Helping your child deal with the death of your dog

 

As much as we hate to think of it, every life eventually ends and there comes a time when every pet owner has to face the death of his or her pet. The average lifespan of a dog is 10 – 13 years. Even if you have one of the breeds that can live to around 17 years such as a Chihuahua, health issues or accidents can occur along the way that can mean your dog’s life is brought to an end earlier than that typical of the breed.  This can be devastating to pet owners and can be particularly hard for children to deal with. As a parent, you want to help your child learn how to tackle what life brings whether happy or sad and helping them to cope with the death of a pet fits into this category. So, this somewhat sombre post considers how you can make things easier for your child during the saddest of times.

Child walking dog

 

What to say to your child when a pet dies

Your child may see the family dog as not only a family member but also a best friend.  The pet is often a source of comfort when your child is upset, so how can you help your child through this time when that source of comfort is now the source of their biggest grief?  A lot of how you will approach this depends not only on the age of your child but also on the level of maturity.

If your pet died as a result of illness, don’t avoid talking with your child about this.  Explain that the dog was very sick and that the veterinarians tried everything possible to help him.  Telling your child that the dog dying was the kindest outcome, because if the dog lived he or she would be in too much pain can make it more bearable. Don’t confuse younger kids by using phrases such as “put to sleep,” as this can send mixed messages and children should view sleeping as a good thing, not something with scary consequences.

If your dog has died because of an accident, that can be more of a shock for everyone as it is an entirely unexpected event. Be truthful about what has happened, explaining events in a calm way, but keep it simple and don’t go into elaborate detail.

Although the death of a pet is difficult, it is a way for children to learn about how to cope with loss later in life.  It is important for them to learn that they can work their way through grief.

 

Why is dealing with a dog’s death so intense? 

When your dog dies, your entire daily routine is affected.  It is not always as easy to have the grieving time normally afforded to those who lose a human family member. For many people, who view dogs as their children, it is the same feeling as losing a family member.  Children sometimes view their dogs as they would a sibling, so it can be similar to losing a brother or sister for them.

As with any loss, the grieving process may mean going through a whole series of emotions at different times, ranging from sadness at the loss itself, guilt for not being a better pet owner, and anger that nothing could be done to save the pet. Let children know that it is perfectly OK to feel all these emotions and that they are not alone with that because other family members are feeling the same way too.

Sad child being comforted

Moving on

Having a small memorial ceremony to remember your pet can be helpful. Some families like to put together a memory book so that they can look through it together and remember the good times. Explain that you’ll always have happy memories of your pet and talk about some of those good times together.

Child hugging dog

 

If you have helped your child through this experience, please share what was helpful for you and your family during this time.

Dog's live are too short

 

 

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Taking the plunge with dogs and kids: Part 1

Many families like to vacation near beaches, rivers or lakes and all of these have one thing in common – water!  When there are large bodies of water present, we should always think of the safety of our children and our dogs.  This two-part series looks at how to keep dogs and kids safe so that everyone can have a fun and safe time on vacation or on weekend trips.

family-in-pool-on-vacation

Part 1: Kids

Ideally, swimming is an activity that should be introduced when children are still infants.  Many pools and community programs offer instructor-led “Mommy and Me” swim sessions that allow the babies to get used to being in the water and are great for Moms and babies to bond further.

mom-with-baby-swimming-2

It is preferable to then progress to swimming lessons with a trained swimming instructor who can show your child the correct techniques from the beginning – it is a lot more difficult to unlearn bad habits and techniques.  This type of swimming instruction is usually available on a group or an individual basis.  Group sessions tend to be less expensive, but as there are more children involved there tends to be less actual swimming time.  If your budget won’t stretch to professional lessons, you may want to consider teaching them to swim yourself. This does not always work, as learning to swim can be a frustrating process and sometimes kids will take instruction better from a swimming instructor than from a parent. It is also problematic if you have multiple children. If you are keen to give it a go and will be working with just one child, here are some ideas to make parent-child swimming instruction successful.

Make it a regular date

In order for parent-child swimming instruction to work, kids need to swim regularly and preferably once a week.  Make a point of assigning this time in your calendar once a week and sticking to it, except when your child is sick.

child-learning-to-swim

Keep it short and keep it varied

Swimming is a very tiring activity and as much as we want our kids to sleep well at night, having prolonged swimming sessions when they are learning to swim can be counterproductive.  It’s far better to keep it short (15 – 20 minutes for very young and new swimmers) and to keep lesson activities varied.

Make it fun

Making the swimming lessons fun with games and other activities is crucial to keeping children engaged and in building their confidence in the water.  For very young kids, use games involving nursery rhymes and plastic toys.  As they get older, continue to use those techniques, but also introduce games such as “red light, green light,” (where children kick like crazy on green, slow down on amber, and stop on red) to help improve specific swimming techniques. As they get slightly older, drop the nursery rhymes and include the use of more games, varying the games from session to session.

