It’s foxtail season – and if you live in California you already know that the drought has made foxtail fields out of most of our dog parks. On top of that, fleas and ticks are off the chart. It’s more important than ever to check your dog’s ears and keep them clean, particularly if they have floppy ears.
Don’t know what foxtails are? They are the seeds from wild barley grass, native to California but can be found across the United States. They have a nasty habit of lodging themselves into your dog’s skin, ears and nasal passage, causing infection. The seeds have barbs which cause them to migrate away from the point of entry. When left unchecked, this can lead to blood infections, limb amputations and even death. Dogs who eat them can aspirate on them. They routinely find their way into dogs’ ears, eyes, throats, open wounds, anuses, vaginas and penile sheaths. Foxtails pose a serious risk to your dog.
Here are 5 tips on how to remain fox-tail and ear infection free this season:
- Keep dog hair short. If your dog has hair rather than fur (hair grows rather than sheds and needs to be cut regularly) then make sure to have your dog groomed regularly and keep the coat cut short during dry months. A short coat is easier to inspect and provides a less velcro-like effect for foxtails and stickers of all sorts. Be sure your groomer pulls the inner hair out of your dog’s ears during grooming and even though those long poodle ears look so pretty, keep the outer ear hair cut short as well. Inner ear hair is a major culprit in ear infections and provides the perfect environment for a foxtail to become lodged in the ear canal. Both ear infections and foxtails can rupture your dog’s eardrum and cause more serious issues.
- Inspect after exercise. Inspect your dog after every dog walk or exercise session away from home (as well as at home if foxtails are an issue there). The best way to stay on top of foxtails is to make sure they aren’t given the opportunity to reach your dog’s skin. This goes for ticks as well. Do an inspection of your dog, looking between toes and pads, in ears, around genitals and through coat before loading them into the car or as soon as you arrive home.
- Inspect ears weekly. Check your dog’s ears weekly by examining the ear flap and canal. If you see wax or notice a mild odor, clean the ear thoroughly with an ear wash that breaks up ear wax – like Oti-Calm. Ear wax buildup can cause ear infections and provides another optimum environment for foxtails. It’s simple: squirt the product in the canal, put the flap down and squish it around while gently massaging the ear. Then wipe the canal and folds out with a cotton pad or tissue. If you see redness around the canal or black wax, you likely already have a problem and should visit your vet. Ear wax that smells yeasty or intensely stinky is likely harboring abnormal levels of yeast or bacteria and will likely need to be treated.
- Notice your dog’s behavior. If your dog is shaking his head or seems to be scratching tentatively at one ear, check it out immediately. Inspect the ear and ear flap thoroughly. Use an ear wash to clean the ear out. If your dog is showing signs of an infection (head tilting, head shaking, pawing at ear, rubbing ear on floor, whining or crying when scratching ear), take him to the vet. If your dog suddenly won’t stop sneezing or coughing, it may be a foxtail. Have it checked out immediately.
- Stay away from foxtails. Ok, this sounds obvious and also difficult for many. But if you have a choice between a park that is inundated with foxtails and another that isn’t, choose the place that isn’t. The less exposure, the less risk to your dog.
Bonus Tip: If your dog is prone to ear infections, he may have an overriding systemic yeast infection. Treating the ears is important but you also need to treat systemically. See our article Red Yeast Rescue on how.
I was talking with a group of women about dog behavior over the weekend. One woman mentioned that she is more of a “litter mate” than a pack leader to her male standard poodle. This is not an uncommon situation for women with male dogs, particularly large breeds, but it can be easily fixed. Here are 6 steps you can take today to change the power dynamic with your male dog.
- Stand strong. Assertive behavior is rooted in your body. Take a lesson from yoga’s Mountain Pose for this one. With your feet shoulder distance apart, stand with your spine straight but relaxed, pelvis slightly tucked. Roll your shoulders back and let them float down your back. Your head should be balanced on your neck and chin should be at a 90 degree angle from the floor. Arms a short distance from your side, but slightly energized rather than just dangling. Take three deep breaths, becoming the mountain. This is the place from which to give your dog a command. Be the mountain when you are walking your dog on leash as well. Remember, as a woman your center of gravity is in your pelvis so wrap the leash behind your butt and hold it on both sides of your body for leverage when you need it.
