Will My Fluffy Be a Good Therapy Dog?

Almost daily, our office receives calls from people asking about our therapy dog program and telling us that they have a dog who “just loves everyone.” We welcome these calls because asking for more information is the first step to getting your dog officially therapy certified.

therapy dog with elderly

Three Myths About Therapy Dogs

First – let’s dispel 3 common myths:

1)  My dog is a pitbull – he will not qualify to be a therapy dog. False – breed has nothing to do with whether a dog will make a good therapy pet. We have all shapes, sizes and breeds involved with our program from doberman pinzers and pit bulls down to yorkies. If your dog has the right temperament and you are willing to put in the time to train them properly and go through testing, your dog can be a success.

2)  My collie is friendly and seems to love everyone so she will automatically make a good therapy dog. Great start, but not the whole story. A therapy dog undergoes basic obedience training, then is trained and tested on a wide variety of attributes. Can they maintain composure in different environments like noisy hospitals, walking among wheelchairs and walkers, friendly with children and seniors, friendly with other dogs in close quarters, able to walk nicely on a leash and able to follow the command “leave it” when tempted by food on the floor?

3)  I’d like to get my dog certified, but the only places they go are nursing homes or hospitals and I don’t like those places that much. No worries, now that therapy dogs have been proven to reduce stress and provide positive health benefits there are many opportunities and places you can volunteer and find an opportunity that suits you and your dog.

What Makes a Good Therapy Dog?

So – what characteristics do make for a good therapy dog? It’s really a combination of the dogs natural temperament and you, their owner willing to devote time training them and getting them ready to pass the certification test which allows them to make visits.  One without the other will not lead to success. You must think of you and your dog as a true team and the relationship and trust you develop is extremely important. Definitely do not count out your rescue dog who may have came from bad circumstances! With the right training and guidance, they often make the most wonderful, loving therapy dogs.

pitbull service dog

Temperaments of successful therapy dogs include being friendly without a lot of coaxing to a wide variety of people, not being overly protective of his or her owner when a stranger approaches, able to be comfortable in many different situations and in the midst of different stimuli (noisy, crowded, other dogs present, etc.) and able to learn and follow new commands. Your dog must be able to walk by your side on a leash with pulling or straining. One of the most challenging for many dog owners is having your dog walk by a very tempting morsel of food on the ground like a hamburger or piece of pizza and not try to eat it, but respond to the “leave it” command. Don’t worry, this takes a lot of practice but can be done!

If you think your dog is a good candidate, I recommend taking them to basic obedience classes early in life. Many dog training schools offer Puppy Manner classes which will help with the sit, stay, dog socialization skills and the “no jumping” part of training. Therapy dog classes which lead to certification generally begin when your dog is over one year old, but many dogs at this age are just too rambunctious, so wait until your dog is a bit calmer and it won’t be stressful to them.

Malke and Frank

My own dog Malke became certified when I started the nonprofit therapy dog program Caregiver Canines® in 2009. We made weekly home visits to Frank who had dementia and his wife Jean who was his caregiver. Jean told me that Frank loved dogs his whole life, but now she just didn’t have the time or energy to care for one. She also told me Frank was non-verbal now and she couldn’t get him to leave the house without a struggle.

service dog

When Malke and I went to visit the first time, we saw Frank’s face light up. He immediately bent down, began to pet Malke and he whispered “my baby, my baby.”  When I looked up, I saw tears streaming down Jean’s face. She told me it was the first time she heard Franks voice in over a year and she never realized how much she missed it.

During that visit, Frank was also amenable to going for a walk with Malke, so the three of us put on our coats and walked around the block. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt more gratified or proud of Malke for making such a wonderful difference in people’s lives.

To anyone interested in getting their dog therapy certified, I whole heartedly encourage it. It is a wonderful way to share your pride and joy with others less fortunate. It does take time and dedication, but it is also an incredibly rewarding volunteer opportunity and will greatly enhance the bond between you.

I wish you the very best of luck on this fun journey and on behalf of everyone you visit, a heartfelt thank you!

-Lynette Whiteman, MS

To learn more about Caregiver Canines®, visit www.caregivercanines.org and follow us on facebook www.facebook.com/caregivercanines.  If you are interested in starting your own chapter, please email [email protected]

Canine Shiatsu: “Dog – Finger Pressure”

Shiatsu is a Japanese therapy of gentle touch to rebalance the body, steeped in the same learnings as acupuncture and with all the same benefits. Shiatsu creates the same effect as a needle but using finger pressure on the known acupressure points on your dog’s body– pretty much the same as the human ones!

