Category Archives: dog care

A dog’s life in families with children

Note from DoggyMom:

This research reinforces my advice to families with young children and dogs:  understand your dog’s non-verbal and verbal cues so you can pick up when they are stressed, going over threshold, and need time away from the children.

I have several clients on my books currently who are expecting their first child in 2018; this is a subject that we discuss on a regular basis.


Millions of families know how rewarding and enjoyable dog ownership can be – but now a new study has for the first time examined the quality of life for a pet dog owned by a family with children.

happy dog

Photo courtesy of University of Lincoln

There is now extensive scientific research showing the many benefits that pet dogs bring to families, including improved family functioning and wellbeing for those with children with neuro-developmental disorders such as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and ADHD. For all children, dogs can provide valuable companionship, encourage exercise and family activities, and teach them about responsibilities.

Until now, little attention has been paid to how living with children affects quality of life for pet dogs (those not trained as assistance dogs). Funded by Dogs Trust – the UK’s largest dog welfare charity – a team of animal behaviour and welfare specialists from the University of Lincoln’s School of Life Sciences are examining this question.

Published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE, their latest research involved interviewing parents who own a dog – half with typically developing children and half with children with Autism or ADHD, with all children aged between four and 10 years old.

The research revealed that the child-dog relationship has a number of beneficial aspects for the dog, including a sense of routine, more time for fun and play, and companionship.

Dr Sophie Hall, a Research Fellow specialising in human-animal interactions at the University of Lincoln’s School of Life Sciences, said: “Our study involved 36 dog-owning families, who all highlighted some key benefits that their pet dogs receive from living with young children.

“For example children provide close companionship for pets as well as imposing a sense of predictable and consistent routine in the home, in terms of feed and walk times, which we know is extremely important for a dog’s wellbeing. Of course, children also play regularly with their pet dogs and activities such as throwing a ball and doing assault courses represent really valuable opportunities for exercise and positive mental stimulation.

“The study also highlighted some potentially negative impacts on the pet, which it is important for parents to be aware of when bringing a dog into a home with children.”

The negative impact could be brought on by children having tantrums, with parents observing their dogs running away, shaking or hiding on some of these occasions. Parents also observed a change in their dog’s behaviour if it became ‘over stimulated’ – such as barking, becoming agitated, or seeking a place to escape – when their children were very noisy.

Other events that could cause potential distress for dogs in homes with children could include rough play or accidents such as collisions with toys or pulling the dog’s tail.

The study suggests that in a home with small children, it is important for dogs to have a ‘safe haven’ to escape to if needed, and for parents to understand both the obvious and more subtle signs of distress in their pets and to teach their family about these signs. For example, pet dogs often have wide eyes or lick their lips when they are mildly stressed.

Dr Hall added: “The positive and negative aspects of the child-dog relationship were similar in families with typically developing children and in those with children with a neuro-developmental disorder.

“As such, providing they are aware of key risk events and how to cope with these, and ensuring adequate supervision, parents should not necessarily be dissuaded from acquiring a pet dog because of their child’s developmental issues. As we know, pet dogs can really enrich family life and support child development and wellbeing.”

The results of this initial study are now being developed further by the team at the University of Lincoln with support from Dogs Trust.

The paper is freely available to view online at PLOS ONE.

Source:  University of Lincoln media release

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Low stress handling and the use of food diversions

Heading dog with food diversion for dog massage

This is Bee, a young heading dog.  Yesterday, she had her third massage and, with each session, she’s getting better.

There’s nothing physically wrong with Bee; her Mum is training her for competitive agility and wants to keep her in top condition.  Since Bee is high-energy, the massage sessions are also to help her with focus and mindfulness.

During her first massage, Bee took a long time to settle.  At her second massage, I suggested that we introduce a toy and we used a braided rope tug toy.  Then I decided to try pushing some treats into the braids and we got almost instant results.  Bee became more relaxed and allowed more touch.  When I left, her Mum and I promised each other that next time, we’d use a food toy for the entire session.

