A Guide To Regular Health Checks for Your Dog

As we continue on our journey toward canine wellness our next path takes us to the learning about health checks for our dogs.  An overall body exam only takes a few minutes and makes sure that everything operates the way it should. If you find any unexpected lumps, bumps, cuts, sore spots, etc. then you can to make an appointment with your dog’s veterinarian.

My wish, is that every dog has a health check at least once a month. Even though my dogs are on flea and tick preventative I do a daily body exam to make sure that ticks didn’t catch a ride on them. It is important to remove a tick as soon as possible to reduce the risk of disease transmission. My dog Abby (RIP) had Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and I never even knew she had been bitten by a tick.

Performing regular health checks help you know your dog’s overall wellness and helps your dog learn to enjoy the body exam – even from your veterinarian. Imagine that – a less stressful veterinary visit for your dog!

Linda Michaels, M.A. reminds us in the Hierachy of Dog NeedsTM that it is our responsibility to take care of more than our dog’s biological needs – we are responsible for their wellness too. Performing an overall body exam and health check can help ensure your dog’s wellness. So let’s go that extra step and look out for our dog’s overall well-being.

There are a couple of ground rules when you do a health check on your dog. First off, they are for non-emergency routine care. The information you gather in no way replaces a visit to your veterinarian and your dog should continue his regularly scheduled veterinary appointments.

Throughout the process observe your dog. If at any point your dog shows signs of discomfort – stop what you are doing. Make a note of what you did – were you leaning over him or was your touch too hard? Maybe there is an injury or maybe you startled your dog. Pay attention because an injury may require medical attention but a startle response does not. If you determine your dog is healthy yet is reluctant to be handled then please contact a trainer or behavior consultant in your area for assistance. Don’t force your dog to be touched in an area or in a way that makes him uncomfortable.

Approach – your dog from the side. If you approach directly from the front your dog may take that as an aggressive approach. When you approach from the side – or present your body sideways, you are considered less threatening. Extra tip – wait a moment for your dog to come to you. Giving your dog a moment to decide that he wants to participate make all the difference in the world.

Position – you should not restrict or block your dog’s movement. If you restrict his movement he may feel trapped and become reactive or aggressive. There is a difference between containment and restraint. You can contain your dog in a small area without restraint. When you do this your dog has some choice and is more likely to accept being touched even in sensitive places.

Distance – don’t crowd or lean over your dog. Most dogs have an interesting response when you lean over them, especially near their head, most of the time they will jump up and that can cause you to be bumped. The times when this doesn’t happen is if  the dog has been trained not to jump. Have you noticed that if you crowd your dog she may do things like spin, jump up, give you a kiss, and many other behaviors; pay attention to see what your dog does to increase space. Other dogs don’t do what we consider “friendly” warnings instead they go straight to growl and bite. Be kind and respect your dog’s need for space. Don’t wait for her to growl or bite before you listen to what she is telling you.

Duration – your movements should be efficient and fluid/smooth. If you hesitate and are jerky when you work with your dog then he will not be comfortable. If you are consistently hesitant or jerky then your dog may learn to be fearful of the health checks. If you are not confident about this exercise please practice on a stuffed dog first. Your dog will thank you.

Pressure how you touch matters. Too light of a touch tickles and too hard of a touch hurts. I call this the Goldilocks effect – you want your touch to be “just right.” Experiment to find the right amount of pressure your dog likes. Remember that what feels good on the shoulder may not feel good on the hindquarters. Another handy tip – what feels good after a nap may not be the same as what feels good before or after a workout.

Safety – ALWAYS practice safe handling and have an escape route for yourself.

Here are two pages of illustrations to guide you through the health check/overall body exam process.

My next posts will go into more detail about the different sections and the body language in each section. Please feel free to comment/ask question

For a downloadable file click here: HealthChecks-Dog-01

For a downloadable file click here: HealthChecks-Dog-02

References:
The Hierachy of Dog NeedsTM Linda Michaels, M.A

Hierarchy of Dog Needs

Forbidding Forecast For Lyme Disease In The Northeast, March 6, 2017 5:00 AM ET Heard on Morning Edition http://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2017/03/06/518219485/forbidding-forecast-for-lyme-disease-in-the-northeast

How to safely remove a tick http://www.petmd.com/dog/parasites/how-to-remove-a-tick-from-dog-cat

Acknowledgements:
The Guide to Health Check  illustrations were made possible by a grant from the Josiah Charles Trent Memorial Foundation Endowment Fund.

Diane Lewis of Diane Lewis Photography and Lili Chin of DoggieDrawings.net who illustrated them. The illustrations would not be here without these two amazing women! Both are dedicated to improving the lives of animals and the lives of dogs.

A look behind the illustrations

Ever wonder how an infographic or poster is created? Mine start with a lot of photos, an excel spreadsheet, and power point. The spreadsheet is designed using data from several research papers on the topic of the poster (my research is usually canine body language). Once the spreadsheet is running analysis can begin on the the photos. Finally the selection process begins for the photos that will make it into the power point slides. The photos in power point are used to create the illustrations. Even if a photo makes into PPT, they may not be illustrated. Sometimes photos are in PPT to help the illustrator understand the context which is essential for a well done illustration.

Please understand that I view the creation of illustrations as a journey. Like any journey, there are many people who have helped me along the way. First, these illustrations would not have been possible without the support (and pushing) of a couple of friends who convinced me to apply for funding for this project. These illustrations were made possible by a grant from the Josiah Charles Trent Memorial Foundation Endowment Fund.

Special thanks to both Diane Lewis of Diane Lewis Photography and Lili Chin of DoggieDrawings.net who illustrated them. The illustrations would not be here without these two amazing women! Both are dedicated to improving the lives of animals and most especially the lives of dogs. I’m lucky to have worked with them through this project.

How many photos does it take to create an illustration? I can’t say for sure. There were 1,000 professional photos and more than 1,000 amateur photos reviewed to create the illustrations that will be posted over the coming months. It takes a lot of images to create a pattern.

In order to analyze the photos an Online Canine Body Language Collaborators Group was formed. I can’t say enough wonderful things about this group – they tirelessly answered questions and reviewed materials with me. These collaborators are amazing and I think we all learned a lot going through the photos and illustrations.

I learned a lot doing this project. Not just about my own dogs, but about our relationship with animals. The most important message that I can share is that everything we do needs to strengthen the human animal bond and that the bond is a mutually beneficial and dynamic relationship. For more information on the human animal bond please visit the American Veterinary Medical Association.

When the work we are doing with our dogs stops being mutually beneficial we need to evaluate the situation and change it in some way. Our dogs give us their trust and it is our responsibility to keep them safe and share the joy of life and love every day!

If you liked this post here are a few others that you may find interesting:
Dog Signals and Social Cues: what is your dog telling you

Do You See What I See?

Charlie’s Facial Expressions and Unimaginable Joy

Dog Expressions: A walk through the park

 

Dog Signals and Social Cues: what is your dog telling you?

What are Dog Signals and Social Cues?  And why do they matter? If you want to know what your dog is telling you then you need to understand the language your dog speaks. Dog signals and social cues is the language your dog speaks. Like any language each individual communicates using their own style. The materials on dog signals and social cues teaches how a dog will respond in a given situation. Unfortunately most materials aren’t able take into consideration all of the variables that we need to consider when we observe our dogs.

It can be even more confusing when a dog uses the same signal and it has multiple meanings. We can compare it words we use that have multiple meanings. A great example is aloha which can mean hello or good bye depending on the context. There, in a nutshell, is the key – context.

If we know the context when we observe our dog we can have a better understanding of the message she communicates. By knowing the context it is easier to determine if the paw lift means everything is wonderful or if it means that she is uncertain or wary.

Another useful tip: it is helpful to cluster several signals together. Clustering dog signals is similar to putting words together to form a sentence. From there we can form a paragraph and before you know it you are hearing an entire story. Take a moment, learn the language and listen to your dog’s story.

How do we know if the story we are hearing is happy story or one that needs intervention? Let’s use the traffic light model to define zones. It works because it is simple, clear, and easy to understand. The zones that are defined here provide you with instruction as well. When we use zones it is important to remember that they don’t define the dog rather, they define behavior.

Here is an illustration to help you see how this system works with different dogs.

The illustration shows how different these respond to situations. The Life’s Good signals seem pretty consistent even with different dogs. The responses begin to change when the dogs display their with stress signs.

  • Caution: yawn vs paw lift; lip lick vs rolling; shake-off vs sniffing – these are very different signals between the dogs. Note – these are only the “big” signals that are named. There are other signals displayed too.
  • Danger: panting (with tension) vs scratching; making self small vs self-soothing licking; frozen in place vs trembling – again very different signals are displayed.
  • Worth noting: look at the difference in size in the black dog, Jade, in the down position from the Life’s Good to the Danger. The change in her size in this instance matters.
  • The beagle, Charlie, doesn’t usually scratch or self-sooth unless he is stressed so when he displays those signals something is bothering him. If it happens once, he is in the Caution zone, but if it happens several times then he has moved to Danger zone.

How will your dog respond? Take photos and complete observation logs. The logs are for you, but if you want let me know how you are doing… If you have questions ask – either on Facebook or here. The key is to observe your dog. Take the time to get to know your dog. Keep observing your dog over time because your dog changes.

Remember, each dog has a unique response to situations. Not only that, but over time, dogs change the way they see the world. It is a good idea to keep a photo journal of how our dogs look at life and respond to situations.  Now, that would be amazing! Not only are documenting how wonderful our dog is, but we are learning how our responds in each situation. We are learning how our dog changes over time.

Resources to help you understand Dog Signals and Social Cues:
Books:
Aloff, B. (2005). Canine body language: A photographic guide: Interpreting the native language of the domestic dog. Dogwise.

Handelman, B. (2012). Canine behavior: A photo illustrated handbook. Dogwise Publishing. (the hard cover book is wonderful, the e-book is all in color)

McConnell, P. (2009). For the love of a dog: understanding emotion in you and your best friend. Ballantine Books.

Rugaas, T. (2005). On talking terms with dogs: Calming signals. Dogwise publishing

Articles:
Glenk, L. M., Kothgassner, O. D., Stetina, B. U., Palme, R., Kepplinger, B., & Baran, H. (2014). Salivary cortisol and behavior in therapy dogs during animal-assisted interventions: A pilot study. Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, 9(3), 98-106.

Hasegawa, M., Ohtani, N., & Ohta, M. (2014). Dogs’ Body Language Relevant to Learning Achievement. Animals, 4(1), 45-58

Jakovcevic, A., Elgier, A. M., Mustaca, A. E., & Bentosela, M. (2013). Frustration behaviors in domestic dogs. Journal of applied animal welfare science, 16(1), 19-34.

Mariti, C., Gazzano, A., Moore, J. L., Baragli, P., Chelli, L., & Sighieri, C. (2012). Perception of dogs’ stress by their owners. Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, 7(4), 213-219.

Mehrkam, L. R., & Wynne, C. D. (2014). Behavioral differences among breeds of domestic dogs (Canis lupus familiaris): Current status of the science. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 155, 12-27.

Ng, Z. Y., Pierce, B. J., Otto, C. M., Buechner-Maxwell, V. A., Siracusa, C., & Werre, S. R. (2014). The effect of dog–human interaction on cortisol and behavior in registered animal-assisted activity dogs. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 159, 69-81.

Wan, M., Bolger, N., & Champagne, F. A. (2012). Human perception of fear in dogs varies according to experience with dogs. PLoS one, 7(12), e51775.