Kids of all ages will learn better if there is variety in the lesson.  If they get to use kickboards, pool noodles, and other flotation devices once in a while this will be beneficial.  Using these items helps to improve stroke technique, keeps them interested, and will leave them wanting to come back for more.  Not all community pools will allow their use, so check on that before taking yours along.

boy-swimming-with-kick-board

 

Make swimming enjoyable

Building up confidence in the water is vital so that kids are not afraid of the water and want to swim. As your little swimmer progresses in ability and confidence, you may want to think about enrolling in swimming clubs where a range of swimming and social opportunities will be offered.

Set rules

Make sure that your children know how to stay safe near a swimming pool.  They must always ask for permission to go in a pool and must have adult supervision during this time.  Rules such as not running by a pool are really important to follow. Use life vests or floaties for young kids when they are not actually practicing their swimming strokes, but do not rely on the floaties for safety. For young kids and those who are not strong swimmers, life vests should be worn for activities such as river floating or when in lake water.  If swimming in the ocean, be conscious of the tide and possible currents.  Where possible try to swim in a lifeguard supervised zone.

river-float-with-kid

 

Even when your child has become a good swimmer, it is possible to get into difficulties in the water.  Always ensure that children are supervised to minimize risk and ensure that you are all able to enjoy a fun and safe vacation.

Learning to swim is not a luxury, it is a necessity! Being able to swim is such an important skill to have.  Swimming provides fantastic exercise for able-bodied children and those with physical challenges and is an activity that can be continued throughout their lives.

Some of my happiest and most memorable times have taken place around water with my children. What experiences have you had? We’d love to hear about them.

 

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Why Distracted Driving is Driving me to Distraction

“You can never have too many…” have been the words to start many quotes over the decades, from a variety of people ranging from authors to actors.  Most of these quotes are completed with words such as “friends,” “shoes,” or “books.” At Pet Barrier, I say, “You can never have too many reminders about distracted driving.”  Regular blog followers may remember a couple of posts on distracted driving in 2016 and you may be asking why, with all the subjects that I could be writing about, I am covering the topic of distracted driving yet again.  The answer is simple and sobering. Distracted driving is now considered to be at epidemic levels in the US.1

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), US traffic accident fatalities rose by 7.2% in 2015, which is the largest increase in the last 50 years. Early estimates by the NHTSA for the first 9 months of 2016 indicate that fatalities have increased by a further 8%.  After having experienced many years of decline in fatality rates during the early 2000s, this trend toward an increase in fatalities is worrying.

 

distracted-driver

What exactly is distracted driving?

Many people consider themselves to be cautious, considerate, safe drivers and sometimes don’t realize that things that they do in addition to driving can be fatal. Causes of distractions on the road are numerous, ranging from events occurring outside the vehicle, restless pets or children or adult passengers within the vehicle, eating, drinking, shaving, applying makeup, smoking, adjusting controls on the stereo, downloading music, dealing with hand-held devices, and last but by no means least, using cell phones for phone calls and texting.

According to EndDD,there are three types of distraction:

  1. Manual distractions – your hands are taken away from the steering wheel to perform a task. An example is reaching for a soda
  2. Visual distractions – your eyes are taken off the road. They give the example of when you spill the soda and look down at your clothes to see the outcome
  3. Cognitive distractions – your mind wanders away from the task at hand. They finish the example with you thinking about how to get your clothes cleaned.

In Washington State alone, 30% of fatal road accidents in 2016 were caused by distracted driving. Taking your eye off the road for even 2 seconds can result in an accident. If you talk on a cell phone while driving, your risk of an accident quadruples.  If you text while driving, your risk of an accident is increased by eight times.  According to Alexis Myers of the Associated Press,14 states currently ban hand-held cell phone use while driving in a car. 46 states prohibit texting messaging for all drivers.  Research by AAAsuggests that even when drivers put down the phone or the navigation device, the driver is still not fully engaged with the task of driving as the driver’s mind still remains distracted. An article by Bart Jansen in USA Today indicated that millennials are the age group most likely to engage in risky practices behind the wheel.Although the millennial statistics were the highest, other age groups did not fare well either. This suggests that greater education and awareness across the entire population of driving age would be advantageous.  

How can you avoid driving distractions?

There will always be incidents that arise when we are driving that are totally unexpected and cannot be planned for ahead of the journey.  But for many of the distracted driving scenarios, a little bit of planning ahead by trying to manage these distractions before setting out on the road can help to avoid some of these distractions entirely.

Turn cell phones off or switch to silent, before starting your journey

No phone call, social media update, or text message is more important than a person’s life. Don’t talk, or (even worse) text, on the phone while driving.  If you absolutely need to make a call or send a text message during your journey, pull over and make the call or send the text when your vehicle is stationary. As for selfies, nobody wants to see a selfie of you driving, they’d far rather see you in person and more importantly alive.