Only vets can apply needles to your dog, and I’m not a fan of needles so as I believe in the theories of eastern medicine this therapy is a fantastic alternative. I’ve been receiving shiatsu every month for over 12 years, since just before I began studying, and it’s a great way of managing body maintenance and alleviating everyday stress, for both people and animals. For many years equine shiatsu has been very popular in the horse world, so they have a head start on dogs.

Shiatsu is great because a dog shows up to a treatment with no pre-conceived notions, therefore many dogs take to it and relax very quickly– the exception being anxious dogs where trust needs to be built. It’s a fantastic feeling when a dog realises what’s happening and will turn around to give you the part of their body they want worked, or even lean into the finger pressure as they want something deeper. When a dog yawns and does a yoga stretch it’s a very satisfying feeling!

I got into canine shiatsu by accident, treating the dogs of clients at a media centre in London where I used to work. The clients would crash out and a colleague would treat them and if I wasn’t in another session I’d work on the dog. I realised how beneficial it was to my friend’s dog, a Lurcher who had sadly lost a leg in an accident and who used to say “hello” to me by backing his behind into my hands. I hadn’t really connected how amazing the therapy was for dogs so I’ll always be thankful to Bill who asked for treatment way back then.

How Does Canine Shiatsu Compare to Other Therapies?

A fully qualified Shiatsu Practitioner has spent years (a minimum of three) learning the imbalances and patterns of the body and mind and how to interpret this into a treatment that is effective for your dog. Eastern therapy is less about sticking in needles and more about knowing the combination of points that work to ease your dog’s pain physically and emotionally. We use gentle finger pressure and the effect builds up over subsequent sessions, with the aims of longevity and quality of life. We class our work as physical therapy, as there may be massage and stretching involved, but it’s not a physical work out.

Physical therapies of any kind are complementary to western medicine, and by working the dog’s body have beneficial emotional side effects. The difference with Canine Shiatsu is that we work knowingly with a dog who has emotional difficulties. This can be in many areas, some obvious and some not so, for example:

  • Anxiety based on being touched when in pain
  • Anxiety at being left alone
  • Anxiety with other dogs, with people, in new places, or travelling in a car
  • Lack of interest in food or walks
  • Loss of interest in cuddles / isolating themselves at home
  • Missing a recently departed dog or family member away
  • Increased grumbling or talking

Many readers will have heard of Therapeutic Canine Massage (TCM) a traditional physical therapy for dogs, which should not be confused with the international standard of TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine). In shiatsu and TCM we do not separate the mind from the body, it is all as one– the true meaning of a holistic therapy.

How Does Canine Shiatsu Work?

Stimulation of acupressure points can release soft tissue tension in the fascia, organs and muscles. Gentle pressure is applied along the Chinese meridians (also known as channels, which link the acupressure points). Along with opening joints and gentle stretches Shiatsu can improve circulation, remove toxins, bring back vitality to weakened areas and release tightness. One of the simplest checks to be done is simply, how hot or cold is your dog? Are there temperature imbalances around their body? This immediately indicates whether your dog has any weaknesses (cold) and that there may be areas of tension blocking a balanced blood flow.

Shiatsu can be beneficial for many ailments including arthritis, back, neck, hip, and leg problems, allergies or weakened immunity, IBS and dietary issues, as well as chronic fatigue and unknown causes of emotional issues.

If you’re looking for a complementary or holistic way to look after your dog, have a look for Canine Shiatsu, and uncover an amazing therapy for your canine friend.

“Their body talks – so they don’t need to. In Shiatsu, we listen with our hands.”

Andrea Marsh is a Canine Shiatsu Practitioner, find her at: www.shiatsudog.co.uk

Find out more about Canine Shiatsu at: www.canineshiatsu.org

Caring for a Dog with EPI

Late in the summer of 2005 I picked up my Spanish Water Dog (SWD) puppy, Izzy, at Charlotte Airport in North Carolina. I imported her from the top breeder of SWDs in Spain because I was going to start a working dog line of Spanish Water Dogs. Her father, Gordo, was a famous SWD working dog champion. Izzy and her sibling, Carlos, were delightful little pups. My friend Shelley took Carlos, who was a little bit more well-mannered, whereas Izzy was quite energetic!

