"The Peeing Post"

Newsletter for dog lovers who respect the dog's nature

Chief Editor: Mogens Eliasen

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Dear Dog Friend,

First some fast news:

E-mail accounts and single-page web sites, using our domains or your own, can be done.   We have checked into the technicalities, and for those of you that would like to have an e-mail address with its own POP3 account, free of advertising, free of snooping, free of censorship, and exclusively under your own control, independent of your current ISP - we can do it!   We still need a few details in place before we can make the offer official, but it will come in the next Peeing Post, for sure.

The Pet Door Project: only 50 shares left - we are going ahead!   If you want in on this opportunity, this is last call for action as the door literally will close forever when these few shares are sold.

I have some contact going with people in Ontario - they want to arrange a camp course there!   That means we can get some dog owners and dogs trained also on the East coast of the continent.   More about this when I know more...


Shadow hunting

Yvonne asked me to discuss the behavior "shadow hunting".  Her wonderful border collie (young female of about a year) often does it - and, although it really isn't a problem, it is a peculiar behavior that deserves a few comments.  It is actually not that uncommon at all - particularly not with terriers and border collies that have strong hunting instincts - and generally too little opportunity to hunt....

In short: Shadow hunting is a hunting behavior (launching/chasing) that runs idle on an immitation of the key stimulus, a moving shadow being such an immitation.

The full explanation of how instincts work is given in my video "The Dog's Social Behavior", and this is but one single example of many other cases where dogs respond to immitations of "the real thing" when starting an instinct behavior.

In order to understand it, we need to consider that all instincts are linked to

  1. a behavior that is specific for the instinct;

  2. a need that gets satisfied when the dog displays the behavior.

  3. a key stimulus, which is a specific sense impression (or sum of sense impressions) that acts as the "trigger event" for the behavior.

The classic example of a need is the need for food - which we call "hunger".  This need is, in reality (as all other needs) created by chemical reactions in the body that produce certain chemicals.  The presence of these chemicals gives the dog an urge for the action - and they get destroyed when the behavior takes place that is connected to this instinct.

In the hunger example, eating is the associated behavior - and eating will destroy the hunger sensation...  (if the dog is allowed to eat till satiety, that is...)

Hunting instincts are related to eating.  The needs for them are constanly generated in the body - and those chemicals are destroyed (at least partially) when the dog uses the specific hunting behavior associated with each of them.

The problem for most dogs is that they have no natural opportunity to hunt....  This leaves the chemicals for their hunting needs in constant high concentrations in their bodies - and that makes the dog start those behaviors on unnatural triggers that might just barely remind the dog somewhat of "the real thing".  When really bad, the behavior will run, even on no external trigger, just triggered by a mental picture in the mind.

This is what "shadow hunting" is about.  The dog has accumulated too big a concentration of "need chemicals" for hunting - so even a moving shadow will now resemble a live prey well enough to start the behavior.

There is nothing wrong in this - other than the fact that it indicates very strongly that the dog lacks adequate stimulation for its hunting instincts and is in a constantly stressed situation because it does not get enough natural release of this behavior...  Since the behavior cannot really be carried through all the way to a meaningful conclusion, the situation corresponds to giving a starving dog small tidbits of food that tease it more than they satisfy it.  Sure, feeding small treats is better than no food when you are dying of starvation - but a real meal would do much better...

The bad news is that, when this kind of situation is allowed to go on for long period of time, there will be a reinforcement of the behvior.  Although the dog's need does not really get fully satisfied, the small "tidbits" are still better than nothing, in terms of reward, so the behavior will turn into a compulsive/obsessive habit over time, if the evil circle does not get broken.

The way to break this circle is to provide the dog with some adequate stimulation for its natural hunting instincts...  Teach it to use those instincts in a way that makes sense for the dog - and create fun for both you and the dog!  There are thousands (if not millions) of ways of doing this, but I have included about a dozen of the most effective ones in "BrainWork for Smart Dogs".  The main thing is not the specific choice of how you do it, but the fact that you actually do it!  It truly boils down to using some brainwork yourself to figure out how this behavior can be incorporated in a game you can play with the dog - and how you can develop it to more demanding levels, as the dog learns the skills better and better.