Take care of personal hygiene before getting in the car

This may seem like an obvious thing to say, but we’ve all seen drivers shaving on their commute, or applying mascara.  It is far better to take care of your personal hygiene before setting out on a journey.  If you can’t do that then wait until you get to your destination to apply your makeup or remove your stubble.

woman-putting-on-make-up-while-driving

Secure pets correctly

Ensure that pets are securely placed to the rear of your vehicle.  Using a vehicle-specific pet barrier is an excellent choice and if you have multiple pets, having a trunk divider added to this mix can prevent them from becoming rambunctious during a journey.  Other options are to harness your pet in one of the rear seats, in a similar way to using a seat belt. There are a wide variety of products on the market to ensure your pet is positioned in the most appropriate area of the vehicle so that the driver is not suddenly surprised by a furry friend wanting a hug.  Check out what can work best for your vehicle and for your pet.

 travall-dg-04

Set your GPS system before starting the journey

This also applies if your GPS system is on your cell phone. Ensure that the device is located in an area where you can see both the device and the road easily and clearly and ensure it can be operated hands free.

Eat and drink before or after your journey, not during it

Your car will remain cleaner, your clothes will be cleaner,  and more importantly you will not be distracted from the road.

eating-while-driving

 

Take care of your kid’s needs before starting the journey

Ensure that children are comfortable and securely buckled in a car seat that is appropriate for their current age, height, and weight.  Make sure that they have their toys, pacifiers, sippy cup or whatever else they need within their easy reach, so they are able to get to items, leaving the driver free to deal with the important task of driving.  If a toy or any other item gets dropped on the floor, leave it there until you can get to a safe place to pull over. Don’t try to reach behind your seat to return it to the child while you are driving.

child-ready-for-a-journey

 

 

The following You Tube video was put together by The Try Guysas they considered the effects of distracted driving.  They were certainly surprised by the results.

The Try Guys Try Distracted Driving

 

Don’t become complacent about driving.  Every trip, take the time to plan ahead and when you are driving ensure that your mind is on the road and not on the other things going on in your life.  Multitasking behind the wheel is simply asking for trouble. Retweet, share on Facebook, reblog, or do whatever you can to get the message out to friends, family, and strangers, so that everyone, no matter what age, is educated about and fully understands the risks of distracted driving.  Let’s all work to make American roads safer for 2017 and beyond.

Do you have any tips that have helped avoid distractions when you’ve been traveling with pets, kids or other passengers?  We’d love to hear about them.

Please drive mindfully every trip – every life is worth it!

References

  1. Darrow B. http://fortune.com/2016/09/14/distracted-driving-epidemic/ September 14, 2016
  2. http://www.enddd.org/the-facts-about-distracted-driving/
  3. Myers A. Distracted driving penalties could increase statewide in Wash. Associated          Press. Feb 12, 2017 – 10:12 AM
  4. https://www.aaafoundation.org/distracted-driving
  5. Jansen B. Millennial drivers are highway hazards, survey shows. USA Today. Feb 15, 2017.
  6. The Try Guys https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2atx1Jh6YP0

 

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To pet or not to pet: That is the Question

 

When asked to consider animals who assist people, most of us immediately think of dogs that aid blind or partially sighted individuals. This is thanks to organizations such as Guide Dogs of America and The Seeing Eye who work hard to ensure that those with vision challenges receive assistance. Over the last couple of decades, different types of animals are increasingly used to help people dealing with a broader range of physical and behavioral conditions.  The benefits of using these animals are numerous, with the result that they are being employed more widely and with greater frequency. Today, chances are that you are more likely to meet service animals in your daily routine than in the past. As they are actually “at work” and are not pets, what are the best approaches to take when encountering these animals?

Categories of assistance animals

Assistance animals fall into differing categories depending on the type of assistance required.

Service animals

Service animals are specifically trained to perform tasks relating to the handler’s needs. Not just for the visually impaired, hearing dogs for the deaf, and mobility dogs have become available allowing people with differing needs to be able to go about daily tasks with a greater level of autonomy and liberty than in previous generations.  People dealing with issues such as seizures, post-traumatic stress disorder, autism, anxiety, and diabetes also benefit from using service dogs.

Working dogs

Police or military dogs are in the working dog category. Sadly, with terror threats being a more common occurrence over the last 15 years, we tend to see more of these dogs on duty.  This is particularly true at airports where they are now an intrinsic part of the security process, rather than just used to detect contraband at customs.

airport-security-dog

Therapy animals

In recent years there has been a rise in the number of therapy dogs used in various settings such as hospitals, nursing homes, schools, and even in courtrooms. These dogs differ from service dogs in that they are used to provide affection and comfort to people, helping to reduce anxiety, stress and sometimes acting as an intermediary between the care recipient and professional staff.

dog-with-person-in-hospital

Emotional support animals

Typically used by people with specific behavioral health conditions requiring extra support and comfort, these animals may accompany an owner or may be employed by a business to help improve customer experience.

Only dogs allowed?

According to an article in the Huffington Post,¹  the cost of a service dog in 2016 was around $20,000. At that time, one Web site that places 75-100 service dogs a year, had a wait list of 1,600 people. This equates to a potential wait time of 16-22 years, which for people requiring assistance is simply too long.