Izzy (left) and Carlos (right)

When Izzy was around a year old we thought she looked a little thin, but just attributed it to her having a growing spurt. Shortly thereafter, while giving her a bath, it became obvious this was not a growth spurt. For three months the vet ran all kinds of tests and found nothing wrong. But something was wrong– Izzy lost almost half her weight, started eliminating 5 to 10 times a day and had many accidents in the house. I increased her food intake from two to nine cups a day and she was still losing weight. Then she started eating her own feces– she was almost feral about it, her feces were large, pale and tan colored and looked like cow plops. When my vet heard me describe the feces, he said, “if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck it just might be a duck… let’s test her for EPI!” When I asked him “what’s EPI?”, he responded “a condition that German Shepherd Dogs get”. At one year and three months old, my Izzy was diagnosed with EPI. She was the first of her breed to ever be recorded diagnosed with EPI. A few years later I traveled to Spain to address the SWD club about EPI, and since then more cases have been properly diagnosed.

What is EPI?

EPI is Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency, a primary or secondary health condition in dogs and cats where they no longer produce the necessary digestive enzymes from the acinar cells located in the exocrine part of the pancreas. These digestive enzymes are needed to digest nutrients from food.

These three main types of digestive enzymes are: amylase for digestion of carbohydrates (sugars & starches in grains, fruits & vegetables), protease and trypsin for digestion of protein, and lipase for the digestion of fats. Normally the lipase enzyme breaks down undigested triglycerides into fatty acids and monoglycerides, which are then solubilized by bile salts. Impaired fat digestion is not apparent until the lipase enzyme output is less than approximately 10% of the normal level. This is why we do not see any physical signs that something might be wrong until approximately 85-95% of the exocrine part of the pancreas has atrophied.

When these critical digestive enzymes are not sufficiently available to help digest nutrients from food, the body goes into starvation mode. Left untreated, the dog will eventually die from either organ failure or starvation, whichever happens first.

Possible signs exhibited after 85-95% of the pancreas is atrophied are:

  • Gradual wasting away with a voracious appetite
  • Eliminating feces more frequently with large yellow/tan/gray feces resembling cow-plops
  • Intermittent or watery diarrhea
  • Eating feces (coprophagia) or other inappropriate items
  • Vomiting, burping or acid reflux
  • Tummy noises/grumbling
  • Excessive flatulence
  • Personality changes

EPI Management

Can EPI be managed? YES! Once the EPI is under control EPI dogs can live just as long as any other dog and can do anything any other dog can do.

Fiona’s Dexter before and after EPI treatment                
Dexter pictures re- printed with permission from owner, Fiona & www.Epi4Dogs.com

If you suspect your dog has EPI, contact your vet and request a TLI (trypsin-like immunoreactivity) blood test. You will need to food-fast your dog for 12 hours prior to the blood being draw. It is advisable to also ask for a Cobalamin blood test to be done at the same time, as over 80% of EPI dogs also have insufficient B12 levels and will not optimally respond to treatment until their B12 levels are in the upper-mid range. Follow Texas A&M lab (TAMU) recommendations for the B12 protocol http://vetmed.tamu.edu/gilab/service/assays/b12folate

If your dog tests positive for EPI you will need to start with the recommended protocol of managing the four aspects of treating EPI:

  1. Porcine Enzymes with every meal. For enzyme resources: epi4dogs.com/enzyme.htm
  2. Diet with low fiber content of 4% or less. For details: epi4dogs.com/diet.htm
  3. B12 (if needed for low B12) For details & research: epi4dogs.com/b12.htm
  4. Antibiotics (if needed for SID) For details, dosing and research: epi4dogs.com/sidsibo.htm

Enzymes are usually needed for life and should be included in all meals. There are multiple types of enzymes that can be used, such as freeze dried powdered enzymes (prescription or generic), enteric-coated enzymes in capsules, enzyme tablets, or raw pancreas. In the USA, freeze dried powdered enzymes are preferred as they are most consistent in potency and easiest to ascertain proper dosage and administration.

Diet is a key component of effectively managing EPI, but this can vary from dog to dog. We suggest starting with a very low fiber food that does not have any grain in it. This usually works best for most, simply because fiber may, to some degree, inhibit the effectiveness of the enzymes. However, some EPI dogs will require slightly different diets, such as a hydrolyzed diet, or some will do better with a very limited amount of grain (rice) added. Many EPI dogs have difficulty with too many carbs in the formula or if there are too many peas in the diet composition. Because finding the right diet can be so tricky, we advise pet owners to start keeping an EPI Journal and record everything given and record the output results and any other reactions. Keeping a journal will greatly help the pet owner identify what does and doesn’t work for their EPI dog.

