Tag: Lisa Spector

Dog tired!

Going to slip away for a few days.

I am taking a days off.

So will repeat some posts from a year ago.


6 Ways to Tire Out Your Dog Indoors

1396453-largeBy: Lisa Spector December 18, 2016

About Lisa

I live in the San Francisco Bay Area and we’re in the midst of rainy season. It never let up today. It’s only the second time in the life of my dogs that I didn’t get them out for a walk. I tried, but they didn’t want to go. Particularly on days like today, it’s important that I find other indoor activities to keep them stimulated and tire them out. Here are a few of my rainy day tricks:

1. Train

Behaviorist, Dr. Ian Dunbar, says that mental activity tires a dog out more than physical exercise. Gina is a high-drive dog. I often joke that the more I exercise her, the better shape she’s in and the more she exercise she needs. Add some agility training to the mix, and she tires out much faster. Did you ever notice how tired you are when you’ve taxed your brain at work all day? It’s the same for dogs. Instead of doing one long training session, best to add in a few minutes of training frequently throughout the day.

impulsecontrol-443x3322. Teach Impulse Control

There is no better place to start teaching impulse control than indoors, where there are less distractions than outdoors. Tonight, I placed strips of sweet potato on Sanchez and Gina’s paws and had them wait for my cue to eat them. Gina is much better at “Look at me,” so that was added to the “leave it” cue. They waited, and waited, and waited… and were rewarded with a yummy sweet potato treat after I released them with “OK.”

sanchez-nose-work-443x3323. Nose work

K9 Nose Work defines this sport as “the fun search and scenting activity for virtually all dogs and people. This easy to learn activity and sport builds confidence and focus in many dogs, and provides a safe way to keep dogs fit and healthy through mental and physical exercise.”

I enrolled Sanchez in classes a couple of years ago, and now we play “find” games at home. I hide pieces of liver in boxes spread throughout the living room. He searches for the piece of liver and is rewarded with more liver in the box when he finds it. He LOVES this search game.

ginafoodpuzzle-443x2724. Work for food and treats

Instead of just placing down a food bowl, have your dog work for her food or treats. She’ll slow down her intake of dinner and treats while using her mental abilities when you use a food puzzle. Other choices are stuffing soft food, such as a banana and almond butter, in a kong and then freezing it.

5. Tug

Tugging is not a game of war. It is a game of play and is a way to bond with your dog. It’s commonly used to increase drive and focus before agility runs. Tugging is also a great training tool during high distraction environments, an opportunity to reinforce “that’s enough” (meaning “game over, release the toy”), and it’s helped Gina tremendously with dog distraction. Tugging has been a way of teaching her that the best things in life happen in reinforcement zone with me, not with the stranger dog running by. Rain or shine, this is part of our daily routine. But, when we can’t get outside for walks, we do more tugging indoors, as it really tires her out.

6. Retrieve

Even though I have two Labrador Retrievers, Sanchez no longer retrieves. He’s 13 1/2 and he’d prefer to lay on his dog bed and have me bring him his toy. However, I want to engage him when I play a fun game of retrieve with Gina. So, I toss her ball down the stairs. She retrieves it and while she’s running up the stairs to bring me back the ball for the next round, I toss treats to Sanchez down the stairs. He uses his nose to find them. Fun for all! We generally do this nightly, no matter the weather.


Lisa’s description of her Sanchez: “… he’d prefer to lay on his dog bed and have me bring him his toy.” sounds like my kind dog to me! 😉

Best wishes to you all.

A Very Happy New Year

To all of you and your families and loved ones.

One week ago it was Christmas Day and in the blink of an eyelid it is now New Year’s Day.

Here we are on the first day of the year 2017.

Where is the year going to go? As in where is humanity heading over the next twelve months? Who knows and, frankly, guessing isn’t going to offer clear answers. As that silly saying goes: “I can predict anything except those things involving the future!

But what is certain is that the need to care for and love our dogs continues day after day. My introduction to an essay recently published over on the Care2 site.


5 Simple New Year’s Resolutions to Improve Your Dog’s Life

1371934-largeCare2 favorite by Lisa Spector About Lisa

When we think of New Year’s resolutions, we often think of changes in our lives we’ve been trying to make for years. Often they are massive changes. But, in reality, sometimes the smallest changes can make the biggest difference over time. The same can be said for changes we make in our pet’s lives. These five resolutions are simple and will be enjoyed by you just as much as Buster. And you will be improving both of your lives in the process.

