Category Archives: Featured

As a veterinarian, I am often asked by new puppy owners when they can start training their pups. Some trainers are still recommending that you wait until the puppy is 6 months old. To me, this means 4 months of missed opportunity and the creation of bad habits. I believe puppy training should start the day they come home with you. You would be amazed at what an 8 week old puppy can do.
Puppy training activities require many small treats, about the size of a pea. Soft treats are best, so that the pup doesn’t spend too much time chewing and can focus more on what you are trying to teach. Basic dog treats like Zukes minis are fine to use at home, but “high value rewards” like chicken, hot dogs, liver, etc. are needed if you are in a distracting environment, like dog shows and classes.

Here are a few puppy lessons that I have acquired from a variety of trainers.

Voluntary Attention: If your dog acts like you don’t exist, it is pretty hard to train him. When your dog learns to pay attention to you, the rest of your training becomes easier.

Start this exercise by sitting in a chair while holding your puppy on a leash. Do not talk to him or try to get him to do anything. When he glances in your direction, give him a treat. If he does not look at you in the first few minutes, show him a treat. When he looks at the treat, bring it toward your face so that he is looking at your face before you give it to him. Each time he looks at you, give him a treat. Pretty soon, he will be sitting and staring at you. You can then wait longer intervals before you treat, but don’t make it too hard, too fast.

Once your puppy can readily focus on you, you can hold a treat in your hand out to the side, up away from the pup. He will probably look at it, but he should soon glance back at your face. Treat when he looks at you. Do this for 10-15 minutes a couple of times a week. When he gets good at it, try it in a more distracting environment, like a park. If you are taking puppy classes, this is a great exercise to do when the instructor is talking and the pup is not doing anything else.

Zen puppy: Hold a treat in your hand and show it to your pup. Then close your hand around it loosely. The average puppy will sniff, paw or push at your hand. Do not let him get the treat. When he stops trying to get the treat, open your hand and say, “Take.” At first, all you are looking for is the puppy to look away or back away. When he starts to understand the concept of “I can’t just grab what I want,” you may choose to wait for a polite behavior, such as a sit. When he is getting good at this, you can try the same exercise with the treat on the coffee table. Make sure you keep him from taking it himself. He only gets the treat when he leaves it alone.
puppy 2
This is an exercise in self-control. It is a basic skill that will keep your dog from grabbing cookies out of the hands of toddlers, counter surfing for food, and similar undesirable behaviors. Dogs get what they want when you decide they can have it.

Feeding Games: At meal time, give your puppy only ¼ of his food. When he is almost done with that portion, toss another handful in his bowl. Continue in this manner until he gets his whole dinner. Every so often, you can toss in a small, yummy treat. If you have kids in your house, let them play this game with the puppy as well. Play this game at least once daily.

This simple exercise teaches your puppy that it is ok for people to be near him when he is eating. Good things happen when human hands come near his bowl. It will keep him from ever being protective of his food bowl.

Let’s trade: Give your puppy something he will really like, such as a bully stick. When he starts to chew on it, toss a high value reward about a foot away where he can see it. When he stops chewing to take the treat, pick up the bully stick. When he is done with the treat, give him his stick back. Do this several times in a row, so that he realizes he gets a treat when he stops chewing and then gets to chew some more. Win-win! As he starts to get this concept, attach a word such as “give” as you toss the treat. You can soon work toward offering him the treat from your hand, and eventually reaching for the stick as you offer him the treat. Remember to keep giving him the stick back. Soon you will be able to just say, “Give” without the treat, but I believe in intermittently treating dogs throughout their lifetimes. Good things happen when you do what you are told.

This game will be helpful when your dog picks up something he should not have, whether it is a chicken bone he found in the street or someone’s shoe that looks a lot like a toy to a puppy.

Recall games: This game takes two or more humans and one puppy to play. You can do it in a hallway or a large open room. Each person has a bag of treats and sits several feet from the others. One person starts with the puppy. The other calls the puppy by name in a very excited manner. Puppy, puppy, puppy! Yay! Puppy gets treats from that person, and the next person calls him right after he finishes them. Play for only a few minutes so he doesn’t get bored or distracted.

This can be extended to the outside as well. When the puppy is playing or sniffing, call him in your most enthusiastic voice. Treat him and let him go back to play. Coming to you should not mean that all the fun is about to end.
puppy 3
I do not use my “formal” recall command for this. (Mine is, “Come front.”) I reserve my formal command for later training. I don’t want him to learn to ever ignore the formal command (“poisoning” the command), and I am not ready to give corrections this early in his training career. I only use the puppy’s name to call him in this game.