B12 insufficiency is a secondary condition of EPI that occurs in 4 out of 5 EPI dogs. The recommended protocol is six weeks of weekly simple serum B12 shots and then re-assess to determine how often B12 supplementation is needed to maintain upper mid-range B12 levels. Often pet owners will opt for B12 pills, however, OTC B12 pills usually do not work unless they also include the intrinsic factor. There is recent research that suggests that very high doses of oral B12 can correct low B12. However, it has also been observed that B12 pills without the intrinsic factor included in the pill do not always work on EPI dogs. In the small intestine, the B12 becomes bound to intrinsic factor which eventually allows the B12 to be absorbed into the portal blood. With EPI, we have no way of identifying which dog may have viable intrinsic factor or if it has been damaged. Because of this we will continue to recommend only oral B12 that has the intrinsic factor included in the pill.

SID is small intestinal dysbiosis. SID means there is an imbalance of the microbiota in the small intestine. This too is a secondary condition of EPI and almost always present when EPI is first diagnosed just because of the very nature of EPI. The current protocol is to give the enzymes, and change the diet first and give this a week to two to determine if this is all that is needed for the gut flora to correct its’s own microbiota imbalance. If after a few weeks, you see any of the SID signs repeatedly, such as: yellowish/light colored stools, continued loose/soft stools, intermittent sloppy stools, gelatinous stool coating, flatulence, lack of appetite, grumbling stomach noise, acid reflux, regurgitation, then it is time to have a discussion with your vet about starting your EPI dog on antibiotics to treat SID. The current drug of choice is Tylan (Tylosin tartrate 100 grams) given according to weight twice daily/every 12 hours for 30-45 days. This is the SID protocol suggested by Texas A&M Gastrointestinal Lab, Dr. Jorg Steiner. Finding the right diet for your EPI dog is probably the most effective way to limit future SID flare-ups.

Many times even when the recommended protocol is followed, these EPI dogs still do not optimally respond. This usually means that something needs to be adjusted. Once you find the right balance of treatment for your pup, the recovery is amazing. The success rate has been estimated at 95-97%.

My Izzy is now 12 years old, has managed EPI for 10+1/2 years and is as lively as ever.

More Information

Over the years, there have been a variety of assessments and theories about this condition, many that have since been debunked due to new research with improved technology.

Currently Epi4dogs is collaborating with Dr. David A. Williams and Dr. Patrick Barko of the College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Together we are embarking upon a new research, the Maya Metabolomic Study http://vetmed.illinois.edu/cmmi/ in their Clinical Metabolomics and Microbiome Initiative to further investigate possible environmental factors that may be involved in EPI. Metabolomics is an emerging field in which a very large number of small chemicals can be analyzed from samples of body fluids and tissues. This new technology has the potential to identify previously undetectable abnormalities associated with the development of various diseases including EPI. We hope this new information will provide clues as to why this disease develops and what we can do to prevent it. We expect the findings to be published towards the end of 2017.

Epi4Dogs also recently collaborated with Dr. Jan Suchodolski http://vetmed.tamu.edu/gilab/staff/dr-jan-suchodolski at the Texas A&M Gastrointestinal Lab on a Microbiota Study of EPI dogs and have found some very unusual anomalies which will also be published later 2017 and presented at the 2017 ACVIM conference.

Epi4Dogs is not only dedicated to supporting non-invasive EPI research, but we also have the only EPI database in existence and are the largest EPI resource center with multiple current EPI research in our files. We work with both the veterinarian community and the pet owner. There is also an open EPI Forum 24/7 support group always available to help those struggling with EPI, along with social media, Twitter and Instagram.

If you would like to learn more about EPI please visit:  http://www.epi4dogs.com/

Olesia C. Kennedy, President
Epi4Dogs Foundation, Inc.

Helping Children Deal with the Loss of a Pet

Perhaps next to the sex “talk”, one of the most difficult discussions to have with a child is that of the death of a pet. A child’s first experience with death is often with the loss of a pet. The goldfish dies, the hamster stops spinning in his wheel. Whether the pet was euthanized, or died suddenly, the child’s emotions must be taken into consideration.

A parent, even in the midst of their own grief, must set the tone for their child.  Depending on the age of the child and their emotional makeup, their reaction may run the gamut from an explosive outburst of anger and denial to a shoulder shrug and a desire to be alone. All reactions are ok. There is no one way to grieve. A child may need to be held and consoled, or may need time and space alone to process the loss.

