Category Archives: Grooming & Health

Dog Voodoo?


Oh, Picchu

Oh, Picchu

Am I a victim of dog voodoo? At the very least, I am a victim of dog doo. (And I hope that my ex-husband, who doesn’t like dogs because “they are dirty and don’t belong in the house,” does not read this.)

This morning, moments before taking her out, Picchu soiled the entire living room rug. This was way worse than just “an accident.” I’ve never seen such a mess, even on the street, where, fortunately, almost all clean-ups occur.

Doo, or voodoo?

Doo, or voodoo?

These things happen, pets will be pets, so after taking the dogs out and then gating them in the bedroom, I spent a half-hour scrubbing the rug with vinegar. Finally I sat down for a first sip of tea, turned my head, and what did I see, on the WALL? On. The. WALL. Three or more feet off the ground. How is that even possible? Is no surface safe?

Bob and I have cleaned up a lot of messes in the past year and a half, and not once have we had to scrape off anyone’s car, or the side of a building, or for pete’s sake a passing pedestrian. No vertical surfaces at all. For which I am now, I suppose, feeling quite grateful. 

I’m all for pet parenting, whole hog, challenges and all. I’m just not sure what the lesson – or message – is in this case. All I know is, I don’t want to hear again that the dogs are “just dogs.” If I am being tested for “real” parenthood, I consider myself passed. And Picchu, if you’re trying to communicate something, please use alternative methods. 

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Dog Dreams


Dreaming dogs: Squirrels on their minds?

Dreaming dogs: Squirrels on their minds?

People are always saying about a dreaming dog, “Chasing squirrels!” 

But they’re wrong.

I know this because research has shown that dog sleep (and brain structure) is similar to ours. If dogs only dreamt about chasing squirrels, it would mean I was spending every REM session tunneling through warm cinnamon rolls and German chocolate cupcakes like the Very Hungry Caterpillar

Picchu processing the afternoon's hike

Picchu processing the afternoon's hike

Unfortunately, I don’t only dream of bakeries – just sometimes, and usually I’m being good and not eating anything (yes, I wake up screaming, You Idiot!). 

Dreams are mental workouts. Sure, dogs’ lives aren’t as complicated as ours, but there’s no reason to think they’re so simplistic, either. Surely even house whippets have something on their minds besides high-speed chases.

Picchu and Biski sniffing out each other's dreams

Picchu and Biski sniffing out each other's dreams

C-Biscuit has a peculiar way of dreaming in which she seems to be playing two roles. She alternates between a high-pitched whimper and then a low growl. Maybe she’s showing the effects of having been an only dog for a year before we got Picchu and Sesame.

Researchers at MIT determined that rats taught to run through a maze during the day then dreamed about it at night. So there might be some squirrel chasing in dog dreams, just as I do get ahold of a nocturnal Krispy Kreme now and then. 

Sesame: "Do not underestimate a dog's dreaming. We are philosophic, calculating creatures."

Sesame: "Do not underestimate a dog's dreaming. We are philosophic, calculating creatures."

But aren’t dreams usually symbolic? Nothing like a bakery visit or squirrel chase. The other night, I dreamed I was on my way to my sister’s wedding but didn’t have any shoes on. …could the whippets have anxiety dreams about being the only dogs in Central Park not wearing winter boots?

This work raises questions about long-held assumptions about animals’ thought processes. Only a handful of species — among them chimps and dolphins — were thought to have any ability at all to recall and evaluate detailed sequences of events after they occurred. Matthew Wilson of MIT’s Institute for Learning and Memory points out that ‘this work demonstrates that animals are capable of re-evaluating their experiences when they are not in the midst of them.’    – MIT research on rat dreams published in Neuron Dec. 19, 2001

The real stuff dog dreams are made of: The whippets might map their field in their brains next time they nap, say MIT scientists

The real stuff dog dreams are made of: The whippets might map this field in their brains next time they nap, say MIT scientists

An ABC News reporter quipped about the rat dream research, “Some rats can’t ever escape the rat race, even when sound asleep.”

We seem determined to make light of animal dreams even though, let’s face it, don’t dogs seem more highly evolved than we are? Unlike everyone else in the animal kingdom (except house cats), they have figured out how to get everything they need without working for it. While we, complex schemers and dreamers that we are, can only dream on.

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Filed under Grooming & Health, Real House Whippets of NYC, Uncategorized

Homemade Peanut Butter “Ice Cream” for Dogs

After long walks in the midday heat, C-Biscuit used to love a treat of an ice cube. Cold, crunchy, quenching. What could be better? 

