong showing.

There were additional write-ins for the Northeast and other locations. However, back to the drive-time for folks, the middle-America areas seem best. Texas, Kansas City, Omaha and St. Louis were the strongest showers. New Orleans came up a few times but having recently visited NO, I didn't get a dog-friendly vibe from it. Cost would also be a factor there.

One of the write-ins mentioned that St. Louis isn't an easy city to navigate, but Omaha is - however, if we factor in dog-friendly factor, St. Louis still seems like a winner.

I love that 20.8% said cost didn't matter. :-) However, looks like we need to stay under $100 a night for budget which rules out the bigger cities (like New Orleans) and probably even Austin, TX which was listed as a write-in.

One of the write-ins that didn't fit on the screen mentioned swimming wasn't a priority since these are SHIBAS ... who typically hate water. ;-) However, beaches and lakes seem like a good idea since most Shibas love to dig in sand and / or chase ducks. What we humans like is irrelevant if you ask the Shibas. (ha). However, dog-friendly restaurants, parks and fenced-in off-leash parks seem to be big hits. Contests and prizes are also a stand-out!

So, where does this leave us? With 49 respondents (it is 50 if you can me) I'm not sure we have a clear winner. If you factor in driving challenges and time-of-year, Memorial Day weekend wins (hopefully the weather won't be too hot by then) and St. Louis or Northern Texas win.

Personally, budget will be a factor and time to plan, but I think Demon Dog and family could make this. If anyone knows just how dog-friendly St. Louis REALLY is, that would be helpful for planning. Oklahoma, Nebraska and Northern Texas still seem to be in the running if we can find good dog-friendly sites there (again, looking for input).

Chime in! Let's see if we can pull this off.

-- Posted by Zuko's event planner