All dogs need to learn.  They have an inborn quest for acquiring new skills - no matter how old they are.  Border collies are, unfortunately, some of the most intelligent dogs that also have the biggest needs for activity - often more than twice as much as most other breeds, huskies excluded.  They are such great herding dogs because of their strong hunting instincts combined with a typically very submissive temperament - so they will chase the prey (the sheep) to you (the pack leader) for you to kill...


Pet insurance - is it worth the money?

Seriously, most people get insurance for the wrong reasons.  They think the insurance will help them reduce their small, regular vet bills...

Not true.  When you add the cost of the insurance, the average dog owner will save nothing in the long run.  Please consider that the insurance companies have to make a profit on this!  That is not possible, if you, on average, stand to save any money on the sum of all the small bills by having the insurance company pay part of them!

Insurance companies calculate their average risk very carefully, and they make sure that the premiums they get from customers more than cover what they pay out to cover what they are obliged to pay...  They are in business for a profit - not to help you.  Although you might know of somebody who actually has been saving money on the vet bills by having a pet insurance (at least for some time), there is no way this can be the generally picture for the average dog owner!

The average dog owner's average needs for veterinary assistance is the base for the insurance companies' premium calculations.  If you have a dog that is prone to more veterinary assistance than average, you might save some money on such insurance.  But the insurance companies are very careful about excluding all pre-existing conditions from coverage, including age!  So, if you know that your dog needs more medical attention than the average dog, then, chances are that the insurance company knows this too - and they will charge you extra for it or exclude the coverage!  The conclusion is that it is not very likely that you will stand to benefit much by signing up for such an insurance...   Your chances are comparable to making a living on playing the lottery.

On the contrary, if your dog is generally healthier than the average dog, then your needs for veterinary assistance will be lower than average, and you will, in reality, be paying a premium that is way too high to be reasonable for you.  Considering that dogs fed a natural diet of raw food, for instance, have an average "consumption" of veterinary services that is less than 20% of average, you should be given a serious break on your insurance premiums when you feed your dog raw food. That's not the case.  The insurance companies are happy to charge you full price - for the same coverage as "Joe Average".

The only way pet insurance can make sense is by covering a possible accident/emergency you plain simply cannot afford to pay the consequences of because you have no way of raising the cash to pay the vet for the surgery.  This is the principle of fire insurance: You accept a yearly premium that is more than covering the average cost of replacing your house in case of fire - yet it makes sense to make such a deal when you cannot cover the cost yourself of replacing your house - but the insurance company can (although they always try all kinds of tricks to avoid it when it is called for...).  Nothing wrong in that - it is a healthy barter where both parties win.

However, many of the pet insurance companies put some severe limitations on their coverage.  On many plans, the maximum coverage you can get for one single event or case is a few thousand dollars.  Honestly, if you have a problem raising, say, $2,000 to pay a vet bil, you are in serious financial trouble - and a pet insurance might be a great idea for you.  But, if you could raise that money yourself, for instance by increasing the loan on your car, you would not get any serious benefit from the insurance coverage that matches what you pay for the insurance.

This insurance question thus boils down to considering these three factors:

  1. What is the profile of expectable vet costs, measured as the size of the possible vet bills and the likelihood of incurring a certain maximum amount on each emergency bill?

  2. What is the maximum coverage of the insurance you need above what you can raise yourself?

  3. What is the cost of this coverage?

I know, you may not have these data - but you need to at least give it some thought.  It is risk management, just as we discussed in an earlier Peeing Post in relation to heartworm medication and vaccination.

The last two questions are fairly easy to answer.  It takes no genius, but I do suggest you use some creativity before you put your own financial abilities to cover an emergency at a blank zero.  It is never zero.  Think about it - and be realistic.  What will and can you do to save your dog's life in a emergency situation? (And please don't answer "anything" - because that is never true... you just lie to yourself by doing it.)

The first question is much more difficult to answer - because it has a lot to do with what you do for prevention.  As I said, feeding a raw, natural diet will alone reduce your risks dramatically, probably by a factor of 5 or more.  Next: vaccinating with care (that means, one vaccine at a time, no vaccines before the dog is at least 4 months old, and never any revaccinations) will reduce your risk with a factor of 10 or 100 - if not much more.  In this area, very few data are yet available.  Finally, careful control of your dog (no running loose) will reduce the balance of risk by another 10 or 100 times.  If you do all this, your chances of running into some serious vet bills are pretty darn slim - probably 1 in 100 or 1,000...