1. Take a Sonic Inventory

Those of us who love our pets often assume that our environment is the best for our pets. However, sometimes it requires a different way of thinking. What works for us doesn’t always work best for our pets. Taking a sonic inventory of your environment is a good way to check for sounds in your house that may be causing stress to your pets. Sound is like air. We rarely notice these two common elements unless the air suddenly becomes polluted or the sound becomes chaotic.

The sonic inventory is one way of becoming aware of the noise in your pet’s environment. Simply sit on your sofa with pen and paper in hand. Jot down all of the sounds you hear and rate them from one to 10. Observe your pet’s response to these sounds. Ask yourself how you can make your home a calmer, more peaceful place, for yourself and for your pets. Often, just by listening, we become more sonically aware, an important first step.  Small changes made in your sound environment can often make a big difference in your pet’s behavior.

thinkstockphotos-475432976-443x3092. Enjoy a Silent Meditation Hike

Have you ever walked with your dog in total silence? It’s very interesting trying to observe the world from their point of view. Allow Buster to stop and sniff as much as he wants. Taking in the scents gives him all sorts of information and provides him with enrichment. Take a break with Buster. Just sit still without any verbal communication and enjoy all the sights and smells. You’ll be amazed how bonding time in nature is with your furry friend when you aren’t speaking any words.

thinkstockphotos-178752848-443x2973. Teach Your Dog a New Trick

No matter how young or old your dog, she will love learning new tricks. Learning new things provides them with much needed mental stimulation. Use a clicker and positive reinforcement training, and it will be just as fun for you as your pup.

thinkstockphotos-490988366-443x2354. Teach Him to Tug

Tug is great exercise for dogs and is often a great stress reliever. Pat Miller, training editor of The Whole Dog Journal, wrote about the benefits of playing tug with your dog (when they follow the rules). A good game of tug provides:

  • a legal outlet for roughhousing
  • strengthens bonds
  • builds healthy relationships
  • offers incredibly useful reinforcement potential
  • redirects inappropriate use of teeth
  • teaches self-control
  • creates a useful distraction
  • builds confidence

Just make sure that you teach a release word and randomly have him release the tug toy throughout your playtime together.

thinkstockphotos-176984527-443x2945. Give Her a Massage

Dogs reduce our stress. Canine massage is a way of giving back to them so that we can reduce theirs. Veterinarian Narda Robinson, Director at Colorado State University’s Center for Comparative and Integrative Pain Medicine, teaches classes on canine massage. She believes that administered with science knowledge, canine massage can help dogs recover from injuries, illness and stress.

Do you have new year’s resolutions for your pets? Thanks for sharing them in a comment below.

 Please, all of you, have a very safe, peaceful and loving New Year.
Thank you for your companionship these last twelve months, and beyond.

It seems like the blink of an eye.

How the years speed past us!

I have lost count of the times in the last year that I have said the following:

Thank goodness that when we were younger we really didn’t understand what it was to be old!

Now being old is to a great extent as much as a thing of the mind as it is of the body. As the saying goes: “One is only as old as you feel!” (Or as many men know it: One is only as old as the woman you feel.)

Moving swiftly on!

Dogs offer us many lessons including what it is to become old, then old and infirm, and then pass away. Which is why so many owners of their beloved dogs spend as much time and care on keeping their elderly dogs as fit as possible as they do on themselves; probably in many cases spending more care and attention on their dogs than on themselves.


 10 Simple Tips for Keeping Your Old Dog Young

1396029-largeBy: Lisa Spector December 10, 2016

About Lisa

Those of us who love and have dogs know that senior years always approach too fast. Sanchez, my 13 1/2 year old yellow Lab, has had his health challenges this year, but now that he’s gained back his strength and has recovered from E. coli, he’s acting younger than he has in years. I’ve noticed this not only in his energy level, but also in his cognitive abilities and in his engagement with dogs and people around him. I cherish his golden years and am always looking for ways to keep his mind active and alert, and keep him connected with life.

sanchezginainbed-443x3311. Adopt a second, younger dog.

Admittedly, I’ve been a single dog person my entire life… up until five years ago. When it felt like I was agonizing on the decision to expand my canine household, my vet said to me, “Bringing a younger dog into your household will help keep Sanchez younger as he ages.” Sanchez was only seven at the time, and that perspective had never occurred to me. It’s shown itself to be true.