Fortunately, given the level of need, dogs are not the only animals being used in this capacity. Other animals are also suitable to assist with different medical conditions. Ferrets alert owners of seizures. Boa constrictors (yes, you read it correctly!) are used for seizure alerts, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and panic disorder. Parrots have a calming influence on those with bipolar disorder. Miniature horses help the visually impaired. The Guide Horse Foundation believes that miniature horses are a great option for people who love horses, for those allergic to dogs, and for people wanting longevity from their service animal.

CUDDLES 11

Capuchin monkeys are great for people with dexterity issues who struggle to pick up or hold items. Pigs can help visually or physically impaired individuals or can act as therapy animals. For example, San Francisco airport employs Lilou a Juliana breed pig to comfort anxious travelers in the terminal.

Dos and Don’ts of interacting with working animals

Dos

Do interact with the owner or handler

Interact with the owner but not with the animal.  The owner and animal are a team and the owner’s life could depend on his team member staying focused on the job.  It is better (and not considered rude) to ignore the service animal altogether. Let the owner know if his dog approaches you, and allow him to correct the situation. Therapy and emotional support animals are slightly different.  For example, if the animal is employed by an airport to help calm passengers, then do ask the handler if it is OK to interact with the animal.

Do be respectful

Be respectful of the owner. Just as a police officer will not be prepared to discuss details of why she is on duty with her dog, other service dog owners will not want to discuss their personal details with a stranger.  If you cannot figure out why the owner needs a service animal, don’t ask them. Equally, if your offers of help are refused, don’t be offended, just accept that this can interfere with the work of the service dog and can confuse commands previously given by the owner.

Do keep your own dog on a tight leash

Keep your own dog away from the service dog completely as other pets can be distracting for the working animal.

Do allow service animals into your business

If you are a business owner in an establishment that normally does not allow pets, make sure you do allow service dogs and their owners to enter. This is required under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The law applies to any service animal that gives assistance when there is a disability.

Do educate children about service animals

Explain to children that service animals and working animals are not like regular household pets and that they have a special job to do to help the owner.  Keep children at a distance from a service dog and do not allow them to pet the dog.

Don’ts

Don’t pet the animal

You may be the biggest dog lover in the nation, but don’t be tempted to pet a service dog unless you have the owner’s permission. Petting the dog distracts him and may prevent him from following out a complete command.  An example of this is with dogs trained to detect seizures, who need to give a 10-minute warning so that the owner can get to a safe place or get help.  If you distract the dog by petting him, he may not be able to warn the owner in time, which could be catastrophic.

dont-pet-me-im-working

Don’t give treats

You may love giving treats to dogs, but please don’t give treats to dogs that are on duty. Not only can it distract the dog, making for a dangerous situation, but many service dogs are on specific diets and should not be given anything that does not meet the diet criteria.

Don’t make assumptions

  • Don’t assume that if a service dog is asleep he is off duty. If he is out with his owner, he is working.
  • Don’t assume that these dogs have a worse life than other dogs.  They have fantastic bonds with their owners and when off duty they get to relax like any other dog.
  • Don’t assume that the owner has a certificate proving the dog is a service dog.  Not all states require such certification and, in the states that do, owners are not always required to carry the paperwork.
  • Don’t assume that only dogs and only certain breeds of dog can be service animals. Many breeds of dog and different types of animal are trained to work.
  • Don’t assume that service dogs are only for adults.  Many children with many different needs benefit from service dogs.  Interestingly, one county in Colorado now uses dogs in the courtroom to help comfort children when giving testimony.

autism-service-dog

Don’t fake it

Don’t pretend to have your own service dog.  You may be tempted to put a special coat on your pet and take him to places where pets aren’t ordinarily permitted, but please don’t. Not only does it confuse the distinction between pets and service animals, it is actually a federal crime.  Allow people with genuine needs to be helped by genuine service dogs.

The best approach

For a moment, put yourself in the shoes of an individual living with physical or mental conditions, which in some cases are life threatening.  If an animal gave you the opportunity to live the fullest, most independent life possible, how would you react to someone interfering with and compromising the hard work of that service animal?

The following YouTube clip shows Windsor, a remarkable service dog, assisting his handler in running errands.

To pet or not to pet: that is the question. The answer?  If you are not the individual receiving therapy or service, do not pet. Encountering a working service animal is perhaps one of the most appropriate situations in life to adopt a don’t-touch approach. Following this guideline and the others mentioned above, we can allow these incredible animals to carry out their invaluable work. You can’t help but be in awe of them – I know I am.

Reference

  1. Lillibridge L. What’s the Harm in Faking a Service Dog? Huffington Post. August 13, 2016

5 Amazing (but true) Things About Dogparents

Encouraging kids to grow up to be well-rounded individuals is something that every parent or caregiver tries to achieve.  We already know that having a pet in the home makes for a memorable childhood, but we perhaps fail to appreciate the more profound effects that pet ownership has upon child development. It is typical to ask friends to become godparents and be involved in our children’s lives, but what about the role of dogparents that our pets perform, sometimes without us even realizing. Aspects such as physical and social development, to name just a couple, are enhanced if a child helps to nurture a pet at home.