Organic Dog Biscuit Cookbook

Thanks to a recipe adapted from one in The Organic Dog Biscuit Cookbook, our whippets are now indulging in their own kind of dog ice cream: peanut butter frozen yogurt cubes. Granted, they’re not as economical, but are easy to make, healthy, and Biski, Picchu and Sesame go nuts for them.

When I ran out the other day and offered Biski a regular ice cube, she gave it a dismissive lick before turning her head, as if to huff, “Plain water? …It’s so hard to find good help these days!”

Dog Treat Recipe: Peanut Butter “Ice Cream”

1 cup plain yogurt

1/2 cup Peanut Butter (can use 1/4 cup, chef’s choice)

1 tsp honey

1/4 c water (or more, chef’s choice)

  • mix all ingredients 
  • spoon into ice cube trays and freeze
  • makes about 9 frozen treats

Adapted from The Organic Dog Biscuit Cookbook

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Favorite Things: Ruff Wear Dog Harness

When we got C-Biscuit she would lunge, jump fences and even climb trees to go after squirrels. Whippets have long, muscular necks that are not fragile, but we still hated to see her buck and twist against her collar. So we looked for a harness. 

Web Master Dog Harness by Ruff Wear

Web Master Dog Harness by Ruff Wear

Most regular harnesses don’t fit the deep chest and tiny waist of a sighthound. Plus most are designed for dogs to be pulling forward, so when they back up they can escape. In a squirrel frenzy, anything is possible. Which is why the breeder said, “Please don’t put her in a harness. She can back up and be gone!”

We were then delighted to discover the Web Master Dog Harness ($50) made by Ruff Wear. The company says that “Houdini dogs that manage to get out of traditional harnesses will find it nearly impossible to escape the Web Master.” Which we have found to be true.

The back strap can be cinched around the whippet’s narrow waist, so they can’t back out of the harness. Additional straps go behind the front legs, around the front of the chest and between the front legs. Our girls have worn the harness on long hikes without any chafing. (C-Biscuit’s dog backpack by Ruff Wear has the Web Master Harness as its base layer.)

Picchu in her Web Master Dog Harness

Picchu in her Web Master Dog Harness - comfy, safe, secure

With a snug and secure fit, the harness also has a handle on top to lift the dogs up – that recently came in handy while climbing some steep rock faces on Slide Mountain. Its bright red color means it can double as a safety vest for off-leash hiking.

C-Biscuit has learned mostly to watch squirrels without lunging for them (although when especially tempted, she will still try to scale a tree or fence), so she doesn’t wear the harness anymore. Picchu, though, embarrasses us with her squealing and lunging, and the harness keeps her from potentially snapping her neck at the end of her leash.

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Skinny Bitches: Weight Loss for Dogs (and Us)

Kids love to point to C-Biscuit and Machu Picchu and call out, “Look at the skinny dogs!” We can guess what the adults are thinking: Skinny bitches.

"Don't hate us because we're beautiful...and thin...and fast...and fashionable."

"Don't hate us because we're beautiful...and thin...and fast...and quite fashionable."

Realizing that canine obesity is a national problem, Biski & Picchu are thinking of doing a dog weight-loss book, which could even be part of the successful Skinny Bitch series.  Their barking points would include:

  • Exercise: Sure, some of being thin is genes. Biski and Picchu admit to being well-endowed there. But the other part is getting off your hindquarters and exercising! 

How much exercise do dogs need? An hour of walking a day seems to be the minimum for good health & behavior. Biski and Picchu walk 3 to 5 miles a day, plus regular sprints at the soccer field, playdates, indoor romps, and hikes most weekends. Good for the body, good for the spirit. Dr. Oz and others recommend people walk 10,000 steps a day, or about 5 miles. Research also shows that exercising with a buddy keeps people motivated – so walking the dog is good practice on all fronts (and backsides). 

  • Snoozy time

    Time to take snoozy time seriously

    Sleep: When not exercising or eating, the whippets are sleeping. Several human studies have shown that not sleeping enough correlates to weight gain. Maybe it’s time to lose the American glory badge of being sleep-deprived and overworked and start to treat sleep like the dogs do, as an essential part of any health and beauty regime. Biski & Picchu prefer the buddy system here, too.

