HOLIDAYS WITH YOUR PET – GIFT IDEAS!

Thanksgiving is coming up quick – next week in fact! – and so are holiday sales. With Black Friday for those that enjoy shopping in person and Cyber Week/Cyber Monday for those that prefer to shop from the comfort of their own home, the options are seemingly endless! But what to get for your canine best friend?

PLAYING IT SAFE: EDIBLE GIFTS

Let’s be practical for a minute. At the end of the day, most (if not all) dogs love to eat, and the way to a dog’s heart is via his stomach. Home baked treats and store bought dog treats all hit the spot, and with the holidays upon us there are some wonderful, creative options out there. Pet parents can do a quick search via their favorite search engine or on a more specialized site such as Pinterest to find creative, delicious, and dog-friendly recipes for their favorite pups. For the less DIY pet parent, many communities now have specialized dog bakeries. For those that do not, great news! Several dog bakeries also offer shipping right to your front door. One quick tip, though: even if Santa frequents your house, DO NOT leave those gifts under the tree! Expecting a pup not to crack open a package full of peanut butter dog cookies may simply be too much to ask, even of the best-behaved pup.

FUNCTIONAL GIFTS: KEEP ROVER WARM AND TOASTY!

Baby, it’s cold outside. And although your buddy likely has a lovely fur coat on, he is still not immune to the weather. There are a plethora of lovely dog gifts out there that will keep him snuggled up, rain, snow, or shine! For example, you can pick him up a puffy vest or a pup-specific sweater to keep him warm on long walks, and you can even consider getting him some booties to protect his paws from the elements. Delicate foot pads can be irritated by ice and de-icing chemicals alike, and although he may initially scoff at wearing anything on his feet, he’ll likely eventually adapt to his new footwear and will be happy to have healthy feet at the end of the season!

FOR THE PUP THAT LOVES TO NAP (BECAUSE THEY ALL DO!)

Odds are good that your well-loved pup already has at least one comfy dog bed around the house, but the holidays are a great time to replace any that have gotten scruffy and/or simply add another! For example, our pup prefers to have at least two in the house at all times, one upstairs and one downstairs. That way, no matter where the family is, he has a snuggly spot to curl up near the action. Your dog may also enjoy a heated blanket, just make sure to only use it on lower settings and only while you are in close proximity while he enjoys it! Holiday shopping can be somewhat overwhelming in the midst of work, social, and family obligations during the holiday season, but shopping for your pet can be fun and easy if you simply keep his short list of favorites in mind. After all, most dogs just want to be full, snuggly, and comfortable! Easy enough, right?

Images courtesy David J. LaPorte and Doug Waldron

 

HOLIDAYS WITH YOUR PET - SAFE, HAPPY AIR TRAVEL

Although statistically it doesn’t happen often, stories of air travel with pets gone wrong seem to crop up as we prepare for the holiday travel season. Whether they are horror stories of missed flight prerequisites leading to delays or an inability to travel, dogs not handling temperature/altitude changes well, or every pet parent’s worst nightmare of escaped pups during transit, air travel with our dogs may bring us as much risk as it does convenience. Thankfully, just as with most aspects of successful pet parenting, a little planning and preparation can exponentially increase our chances of seamless air travel and overall success.

PLAN, PLAN, AND PLAN!

First and foremost – plan ahead. As soon as you even start to roll the idea of air travel with your pet around in your mind, start researching. Proper planning and research will facilitate a successful journey with your pet. You may even uncover travel requirements or fees that rule out air travel completely, thus allowing you to readjust and either alter your holiday plans or set up boarding with a trusted pet host. You’ll want to check in on season-specific travel considerations, such as the temperatures of your departure city, destination, and any possible connections during the dates and times you may fly, as well as any health certificate and/or vaccination requirements for your dog on a particular airline.

You’ll also want to check size and weight guidelines to determine whether your dog can fly in the cabin or will be considered cargo in the plane. Many airlines also limit the number of live animals per flight, so once you narrow down the dates you’ll travel and set a firm itinerary, you’ll need to work with the airline’s reservations department to ensure your pet has his space reserved. Flying with our dogs is much more than simply choosing dates and finding the best rates, and doing the work ahead of time will prevent difficulties when it comes to the actual travel. It may feel somewhat overwhelming making sure all of these considerations are addressed in the beginning, but you will be setting yourself and your canine best friend up for success!

SAFETY AND HEALTH

When prepping for your trip, you’ll likely need to take your dog in to the vet to obtain a health certificate stating that he or she is healthy enough to travel. Do not rush this step! Take the time to research the expected temperatures he’ll deal with, the time he’ll need to wait between meals, and even when he’ll have access to fresh water so you can have an honest conversation with your vet about any possible effects on his health and well-being.