So yesterday, her Mum was ready.  And how clever is she???  She purchased a silicone pot holder for only $2 from Kmart and spread it with peanut butter.  We had our best massage yet.

Low stress handling techniques are all about keeping the dog below threshold – no stress or anxiety.  Food diversion toys can help with this – and they don’t have to be fancy or expensive.

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

Seeing is believing

As the saying goes, “seeing is believing” and I have found that this holds true when educating people about the value of dog massage and complementary therapies.  My profession is not well known (yet) and so it’s important to me to help spread the word in a positive and enjoyable way.

Yesterday, I had a massage tent at the ASB Summer Starter, an annual fun run and walk where dogs are encouraged to participate.  This was my first year supporting the event (I tried last year but no one responded to my enquiry – so that’s progress!).

When people see how their dog responds to massage, even at a busy outdoor event like this one, it helps to open their eyes about complementary therapies.  Fit dogs can still have trigger points and knots, just like humans.  There was even a tripod on my table yesterday – healthy and happy – but a body that will need support going forward as the dog ages.

And I hate to think that people take exclusively the physio approach to their dog’s health – that is waiting until they are hurting or injured before seeking treatment. (Physiotherapy NZ’s definition of physio is ‘to help restore movement and function to anyone affected by an injury, disability or health condition’).

So yesterday was about showing people a taste of what massage and other therapies can do for their healthy dog.

Seeing is Believing.

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

Hand-me-down

Today I took Izzy swimming.  For only her third time, I think she did very well:

Looking at Izzy’s flotation vest, the Float Doggy made by D-Fa, you’d think I bought it for her, but in fact it’s a hand-me-down – and a testament to the quality of the item.

The D-Fa vest was purchased by a client for Ollie, who within the span of days became a quadriplegic in 2010.  Swimming was part of his long-term care program (I won’t say rehab, since he never re-gained the use of his legs and on autopsy it was found that he had a brain tumor).

Ollie in chair.jpg

When Ollie died in September 2011, Ollie’s owner passed his life vest onto me for Daisy.  By then, Daisy was also swimming at the Dog Swim Spa on a fortnightly basis.

Daisy-in-her-D-Fa

Daisy wearing her Float Doggy flotation vest

Daisy passed away in July 2014 and so that vest saw a lot of use from September 2011 to July 2014.

And it came out of storage this year to support Izzy.

I wash out the vest after each use with liquid laundry detergent and cold water; chlorine from the pool can damage fibers of most garments.

Otherwise, that’s all I’ve done to maintain it.

I’d say that’s pretty well made!

Izzy in her D-Fa

Izzy wearing the same Float Doggy, 22 November 2017

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

How the opioid crisis is affecting dogs

The USA is the midst of an opioid crisis – large numbers of people are misusing and becoming addicted to opioids, which can include heroin, prescription pain medications and fentanyl (a synthetic).  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that an average of 91 Americans die each day due to opioid overdose.

Veterinarians treating companion animals have to be aware of the symptoms of opioid overdose because, unfortunately, there are cases of accidental ingestion.  Sometimes the pet owners are unwilling to admit that their pet may have eaten opioid drugs, which of course is admission that they may be an addict themselves.

Drugs are, of course, big business and it’s up to law enforcement to help catch dealers who are making and selling the drugs.  Police dogs and detection dogs are part of that fight and they are often exposed to opioids in the course of detection work.

This video is for veterinarians and dog handlers to understand how to catch the signs of an opioid overdose in a dog and the treatment with reversal drugs like Narcan which are needed to save them.

and this is some of the news coverage about police dog handlers carrying reversal kits along with other first aid supplies.