Benefits of pet ownership for children

Physical development

Dog walking is a great form of exercise and an easy way to burn calories. In a world where our kids live more sedentary lives and are more prone to obesity than previous generations, going for a daily walk or run with the dog is a great habit to form. Fantastic for the child’s physical and mental health, it is a habit that can be continued into adulthood.

boy-running-with-dog

Social development

Encouraging a child to be respectful and caring of a pet, also transitions into his or her treatment of other people. There are obviously exceptions, but for the most part, children who have been shown how to behave with pets and have looked after a pet have a tendency to become more caring, more compassionate and more responsible adults. Emotional intelligence, interpersonal interaction, and impulse control are vital attributes to have. Acquiring and further developing these strengths can be facilitated by pet ownership. It is very important to note that simply having a pet in the home is not sufficient for these skills to be acquired. It is vital that kids are shown the best ways in which to interact with and treat other living creatures and they often learn these skills from examples set by parents or caregivers. Kids with dogs have plenty of opportunities to learn patience, kindness, sharing, and generosity; all character traits that can help them to develop closer human friendships. In providing care for an animal they also start to develop some basic parenting skills useful for later in life.

Cognitive development

Cognitive development is the way in which information processing, intelligence, reasoning, language development, and memory all develop through childhood into adulthood. As we know, not all learning takes place in a classroom. Having a pet in the family can help with all aspects of cognitive development.  Encouraging a child to read about his own dog’s breed, to be involved in puppy care and the training of the dog, and to be involved in learning how to care for the dog are all valuable ways of learning. Reading skills and confidence improve when a child reads to a pet, and some school districts are introducing READ (Reading Education Assistance Dogs) programs with these benefits in mind.

child-reading-to-a-dog

Emotional development

Caring for a dog allows a child to interact with a live being without being judged. This enables self-esteem to build and can help a shy kid overcome timidity.  Dogs also make superb service helpers for children living with physical or behavioral health conditions.

Interacting with dogs also releases endorphins in a child’s body, making the child happier, more relaxed, and less anxious. Additionally, as dogs have a relatively short life cycle, children learn about life and death and how to work through the bereavement and grief process.

girl-whispering-to-dog

Immune system development

In a 2015 study published in JAMA Pediatrics1, Swedish scientists analyzed the relationship between dog ownership in the first year of a child’s life and the incidence of asthma in children up to the age of six. They found that children in Sweden who have grown up with dogs in the house since birth had a 15% decreased risk of asthma by the time they attended school compared with children whose families did not have a dog. The researchers believe the findings would also be applicable to other developed countries such as the US.

How do you increase kid-dog interaction?

Get the kids involved! There are lots of little tasks involved in pet care and if your children are involved in some of them it can make them feel important and responsible.  For young children, setting up a chart with small rewards for tasks completed can be a good way to start – there are even apps for that these days! Carrying out simple age-appropriate duties like filling the dog bowl with fresh water or measuring out kibble can make children feel more grown up, trusted and helpful.

girl-feeding-dog

Give your dog extra praise and attention, for being a terrific dogparent, helping you in your quest to raise your kid to be a balanced, content adult.

Why not share how having a pet has enhanced your child’s development?

Reference

  1. Fall T, Lundholm C, Örtqvist AK, et al. Early exposure to dogs and farm animals and the risk of childhood asthma. JAMA Pediatr. 2015;169:e153219. doi:1001/jamapediatrics. 2015.3219. Epub 2015 Nov.

Why Getting Active With Your Dog Will Change Your Life

If you and your pet have been active all year, there should be no reason to become sloth-like during the winter.  Admittedly, it can be tempting to hunker down inside when temperatures plummet, but getting active and staying active with your dog will actually change your life. No exaggeration.

With a bit of creativity and planning, it’s possible to enjoy every season with your pet and get more benefits than you might realize at the same time. Here are a few activity suggestions that could help keep you both healthier during the colder months.

Skijoring

Skijoring is a unique combination of cross-country skiing combined with dog power.  This sport began hundreds of years ago in Norway and was called skikjøring (or ski driving). Horses and reindeer were used in Norway, but when the concept spread to Alaska, dogs were used instead.  The dog wears a skijoring harness and is attached to the skier with a belt and a towline.  This sport only works well with larger dogs, but you don’t need to own a Husky. Golden Retrievers, Dalmatians, or Border Collies, for example, can all enjoy the sport. If your dog weighs at least 35 lbs, is healthy, and has a lot of energy and stamina, it could be a good option. Both owner and dog get a fantastic workout (with owners able to burn between 700 and 900 calories per hour) and take advantage of the snowy conditions at the same time.  If this sounds like the sport for you, it is advisable to get a health check for you and your dog. If you’re both good to go, start out slowly, building up the length of sessions as you get more familiar with the activity. Look online for Skijor clubs in your local area, which could offer some group sessions and may give you tips specific to your location. SkijorUSA might be a good place to start. Some states that typically get winter snow have designated trail areas, so check out what might be available in your state.

skijoring

Snowshoeing

This is becoming increasingly popular in the snowier regions of the country as you can burn between 420 – 1,000 calories in an hour depending on speed. Some dog owners like to carry poles, so prefer to snowshoe with their dog on a waist leash.  This activity offers cardio training, strength building, agility, and balance – a serious workout for owner and dog.