2. Give daily spoonfuls of coconut oil.

I’ve written about the benefits of coconut oil for pets, everything from fur conditioner to paw protection. But, I hadn’t realized that coconut oil helps with canine cognition until I read this Cambridge study. I’ve been giving both Sanchez and Gina a tablespoon of coconut oil nightly for a couple of months. Not only do they love the taste, but I have definitely noticed an improvement in Sanchez’s cognitive abilities.

3. Train him often. 

An old dog not only can learn new tricks, but also loves the attention and benefits from the mental stimulation as much as any age dog. Dogs love to learn, no matter their age. I still spend time training every night with Sanchez. As you can see in the video above, I’ve come up with ways to make his training less physical. But, he still gets rewarded for being involved and staying still. If it gets late, he starts whining and begging for his training time with me. The bonding time is precious and it stimulates him to keep learning and being challenged. He has no complaints about his yummy rewards either.

goldens-cat-sanchez-gina-443x3344. Mix it up.

Although dogs love consistency and build confidence through their routines, it’s sometimes good to mix up that routine as well. I recently was staying with friends and their three Golden Retrievers. While there, Sanchez loved the new smells in their backyard, neglected all of his daily naps and really enjoyed their multi-pet household, including the cats.  Our routine completely changed as my friends generally rise much earlier than me and their dogs are fed right away. I decided to allow my dogs the same privilege while we were there. Of course, Sanchez just loved it. I was surprised how quickly he reverted back to our normal routine when we got home. While he’s making up for his missed naps now, he really enjoyed the change of scenery, people, pets, and general surroundings.

5. Add variety to diet, and consider nutritional needs.

I also add variety to Sanchez’s dog food. While the base is the same (organic meat), the variety comes in the extras. Sometimes I add in canned sardines, other times it’s salmon oil. I alter between any of the following additions: sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkin, green beans, spinach, kale, apples, and bananas. He’s a Lab and LOVES his food. Surprising him adds to his olfactory delight as well.

6. Add environmental enrichment.

Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine defines environmental or behavior enrichment as “the process of manipulating an animal’s environment to increase physical activity & normal species typical behavior that satisfies the animal’s physical and psychological needs.” Music created for senior dogs, with their hearing sensitivities in mind, is a great way to provide auditory stimulation that engages their senses.

7. Incorporate nose work.

Dogs often lose hearing and sight in their senior years. But, as long as they can still smell, they can still find their way around. I’ve honestly met blind and deaf dogs that were still retrieving balls, and I barely noticed any impairment to their sight or hearing. Engage a dog’s nose, and you’ll keep him stimulated.

K9 Nose Work defines this sport as “the fun search and scenting activity for virtually all dogs and people. This easy to learn activity and sport builds confidence and focus in many dogs, and provides a safe way to keep dogs fit and healthy through mental and physical exercise.” I enrolled Sanchez in classes a couple of years ago, and now we play “find” games at home. I hide pieces of liver in boxes spread throughout the living room. He searches for the piece of liver and is rewarded with more liver in the box when he finds it. He LOVES this search game.

8. Play often.

No matter the age, dogs enjoy and benefit from playtime. Even if they don’t have the same physical abilities as their younger canine friends, they can still engage in play. Try a game of hide and seek. Actually, all training and nose-work games should also feel like play to them. Pretend you’re a kid again, and they’ll pick up on your energy and thank you for it.

9. Walk them in new areas.

Again, engaging their nose helps keep them stimulated and interested in their surroundings. Bringing them to a new area for a walk is another way to do that. Sanchez is still often with me in the car. So, once a week, I try and stop in a new area for him to explore.

10. Take time to smell the roses.

Walks may no longer be about physical activity. Move at his pace. Allow him to use his nose as much as he chooses. I’ve learned that it’s not only good for Sanchez, but it’s good for me. He’s teaching me the importance of taking time to slow down and enjoy nature. Honestly, does it ever get any better?


Our wonderful Pharaoh is getting pretty old now; he was 13 1/2 years-old on December 3rd which is a grand age for a German Shepherd. When he was a young puppy I was advised to get a younger playmate for him when his years were building up. For two reasons. The first being that the younger dog keeps the elderly dog playing and interested in the world. The second reason being that the elder dog will teach the younger dog all the owner’s commands.

Pharaoh demonstrating his benevolent status with puppy Cleo. April 2012.
Pharaoh demonstrating his benevolent status with puppy Cleo. April 2012.