The risk is still not zero, though.  And you should now consider what kind of scenario would be possible, without going to the extreme of the likelihoods.  In my experience, $1-3,000 is not uncommon for a couple of weeks treatment in the vet hospital, with some surgery, for instance after a car accident.  But $5,000 is more than I ever heard of anybody having to pay - except for some outrageous surgery that really should never have been performed, as the dog would have been better off being put down instead of living the rest of a miserable life so totally crippled as the result of that surgery would dictate.  Now, you might want to cover than option also - it is a matter of personal judgment.   I would call $5,000 a fair maximum coverage.  Anything above and beyond that, I would call extremely unlikely - and not worth paying for, as I most likely would not want to pull my dog through the amount of trauma that would be associated with such extreme vet bills.

The trick now is to assess how much of this you possibly could raise yourself...  The insurance that is best for you is the one with a maximum coverage that fits what you expect to be possible in an emergency - and you want this insurance coverage with the maximum deductible you can afford!

After this, you take a look at the monthly cost of that insurance.  First off: no insurance will cover a dog that is old - all insurances reduce their coverage when the dog passes a certain age, and most of them will cover nothing when the dog is older than the average life expectancy.   In North America, that would be around 8-12 years.   So, let's assume that you could enjoy ensurance coverage for 8 years.   Next, when you multiply the monthly premium by 12, and then this yearly premium by 8, you get what you will pay the insurance company over the "insurable" life time of the dog.   In my math (for this purpose), 12 * 8 = 100, so I will get a reasonably close "life total" by multiplying the monthly premium by 100.   (If I count 12 years instead of 8, I will use 150 insted of 100 - making my total expense 50% more.)

If you pay, say, $40/month, then your total payment to the insurance will be $4,000 ($6,000 if you count 12 years).  If your insurance gives you a $5,000 maximum coverage with a $1,000 deductible, you have a nice match.  This match indicates that you break even financially if you have about 100% chance of your dog needing this coverage just once in its insured lifetime.

Now, this does not allow any profit to the insurance company - so it will be an unreasonable expectation.  If you will allow the insurance company to have a 100% mark-up to cover its administration and profits, you will achieve this in a case where your dog's chances of ever using the maximum coverage being only 50%.  If you consider your dog's risk of needing the full coverage being less than 10%, then you allow the insurance company a 1,000% profit on your premiums. And when you consider your true risk of only 1% or 0.1% (which corresponds to your likehood being 1 in 100 or 1,000, as we discussed earlier for the case of your taking diligent care of your dog), then the insurance company makes 10,000-100,000% profit on your premium!!!!

Is this reasonable?  Absolutely not! But it could still be beneficial for you to accept even this kind of rip-off - if you cannot financially afford to pay the $5,000 in case your dog would need it... In such a situation, you would have to balance your pride and quest for fairness against your love for the dog!

If you have any way, including overdrawing your credit limit, taking a loan in your home, or selling your car, borrowing from friends, pawning your jewelry, whatever, for raising this amount, then I suggest you use that as your insurance!  In the long run, you are much better off financially, doing that....  If you, at the same time, save the money you planned on paying for insurance, you will soon have that cash available for the purpose you want...  Just do the math - and you will be surprised to see how quickly you can have saved what the insurance will pay as its maximum coverage for any single event...

Besides, you should also consider that there will be a time when you need this "self coverage" anyway - because no insurance will cover your dog way up into old age without some dramatic limitations...

I hope you understand that the question "what is a good pet insurance?" has no meaningful answer when you ask someone else who does not know the details of your financial capabilities... This is a very personal matter that most definitely should not be left to other people's opinions!


 

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 will get an invoice for my time...)

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P.S. I am passing on a link to an article in the BBC News from the UK about 30 British veterinarians signing an open petition against the pharmaceutical industry for committing a serious crime, the way they market vaccines for dogs and cats. These vets claim:

"The present practice of marketing vaccinations for companion animals may constitute fraud by misrepresentation, fraud by silence and theft by deception"

Pretty strong words... and not at all off target or exaggerated. If you are still even thinking about revaccinating your dog, your should read the entire article:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/3588457.stm

In the US or Canada, this kind of action would be outright dangerous for the involved veterinarians, as the veterinary associations have power to revoke their licenses to practice when they do not follow official policies given by the association... So, a warm thank you from me to those 30 British vets that dare to say what no vet in North America can afford to say...

Mogens