Become a mushing team

When we think of mushing, we often think of a sled pulled by multiple dogs, but actually, the term refers to any form of transport that is powered by dogs. Traditional mushing with a sled in the snow is extremely popular in Alaska but is also growing in popularity in the lower 48. Dog mushing has become a popular activity for those wanting to explore the backcountry. There is quite a bit of equipment and training required for this version. If you find the thought of traditional mushing a bit daunting, there are other options, although most of these are better suited to conditions without ice or snow.  There is a wide range of products on the market, so why not check out the different options and see if there is something that appeals to you.

Hiking

Hiking is a very popular activity and shouldn’t be reserved for the warmer months. When there is snow on the ground, it certainly adds to the intensity of a hike.  This activity can be achieved without needing to purchase or rent additional equipment, but do take plenty of water, snacks and a first aid kit with you. Ensure that both you and your dog are adequately protected against the elements with appropriate clothing and footwear. With any outdoor activity during the winter, make sure your pet’s paws are washed clean of salt after being outside.  If you are likely to be going out into harsh weather conditions regularly, you may want to consider investing in hiking boots for your dog, to protect paws from injury.  Not all dogs will wear them so paw wax may be a good alternative to protect the paws from ice and snow.

man-walking-his-dog-on-a-path-in-the-snow

Practice nose work

Not everyone wants to or is able to participate in intense forms of exercise with their pet, but in addition to regular walking, there are other more moderate activities that you can introduce during the winter months.  Practicing nose work is a fun search activity for your dog,  based on the scent training that police and rescue dogs undergo.  This activity provides great physical exercise but is fantastic for mental stimulation too.  Dogs learn to search for a specific odor and find the source of that odor. The nice thing is that it can be done almost anywhere. The wind, rain, and snow can affect scent flow, so practicing in the winter can be a different experience from other seasons.  If you would like to develop your skills,  K9 Nose Work can help you find an instructor in your area.

Make an indoor agility course

If the weather is just too severe to venture outside, you can set up an agility course in your own living room. It is possible to purchase objects like tunnels, hoops, and hurdles for your pet, but if your budget doesn’t stretch to those, simply look around your home and everyday objects can achieve a similar result. Set up obstacles with items like brooms or rolled up blankets and encourage your pet to jump over these obstacles. You may have to jump too initially but aim to progress to verbal cues. Put items like newspaper or aluminum foil on the ground, so your dog gets used to different textures and sounds under his paws. Add a collapsed tunnel adventure by using a chair draped in a blanket – sit one side and encourage your pet to go through.

living-room-agility-course

Go to an indoor dog park

Designed for year-round use, but particularly helpful in extremes of weather, indoor dog parks are a great option.  Many indoor dog parks have opened throughout the United States, so check online to find one in your area.  At some, you can sign up for an agility class, a swimming lesson, or even have a go at doga (yep,  yoga with your dog!).

indoor-dog-park-dallas

How can these activities change your life?

The benefits of getting active with your dog are many, but the following are just a selection of ways in which your life will be changed for the better by exercising with your pet during the winter months:

  • Any activity or exercise during the winter (whether inside or out) is great for improving cardiovascular health and overall muscle tone for you and your dog.
  • Exercise has been proven to be helpful in improving mental health, as endorphins released during exercise reduce depression and anxiety.
  • Being exposed to as much natural sunlight as possible helps in overcoming SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) that can affect many people during the winter months.
  • Although you are never truly lonely with a dog in your life, engaging in activities that promote greater social interaction (such as going to an indoor dog park or signing up for a class) can be so helpful for anyone struggling with isolation and loneliness at this time of year – again improving mental health.
  • Embarking on any activity allows you to develop stronger, closer bonds with your pet, which is good for the soul in general.  

With countless benefits, whatever you do this winter, pick an activity that you and your pet can enjoy and will do regularly.  Get active and maximize your time with your best friend!

What do you and your pet love to do at this time of year? We’d love to hear about it!

Resolutions: for kids, for pets, for you

count-down-to-midnight

 

Happy New Year readers! We’ve once again reached that time of year when people take a look at their lives and try to figure out whether they are meeting their own personal goals and if not what they are going to change and how.  If you read my previous blog post, you’ll know I touched upon this topic with regard to dogs only a few days ago. OK, I admit it,  I am feeling particularly motivated to make positive improvements in my own life and trying to assist my kids and my dog in doing the same.

New Year’s resolutions are nothing new.  The tradition began in the 18th century BC, when the Babylonians made promises to their gods at the start of each year. Millions of people carry on with the tradition today and many have great results. According to the American Medical Association, approximately 40% of Americans participate in the New Year’s resolution tradition and 46% of those who make common resolutions such as weight loss or increasing exercise were over 10-times more likely to succeed compared to only 4% who chose not to make resolutions. Based on that data, it’s a great time to try to make a few simple changes.