Cleo has proved both points. Pharaoh in living with so many dogs around him is most definitely kept engaged and despite his rear hips being so very fragile and weak he still doesn’t miss a turn in going out with the other dogs.

Just to underline how fantastic Pharaoh is doing, his age at the conversion ratio of 1 dog year to 8 human years makes him 108! Or 36 years my senior!

Listening to our pets in more difficult times.

Loving owners want so much to know when their pets may be in pain.

Our dear Pharaoh (born June, 2003) is getting very weak in his rear hip joints and Jean and I are very sensitive to understanding whether or not he is in pain. Any loving owner of a cat or a dog would be the same; and it doesn’t stop with our cats and dogs.

Care 2 Healthy Living recently had an article on just this subject: Trying to know when our pets are in pain.

Here it is shared with you good, caring people.


6 Ways Your Pet Tells You They’re In Pain

1390100-largeBy: Lisa Spector September 11, 2016

September is Animal Pain Awareness Month. My Lab, Sanchez, is 13-years-old. I still sometimes have a hard time identifying the difference between a behavior problem and a physical ailment. Our dogs are so adaptable and want to please us so much, it’s sometimes challenging to detect their pain.

These often subtle signs will help you determine when your pet may be showing signs of pain. Some require a veterinary visit, but other times there are simple things you can do to help. When Sanchez had a slipped neck disc at age 9, I thought he was in so much pain that he’d never recover. A few acupuncture sessions later, and he turned into a puppy!

1. Mouth Fluttering

It wasn’t until I made a video with Sanchez in it that I noticed he was making all sorts of mouth movements. (He starts the mouth movement at :28 seconds.) I knew he wasn’t stressed and his lip licking was not a calming signal. It sparked enough curiosity that I had my vet look at this mouth. Sure enough, he needed his molars pulled. As hesitant as I was to have this operation on a 13-year-old dog, he came through it just fine and started acting much younger post-surgery. I didn’t realize he was in pain for months.

Little dog maltese refusing eating his food from a bowl in home
Little dog maltese refusing eating his food from a bowl in home

2.  Decreased Appetite

A change in desire to eat is not always a sign of illness. It sometimes can also be about mouth pain. If you give Fido or Fluffy hard food, try some soft food and see if they want to eat. Experiment with different textures. Decreased appetite is a good reason to visit your vet.

sanchezupcar-443x3323. Reluctance to Get In The Car

While this might happen throughout a cat’s entire life, dogs may show hesitancy getting in a car when it causes them pain to jump up (or down). Try using a ramp so that they can easily get in and out without adding any pressure to their joints.

thinkstockphotos-589434262-405x4434. Difficulty Standing Up

Older pets tend to sleep a lot and they can be slow at getting up. Give them plenty of time to stretch as they know how to listen to their own bodies. But, if Fido or Fluffy is hesitant to stand up, they may be feeling pain. Personally with Sanchez, this is one of the areas where it’s hard to tell the difference between behavior and pain. But, I can usually find out the answer quickly when I entice him with a yummy treat.

thinkstockphotos-530496846-443x2955. Decreased Activity and Engagement

When pets are in pain, they often want to be left alone. Watch for any signs of social behavior changes. Is Fido engaging with his dog buddies? Is Fluffy getting in more cat fights? Senior pets have a taxed nervous system in general and aren’t as curious as their puppy or kitty playmates. But notice if there has been any drastic change in their activity level. It may be a reason for a vet call.

The International Veterinary Academy of Pain Management (IVAPM) also offers this downloadable chart that helps you determine when you’ll need to make a vet visit.


That downloadable chart is a graphical version, as in a pdf, of this post. Nonetheless, IVAPM are to be congratulated on producing the chart and for highlighting the important indicators when trying to decide whether or not to take your loved pet to see a vet.

Embracing those senior years.

And I’m speaking of our dogs as well as me!

Whether we like it or not, time flows in one direction.

I find it almost as difficult to know that I shall be 72 years old in November as I know that dear Pharaoh will be 13 on June 3rd., a little over three weeks from today. Both of us most firmly now in our senior years.