- Neutral face. Your dog can read micro-expressions in your face. Dogs also receive your smile like praise, so whatever behavior he is exhibiting when you smile, you are rewarding and reinforcing. Instead, keep your face neutral as you give a command. Your eyes should look directly at him, with seriousness. Eyes are powerful. Dogs can make other dogs submit with a simple “hard stare” which is a tightening of the muscles around the eyes and not blinking. The hard stare is a tool you can use if your dog is not taking you seriously, but if you can’t pull off a hard stare, don’t worry about it. Keep your face neutral and serious instead.
- Deepen your voice. Male dogs test boundaries and they can sense weakness of resolve. When you speak to your dog with a high voice or with the sound of a question mark at the end of commands, you send a message that you are not serious. When you tell your male dog to do something, use a deeper voice than normal and make sure you sound serious to your own ears. If you are a parent, this is like saying “Go to your room,” to a child. You don’t need to say it like you are angry, but your voice should communicate that this is non-negotiable.
- Start with a look. Dogs who follow a leader look to the leader often. You want your dog to look to you for direction. Before giving any command, have your dog look at you by saying “look at me” and pointing to your eyes. If your dog won’t comply with this command, you need to do some bonding. Spend a few minutes each day with eye gazing. Make it relaxed and pleasurable by rubbing your dog’s face as you look into his eyes. Keep your eyes soft and tell him he’s a good boy any time he meets your gaze. Continue to reinforce this command by giving it several times every day-before he eats, before he goes outside, before he goes for a walk. Remember to capture good behavior by acknowledging your dog when he looks to you without being told to.
- Follow through. If you give your dog a command and he ignores it, you must follow through. If you fail to, you send the message that commands are negotiable and you are not in charge. It doesn’t work to tell him to do something over and over, you’ll just get frustrated. Instead go over to your dog and start again with “look at me.” Once he complies with that, reward him with a “good boy” and then give him the command that you originally gave. If he still doesn’t comply but his eyes are engaged with yours, he may not understand what you want. Training is an on-going process because instinctual drift (the tendency of an animal to revert to instinctive behavior, overriding a conditioned response) is a very real thing. If that seems to be what is going on, take a few minutes to re-teach your dog the behavior you are looking for.
- Reward good behavior. Dogs receive rewards through your facial expression (when you smile or laugh), verbally (“Good boy”), with touch or love, with other sounds (like a clicker) and with food. In training dogs, we like to use food as a last resort to get the behavior we are looking for. Unfortunately, food is usually the easiest reward to give, but it can be ineffective for long-term training objectives. Instead, try using the other rewards to get the behavior you want. Remember, your dog likely wants to please you so let him know when he does. Also remember that giving smiles, verbal recognition, touch or food when he is misbehaving is the easiest way to reinforce that behavior too.
To be a leader to your male dog, you have to lead. Effective leaders are assertive in their body, voice and follow-through. By practicing these steps you can shift your relationship with your dog to one that is positive for both of you.
Red yeast infections are no joke. We’ve seen dogs with red marks around their eyes, mouth, ears, anus, genitals, feet and sometimes covering their entire back end. It looks terrible and the dog feels miserable. Veterinarians often pass off this problem as “tear stains” or “licking stains.” When a dog has a red yeast infection, their skin is itchy and uncomfortable. This causes excessive licking and chewing of feet, legs, belly, anus and genital area. The fur in these areas begins to turn red and while this is more obvious in white dogs, it can happen with any color of dog.
Most veterinarians don’t seem to address the problem by any other means than anti-biotics (which only seem to stave off the infection for a short time before it comes back in full bloom) or steroids to control itching (which doesn’t address the underlying infection). We had great luck with Angels Eyes for a period of time with our poodles, but the base ingredient Tylosin is an antibiotic and overuse of anti-biotics results in resistant strands of bacteria and destruction of normal gut flora which can lead to digestive issues.
Last year, we ran across this article from Earth Clinic on dealing with red yeast infections naturally and decided to try the baking soda remedy. We had great success though we had to modify the regimen a bit because our poodle was still itching after the recommended 7 days. Here’s what worked for us:
1 teaspoon baking soda to 1 quart of water for 2 weeks (or a 1/4 tsp per cup of water). Stop treatment for 2 weeks. Treat again for 2 weeks. At the end of six weeks, the yeast infection was gone and hasn’t returned for the last 6 months.
Since it worked for us, we told several of our clients about using baking soda for red yeast. Everyone who tried it opted for a second treatment as well, which successfully cleared up the infection. In the amounts prescribed, baking soda is safe for dogs.
If your dog is suffering from red yeast, check out the article from Earth Clinic and try one of the natural ways of combating red yeast. Let us know what worked for you!