Kids

As a parent you are continually helping your children achieve goals in every aspect of their lives. Encouraging them in making New Year’s resolutions is a good way to reinforce some of the behaviors you have already been trying to instill and to further develop some excellent character traits. So how do you approach resolutions without everyone wanting to give up after the first couple of days?

family-celebrating-new-year

Pick age-appropriate goals

The American Academy of Pediatrics gives suggestions of resolutions that are suitable for different age groups. For example, preschoolers can be encouraged to pick up toys and put them away after playing, while tweens can be persuaded to wear a bike helmet every time they go on a bike.

Be realistic

If the goal is not realistic, the child will not be successful.  Make sure that what your child wants to achieve is actually possible given their current age, development and other circumstances. If it is currently too daunting, maybe reduce it to more manageable tasks.  Alternatively, instead of picking one specific goal, you could aim for a selection of positive new life experiences throughout the year, such as trying a specific food, reading a particular book, or trying a different activity, etc.

Encourage tenacity

Using a reward chart can work well in getting young children to stick to a resolution they have set.  Younger kids respond well to small, frequent rewards, but it can also help in encouraging older children to remain on track. For older age groups try setting longer term targets with a larger reward at the end.

Lead by example

If your children see you trying to stick to your resolution, they are more likely to persevere too.  If your goals are along similar lines, such as trying to exercise more frequently, then try to do things in parallel.  Why not go for a jog while your son or daughter is at soccer practice?

 

Pets

dog-with-happy-new-year-hat

Making resolutions on behalf of your pets is also good in helping them to lead longer, more fulfilling lives and can further increase the bonds between dog and owner.  Again, typical resolutions like increasing exercise levels and reducing caloric intake are worthwhile goals to set (see my previous blog post).  If you already give your dog plenty of exercise, have plenty of interaction with other dogs, and don’t have any dietary concerns etc, there may be other areas of your pet’s life that could be improved in the coming year.  Have you considered whether they are riding safely enough in your vehicle?  If the answer to that is no, then maybe installing a vehicle-specific pet barrier to keep them secure on a journey would be a good, positive change in your dog’s life.

 

You

As with resolutions for children and pets, unless you choose a resolution for yourself that is realistic, you aren’t going to persist for very long, if at all.  Pick one aspect of your life that you really want to improve and then look at achieving it in workable, attainable segments.  For example, if you want to lose 10 lbs, break it down into a target of 1 lb per week achieved by doing specific activities, such as walking every morning or taking the stairs at work, within that time frame. Reward systems aren’t just for kids, give yourself little treats along the way for goals achieved. Equally, don’t lose heart if you don’t quite meet your target – maybe tweak what you are doing, but keep at it.

Do you have any tips or hints for sticking to New Year’s resolutions?  We’d love to hear them. As for my resolutions?  Well, enriching my vocabulary with a new word a week is one of my personal goals – blog readers, you have been forewarned!

Wishing you a peaceful and fulfilling 2017.

happy-new-year-2017

 

 

Staying Safe on the Road

 

With the extreme weather conditions currently affecting many parts of the United States, and millions of Americans preparing to drive home for the Holidays, what can be done to keep your loved ones safer in snow and ice?

ice-and-snow

Prepare your vehicle for winter

  • Install snow tires on your vehicle, not all-season radials.  Snow tires give extra traction in ice and snow.
  • Make sure your spare tire is also a snow tire.
  • Ensure your tires are correctly inflated.
  • Chains add another level of safety.
  • Upgrade your coolant levels.
  • Use windshield cleaner rated for winter conditions.
  • Check your battery and replace it if unreliable.
  • Carry a bag of sand, both for weight and traction, and a snow shovel.
  • It’s not always easy to change your vehicle, but if you will be travelling in winter conditions as a matter of habit, choose a vehicle with front wheel drive, all-wheel drive, or 4-wheel drive.  Rear wheel drive vehicles are more difficult to handle in icy conditions.
  • Install a Travall vehicle-specific pet barrier
  • Keep locks from freezing up by using WD-40

man-putting-chains-on-tires

Know the road conditions 

First and foremost, if the conditions are not safe, do not go! If you absolutely must, then plan your route well in advance.  Check road safety conditions before you leave and try to check conditions as the journey progresses.

Check the weather forecast before you leave

Try to check out the weather forecast for your current location, your final destination and for points along the route.  If you are aware of weather warnings, there will be fewer surprises on the way. Carry chains if snow is expected and if you’ll be travelling in hills or mountains. Ensure that everyone travelling has the appropriate clothing for the anticipated weather conditions. Having coats, hats, gloves and sturdy boots in the car is essential if you will be travelling in snowy conditions.

Fuel up

Start off with a full tank of gas and where possible don’t allow your tank to drop below half way. You may have to stop off at the gas station more frequently, but you don’t want to run out of gas in snowy conditions.