This introspection was generated by something that was read recently over on the Care2 site: 7 Steps to Help Your Senior Dog Be Happy and Fulfilled

Knowing that dozens of you dear readers will have dogs that are also in their senior years was the motivation for me republishing the article; as follows:


7 Steps to Help Your Senior Dog Be Happy and Fulfilled

1381516.largeBy: Lisa Spector May 8, 2016

About Lisa Follow Lisa at @throughadogsear

I can hardly believe that my yellow Labrador, Sanchez, is turning 13 next week. I count my blessings that he is in good health and still enjoys our twice daily walks. But, I’m also aware that he can’t keep up to his activity level from even a year ago, let alone in his prime. I’m always looking for ways to provide mental stimulation to his environment without physically taxing his body.

1. Alone Time Together Daily
It’s not always easy having a multi-dog household. But, it’s important to make a priority of having time alone with your pets daily. Since Sanchez was an only dog for the first seven years of his life, he particularly appreciates this. It means walks take longer (walking Gina separately), but it’s well worth the time when I see Sanchez’s smile of contentment.

2. Keep Training
Dogs love to learn, no matter their age. I still spend time training every night with Sanchez. If it gets late, he starts whining and begging for his training time with me. The bonding time is precious and it stimulates him to keep learning and being challenged. He has no complaints about his yummy rewards either.

3. Give Him Attention in Creative Ways
Gina is a high-drive dog. We spend a lot of time retrieving and tugging. While it helps alleviate her pent up energy, Sanchez used to look neglected when she was getting the extra attention. So, I started sneaking him small treats while tugging with her. At night time, I often play ball with her inside, having her run down and up the stairs, chasing and retrieving the ball. I include Sanchez in the game by discreetly tossing him small treats while she’s running back up to me to deliver the ball. It not only makes him feel included, but it also engages his senses as his nose has to search for the tossed treat.

4. Reward. Reward. Reward.
In the video above, I am training both of my dogs together. Even though Gina is doing all of the physical activity, Sanchez is getting equally paid for staying calm and still while she jumps over and goes under him. Good Boy, Sanchez!

5. Pay Attention to New Behaviors
It’s not unusual for senior dogs to develop anxiety issues later in life that seemingly come out of nowhere. They can include sound phobias, separation anxiety or resource guarding. There are some that I just accept, such as tearing tissue out of the bathroom waste basket. I call it his puppy behavior returned. I just make sure that I don’t put anything in the trash that could be harmful when chewed. Other behaviors will only get worse if ignored, such as separation anxiety or food resource guarding. Tips for Separation Anxiety are here. For all anxiety issues, consult with your veterinarian and/or a positive reinforcement dog trainer. Ignored, they will only escalate.

6. Keep The Safe Physical Activity
Sanchez and I used to enjoy musical freestyle classes. He would weave between my legs, spin and jump on my arm on cue. While that would be too taxing on his body now, we have kept in what is safe for him. He still loves to “go back,” lift his left and right paw on cue, and show off his “downward dog.”  Of course, he is well paid for his behavior.

7. Engage The Senses
National Association of Canine Scent Work (NACSW™) is the official sanctioning and organizing body for the sport of K9 Nose Work. It is a growing popular sport, and it’s great for dogs of all ages. K9 Nose Work is built on scent work where dogs use their nose to search for their prize. Sanchez loved his K9 Nose Work class. Now, at home, I put pieces of liver into a mixed variety of cardboard boxes. He is told to “find” the liver. Boy, does his tail ever wag when he is searching!

Dog training should always be fun for both 4- and 2-leggeds. Get creative with your senior pup. Because you can teach an old dog new tricks.

Mark Holtuhusen


This strikes me as very sound advice.

I will close today’s post with a photograph of dear Pharoah and me, both well into our senior years, taken just a few weeks ago demonstrating that both of us are old dogs learning new tricks!

TIMOTHY BULLARD/Daily CourierPaul Handover with Pharaoh, a 12year-old German Shepard that he uses on the cover of his new book about man's best friend.
TIMOTHY BULLARD/Daily CourierPaul Handover with Pharaoh, a 12year-old German Shepard that he uses on the cover of his new book about man’s best friend.

On second thoughts there’s a much better way to close this post that reflects on those precious years before the end of our days. That is by offering you the poem by John Oldham,  A Quiet Soul.

A Quiet Soul

Thy soul within such silent pomp did keep,

As if humanity were lull’d asleep;
So gentle was thy pilgrimage beneath,
Time’s unheard feet scarce make less noise,
Or the soft journey which a planet goes:
Life seem’d all calm as its last breath.
A still tranquillity so hush’d thy breast,
As if some Halcyon were its guest,
And there had built her nest;
It hardly now enjoys a greater rest.

John Oldham