Expect the Unexpected

If I was to write a book about bringing home a new puppy that would probably be the best title for it.  Or, “Take All Advice With A Grain Of Salt”.  But I’m getting ahead of myself – let me give you a little background before I get into our latest kerfuffle…

It seems that as soon as you have a puppy, or are thinking of getting a puppy, there is no shortage of advice being offered to you.  We were fortunate to receive some wonderful advice that helped us ease into Kona’s early days at home. 

We also quickly discovered that multiple sources means multiple opinions.  It can be difficult to know whose advice is best.  Early on when we were thinking of getting a dog we read the following concept, which we have tried to apply as best we can: 

“Take health advice from a vet, behaviour advice from trainer, and breed advice from a breeder.”

Given that mantra, we took the time to find a breeder, vet and trainer that we felt we could trust and rely on.  It has meant that when we were at our wits end on an issue (house training, digestive problems) we knew who to call and could trust in their advice.   And so far, that tactic has served us well.  Until now. 

One of the biggest decisions we needed to make about Kona’s health was when to get her spayed.  Vets encourage you to do it when the puppy is 6 months of age.  There are two reasons for this.  It helps control the animal population by making sure dogs are spayed / neutered before they are mature enough that an accidental litter could occur.  Second, for females there is a slightly higher risk of mammary (?) cancer if they go into heat before they are spayed. 

On the other hand, our breeder and a neighbour who also breeds labs both encouraged us to wait until Kona was at least 10 months of age.  Their argument is that this way the puppy develops enough hormones to develop female or male specific traits.  Otherwise you allegedly end up with an “it”, a dog that is neither male nor female and does not develop to be a true physical specimen of the purebred dog that you selected (smaller, lankier, etc).  Our breeder felt so strongly about this that she sent a letter to all the families that adopted her puppies when the litter reached 6 months of age. 

P and I debated this for a long time.  In the end, we decided that the only real risk to waiting was that we might have to deal with a dog in heat and she’d be at a very slightly higher risk of one type of cancer.  As our breeder also claimed that Kona’s mother, grandmother, and several generations back were all over a year old when they went into heat the first time, we thought it was a risk worth taking.  So we waited and scheduled Kona’s procedure for December 28th, 5 days after she reaches 10 months. 

Guess what? 

Somebody’s in heat.

P made the discovery when he came home from work Monday night.  We went straight to the internet – always the best source of information (note the heavy sarcasm) to find out what we were in for.  Some of the comments / cautions are fairly entertaining (I especially like the one here that describes a dog in heat trying to chew her way through a door to reach a male dog).  We’ve also heard tales of dogs barking outside of a house where a dog in heat was inside (and the bitch returning the barking), and of males jumping 6 ft high fences to get to the female in heat. 

The biggest issue is that we have to confine Kona to our property for 3 weeks – no dog park visits, daily walks, and an end to letting her unsupervised in our yard (apparently male dogs might try to break in or she might try and break out).  I’m really worried about the lack of walks –she’s going to go stir crazy in our house.  Since I rarely see other dogs on our 6am weekday morning jaunts, we may try and maintain them at least. 

I also called our vet and confirmed that we have to cancel the surgery – there’s a much higher risk of blood loss if they are in heat when they get spayed.  We have to wait until she’s no longer in heat (2-3 weeks from now) and then rebook the appointment. 

We’re very frustrated – this is not something we wanted to deal with and discovering it right before Christmas (and just 9 days before she was to get spayed) made it that much more annoying.  All in all though, it’s mostly an inconvenience.  The situation is completely manageable and hopefully in 6-8 weeks it’ll be like nothing ever happened.  On the plus side, she’s become a lot more affectionate.  Last night she curled up on top of my feet – something I’ve been hoping she would do ever since we brought her home!


Seriously Gross

So, I’ve been a little delinquent in my posts over the past 2 weeks.  Shame on me!  I have a couple that I’m looking forward to sharing, but they are in need of some photographs.  Finally downloaded the pics last weekend but I need to edit them before they can be uploaded with the posts.  In the meantime, I have a few stories to share which certainly do NOT need any visuals to be provided…

Before we brought Kona home a good friend of ours warned us that dogs really like litter boxes.  Since Keegan’s box is in our basement, keeping Kona away from it is a simple matter of making sure she can’t go downstairs.  

The previous owners of our house removed the door to the basement long before we ever moved in.  I’ve always wanted a door there, but it took the puppy / litter box issue to convince P to install one.  During the first 2 weeks Kona was home P not only installed the door, but crafted a custom cat-door within it and equipped the main door with a self-closer.  Yeah, it’s pretty darn fancy.  The objective was to make sure the door was always closed (and therefore not obstructing our kitchen) and to make sure Keegan’s access to his litter box was never blocked. 