Ring the bell: During housebreaking, there always comes a time when the puppy starts to “get it” and you start to trust him more. You pay a little less attention to where he is. He needs to pee and goes to the door. But no one knows he is there and he does not know what to do next. So he pees on the floor right there. Some people will teach their dog to bark by the door, but I really do not like to reward barking.

I use wind chimes on my back door. Some people use Christmas jingle bells. Every time you let your dog out, say, “Ring the bell.” Since we are starting with an 8 week old, you will be holding the pup in your hands. Push his nose into the bells. “Good boy! Let’s go out.” If you do this every time you take your puppy out, he will learn very quickly to ring the bell on his own. (One of my dogs had it down at 10 weeks.)

Why is this helpful? Now, that pup that goes to the door and wants to go out knows how to get your attention. I can hear my bells from anywhere in the house. (I can also tell who is ringing, as they all do it a bit differently.) So no more puddles at the door. I bring my bells when I travel, so my dogs know which door they need to go out, and they can even let me know they need to go when they are in a hotel room.

The warning that comes with this trick is that the pup is telling you he wants to go out, not that he needs to pee. You need to accept this and let him out every time he rings so that he gets the connection between the bell and going out.

Touching games: It is a good idea to get your puppy used to having you in their personal spaces. These include their feet, rear end, mouth and ears. This will make your life easier when it comes to grooming, nail trimming, teeth brushing, etc. Use lots of treats. Touch your puppy’s foot and give a treat. Put your finger in his ears, then treat him. Eventually advance to holding your pup’s paw. Work your way up to lifting up his lips and pulling back his lips to look at his back teeth. Rub your finger on his teeth to simulate brushing them. Remember lots of praise, lots of treats and don’t push things too quickly. Run a comb over him, too, and give treats. Soon touching should be no big deal to him. Have other people touch him in these ways, as well, so that a groomer or vet is not so scary.

Four on the floor: Most people dislike having a dog jump on them. Puppies are very enthusiastic and don’t know better. They need to learn early, before this becomes a bad habit.

The basic concept here that the pup is to learn is that he gets attention when he doesn’t jump on you. If the pup is coming toward you excitedly, try to bend over and pet him before he starts to jump. Use lots of praise in a calm, happy voice. If he already jumped on you, or he jumps when you stop petting him, stand up straight and ignore him. You can turn your back on him as well. When he stops jumping, reach down and pet him again. It will take many months of being consistent for the pup to learn this form of self-control.

Basic commands: 8 weeks is not too early to start to train sit, stay, down, and walk nicely on a leash. Lessons should be very short at first: two or three minutes at a time. And, of course, lots of treats should be used.

Puppy training should be a part of your new puppy’s everyday life. He will quickly learn that good behavior gets rewarded. Remember to make these lessons fun for your puppy and they will then be fun for you as well. Happy training!

Do your pets try to tell you things?  Most seem to.  Much of their communication is pretty clear, especially when you have known your pet for many years.  I’m hungry, I need to pee, let’s play.  But sometimes what needs to be communicated is more complicated.
Gator the communicator

My dog, Gator, has developed many ways to tell me what he desires.  For instance, we have wind chimes on the back door for the dogs to ring to let us know they want to go outside. Gator has extended the use of the wind chimes to indicate to me that he needs my assistance.   He will ring the bells to get my attention, then run to the sofa and stare at it.  I have learned that he is telling me that his tennis ball is stuck under the sofa and he needs me to rescue it for him.  Or if I am upstairs too long (where my dogs are not allowed so that my cats can have a safe haven), Gator will ring the bell and wait by the stairs.  “Mom, I miss you.  Please come back.”  I am always happy to help him out.

But there came a time when I could not figure out what my dog was trying to tell me.  Here is the scene. It was dinner time (for humans).  During dinner, Gator stays in his bed in the corner of the eating area of the kitchen.  Hattie, my other dog, stays in her unlocked crate at the end of the peninsula separating the eating area from the rest of the house.  The mud room, with the door to the backyard, is around the corner from Gator’s bed.  My husband and I had just finished eating dinner in the kitchen. As I was clearing the table, Gator went into the mud room to ring the bell.  But he immediately left door, meaning he did not want to go out.  So what did he want?  I had no idea.  He just stood there and looked at me expectantly.
Hattie looking innocent
Gator did this repeatedly for about a month; not every night, but most of them.  We thought, “Maybe it makes him happy to ring the bell, because Mom is going to pay attention to him.”  We even started singing, “ If you’re happy and you know it, ring the bell …”  We were flummoxed.