Prepare for driving in wintry conditions

Know how to drive in icy or snowy conditions.  Use an empty parking lot to practice steering out of a skid.  Drive more slowly than usual and slower than the posted speed limits.  Allow more distance between you and other vehicles. Pump brakes gently and use gears to slow down.

Carry an emergency survival kit 

  • First aid kit
  • Flares
  • Blankets
  • Garbage sacks that could double as a tarp or rain poncho
  • High energy food like granola bars or dried fruit.
  • A portable stove
  • Matches or a lighter
  • Candles (use for light and to keep the vehicle warm)
  • Tin can for melting snow for water.
  • Coats, wool socks, gloves, scarves and other winter clothing

first-aid-kit

Where possible use main roads

This may not always be an option, but try to stick to major routes, so if you do become stranded you can be found more quickly and easily.

Additional driving tips

  • Drive according to the conditions.
  • Reduce speed in poor visibility, where there is snow, or if ice may have formed.
  • Stay in a higher gear to help keep control of the vehicle and avoid harsh braking and acceleration.
  • Maintain larger safer stopping distances, you may have to double or even triple your stopping distance.
  • Use dimmed headlights in poor visibility and snow, so others can see you.
  • Use rear fog lights.

If you get stranded stay with your vehicle

If you need to keep the engine running to keep warm, ensure that the exhaust is not clogged with snow.

Try to keep mobile devices charged so you can call for assistance if necessary

 america-in-snow

Wherever you are driving during the Holidays, we wish you a good and safe journey. Happy Holidays!

dogs-driving-truck-home-for-christmas

 

 

Home for the Holidays

Thanksgiving is almost here and the Holiday season is just around the corner.  We are therefore approaching one of the biggest travel periods of the year, with 54% of Americans travelling 50 miles or more at Thanksgiving and 23% travelling the same distance over the Holidays. According to AAA (American Automobile Association), 48.7 million Americans will be travelling to visit family and friends for Thanksgiving.  Of those, 89% will be driving and the average length of a Thanksgiving long-distance round trip is 549 miles. The high volume of traffic is replicated globally, as in the UK for example, 6.7 million journeys of 20 miles or more are made on Christmas Day. So how do you transport kids, pets, and luggage safely and comfortably and happily at a time of year when weather conditions can exacerbate the challenge of driving?

Here are some simple suggestions that can help to make the journey as great as the rest of the trip:

Get a Comfy Seat

Kids grow rapidly and what may once have been a very safe and comfortable car seat, may now have been outgrown by your child.  The diagram below shows car seat safety based on recommendations by the American Academy of Pediatrics. When you have established whether the car seat still meets your child’s needs, ensure that it is correctly fitted in your vehicle per the manufacturer’s instructions.

Car seat recommendations

 

Add a Pet Barrier

Many people use pet barriers routinely to transport a dog locally, but pet barriers become invaluable on long road trips when all your most precious cargo are on board. The barrier itself can ensure that your dog is safely enclosed and cannot distract the driver or disturb passengers.  It also prevents any luggage or loose gifts from shifting from the trunk to the passenger area of the vehicle should the driver need to brake suddenly.  If you add a pet barrier divider to the mix, you also have the perfect separation of luggage and pets.  So, no more chewed gifts before reaching your destination!

Pet barrier and divider

Take Time to Pack and Pack Extras

Aim to load the car with luggage and gifts before putting the pets and children in the vehicle.  Make sure you have a plastic trash bag in the passenger area. Items such as wet wipes, tissues and water bottles are also useful to have to hand.  Some blankets for changing weather conditions can be a useful addition.

Take a Break

When travelling with children and pets, it is always advisable to allow extra time for the journey.  Try to take breaks every few hours, or as required.  These breaks allow kids and pets to have some exercise and visit the restroom, but also allow the driver to take a rest from the intense concentration required during certain weather and traffic conditions.

Grab a Snack

Having a few healthy snacks and beverages available can make a trip pass more pleasurably and keep hunger pangs at bay. Be sure to avoid sugary food and drinks that might increase hyperactivity. It can also be helpful to have a few additional food supplies in the vehicle in case of extreme weather conditions or emergencies.

Snack ideas for kids

On-Board Entertainment

Some vehicles now have in-car entertainment built in, which is ideal for kids to watch their favorite movies. If your vehicle does not come equipped with this, a portable DVD player may be a good alternative. If you prefer to avoid electronic device overload and want a more all-inclusive entertainment approach, an audio book or music that everyone can listen to can be a fun option.  Stickers, felt pieces and pipe cleaners can be great for younger kids to fiddle with and they often love games of I-Spy whether on pre-printed sheets for them to check off or with the whole of the car joining in.  Older children may prefer car quizzes and, if they are truly craving electronics, downloading the Mad Libs iOS app ahead of time may be a good option.

 

With a little careful planning, what the kids (and even adults) may perceive to be a long and boring journey, suddenly becomes a lot more appealing. If you have any fail-safe tips that your family uses on long road trips with kids and pets, why not share them with other readers?  Whatever your plans during the Holidays, I wish you safe, pleasant travels and a happy and healthy 2017.

Happy Holidays