The door has been in place for quite some time.  While Kona is still small enough to fit through the cat door, we managed to keep an eye on her and make sure she didn’t go downstairs.  And then we did something stupid (aka Mistake #1). 

A few weeks ago P discovered at his grandfather’s house that Kona she does not know how to walk up or down stairs (side note:  it’s actually pretty entertaining watching a 6 month old lab try and negotiate stairs if they haven’t been on them EVER).  In a moment of “not thinking” we let Kona follow P down to the basement because we thought it would be good practice.  We didn’t think (until it was too late) that we were exposing her to dog heaven – a massive storage room with all sorts of things to sniff and explore, including a litter box. 

She didn’t discover the litter box during that trip.  A few days later I was watching TV in the family room and she was settled under the kitchen table.  It was pretty darn quiet and I assumed she was sleeping (this would be mistake #2 – a sleeping dog is never that quiet).  I walked into the kitchen to grab a drink and realized that Kona was nowhere to be found.  I ran downstairs, and she came trotting out of the room with the litter box to greet me.  I have no idea how long she was down there, but I do know that the litter box was clear of any cat poop. 

Yeah, it was pretty disgusting.  P and I were both equally grossed out and together we brushed Kona’s teeth (there was litter sticking to them – ugh).  I was pretty angry with myself for letting this happen on my watch.  Since then it has happened twice when P was in charge, so my conscience feels somewhat better. 

Apparently this is pretty common – I’ve read that cat feces is high in protein so dogs find it exceptionally tasty.  Yes, yet another reminder of how I am SO DIFFERENT from a dog! 

We’re hoping it won’t be long until Kona is too big for the cat door.  At this point she really has to squeeze her torso to fit through it.  And until then, we lean our bathroom scale against the opening so that she’ll have to knock it over to get through (thereby alerting us to her naughtiness).  Keegan is never in the kitchen when Kona is so that hasn’t been a problem.  Plus, if he really needs to use it, he sits by the gate to the Kitchen and meows until Kona leaves the room and he can access the basement door. 

Fingers crossed she outgrows the door soon, and until then we won’t have any more litter box mishaps!

Garden Delights

Thanks to P, we have enjoyed a vegetable garden in our backyard every year since we moved into our house.  P does all the work by himself – prepping the soil, planting, watering, weeding, building lattices for the taller plants.  We both enjoy the tasty harvest that arrives at the end of each summer. 

Each year the plants vary, but there is always a mixture of herbs, different tomato varieties and squash.  This summer the garden had a huge crop of tomatoes – everything from cherry to beefsteak varieties.  We’ve had fresh tomatoes incorporated into almost every dinner for the past two weeks.  So tasty! 

A few days ago Kona’s curiosity led her into the garden.  In the past she has focussed on the logs forming a retaining wall at the back of the garden, but this time some bright red tomatoes caught her eye.  She managed to sneak a bite when neither of us were looking and liked what she tasted.  Now all she wants to do in the backyard is search for tomatoes – she’s like a homing pigeon zeroing in on the vegetable garden!  

A quick internet search on “can dogs eat tomatoes” revealed that red tomatoes are safe for dogs, but green (unripe) ones are not.  According to several sources (including this one), tomatoes contain both atropine and tomatine.  The tomatine is poisonous, and while there is not enough of it to be harmful to humans, it can be toxic to dogs.  The levels of tomatine decrease as the tomato ripens, and is gone by the time they are red (ripe).  The green leaves and stems of the tomato plant also contain tomatine.  In fact, they are far more poisonous and should not be eaten by dogs. 

Luckily she didn’t express interest in the green tomatoes, but we will have to be on the lookout next year just to be safe.  As she is always keen to chew on plants, we will need to be very vigilant with her around the vegetable garden.

Sleepless in Markham

As you might have noticed, there was a bit of a longer gap since my last post.  The reason for that is we have a sick puppy in our house, and between taking care of her and recovering from some sleepless nights, we’ve been a little busy.  Now that she is on the mend and we’re a bit better rested, I thought I’d put together an update on all that has gone on.

On Thursday (August 18th), we noticed that both of Kona’s eyes were very irritated.  The whites of her eyes were bloodshot and there seemed to be some swelling around the top and bottom lids.  Both eyes had a yellowish discharge.  When it looked even worse Friday morning we made an appointment to see the vet that night. 