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

Ebony’s story

Ebony's photo

This is Ebony; she was a Chocolate Labrador cross – a deep dark chocolate in colour (not milk chocolate like many Labs).  She was my best friend from 1998, when I adopted her via Dogwatch which facilitated a private adoption, to October 2003, when she suddenly succumbed to cancer of the liver and pancreas.

Ebony was highly reactive to sounds and, particularly, fireworks.  So I think of her a lot around Guy Fawkes celebrations each year.

Each year, I’d go to the vet for a prescription for sedatives and then for many nights around the official celebration, I would have to try to dose her before any fireworks started.  This was easier said than done.  As many of us know, people sometimes set off fireworks even before darkness has fallen.  The label recommended intake within 1 hour before any stimulus…

Most of the time, sedatives weren’t enough.  Copious amounts of Rescue Remedy in her water bowl and sprayed around the house didn’t seem to help much, either.  Ebony would run and pace the house, hyperventilating and salivating.  It was heartbreaking to watch.  Sometimes, I would turn the radio on in the car, which was parked in the garage, and I’d put her in the back seat (as usual) with me in the front pretending that any minute we would be going out for a ride.  But in reality, I was just trying to get as many layers of sound-proofing between us and the fireworks that I could.

Ebony wasn’t fooled, although sometimes our car trips to nowhere did help alleviate some of the sounds.

The bottom line was that when Ebony was over-threshold with fear, there wasn’t much that could be done until the fireworks stopped.

One year, we were woken from a sound sleep when someone decided to light off fireworks.  It was late by our standards, past 10 pm when most families and working people would not be up lighting fireworks on a work night.

Ebony was immediately over-threshold, barking and pacing.  And then she lost control of her bowels in our bed.  She was doubly stressed by this, and I had to strip the bed and put everything in the washing machine and re-make the bed with fresh linens.

Another year, Ebony barked so badly that she suffered a rectal prolapse.  She had literally barked herself inside/out; part of her rectum had come out of the anus.   It was incredibly upsetting for the both of us and I knew she was in pain and discomfort, too.  The vet was able to lubricate the tissue and help replace it back inside and I had to feed a low-irritant food to her for a week to ensure that we gave the area a chance to rest.

I clearly remember after this incident how much noise her digestive system made – gurgling – for days.  Looking back, I’m sure that the stress and digestive upsets she endured because of fireworks had something to do with her succumbing to liver and pancreatic cancer – before she even reached aged 10.

So you might wonder why I’m so passionate about the banning of the private sale of fireworks and now you know.  They hurt my dog many times over and when you hurt my dog, I’m unlikely to forget.

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

Here we go again…a day of sadness

fireworks sign

Today, 2 November 2017, is the day when fireworks legally go on sale in the name of celebrating Guy Fawkes night aka Bonfire Night (5 November each year).

I’m sad because I know that many dogs, including those of my clients and friends, will be in for a stretch of nights filled with fear and anxiety.

Their human owners will be doing everything they can to manage.  Some will have gone to the veterinarian for sedative drugs which they will need to give before the booming starts, others will be playing music, changing routines to ensure nighttime dog walks are finished before the sun sets, wrapping their dogs in Thundershirts, spraying essential oils to help calm…the list goes on…

And like being in a war, you never know when the next barrage will happen.  It’s not just on Guy Fawkes Night.  It could be tonight, tomorrow.  It could be next week.  It may even be in a month or two for the people who stockpile their fireworks for random use.

Where I grew up, the sale of fireworks was illegal.  Only public displays – properly licensed and advertised in advance – were allowed.   It was more manageable and humane.

I fail to see the reason why the sale of these items is still legal in New Zealand and I haven’t seen a political party (or coalition) yet that is prepared to take a stand on this issue.

I have other arguments against fireworks, including the fact that the waste left over just adds to our landfills and that many fireworks users disrespect our parks by leaving their fireworks packaging and other rubbish overflowing from rubbish bins or, worse, strewn across the park for someone else to pick up.

Today I’m sad because, for the animals, the war is about to begin again.

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand