"The Peeing Post"

Newsletter for dog lovers who respect the dog's nature

Chief Editor: Mogens Eliasen

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Dear Dog Friend,

Wow - I got some responses to the last issue....!

A total of 27 - all relating to the article about Imprinting and how you should take it into consideration when you choose your puppy. I knew the topic was controversial, but not that it would give rise to that many comments...


"Rescue" dogs....

This one was among the responses I got:

I have unsuccessfully tried to unsubcribe myself from your newsletter with the reciept of the previous newsletter. I, again, have unsubcribed today upon reciept of your current newsletter. I sure wished my first request was honored as I found this current newsletter particularly offensive.

"Some people (out of a kind heart which I have nothing but admiration for) make the consequence of this become a commitment to only acquire a "rescue" dog, instead of getting a mentally healthy puppy from a responsible breeder..."

Don't know much about rescue, do you? ANY ethical rescue will screen a dog, put him/her in a home environment and know this dog quite well before putting him/her up for adoption. The chance of you getting any "suprises" very low.

I could go on and take apart your whole newsletter, but frankly, it's a waste of my time. If you don't get the point by now, you are just not going to.

Please make sure I'm off your list.

(name withheld)


In a situation like this I am very happy to hit "delete" in my subscriber list... I do not see any point in dealing with people who cannot accept that we might look at certain things differently and still respect each other's rights to pursue our own goals.

My point was not about the rescue organizations and their work, and it was most definitely not meant as critism of their work. It was about all the many people I know who have acquired a dog with an unknown or dubious background - and a bunch of problems they could have avoided, but ignored - and paid dearly for later. It was about choosing your puppy and making sure you did the right thing. The right thing for you. And that you would do it without feeling guilt over taking your own needs and your own objectives into consideration...

I also want to stress that I did not tell anybody what to do. I only explained a point of view I suggested you take into consideration when you make your informed decision. The decision is still yours, and so are the consequences of making it on information that is too insufficient...

Here is another one, responding to the same:

Dear Mogens, I love your newsletter - especially the information about wolves and how their characteristics come through in dogs - thank you for teaching us.

But I disagree with your view of rescuing dogs. I DO agree with you that positive imprinting is crucial and I am enjoying the fruits of a fine breeder who raises Great Danes in Illinois. She did a wonderful job with her puppies and because of this I have a lovely, well-adjusted puppy to bond with. And I find she is very quickly picking up my lessons on house training and being gentle with her mouth and I'm sure it's because of the work her breeder did before I ever laid eyes on Micah.

But my last dog came from a very irresponsible breeder - not a shelter - but a breeder who did absolutely NO work with the puppies, it was a very large Dane litter and they all lived in a rickety old chicken coop out in the back yard for their entire existence - and for weeks before I got there without their mom too - before people came to buy them. These 8 - week-old puppies were very poorly socialized and had no clue about house training or humans for that matter. My girl, Thais, was quite revved up as a puppy and she didn't stop asking to go pee in the middle of the night until she was well over a year. She was very hyper and raced everywhere she went. My new girl is quite a quick mover too, but there still seems to be a grounded way about her compared with Thais' frenzy when she was wee.

But I worked hard with Thais, and I exercised her three times a day and socialized the heck out of her - took her everywhere anyone would welcome us. And she turned into the most lovely, sweet, kind, reliable, intuitive dog.

So, the moral of my story is I DO believe that there are cases where if you work long and hard with a dog from a bad beginning, you can bring it out of bad imprinting. Thais is a fine example. And she was truly sweet - it's not just a doting owner saying that although I was than and I am now a doting owner - ha.

But really, she was welcome in so many homes with so many families because she was a solid, kind, smart dog. Her innate qualities came through with some serious attention and lots of time - it took until she was about three, for me to get her going in a good direction.

Anyway, just wanted to tell you that. Jane may not always be miserable and her dog may not be either. She may always have to be careful, but she may not be miserable. Take good care, and thanks again for your insight - it's fun to read.