The clinic we go to has 3 vets.  Our vet, Dr. P, was on vacation, so we made an appointment with his co-founder, Dr. B, instead.  When Dr. B saw Kona that Friday night he said she had a very bad eye infection in each eye.  He gave her some drops that contained antibiotics and a steroid and told us to come back Monday if it got any worse.  Later that evening we discovered that Kona also had a rash on her underside.  The rash consisted of pustules that were all over the area where her skin is exposed, including on her vulva which was very irritated.  We didn’t know if this was a reaction to the medication or not. 

Saturday morning the rash was worse and has spread to the top of her nose.  We called the clinic right away.  Unfortunately, Dr. B wasn’t in that day, but the third vet was.  He spoke to us and after hearing about her symptoms said to bring her in.  When the vet saw her he was very perplexed.  She had a fever of 104.1 (normal is around 101 or 102), which suggested she had an infection.  But the rash indicated an allergic reaction.  Since it was restricted to areas where she has little to no fur, he thought it was a contact allergy (i.e., from coming into contact with something).  He gave her two injections of antihistamines as well as some antibiotic pills to give her over the course of the following week.

The rest of Saturday Kona was very lethargic.  She had a bit more energy on Sunday but her rash and eyes appeared to be getting worse.  We were very concerned – it seemed unlikely to us that there could be two different causes to her symptoms. 

At 1 am Sunday night (Monday morning) I was woken by Kona’s barking.  I went downstairs to take her out for a toilet break to discover she had thrown up.  At 2:15 she vomited again and P and I began to debate calling our vet’s 24 hour pager.  We had decided that P would stay home on Monday and take her to the clinic when she vomited for a third time at 3 am.  At that point, I called the pager. 

Dr. B was the vet on call, and he returned the page within 5 minutes.  I described to him what had happened since he saw her on Friday.  He said the vomiting is often part of an allergic reaction, and seemed to agree with the allergy diagnosis from Saturday.  He tried to determine on the phone what could have caused her allergy.  Had we taken her anywhere new? No.  Had she been exposed to a bee? Not recently.  Was she on new food? No.  Was it a new bag of food? No.

While we were on the phone Kona vomited for a fourth time and Dr. B suggested we meet him at the clinic.  So P and I quickly got dressed, grabbed a barf bucket for the car, and at 3:45 we were on our way.  Dr. B was shocked at her rash when he saw her.  The pustules on the nose had gotten worse, and they had also begun to grow on her eyelids.  Her eyes were much worse than on Friday.  Her temperature was still elevated at 103.  Dr. B gave her an injection to stop the vomiting and went upstairs to look up something.  

Thankfully, when he returned Dr. B had a diagnosis – a staph infection.  While staph bacteria are very common, suffering from a staph infection is very rare.  On top of that, she is having an allergic reaction to the cell walls of the bacteria.  So Kona is not only fighting an infection but her body is also allergic to the cause.  In the 25 years Dr. B has been in practice he has only seen this one other time. 

The good news is it is treatable, and we’ve got both antibiotics (for the infection) and antihistamines (for the allergy) to treat Kona. 

Kona is a champ.  When we arrived at the clinic at 4 am and she saw Dr. B, she jumped out of the car and tried to run to him, grinning and tail wagging.  Her enthusiasm at seeing a “new” person was not diminished by her sickly state.  Dr. B commented that labs are the greatest patients – no matter how sick they are their tail is always wagging.  When he gave her the anti-vomiting injection, P and I held her because typically dogs really react to this particular shot.  She barely flinched.  Thanks to a little peanut butter encouragement, she has been taking her pills without complaint.  And while she really dislikes the eye drops (who doesn’t?) she doesn’t put up too much of a fuss for that either. 

Unfortunately Monday and Tuesday nights she had a hard time settling in her crate.  Both of those nights she woke up around midnight because she was too hot and / or had to pee (a side-effect of one of the drugs is increased thirst and peeing).  We thought we had learned our lesson, and before bedtime on Wednesday night we gave her an ice cube, and soaked her belly to cool her down.  Of course, Mother Nature had other plans in mind, and thanks to the lightning and thunder Kona woke us up every 2 hours for the entire night.  Thankfully, each time the barking didn’t last long and she settled herself without us getting out of bed.  Last night was better – just one wake up at 12:30 am and it was definitely bladder-related.  Hopefully when we reduce her allergy meds to once a day this will get rid of the bladder issues.

