Metropolitan Dog Club Soiree

I've just recieved an invitation to a Soiree and Live Auction to benefit Puppies behind Bars organized by the Metropolitan Dog Club - an invitation that I've been asked to extend to any NYC Dog Owners that may be also be interested in attending. Click on the invite for a larger version.


Vacation Menu

This is the first time that I have taken Eti on vacation or away from home for a length of time greater than a weekend so I've had to face the challenge of what to feed him while away from our regular resources. Last year when I had come to Provincetown I noted that they sold Evo kibble at the pet food store which is one reason I have over the last year fed him a random occasional meal of Evo kibble. I didn't like how he seemed exceptionally thirsty on it but he was fine with it otherwise. The day we got here, I went straight to the store to get some along with some canned and they didn't have any-sold out, next delivery in a week. I came away with one can of Evo.

I was only going to feed him some meals of kibble and canned and the rest from the grocery store anyway so it was only a minor setback. Onward to to the supermarket where I got a whole chicken which included the liver/heart, eggs, sardines, ground beef, marrowbones, garlic and some pork. Next to the kitchen store where I got a pair of poultry shears and a pair of tongs (to hold on to the pieces and prevent him swallowing too big of a piece). Three grocery stores later- at the health food one - I finally managed to find a small tub of live yogurt- on the second try- the first one was sweetened although it didn't actually say that it was. What the original pet food store did have was some good treats- dried liver and buffalo jerky.

One more trip to the thrift store where I got a large Pyrex baking dish for a feeding platter and we're in business. First the chicken got cut into portions- I brought my little kitchen scale so was able to measure out the portions. I removed the wings thighs and drumsticks. The breast and back were cut in strips across so that the strips included both the the bonier backs and the meatier breasts. Everything got put into freezer bags and into the freezer. Next I ground up some eggshell with the help of a seashell and the back of a spoon as my makeshift mortar and pestle. Whenever I fed lean meat without bone I would add ground eggshell for calcium -one half teaspoon for every pound of lean meat. Every meal also got a halfish teaspoon of live yogurt and every other meal got a quarter teaspoon of fresh ground garlic. If only I had remembered to bring some fish oil capsules and things would have been near perfect.

A week or so later the results are in. I was expecting perhaps slightly softer poops because of the higher amount of lean meat- although I was adding ground eggshell for calcium I thought the lower amount of bone would mean less " fibre ". Instead we had fairly firm poop and very very little of it . At first I was a little concerned, then I realized that he was simply absorbing more and I had actually increased the daily amount a tad because he was getting so much more exercise than usual. You may have noticed that there is no mention of vegetables- I have increasingly reduced his vegetable intake to nothing and it has had no discernible effect. I do however supplement with marine greens and fruit for snacks. I decided to eliminate fruit these two weeks just to make sure that his digestive system had the sole job of digesting meat and bone as he didn't normally consume this amount of whole pieces. I've generally avoided feeding wings and thighs because I haven't been completely comfortable about the denser bones but he's been dealing with them well- I know now to include them more in the future. The vacation menu prepared by my temporary kitchen equipment was a success, I learnt a couple more things and Eti showed his usual appreciation by licking his platter clean.

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Hug Me, I'm French

Do you like to be hugged? Do you come from a touchy feely family thats comfortable with shows of physical affection or one where its culturally not the norm to engage in them? Or is it sometimes gender or situationally related- if you were male you might hug another male on a sport field after a successful outcome but not perhaps in a regular social setting or you're more likely to hug your brother but not your best friend. Or you're female and little unsure about the enthusiastic hug you just received from a male acquaintence you just met. Or were you brought up without a lot of hugging and then introduced to it via a significant other or a move to a city or culture where there were different concepts of personal space and etiquette- and subsequently grew to be comfortable with it. Obviously in the human world there's quite a range.

So how about in the canine world? I've seen this subject be one of lively debate in response to the statement "Dogs don't like to be Hugged". What's the reasoning behind this? In Patricia McConell's book 'The Other End of the Leash" she explains that many of our intended movements and their intended meanings, easily understood by humans, have meanings that are diametrically different for dogs. For example the humanly friendly gestures of extended hand-arm and of hugging have the opposite meaning of potential threat to dogs. In Turid Rugaas' book On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals she describes the many responses that a dog might provide as clues to their discomfort with this like yawning or looking away.