Additionally, when it comes time to travel, work closely with the airline to understand what your dog’s travel day will look like – when will he be loaded on the plane if he is unable to travel in the cabin? When and where will you be able to pick him up? Many airlines have a system in place that involves a flight attendant bringing a pull tag from your dog’s kennel to your seat before takeoff to let you know that she has been loaded on the plane. Do not let a busy flight crew forget this step! As a pet parent, you’re not inconveniencing them, but rather you’re ensuring that they do their job and protect your dog. Just as you are a paying customer for whom they are responsible, so is your dog. This is also where having the proper kennel and supplies comes into play. If your dog can sit, stand, and turn around in his kennel and has the appropriate labels and food/water dishes, you are helping the airline take better care of her. You also should ensure the kennel and door are in good repair before flying to prevent mishaps.

Overall, flying with our dogs can be a daunting task, but by breaking the process down into the proper steps, you can protect your dog and make sure his air travel is uneventful (read: successful!). And remember – you can always find a quality home for him to stay in if air travel is not an option! Either way, enjoying the holidays, seeing faraway friends and family and/or traveling for leisure, and looking out for your pet are not mutually exclusive. You CAN do it!

Images courtesy Evan P. Cordes and Can Do Canines

 

THE BRAIN OF A PET PARENT

As pet parents, we know with absolute certainty that we have a special bond with our dogs; they are a part of our family, we think about them when we have to go away, we factor in their schedule when we are setting plans or get that last minute email from our boss about an evening meeting. In fact, about this time last year we did a fun piece that outlined when you KNOW you’re a pet parent. Some of the highlights that you all will recognize: silence never sounds the same after welcoming a dog to your family (because silence sounds like T-R-O-U-B-L-E), it may be a battle of strategy (and will!) to secure real estate for sitting and sleeping, and perhaps most importantly you open up a place in heart for your new furry best friend that perhaps you didn’t even know was there. On that same note, researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital have confirmed what we already know: that the brain of a pet parent changes in ways parallel to that of a maternal brain (sorry guys this study was done on women – we know you take your role as a pet papa seriously!).

THE SIMILARITIES

For the study, women were shown images of their children and their dogs while their brains were being scanned by researchers, and it was shown that areas such as the amygdala, the medial orbitofrontal cortex, and the dorsal putamen were activated in a similar way when viewing both types of images. According to Science Daily, the amygdala plays a key role in the processing of emotion, the medial orbitofrontal cortex is responsible for social and emotional processes (including anxiety), and the dorsal putamen is involved in learning and reward systems. In contrast, these areas were not activated when the mothers viewed images of unfamiliar children and/or dogs. Realistically, this just proves what we all already know – there is a definite resemblance to be seen when considering the relationship we have with our offspring and our dogs. We view them as part of the family, warmly anticipate them greeting us when we get home, and experience acute grief when we lose them.

THE DIFFERENCES

All that being said, there are differences in the nature of our interactions with our dogs and thus it makes sense that there may be differences in the areas of the brain activated by our relationships with our pets. For example, the area involved with facial recognition was activated more when moms looked at images of their dogs, perhaps because so much of our relationship with our pets is based on reading expressions rather than language like that of our children. Additionally, two areas of the brain that are heavily involved with the production of dopamine and oxytocin were activated by images of children and not by those of pets; dopamine is associated with reward and oxytocin is commonly referred to as the love hormone, so why would these be more present with regard to the parent-child relationship and not the parent-pet relationship? Virginia Hughes, a freelance journalist that writes for National Geographic and other publications, posits that perhaps these hormones aren’t as important for relationship building with our pets. Whatever the case, even if we are producing less oxytocin during our interactions, any pet parent an testify that there is such a thing as love at first sight and a continuing, resilient bond when it comes to our pups. How else would we be accepting in the face of the trouble our pups get into? And what else explains the way we melt when they give us that adorable sideways look?

Images courtesy of the author and Nan Palmero

DOG HALLOWEEN COSTUMES – A DIFFERENT APPROACH

Last year at about this time, we did an overview on funny Halloween costumes. And let’s face it: no matter how we dress up our dogs, as long as they are happy and comfortable it’s always at least a little funny! This year we are going to take a little different approach. Rather than simply suggesting funny Halloween costumes, how about costumes that play off of our dog’s natural stance and disposition? That is, let’s choose costumes that are fun because they embrace our pup’s four-legged and energetic ways!