Expect surprising questions. When our dog was hit by a car and killed, my husband and I buried him in the yard before our son came home from school.  We wanted to spare him the trauma of seeing his beloved dog’s shattered body. When we told him the news, he wanted us to dig him up so that he could see him one more time. Instead, we collected pictures of Marbles and made an album of fun times.

We framed my son’s favorite picture of Marbles and put it on his nightstand, so that he was nearby at night.

Other rituals may also help bring closure not only for the child, but for the entire family. If you choose to have your dog cremated and buried in the yard, have the child make some kind of marker.  It could be as simple as a laminated drawing for a young child, or a cross or other marker constructed by an older child.  Perhaps the child could gather flowers to put on the grave or put the dog’s favorite toy on the site. A ceremony helps to anchor the fact that the dog is truly gone.

Even after a ceremony, a younger child may still ask, “where is Fido?”

After all, in cartoons, the characters die but are alive and active the next day on the screen. Separating real life from television is difficult, and the child will need to gently be told that Fido is gone forever. The initial grief may reappear several times before the understanding of forever is clear. In the days and weeks after Marbles death, our son would bound in from the school bus looking for her.  I could see the sadness come over his face when he realized there was no dog barking at his feet ready to play fetch.

Children, like adults, don’t grieve in a linear fashion.  There will be days that we all seem to be fine, and life goes on, but some trigger brings us back to our grief and we are blue. Look for those signs in your child. Take notice if they are acting out, or afraid to go to sleep, or spending time alone. That is the time to talk with them about the good times with your pet. Share your favorite stories and encourage your child to do the same.  I suggest writing a love letter to your pet. What better way to remember how precious and special your pet was to your child and the family?

Questions may come immediately, or over time. A child may ask, “Where did our dog go?”  Your answer may be consistent with your religious beliefs.  When our son asked that question we answered, “Marbles is in heaven. Wouldn’t you want dogs in heaven if you were God?”  For our son that was a very comforting answer since he had come to know heaven as a beautiful place filled with light and goodness.

When is a good time to get another dog?  That is different for every family.  But you will know.  You will feel your heart beginning to mend, you will need your afternoon walk with a leash in your hand, and your throwing arm is itching to pitch. That is when you realize that Charles Schultz was right when he said, “Happiness is a warm puppy.”

Lu Pierro is the author of All Dogs Go to Heaven, a Guided Grief Journal

Available on Amazon: ‪http://tinyurl.com/z5bzv7y 


How to Get Your Dog to Wear a Shirt

If you’re anything like the average dog owner out there today, chances are you’ve thought about putting your fluffy little four-legged friend in some funny dog shirts on occasion. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, we all think it from time to time.

Perhaps you want to take a funny picture for social media, or set up the ultimate holiday card for your relatives. Maybe you just think they’re cold, and could use an extra layer to help them get through the winter. Either way, we’re with you!

Have you ever actually tried to get your pooch into one of those dog shirts? Many people would say that you’re better off trying to crack a safe than you are trying to get your pup to get into a tee shirt. Some pooches scratch and bite until they worm their way out of them. Others simply freeze, and refuse to comply with their owners wishes.

The first piece of advice that we can offer you is to make sure that you take a careful look at sizing before you purchase. Every dog is different, and one of the most common mistakes that pet owners make is to assume that a certain dog will automatically take a certain size. Just because you may have the same breed of dog as someone you know doesn’t mean your pet would necessarily take the same size tee. Have you ever seen littler of puppies where you have both a giant and a runt? Chances are they won’t be taking the same size shirt when they grow up!

One piece of advice is to measure your dog accurately. Start by taking soft measuring tape or string and looping it around your pups chest. That will tell you how much room inside a shirt you’ll have to work with. Buying a shirt that is too baggy or too tight can cause the animal a great deal of discomfort, and make it more likely for them to reject the shirt.

The second thing you should keep in mind is to associate the shirt with something pleasant, like a hug, or a treat. If your pet has even a touch of defiance in their personality, they may initially resist being put into apparel. Like any other form of training, use positive reinforcement. Offering a treat and praise can go a long way towards helping your little buddy feel more comfortable. Once they come to associate it with something they like, it will become much less of a struggle.

Of course, if you really want to make them feel relaxed, you could always get in on the act with them. You know how they say that pets and their owners often look like? Now they can dress alike too. Not only will this make for the cutest picture possible, but it will let your furry friend know that you’re in it with them. 

Dogs have an innate ability read the emotions and moods of their masters, which is why above all else, you should always make things like this fun. The more fun you’re having, the more fun they’ll have!

We love the shirts at CrazyDog T-shirts, check ’em out they’re funny!