  • Eat Well: As a child, my sister had a t-shirt that read, “If you love me, don’t feed me junk.” Learn to read labels, both theirs and ours. In dog food and treats, avoid meat by-products, chemical preservatives, sugars, corn and soy. If you don’t understand the ingredient list, research it or avoid the product. To maintain a healthy weight for your pooch, feed high-quality food twice a day, and follow this advice from trainer Victoria Stilwell in her book, It’s Me or the Dog:

It’s a question of monitoring your dog. If he’s getting plenty of exercise but is still gaining weight, you’re feeding him too much. If he’s regularly leaving a lot in his bowl after 20 minutes are up, you’re offering him too much. If he’s lethargic and losing weight, or if he’s ravenous at every meal, he may need a calorie boost. A dog is the right weight when you can feel his ribs clearly but can’t see them.

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Cost of Dog Grooming

Thank goodness whippets are the dog equivalent of a no-iron dress shirt. They require minimal bathing, no brushing, and are generally self-cleaning. Teeth and nails excepted. 

I was shocked yesterday when I ran into our neighbor and his maltese-bichon frise dog, who had just come from the groomer. As I admired his trim, my neighbor said they tried a new salon and it had cost the same as Petco: $90.

Like a silk shirt, a fluffy white dog comes with a high cost of up-keep

Like a silk shirt, a fluffy white dog comes with a high cost of up-keep

$90?! I had no idea dogs were so expensive to groom professionally. And this is a very small dog, which means it gets much more costly than that. Granted, we are in Manhattan where a half-gallon of (organic) milk is $5 or more. Still, if I had picked out a fluffy dog rather than a smooth-coated one, I never would have thought to budget more for their grooming than I spend on my own haircuts. 

As with nail trimming, I like to think I’d learn to brush and trim a long-coated dog myself. I do think it’s a good bonding experience for dog owners and pups, and of course it costs much less. Here’s a basic grooming primer from the ASPCA

"Save on salon trips and just buy me another coat!"

"Save on salon trips and just buy me another coat!"

Then again, C-Biscuit and Machu Picchu don’t have “special conditions” like impacted anal glands (Gr-oss!). The groomer’s website explains that manually “expressing the anal glands,” as needed, lets out an “especially putrid liquid.” I expect more – or, in this case, less – from my little bundles of joy. So professional grooming might well be worth it for some dogs – just be prepared for the cost.

Or, in my opinion, consider a “wipe & wag” dog, like a whippet!

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Health Scare (New Parent Syndrome)

We picked up Lexie yesterday! A week early, because we couldn’t wait. It was very exciting, and we went hiking afterwards on the way home.

Biski & Lexie - first hike together!

Biski & Lexie - first hike together!

 All was well until I spotted some ugly growth on Lexie’s neck behind her ear. I got Bob to pull the car over to take a look, and he felt a pretty large growth under the skin. The ickiest part was there was something protruding OUT of the skin – looked like a little plastic tongue. Completely gross and of course scary. I kept asking Bob if it was alive (Alien?!) but he said no, it was like a cyst. 

Bob said it was probably a benign growth that we could just have removed and it would be fine. My thoughts were darker: What if this has something to do with why she never grew to normal size? If only I had not read about Mrs. Kelly’s Monster (in a 1979 newspaper article by Jon Franklin – the best piece of non-fiction storytelling I’ve ever read)

In addition, since we’d only owned her a couple hours, pet insurance was not in place. We needed to take her to the vet asap, but insurance won’t cover any pre-existing condition. It felt so unfair. I had visions of biopsies, finding a dog oncologist, surgeries, and couldn’t help mentioning to Bob, “What if she only has six months to live?” 

When we got home, I e-mailed the breeder about the growth and asked if he had any idea what it could be. He e-mailed back, “Are you sure it’s not a tick?” My first reaction was, “Of course it’s not a tick! It’s a large subcutaneous growth that has hemorrhaged through the skin! Not an insect bite.”

The Boy and Biski happy to see each other again!

The Boy and Biski reunited for a temporary visit

To be sure, though, I Googled “what does a tick bite look like on a dog?” and had to look at grodie photos. Talk about a combination of relief and disgust at the same time. It really was a tick! I’ve read all about ticks, tick bites, how to remove them counterclockwise – I’m even Red Cross-certified in Pet First Aid. What I’ve never seen is what an engorged tick looks like. I’d assumed it was still a tick, just larger. If you’re in the same boat as me, you must check out this photo, gross as it is, to save yourself the worry we went through.

I called the breeder hoping I wasn’t waking him up, and he coached Bob through removing the thing. He reassured me that I’m not the only one, that he’s heard some vets preparing to operate on “growths” that are really engorged ticks. (The “cyst” underneath the skin is part of the reaction from the bite, for anyone else who didn’t know that.) Ick. But, better than brain cancer, that’s for sure!

We'll be back for you, Sesame! (on the right, next to Biski's brother))

We'll be back for you, Sesame! (on the right, next to Biski's brother)

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