Bonny and Micah


Thanks to Bonny for this contribution. I did e-mail her back that we actually don't disagree very much at all... First of all: as you will see from the bolding in her lettter (done by me), this good result did not come "for free"! There was an enourmous amount of work associated with getting it - work that not everybody can or will put into it.

Also, please note that the age of the puppy was 8 weeks when Bonny got her. A breed like a Great Dane does develop much slower than, for instance, a Pomeranian or a Husky that are much closer to the wolf, genetically. This means that the Imprinting period isn't all over and done with at this age - it could well extend into the 10th week, giving Bonny just enough of a window to still put some decent Imprinting into this dog - which she obviously did. With a lot of work....

Finally, here is another one with yet another perspective pertaining to this matter, once more confirming the seriousness of adopting a "rescue dog":

I wanted to give my 2 cents worth to this issue of rescuing dogs, and I haven't read the back issues so forgive me if I'm redundant. After the death of my last dog, I told my husband no more pets unless they wander down to our property lost and (usually) abandoned. This is not an uncommon experience. I live on a "scenic highway" in the mountains by the river with many campsites. You know how many people think dropping a dog that is too much for them, off on a wilderness highway, is infinitely better than the shelter... So far I've placed 3 dogs into homes and luckily things worked out well for them. I also carry food in my car in case I encounter a dog staggering around dazed and terrified- terrified enough that they won't come to me. At least I can give them a meal. Finally the day came when I took in what I thought was an old mutt. She turned out to be about a 5 month old wire hair Doxie. She was about 5 months old, hence the lack of teeth and since I didn't know that breed came in wire hair I thought she was a terrier/doxie mix with no teeth.

(...)As it turned out I became very sick and when I wasn't in the hospital, I was home with her on a 24/7 basis. I spent hours trying to figure out how to calm her, play with her, house train her and deal with her many issues. After 2+ years she is doing well but then I know what her issues are...and how to mitigate it because I'm now with her 24/7.

My neighbors took in 2 rescue dogs, Bernese, about the same time I got Pipsqueak. The female was older about Pip's age and the male was a puppy. The owners figured the two would keep each other company while they worked. Indeed they do. BUT the female was totally standoffish with me and has been for two years unless I'm babysitting them which I do once a year. Then she wants to climb in my lap (all 130 pounds). So I deal with 2 enormous dogs jumping up on me and totally out of control for the well being of their babysitter. Hey you've got to teach these animals manners....

My point is do not take a "rescue" dog unless you can devote huge amounts of time to them, have all members of the family willing to deal with the unsuccesses which will occur, and most importantly the patience to deal with all their traumas. These dogs have suffered and it does them no good to adopt them and then realize you can't deal with them and turn them back to a shelter. They will have no future. And I can't stand to think of what their last thoughts might be.

(...)Keep up the great work.

Regards,

Mary Margaret Herzog


I got 24 more letters like the last two.... Most of them much shorter and just confirming the experiences, so I shall not fill all the space with them here. I hope this confirms my main point about selecting a puppy: if you do want to "rescue", then please feel good about it - it can be very rewarding for the right person. But if you are not that kind of person, it will do nothing good, and it will not make any difference for the world's abused and neglected dogs... the number of them will not change because of your choice - unless you adopt an extra dog you did not plan on aquiring!

If you want to have an overview of Imprinting and the behaviors that are associated with it, you can watch "The Dog's Social Behavior" - about one hour of that video relates directly or indirectly to this...


Heartworm and risk management

Anita from Kansas wrote me about Heartworm. She does not like to use the preventive "Guard", as it is well know to be much less than safe - there are tons of very unpleasant side effects and long term damages, many of them not even documented.