THE SPIDEY DOG

You may have seen this one circulating on the internet, but we are in love with the dog-as-a-spider Halloween costume. It is creative AND sets up our friends and family for some absolutely priceless pranking. We all know someone afraid of spiders, and how fun would it be for your pup to run up dressed as a fuzzy, friendly, and maybe even barking one? Most of the costumes we found on the web were highly unrealistic looking, so don’t worry too much about your friends and family taking it seriously. You could always throw a little extra craftiness into the outfit and tie on some bells so your pup doesn’t sneak up on anyone that may be too rattled by his sudden doubling in legs.

COSTUMES MADE FOR RUNNING

Further capitalizing on our dog’s natural tendency to be full of life and zest, why not think about other creatures that would be likely to zoom around with lots of energy? For example, you could dress your pup as a T-Rex, a centipede, or even as a cat! All of these will be quite enjoyable once your dog is provided with a sidewalk or a living room to enjoy. And given the man’s-best-friend nature of our dogs, they will have even more fun once they realize we are having a blast, too!

GET PUNNY

Everyone loves a good pun! Whether a food pun, a sports pun, or a pun-based dog costume designed to elicit a chuckle from trick-or-treaters, puns are fun! Putting a little thought into your pup’s Halloween costume can lead to a solid good time come Halloween. For example, you can keep it simple and go with the tried-and-true Hot Dog costume, or think a little further outside the box and dress your pup up as a bell (get it? Pavlov?), a large speaker (a subWOOFer!), or even go for a play on a famous character’s name, such as Arf-too D2 or Arft Vader. Whichever route you go, have fun, be safe, and remember to truly enjoy the holiday with your best friend!

Images courtesy istolethetv and Hello Chaos

FEEDING OUR DOGS, IS PEOPLE FOOD OKAY, TOO?

Many higher end dog foods now tout their “whole food” ingredients, in part because of backlash against the subpar components that have historically been included in many popular dog food recipes. Pet parents want quality nutrition not only for themselves and their families but for their dogs as well, and companies have heeded that call by improving the ingredients in their recipes as well as offering more specific varieties, such as grain or gluten free offerings. On many dog food labels now, wet or dry, one can find meats, veggies, and grains listed, as simply as that. Rather than a list of chemicals and hard to pronounce words, pet parents can now pick up a can of dog food listing chicken, sweet potatoes, and rice as primary ingredients. But does that mean it is okay to feed our dogs “people food”? That is, if we are feeding our dogs the leftovers from our own meals, what effect will that have on their nutrition?

MAKE SURE TO MEET THEIR NEEDS

If a small business owner needs their books done, common advice is to find a subject matter expert. Hire an accountant or a bookkeeper, someone with the training and expertise to do it right the first time and ideally at a lower time investment. Similarly, when one needs to overhaul a website or tighten up marketing for their company, it is often advisable to outsource those activities to someone who does them on a regular basis. In theory, our dog’s nutrition is no different. We can do the research and feed our dogs from our own kitchens, but care must be taken to include all the elements of a balanced diet. High quality dog foods contain the right balance of fats, proteins, carbs, and other elements (vitamins, amino acids, etc.) that our dogs need, and even with careful research we may miss an important component of their diet. However, if pet parents are willing and able to dedicate the time to research and prep to feed their dogs via whole foods, it can be done! It is advisable to work with your vet and follow his or her recommendations to make sure all the important nutritional components are included. Also, keep in mind that buying, prepping, and portioning out whole meats, grains, and veggies is going to take a LOT of time!

CLARIFYING "PEOPLE FOOD"

When referring to “people food” or “table foods”, we are including whole foods. Processed foods such as pastas, crackers, and casseroles are not designed for our dogs! In fact, your dog may even be allergic to common table foods that include elements such as chocolate and raisins. Even though they may present you with the sweetest eyes ever under the dining room table, the reality is that supplementing their regular diet with leftovers and table scraps may introduce foods that are not beneficial to your dog’s health and may also up his intake beyond what it needs to be, leading to obesity and other health issues. That being said, with planning and structure you can treat your dog with what may be considered people food. For example, make sure to verify just how much of his dry food he needs, and you can offer special, high value treats as part of your training program, such as small chunks of chicken breast or slices of banana. Make sure your dog understands the difference between the “people food” you set aside for him as a reward and the food on your own plate, though, because many pet parents will tell you that once a dog learns he can beg successfully, that is a very hard habit to break! You want your dog to be healthy AND happy, and that means making sure he understands his limits and boundaries.

Images courtesy Rob and Sonny Abesamis

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