To understand why a dog might feel threatened by this it helps to have an understanding of how it is processing this situation or what is going on its mind when this happens. Temple Grandin, who has writen books and research papers on how animals think- likens their thinking process to those of people with autism. Being autisitic herself she understands that fear is the main emotion shared by autistics and animals. "Objects that make sudden movements are the most fear-provoking. In the wild, sudden movement is feared because predators make sudden movements." Add to that the restraint of an embrace or its similarity to a dominant gesture or prelude to an aggressive one- and you can see the root of what may cause a dog to percieve this negatively.

Patricia McConell however does qualify this by saying that a positive response to hugging can be learned. In fact behaviorists generally believe that anything can be learned by classical or operant conditioning. Whenever Eti and I return from a walk we have a ritual of paw wiping and a little play and affection which would include some form of embrace or hug from me followed by a meal. So his whole entire life he has only had a positive association with hugging which I would imagine is very similar in other households where the act is meditated with affection or loving intent. Is a dog, apart from learning by positive association, able to understand or recognize this intent? According to Marc Bekoff a distinguished Biologist whose field of research is animal behavior, cognitive ethology (the study of animal minds), and behavioral ecology, is convinced that our companions do have this ability and says "We also hug them, love them, and welcome them into our homes as family members which pleases them immensely because they're such social beings". He says they have a great capacity for trust and they "tell us they trust us by their actions, their willingness to allow us to do just about anything to them."

"Don't hug dogs" would therefore be something you might want to teach children as a general rule of safety or you might not want to hug a dog you don't know or just met but to say "Don't hug your dog" a dog that you have built a trusting relationship with would be poor advice that doesn't properly recognise the bond that can occur between a dog and its owner and the need to continually nourish it. Nor does it credit the ability of a dog to transcend his base fears and replace it with trust and the ability to understand that a hug is intended as a gesture of love and affection from his beloved guardian.

An interesting outcome of the hugging dicussion on the forum is that many Frenchie owners declared, myself included, that their French Bulldogs go one step further- not only do they show little to no aversion to hugging but enjoy even demand to be cuddled, coddled, and cradled like babies and they had pictures to prove it. How can this be? How can the combination of an aggresive bull baiting bulldog combined with a murderous ratting terrier exhibit such infantile behavior. Most probably genetics - and by genetics I mean the kind thats been largely in operation from the 19th century to today - the kind that involves significant human interference.

The roots of the French Bulldog began with the intent of English Bulldog Breeders to redefine the breed from an aggressive one, which was no longer desired with the decline in interest in Bull Baiting, to a more docile 'family dog' and a smaller one at that as breeders were also trying to create a miniature bulldog. When the breed surfaced in France combined with the local Terriers it was at the dawn of the "Show Dog" Era and also the beginning of a demand for small companion dogs and lapdogs. The breeding programs were without doubt all selecting for appearance and good temper. Not only would this positive selection for "good temper" have an effect on genetics, so would selecting for appearance . A preference for physical characteristics like larger heads and puppy like features can also have according to Raymond and Lorna Coppinger an impact on behavior. In this article by Temple Grandin she describes this Neoteny or preference for juvenile characteristics as one of many reasons how behavioral genetics can be altered. The article sums up all the possibilites - experience, environment, learnt behavior, selection for certain traits -they all impact an animal's temperament. So where a Frenchie may not only be agreeable but actually enjoy lot of physical handling, a working dog like the Siberian Husky or a herding breed like a German Shepherd, who tend to be more flighty, may not feel quite the same way.

My experience with Eti is that he loves physical interaction and I encourage it not just with myself but with others and in doing so he is socially confident with everyone that he meets and its a trait I not only like but find important living in a crowded urban setting where he deals on a daily basis with the physical advances of strangers, friends, neighbours and their children. But like the humans described at the start of this post, not all Frenchies are the same there's a range and its important to be able to read your dogs language and what he's telling you, understand that your body posture and body language plays a role- you should be low to the ground not standing or hovering over him and that the situation should have positive associations - food, toys, playing , smiles and laughter.