But Heartworm is a serious issue in some places. If your dog gets them, they can kill the dog - and even if you get to treat the dog on time, the treatment is not only expensive (absolutely requiring hospitalization!) but also quite risky: the medication is a strong poison (kills the worms), also for the dog, and the dead worms are now floating around the blood vessels until they finally decompose and dissolve in a couple of weeks. In that meantime, any kind of sudden increase in the dog's heart beat can cause a stroke! So, there is no two opinions possible about it: that dog will remain crated for the entire time of the treatment, possibly on sedating drugs - just to manage the risk of it getting excited. Not fun...

So, what is Anita to do? Use the dangerous prevention - or take the risk of infection?

First, Anita tried to find out how serious the problem truly was in Kansas. However, going to the vet, the veterinarian association, and the government left her empty-handed! Nobody had any data for how many cases of Heartworm are discovered or treated on a yearly basis. No data available about how serious the threat actually is in Kansas!

Now, this makes me very suspiscious.... it tells me that, in all likelihood, there are no cases in Kansas to report!!!

I don't believe that all dog owners in the state use the prevention, with no exceptions. If the threat is for real, there would be cases to report. Veterinarians generally report all cases of specific dangerous disease cases to the association or to the government. Stats like this are not "thrown away" by the individual vet....

Anita's vet gave her some good information, though. He said that the semi-annual testing was not totally safe, as it had a 1% chance of a "false negative" - which means that, in 1 case out of every 100, it will say "no worms", when there actually are worms to deal with... The danger in this is that treatment gets delayed - which can make it much more dangerous. Actually, the treatment isn't too bad if you catch the worms before they multiply too much - that is: you must detect them early - not two years later when the worms are about killing the dog... Anita's vet suggested testing every 6 months, but he was concerned about the "false negative" risk and thus recommended the prevention... (I also think he forgot about the winters in Kansas - several months of frost does not allow for many mosquitoes all year round...)

Although Anita now was still in doubt what to do, she actually got enough information here to make some informed decisions!

I know - it sounds crazy, but it isn't. Let's take a look at what we truly are dealing with. This is called "Risk Management", and we do it all the time - although not always very well...

First, we need to understand that "Risk" is a product of two things:

  1. A likelihood for the event occuring.

  2. The price we have to pay if it does.

"Price" is not limited to dollars and cents, but covers anything that is encompassed by "suffering".

In finance, where the consequences can be measured in dollars, this is what insurance companies do for a living: they calculate the risk of the event that will make them pay - and compare that to the amount of money you will pay in premiums. Fire insurance, for instance: the insurance company knows that the risk of your house burning down is, say 0.3% per year. The price of buying you new house is, say, $100,000. This will, with he average of statistics, give the insurance company a new average cost of 0.3% of $100,000 per year = $300/year. So, if they charge you $300/year in premium, they cannot pay their costs of operation - and there will be no profit - so you get a bill of $700/year instead! (provided the assessment of the risk is 0.3% as I used as example).

Let's start with the likelihood of contracting the heartworms in the first place. Although Anita got no numbers, we can still extract information about this, in terms of estimating some limits of these likelihoods - and that will help a lot for our decision.

So, what is our estimated risk for getting heartworm in Kansas if we do not do anything to prevent it?

The dogs that are on the prevention will not get it. For them, the likelihood is zero - they exchange one risk with another: a 100% chance of suffering organ damage in some years because of the constant poisoning of the blood.

For the dogs that are not on the prevention, the risk is pretty small too! There were no cases! So, the risk by not using prevention is zero!!!

Caution here, though.... What if this assumption was incorrect? What if there actually were cases - just not reported?

OK - let's cover this. Let's say that Anita goes out and asks people she meets on her walks if they are on heartworm prevention. She counts those that are and those that are not. This way, she gets an idea of the coverage through the prevention. Let's say that she meets 9 out of 10 who do the prevention. One does not. This means that 10% of the dog population is uncovered - roughly. (Now, this is not very precise stats, but for this kind of purpose it is way better than nothing - it will be clear later, why this kind of "math arrogance" is acceptable).