But eventually this behavior became annoying.  So one night after Gator rang the bell and came back into the kitchen, I got angry.  I told him, “If you don’t want to go out, you need to stop ringing.”  I grabbed his collar and proceeded to drag him out of the kitchen.  But when we got next to Hattie’s crate, Hattie jumped up and started barking aggressively at Gator.  That’s when the lightbulb went on.

Gator had been trying to tell me, “Mom, I am trapped in the kitchen.  I can’t walk past Hattie’s crate to leave.  She will attack me. I am ringing the bell because I need help. Please help me.”  But Mom was very slow in figuring this out.  Smart dog, stupid human.

Hattie is a dog who will guard her food, toys, and, as we had just figured out, her personal space.  Her body language did not seem threatening to us humans, but Gator obviously knew she was guarding the passageway out of the kitchen.

Since then, we make Hattie leave her crate right after dinner, and Gator happily trots out of the kitchen.  If we forget to get Hattie out of the way, Gator will ring the bell to remind us.  I still feel badly that I could not figure out what my boy wanted for such a long time.

So if your dog or cat is interacting with you in an unusual way, put on your thinking cap, and try to figure out what he is trying to say.  You might have a lightbulb moment of your own.

I’m sure you’ve heard of the Doggy Flu (aka Canine Influenza) before, right? Well, if you haven’t we have some information about this disease that you should definitely know!

The American Kennel Club has recently confirmed cases of Canine Influenza in dogs who have been to dog shows NC , SC, GA, FL, TN, KY, TX. Influenza is a highly contagious disease in dogs. Symptoms include coughing, sneezing, discharge from the nose and eyes, lethargy, and decreased appetite. A dog may only have a cough or may exhibit all of these signs. Influenza is similar to Bordetella (kennel cough), but has more of a chance of progressing into pneumonia and possibly resulting in death. Symptoms typically last for a few weeks, but may continue for up to 3 months.

The disease generally has an airborne transmission, so being in the same room as a dog who has the flu puts that dog at risk. It may also be contacted through shared water or food bowls. A dog who has contracted Influenza is contagious even before he starts to show clinical signs.

There are currently two strains of canine influenza:. H3N8 and the more recent H3N2. There are vaccines for both and there is a combo vaccine as well. We at Great Falls Animal Hospital strongly recommend that dogs at risk be vaccinated for both strains of the flu. Dogs at risk include dogs who go to dog shows, dog parks, dog classes, boarding kennels, groomers, or doggie day care.

If your dog has never had a flu vaccine and his lifestyle puts him at risk, he will need an initial flu vaccine plus a booster two to four weeks later. He will be considered protected two weeks after the booster vaccine. Dogs who have already had this initial series only need a booster annually.

If your dog is exhibiting any of the signs of flu, please isolate him from other dogs and make an appointment for our doctors to check him over. Let’s all do our best to help control this potentially dangerous situation. Many thanks to our own Dr. Cook for helping me write this article to share with you!

Til next meow,

Mason Paw Print

Hello, All!  Mason here.  I wanted to share a very special project that one of our employees worked on this summer!  Our technician Denise went to Guatemala with her church group to help build brick stoves for one of the villages there. 

Did you know that exposure to cooking fire smoke kills approximately two million people worldwide every year?  In Guatemala, as in many other countries, breathing in the toxic fumes while preparing food puts Mayan women and children at risk for respiratory illnesses, blindness, and burns on a daily basis.  A majority of Guatemalan families use wood as their main fuel source, and many of Guatemala’s forests are lost annually, mainly due to the need for fuel for cooking fires.  Precious family resources and a great deal of time are spent on gathering or purchasing wood.  The cooking fires themselves are open air and not contained, so the smoke fills their huts and causes a buildup of smoke, ash, and noxious fumes with nowhere to go.

Building stoves helps alleviate these problems by building vented stoves that are adapted to Mayan cooking methods.  These stoves are made of cement blocks held together by mortar, and feature a chimney pipe or smoke duct that takes the poisonous smoke out of the house.  The design of the stove reduces wood consumption and pollution greatly.  It is an ‘improved cooking stove’ and while most of us would find it rudimentary, Guatemalans are so very grateful for the vast improvement to their health and lifestyle.  They can now avoid spending the better part of the day gathering wood and cooking, and no longer have to worry about getting burned or developing respiratory problems!