French Education

I have over the last few years been a regular contributor to a couple of French Bulldog Forums, first asking questions and learning then, answering questions and sharing what I have learnt about taking care of Eti. Out of personal interest I have also researched issues that other members of the forum have been experiencing that I, touch wood, haven't and in doing so learnt a little more. Add to that the many valuable insights gained by reading the many knowledgeable responses from other Frenchie Owners - owners of longer standing, multiple owners, owners with interests in the Show Ring and with insights provided by their network of breeder friends, owners involved with the rescue of French Bulldogs and owners with both healthy and unhealthy Frenchies. This has resulted not in just a little knowledge but also perspective. I have a photographic memory that has always held me in good stead and I haven't just remembered what the problems were that challenged some owners but also what were the practices of the owners that had healthy dogs.

I intend to serve up this information and knowledge in a series of posts that cover topics that I have found to be relevant, recurring issues, or just interesting to French Bulldog owners. You'll see in the sidebar that there are already broad categories like Health, Nutrition and so on- over time this will become subdivided and more easily searchable as I begin to index them. To give you an idea of what these posts might be I thought I might kick off with a post inspired by the phrase "The Concept formerly known as Dominance"- one jokingly coined by Dr. Rosemary Connell in response to the extremely un PC usage of that word nowadays amongst dog trainers and behaviorists but I think I want to spend a little time working on a suitable graphic to represent that just like the artist's. So instead we'll start on a post I'm putting together called "Hug me. I'm French " that ponders if like their human French counterparts who like their greetings with not one kiss but two, our little Gallic Chiens also have a different perception of 'personal space. Without doubt an important focus in this series of posts will be nutrition- a subject that has more dog owners reevaluating and researching options in the light of the recent pet food recalls. So the next post will most probably be "Nutrition Options"- an overview of the three common choices -kibble, home cooked and raw.

We don't fully appreciate the casual confidence that we have in the human world as friends or parents to say 'Oh, that looks like measles' or ' she's annoyed with you because you ignored her'. With our dogs being a completely different species it takes some knowing to recognize an allergic reaction or that grumpy behavior is a symptom of pain. There is a substantial difference in the knowledge threshold between saying to a fellow human 'You need to see a doctor' or 'It would be a good idea to get counselling' and what you would similarly say to a dog owner 'He needs to see a vet' or 'you need the help of a trainer'. Another reason for this knowledge gap is simply that a dog can't say to us like a two year old could- 'my tummy hurts'. Thats the information territory that I am most interested in filling- information that leads to insight and knowledge that transforms a dog owner from one who is baffled by his dog to one who has some ideas on what to do next. Ideas that he has confidence in executing before he or she feels professional help is required.

I am not an expert with any kind of training and all the information and knowledge I've acquired is with this simple ambition in mind and that is to understand my dog a lot better and to be able to confidently know what to do with with him when things go a little wrong and how to get back on the path of keeping him happy and healthy and knowing when to seek professional help. Or, even more importantly understanding the important role of nutrition and successful communication with our dogs in order to prevent things going wrong and ultimately avoiding the need to seek professional medical or behavioral help or at least to keep it to a minimum. The comments section will be available for this part of the site so feel free to add your thoughts.


Summer Prep

I've been rushing to get someone to install the new air conditioning brackets - a new mandatory requirement by the city. The handyman can only come early next week which means we'll have to deal with the warmer temperatures for a few more days. The urgency is of course because of Eti who despite having excellent breathing apparatus- no snoring ( well- just an occasional tiny snore which I actually quite like and find calming), no labored breathing when exercising and certainly no other worse symptoms like vomiting or 'roaring' where they are really struggling to breathe- as I've seen in some frenchies. When the weather goes over 80 degrees however I see a marked change in his comfort level and its really not possible to exist without the air conditioning at full blast 24 hours a day all through the summer months.

Additionally I found a nifty ice cube tray that freezes tubular spikes of of ice that can be dropped into a water bottle- which perfectly melts to cool water when needed at the destination or the bottle can be used as a cooling device on his face or belly. I've also begun to mentally re align my schedule to account for the fact that he simply can't be outside beyond 10 am or so and not again till early evening cools things down again. So wake up for me is brought forward to 7.30am which is already instituted as Eti's internal clock responds to the earlier daylight. Ever been woken up by a French Bulldog lying on your shin licking your toes at 6.30 in the morning? Welcome to my world-if you're reading this you're probably already there.

Let's see what else. Oh yes, budget for more cab rides because the subway turns into a furnace and frankly prepare for a little worrying. I get worried that if I stay out too long something drastic might happen like a power failure and the air conditioning cuts out and all the windows are closed. I know I shouldn't but I can't help it- and so my social life takes a little dive during the summer months. Not to forget the panic attacks you get halfway on route downtown- OMG I totally forgot to bring the bottle with the ice cubes.