From here, we need to get an idea of the number of heartworm cases in all Kansas. I suggested that Anita phone a number of vets and talk to the receptionists, simply asking how many cases they have had over the last year. I am sure the receptionist will know - at least well enough for us to get a reasonable number. Let's say Anita calls 5 hospitals and gets a report of 1 case. From the phone book or from the government, you can get the total number of licensed veterinarian hospitals in the state of Kansas. If that number is, say 250, then our 5 will constitute 2% of the total. This means that our stats will now tell us that we have 50 times as many heartworm cases in the state as reported by those 5 hospitals we called.

Now, the total number of dogs in Kansas is the next number we need. Again, this is available from the government. If not the State, then from the counties who charge the taxes (dog licenses). If we can only get the number from the counties, we might want to limit our calculations to encompass only the counties we consider. In that case, we also need to adjust the 250 veterinarian hospitals down to the number that is represented in the counties we consider. Either way, we get the ratio of heartworm cases in the area we consider to the total number of dogs that are exposed in that same area. A bigger area gives us larger number for both, but the ratio will remain the same, more or less (aside from geographical variations).

That ratio is your likelihood of your dog getting infected if you do not protect it.

So, here is an overview of our data in our example:

What does this tell us? It tells us that only 4 dogs out of 10,000 will get heartworm this year in those five counties, if the dogs are not protected.

Is that a big risk? Or is it acceptable?

Well, let's compare it to something we know about. Car accidents. We know that cars are dangerous. The risk of getting involved in an accident during any given year is greater than 1%, probably around 5% in most cities (5% means that one out 20 drivers have some kind of accident happening in a given year. This again means that people, in average, can drive no more than about 20 years without accidents). Further, the chances of serious/deadly injury is about 0.001-0.01% in most cities - it varies quite a lot.

Is it reasonable to compare a heartworm attack to a car accident? Let us take a closer look.

See, we still only calculated the likelihood, not the risk. For getting to the risk, we must also consider the possible price we will pay, in case we have some bad luck. I do not consider death an acceptable price to pay, by calculation - at least in principle. However, I still do it... I drive my car - and I know that I have a likelihood of at least (0.01% if not 0.001%) of running into a mad idiot that will kill me on the road... But I do drive defensively, not on drugs or alcohol, and not when I am tired and not alert...

I still drive, though - so I actually accept the death risk!

I also accept the risk of serious damage, including possible injury - at a level of 1-5% per year!

Can we compare that to the risk of our dog contracting heartworm? My answer is that it makes sense to do so - even when we take into account the obvious risk of fatality!

With a 1% likelihood of a car accident in any given year and a 0.01-0.001% likelihood of a fatal accident, we actually get to about 0.1-1% of all car accidents having fatal outcome. That is very comparable to the 1% risk we have of a "false negative" for the heartworm test! Even if we miss the worms first time, it is not necesssarily the end of the dog's life - 9 out of 10 will still survive the treatment.

By having tests done regularly, we catch any infection at an early stage where the treatment is not life threatening for our dog. This compares to driving carefully and responsibly, keeping the risk of a fatal accident very low.

With Anita's number of 1% "false negatives", we are dealing with a likelihood of a serious outcome that is greater than the risk of a car accident being fatal. If we use the 5% likelihood of an accident and the 0.001% likelihood of a fatal accident, then we have still have a likelihood of 1 in 5000 of any given accident being fatal, that is 0.02%...

On this background, you might find that our 1% risk of "false negatives" in the heartworm testing is a bit high - but you have to combine it with the likelihood of contracting the infection. So, the net likelihood of contracting the infection was about 0.04%. The risk of us not detecting an infection in time for non-dangerous treatment is 1%, so our likelihood of getting to the point of dangerous treatment is only 1% of 0.04%, which is 0.0004% or 4 parts per million!

That's less than half of my likelihood of getting killed on the road when I am driving in the safest city on the continent...