Kona’s allergy symptoms stayed the same for Monday and Tuesday, but by Wednesday night her eyes and the rash on her underside seemed to be getting better.  Unfortunately, she has gotten many more bumps all around her mouth, but they are fairly small for now.  We are hopeful that she is turning the corner and the infection has been defeated.  The allergy symptoms will still remain until all the bacteria cells (dead or alive) are gone from her system and that could be at least 2 weeks or more.  For now, her energy levels are back and she seems to be in a lot less discomfort. 

One upside is that for the past 2 days she has had excellent manners and obedience on her walks.  Since one of the meds also causes an increased appetite, I have a feeling the obedience is food-driven – she wants the treats / kibble more than she usually does.  Whatever the reason, we are enjoying the benefit of having a very responsive dog!


Kona, 24 hours after the emergency vet visit

Swimming, the Next Frontier

First swim at Musselman's Lake

Like most activities, it is best to expose a puppy to something new before they are 16 months of age.  The experiences a dog has at that early age will affect their behaviour for the rest of their life.  Once Kona was cleared by the vet to meet other dogs, we decided to make swimming a priority.  It was great timing since the weather was beginning to heat up at that time.

Kona's first steps in water, 4 months old

One of the first things people assume when they hear about a labrador retriever is that they are excellent swimmers.  While that is often true, the way the dog is introduced to the water is crucial to how they will take to swimming.  P and I heard multiple stories from different people about labs who became afraid of water because of bad first experiences.  The key it seems, is to make sure the dog has a gradual entrance to the water, such as you would find on a beach or shoreline.  Dogs do not like abrupt entrances to the water, like on a dock or at a pool.

Running in shallow water at Musselman's Lake

There is a shallow lake North of Markham called Musselman’s Lake.  We brought Kona up there on a warm Saturday evening to teach her to swim.  I was the official photographer, and P was responsible for encouraging her to enter the water.

It took 3 tries before she actually started to swim.  The first time in the water she just splashed around, then ran back to the shore.  The second time she got far enough in that she had to swim for just a second, before running back out again.  The third time she kept going and swam a circle around P.  I’m not sure who had more fun on that outing – Kona or us!

Chasing her buddy.

We’ve since taken Kona swimming in Lake Ontario, as well as at my parent’s pool.  She is definitely more comfortable in lakes, as she has a better feel for how deep the water is.  My parent’s pool has a staircase to enter the pool in the shallow end, which is where Kona was trained to enter the pool.

Trying pool stairs for the first time...

... not a fan!

The one thing we discovered by taking her to a pool is that she gets anxious when humans are in the water.  She thinks we are all drowning and wants to rescue us.  She will go to the edge of the pool to try and pull you out of the water.

Convinced that P needs rescuing, Kona tries to pull him out by the arms.

In fact, while she doesn’t like jumping in, she will if someone is in the deep end and she decides that they are in danger (often caused when they go underwater or splash significantly).  This may sound cute, but it is not – eventually she will be 60 lbs or more, and you do not want an animal of that size bearing down on you when you are in the deep end.  In fact, at 40 lbs now it is quite intimidating.

No luck pulling him out, Kona jumps in to rescue P

We had heard from several sources, including the trainer of the obedience class we go to, that some dogs are born this way and it can’t be trained out of them.  This past weekend we went to visit my parents and it was Kona’s third time at the pool.  She is now at ease with people in the shallow end – she seems to understand that we can stand up there.

We made a point of not splashing around too much while we swam.  P also worked with her in the deep end.  She sat outside of the pool, and he would tell her to “sit” and then “wait”.  While she was waiting, he would swim away from her, or go underwater.  Kona would obey the command, and not move, until he resurfaced / returned and told her “okay”.

Swimming after P as part of her rescue mission.

This seems to have had a great effect on her.  By the end of the afternoon, P was able to do the front crawl without Kona freaking out.  It will take repeated practice, but we hope Kona will learn that humans can swim and she won’t be anxious when we are in a pool.  Swimming is a great activity – we all (humans and dogs alike) enjoy cooling off in this hot weather, and there’s nothing like a day at the pool to tire out a puppy.  It’s a win-win activity!

The Great Escape

Last weekend we were given a reminder that you can’t let your guard down with a puppy.  Thankfully all ended well, but it was a sobering experience that left me shaken.

Back when we were debating getting a dog, we knew that we had to get some fencing work done for our yard.  Our house is on a quiet crescent, but there is a pedestrian lane that runs on the South side of our house.  It connects our street with one of the busier streets in our neighbourhood, and continues on the other side of the street to a park.  Our backyard has a fence around 95% of it, however, the space between the side of our house and the lane was never closed in with a fence or gate.  This was an issue that we knew needed to be resolved if we were to get a dog.