Along with building stoves, the group also helps paint walls and brings materials for education that drastically improves the villagers’ every day lives.  With more time in the day available, education is very important and more attainable.

The villagers are so very grateful for the improvements to their lives.  Denise says the Guatemalans gave lots of beautiful flowers to the group as thanks for their hard work, and you could see the gratitude in their eyes and smiles!  What a wonderful project to be a part of!!

Well, kids, that’s all for now.  This is Mason, signing out until next time!

Til next meow,

Can you believe we are in October, folks?  I guess technically I have no concept of time other than “time to eat”, “time to eat”, “time for treats”, and then “time to eat.”  This is also the month when I have to endure unnecessary torture.  My staff finds pleasure in dressing  me up in what you refer to as “clothes”.  Usually it’s something awful on my head, a “costume” I believe is the name, and it makes me look handsomely ridiculous.  (Cause let’s face it, I’m always handsome…) 

First things first, Halloween is right around the corner.  I am of the understanding that you two-legged varieties choose this day to go to other two-leggeds’ homes and rob them of their treats.  I personally find this to be a barbaric ritual, as I am very protective of my treats but I guess it works for you humans!  That being said, keep any candy or other “human treats” out of your pet’s reach.  Same goes for decorations; I know we felines like to play with things that we are not supposed to and dogs like to eat things they’re not supposed to, so be extra careful!  I know I had briefly gone over this in my last blog but I just needed to reiterate with three big holidays coming up!

So now I wanted to talk a little bit about National Veterinary Technician Week, an annual event since 1993, which ran from October 14-20.  Although we appreciate our technicians every day, the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America, Inc. (NAVTA) wanted to recognize those special people who work together with veterinarians to try to keep your pet healthy and happy.  NAVTA  (incorporated in 1981) is a non-profit organization that proudly represents  veterinary technicians  while  educating  and providing support to the profession. 

Our lovely LVT’s are:  Jennifer Keane, Renee Small, Beth Lannon, Denise Sanchez, Cara Scarano, Bernadette Ortiz and Mary Portelly.  I have intermewed one of those fabulous techs, Cara, to learn a little bit more about her job. (I know, I’m very intelligent already but believe it or not I don’t know everything…)

MASON:  What is the job of a veterinary technician?

CARA:  Veterinary technicians do a wide variety of jobs. These duties can include drawing blood and ordering lab tests, reading slides and samples under the microscope, taking X-rays  of sick and injured animals, giving injections and vaccinations, placing IV catheters to aid in the administration of fluids and anesthetics, inducing general anesthesia and assisting doctors in surgery, performing dental cleanings on anesthetized pets, changing bandages and splints, and most importantly, educating  owners on how to best care for their pets both preventively and once medical conditions have been diagnosed by a doctor.

MASON:  Do all veterinary technicians have to go to school for this job?

CARA:  The short answer is no. Some technicians have hands on training, and are taught to the specific standards of their employer. These technicians, or “techs” for short, may have similar duties to that of a licensed veterinary technician, or LVT.  What a ‘tech” can do does vary from state to state and from clinic to clinic. Here at Great Falls Animal Hospital, we refer to non- licensed employees as assistants.

The only way to obtain the title of LVT is by completing a degree program at an AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) accredited school. Upon graduation of the scholastic program, which usually lasts 2 to 4 years, a student is then allowed to take the Veterinary Technician National Exam. This test requires a satisfactory passing score, and in Virginia, can only be taken by graduates of a Veterinary Technician Program. Once these two requirements have been met, a person can then apply to their state Department of Health for their license.

MASON:  What part of your job is most rewarding?  (Mine is treats!)

CARA:  I really enjoy both helping animals and working with their owners.  The human-animal bond is so amazing and never fails to touch my heart. Whether it is a small child learning love, compassion, responsibility and patience through pet ownership or an elderly person who relies on their dog to get them out of the house and walking on a daily basis, this bond and relationship cannot be denied.

MASON:  What advice do you have for someone who may be interested in the veterinary profession?

CARA:  First, get involved. There are so many great clinics and organizations in the area that need help. You don’t need to have experience, just a strong interest and willingness to learn. People should also remember that though that this field is very rewarding, it is not “just playing with kittens and puppies.” There is a lot of cleaning and less-than- glamorous work that needs to be done to keep our patients comfortable and well-cared for.  Cases and patients can be challenging and don’t always have the outcomes we hope they will.  I find that spending time with animals and their owners even during the most difficult times still has its own personal rewards.  Because of that, I cannot imagine doing anything else!

Until next time,