I seriously think this perspective is important - yet I have never heard of a veterinarian in North America who has taken it into account.

But let's go over those numbers one more time - just to be sure we are calculating everything on the safe side. Let's say that Anita's private survey (calling the veterinarian hospitals) gives her 10 cases of heartworm in the five counties instead of just 1, and that the number of unprotected dogs is down at a level of just 1 in 100, instead of 1 in 10. This will "worsen" our calculation of the likelihood 10 X 10 = 100 times, so the net result will be that our likelihood of contracting the heartworm if we do not protect the dog will rise from 0.04% to 4%. That's about the same level as what we have for the occurance of a car accident. Not truly to be ignored....

However, once again, we need to multiply by the risk of not discovering an infection. This brings our "worst case" down to 0.04%. That might be acceptable.

If not, you can lower it... You just have a second test done a week or two after the first. That will make the likelihood of an undetected infection drop to 1% X 1% = 0.01% - and that makes your likelihood of losing your dog to heartworm drop to the same 4 parts per million we had before, comparable to your own risk of death in a car accident...

Now, I do need to make sure that you understand that the numbers here are used for illustration only. The true numbers in your area could be very different from the numbers I used in this example, but I hope you got the idea and some practical tools to estimate the risk you have to manage, one way or the other.

Veterinarians do not learn risk management in Veterinary School. Most have no clue what it entails. This little mini-course puts you way ahead in that game and hopefully enables you to relate the risks your are facing to something you can make sense of - instead of simply getting scared...

I know for a fact that veterinarians are constantly bombarding you with the horrible pictures of the "risks" you must cover for your dog by giving it all kinds of medication or preventive treatment. But they are not giving you the risk - they are only giving you the possible outcome, without dicussing the likelihood of it happening! They do not even tell you whether or not the risk is actually a true concern in your area or not. I seriously don't think they know! That's not risk management. That's scaremongery.

Further, they do not tell you about the certain damages those chemicals do to the dog, long-term (and the money they make from your future visits because of all those problems).

But you can find out on your own. The missing information is public. Do your leg work. Don't get impressed or scared, just focus on getting these simple facts. They are available, maybe through some work - but it does not exceed what anybody can do, as I hope I illustrated here.

And, just for the record: Nothing I said here will constitute a recommendation of the "heartworm guard" and nothing I said here will constitute a recommendation of not using it. I hope you understand that nobody should give you that kind of recommendation without having done the math I pulled you through here - with fresh, relevant numbers for your area - and this most definitely includes your vet.

 

Cheers and woof,

Mogens Eliasen

 

If you have any suggestions to contributions or contents of The Peeing Post, I will be happy to know about them. (Please no anonymous contacts, though...)

If you have any comments or questions pertaining to this issue or in general pertaining to dogs, please respond - if I can find an answer for you, I will!

 

Even if your question is a "My dog..." question of a personal nature, I will be happy to give you as much advice as I can per e-mail, provided you will give me feedback on how you used my advice and what results you got - and allow me to publish the story. (If I don't get feedback, you get an invoice for my time...)

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---------------------------------------------------------------

P.S. I have a serious question to you.

I got a possibility established for doing telephone conferences. It is not cheap but not outrageously expensive either. It allows me to arrange small seminars over the phone, with up to 10 people at a time.

I thought of trying to offer seminars over the phone. Many relevant problems can be solved this way. We could even do it as small mini-courses over 3 or 4 times, so we could get some practical training done in-between the calls and discuss the results and the possible ways of dealing with the problems that were encountered.

I will not be able to do it for free (I have to pay for this service) - but I could do it for a relatively small fee, such as $20 for a mini-course over three times of an hour each, if at least 6 people would do it. That's a lot less than what I am used to charging for an evening class!

Possible topics for such mini-courses could be:

Let me know what you think! If there is a basis for it, I will send out a special Peeing Post with the details!

Guests would be welcome - so if you know somebody who has a problem we could cover, that would be fine.

Mogens