After we knew we were getting a dog, I called around to get quotes and we found a contractor who committed to doing the work.  It was scheduled to happen the week after we brought Kona home.

Well, the two weeks after Kona joined us it rained a lot, and the guy kept postponing the work.  We became frustrated with this contractor, and given the small area, we decided that P would just do it himself.

Fast forward three months… puppies keep you very busy and our fence plans had not been addressed.  While initially Kona was always on leash in the backyard, she became reliable and we would often play fetch with her (off leash) there.  Occasionally she would express interest in the corner of the yard near where the fence was missing, but we would distract her.  We grew complacent and stopped worrying about the fence.  It was still on our to do list, but seemed less urgent.

There is constant traffic along the lane, which periodically gets Kona’s attention but for the most part she ignores it.  Sunday evening after dinner I was playing with Kona in the backyard.  She was fairly relaxed but we were doing a bit of fetching.  Our neighbour walked along the lane with her miniature poodle Sophie, who Kona knows and has played with in the past.  They called to Kona, and she ran to the fence.  I rushed over to make sure that I was with her as she greeted them.  They kept on going, as they were headed to the park, and Kona tried to watch them.

She then turned, and walked along our back fence in the opposite direction from where the gap is.  I thought she had forgotten about them already or had lost interest.  She stopped and started to dig in our garden, and I went over to discipline her.  I was just about there when she bolted, and headed straight to the side yard without the gate.  I went running after her, but there’s no way I can keep up with her speed now.  I was calling after her and she kept running.  By the time I got to the front of the house, she had already gotten to our street, and then done a 180 degree turn and began running down the path.

I was wearing flip-flops which were impeding me, so I chucked them off and continued barefoot after her.  By the time I got to the path, she was already almost at Wootten Way.  Sophie and her owner were across the street and had no idea what was going on.  I was yelling ‘Kona” and “help” – hoping that our neighbour would see us and perhaps get to Kona before I did.  No such luck.

I can’t tell you how terrified I was in that moment.  Looking back, I realize that I was in utter panic mode.  I was just beside myself – here I was running at top speed in bare feet, down the lane and across the street, and I could do nothing to protect Kona. Thankfully there was no traffic, as Kona just kept running, across the busy street, and didn’t stop until she reached Sophie, who was already at the park entrance.

When I finally caught up it was all I could do not to cry.  I was so upset and with the adrenaline dying down, the emotions were welling up.  Sophie was carried by her owner, who leant me Sophie’s leash so that I could walk Kona back to our house.  Our backyard neighbor, D, came out to see that all was ok (she and her husband were in their backyard and they heard me yelling and saw me running).  It was hard for me to keep my composure as everyone expressed their concern.

I got Kona home and inside our house and then had a bit of an outburst.  Not long after G, D’s husband, stopped by with a bottle of wine for me, as they thought I could use a good glass.

Needless to say it was a scary moment, but we’re thankful all went ok.  While it was a negative event, we did get a lot out of the experience and were reminded of several important lessons:

  • Don’t become overly confident in puppies – they are still puppies and when faced with an exciting distraction all of their training goes out the window.
  • Always wear proper footwear when out with your dog in case you need to run after them.
  • Keep a leash on you, even in the backyard – jailbreaks happen.
  • Keep a collar, with dog ID and your contact info, on at all times.

On top of all the puppy lessons, it was a great reminder of what wonderful neighbours we have.

I’ve also learned a lot about how I will respond in a dangerous situation.  I threw all caution to the wind and ran after Kona, putting her safety ahead of mine.  I didn’t even think about the fact that there is often broken glass in the path (thankfully at the sides, and not down the centre where I ran).  In retrospect, I’m not sure if I even looked when I crossed the road.  Both scary thoughts.  If you don’t protect yourself first, you can’t expect yourself to protect someone else!

So, getting a fence installed is back to being our number one priority now.  Once she’s done something once, she’s apt to do it again.  We don’t think she’d repeat this for a dog or people she doesn’t know, but there is constant traffic there and we’re not going to take any chances.

In the meantime we’ve installed a temporary barrier.  While it is not a 100% blockage, it is enough to slow her down and impede her escape while we catch up and grab her.

I’ve since heard similar stories from other friends about puppies getting loose and having near misses which makes me feel a bit better and less of a delinquent pet owner.  P now appreciates why I’m so paranoid when he brings Kona out front to the car without having her on leash (no longer permitted!).

Hopefully by sharing this story others can learn from my mistakes without having to go through an experience like this themselves.