I watched a PBS program a little while ago about the evolution of dogs and was struck particularly by the Inuit dogs that provide all the transport, protection (they can take down a polar bear) and even hunt for their masters. The Inuit to this day are hugely reliant on their dogs who still perform many tasks relevant to their daily survival. How on earth I got suckered into the reverse situation here with Eti, I'll never know. French Bulldogs have the most cunning evolutionary survival strategy ever- find humans to perform all tasks including provision of food and shelter, porterage and all hygenic ministrations, in return look adorable and have an irresistable personality.



Flat Faced Features

I was aware of some of the breed specific problems that Frenchies have being brachycephalic, mainly by reading the excellent article by Jan Grebe called 'The Brachycephalic Syndrome' (Part I & II) but I didn't realise there were other problems as well as an interesting fact- their visual field is more like ours than other dogs which is why they may be more likely to enjoy watching TV with you.

I discovered this on another Frenchie Afficionado's site Good Bloggie. Her post on the subject points to the research that supports this and follows with another post about adverse reactions to Rabies Vaccines- which she additionaly informed me that there is a 2005 American Journal of Veterinary Research study that found brachycephalic dogs were most susceptible to reacting to.

I was then of course curious to see what else were flat faced features and discoverd that eye prominence was another one. From Marvistvet:

Sometimes, the eyes are so prominent that the lids cannot close all the way over the eyes. This will lead to irritation and drying of the center of the eye unless surgical correction is performed. If you cannot tell by watching your pet blink, watch as your pet sleeps. Dogs who sleep without closing their eyes all the way could do with surgical correction.

Eyelid problems are common in these breeds. Look for persistent wetness around the eyes. In some dogs, the shape of the eyelids prevents normal tear drainage and there is an overflow. This problem cannot be corrected surgically and is not uncomfortable for the pet; however, there is a more serious condition which looks similar. This second condition involves the rolling inward of the eyelids such that the lashes rub on the eye. Surgery may be needed to correct this problem.

I actually know of a couple of Frenchies with the former situation who had surgical procedures. The latter combined with facial folds, another brachycephalic feature increases the potential for skin fold infections also something I've witnessed in a few Frenchies.

Another concern is dental:
The normal dog has 42 teeth in its mouth. The brachycephalic dog also has 42 teeth but a lot less space to fit them in. This means that the teeth will be crowded and growing in at odd angles which, in turn, traps food debris and leads to periodontal disease at a far younger age than in non-brachycephalics. The earlier you begin using home care dental products, the longer you will be able to postpone full dentistry under general anesthesia.
I also came across an interesting study that links brachycephalic dog with upper respiratory problems with a greater incidence of gastrointestinal lesions. The full text can be downloaded from here but one finding was that 'surgery on their upper respiratory airways showed marked clinical respiratory and digestive improvement associated with marked improvement in the digestive abnormalities confirmed by a control endoscopy.'




Probiotics are important for keeping the beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract in equilibrium with the the more harmful ones that find their way into the system. A situation thats compromised when a dog has recently been on antibiotics as Eti has- the antibiotics kill both the good along with the bad bacteria.

Its's argued however that given the highly acidic environment of the canine digestive system probiotics may not be effective as they are unable to survive that environment. There is a school of thought that believes it's best to give probiotics between meals when the digestive juices are less active. The other, and one that I subscribe to, is to give one with as broad a range of bacteria as possible to ensure the inclusion of strains that do survive that environment. Kefir, which contains, certainly in the case of the brand that I get for Eti from Wholefoods-Helios, more than thirty different kinds of these bacteria far exceeding the more limited ranges found in the powdered form or in capsules and even its cousin live yogurt.

Another advantage with Kefir is that more of the Lactose is pre digested and therefore less problematic for lactose intolerant dogs- I do notice Eti tolerates Kefir extremely well whereas with live yogurt- which I give him on occasion can affect/loosen his stools. Yet another benefit is -I've grown to love it myself. I'm not a great a fan of live yogurt but the much less tangy Kefir I find quite pleasant tasting and great with fruit. So Kefir is a regular feature in our fridge, Eti gets a teaspoon of it most days mixed into his meal.


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