Friday, April 27, 2012

Traditional Obedience, A New Venture

(Puppy Kash playing with his tug)

I'll be honest. Traditional Obedience, as it is called in relation to its newer cousin, Rally Obedience, has never been my cup of tea. It's not the level of training required, I love training and I love training precision skills. I love spending time working together towards a common goal with my dogs. The thing that has always made me look the other way is that when watching it, it has always looked so....dry.  Cold.  And in some ways, militaristic. And that's not me. I like upbeat, excitement, mutual interaction (versus "do it because I say so").

And, if I can be entirely honest, growing up, I've watched quite a few obedience trials while hanging out around the conformation rings, and the training methods often....left something to be desired. Choke chains, physical corrections, ear pinches to get a dog to retrieve. Just not my thing. Thankfully, training methods are changing to a more humane, dog-friendly way of getting desired behaviour from your dog. Although to be honest there is still quite a lot of correction-based training in my local obedience ring - I think that is what continues to drive me away, as I hate watching dogs being jerked around by their necks, or have to wear a special training collar to perform, and some downright unhappy dogs. But times are changing, albeit slowly.

The reason I HAVE decided to venture into this sport is three-fold:
1) As much as I'm sure I question it at times, I feel the need as a trainer to not only talk the talk, but also walk the walk! I've said time and again, and I know it is true, that you do not have to hurt or intimidate your dogs to be a successful competitor. I know it's true because I see my colleagues doing it, and read about it often. But at the same time, I feel a niggling urge to actually get out there with my own dog and demonstrate that fact.  Also, there's that little part of me that loves to say "Hmmm....another challenge for my terriers and I?"  I'm a sucker for seeing non-traditional breeds excel in more traditional sports.  But the fact remains - it's easy to complain about the less-than-stellar training methods that still occupy that sport, but in order to see change - sometimes you have to contribute to make change, instead of sitting back and waiting.
2) We have limited options here for competition.  Now I know, I have my hands full enough by doing Rally and Agility, but sometimes I get a craving for something different. This definitely fulfills "different". Disc dog is becoming more popular, and I'm thinking of getting Kash's RPT (Retrieval Proficiency Test), and eventually branching into that, but he has to become able to catch the frisbee mid-air to make progress beyond the RPT. He's not there yet. Agility, and everything else besides the Obedience sports, takes you out of province, and let's face it - running a business takes time. Competing out of province takes time (and money). There's only so much time, and I don't have a lot of extra to spread around! So keeping things local allows me to do a little more.

3) Finally, and perhaps one of the most important - Kash LOVES to work! Sure, he's young, and gets distracted from time to time, but he's so comical, and engaging, and he learns. so. fast. I just love working with him, as it's not even work, it's more like learning through play.  He can turn anything into play. Chasing me. Playing pushing games. Making a toy out of anything - seriously.  You can go somewhere without toys, and quickly find something that will qualify! He just has such a joie de vivre, I so want to show him off!  He's really the first dog I've considered entering into traditional obedience. So that's the angle I'm approaching this with - making what feels like "dry" exercises into extensions of play. Mixing the two so it's hard to tell the difference between them! Obviously at some point we'll have to formalize it, such that it's clear for the dog just what each exercise entails, but it doesn't mean that we have to do boring drilling to get there!

(Kash found a child's rake laying in the grass. Makes a good toy!)

So, there you have it, we're going to try it out!  Maybe I'll love it, maybe I won't. But I won't know until I try.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

So What is the Plan?

(Kash practicing his Long Sit today in a distracting environment)

I think I've finalized my plan for the 2012 trialling season. Note, I've said planned, as we all know some plans can go awry (for instance, since making this plan, I realized I have since been invited to a wedding during one of the weekends I put on the plan, therefore making me alter that plan to choose another trial would be nice to be human-social every once in a while, after all).

So, without further ado, this is what I'm hoping to achieve:

May -  Agility Trial - Shimmer and Gaci competing, out of province.
June - was originally Agility Regionals weekend in New Brunswick, but a wedding has made me have to change this. Will still likely be agility, just not sure which weekend, nor where.
July - Rally Obedience, for Kash.  Two runs, hoping to complete his Advanced Title that weekend.
August - Agility Trial - Shimmer and Gaci, out of province.
September - Agility Trial - Shimmer and Kash (his debut to agility), out of province.
October - Rally/Traditional Obedience trial.  There are 6 Rally runs, and I think 2 obedience runs, over three days. I know I want to enter Kash in at least one Trad. OB run, and also work on his Rally Excellent Title. So it's just a matter of figuring out how many of each I want to enter Kash in, and whether I'll do one per day over three days, two per day over less days, or some combination of those. I have time to decide, especially after I see how Kash's Trad. OB skills shape up.  We've started working on it, keeping logs, which I'll share in a future post!

My Overall Goals for the dogs:

Kash (as referred to before):
- complete his RA title, begin working towards his RE.
- enter Traditional Obedience and earn at least one leg towards his CD (he won't be entered until October, which is why I'm only expecting one leg - if we do two runs, then I'll hope for two legs!)
- make his debut in agility.  I'll probably only focus on Standard and Jumpers for his first weekend out, and I'm aiming for a fun, positive experience, with commitment to working, rather than placements (although a Q would be appreciated....I'd never say no, after all).
- if a CGN testing opportunity arises, we`ll try to jump on it.

Shimmer's main goals are all agility-oriented this year. We're still on a break from Rally (she's received her CGN and RA titles). But, I also have more concrete goals for her this year:
- complete her second Starters Jumpers Q, and enter Advanced.
- complete her first Gamblers Q (we still have lots to do on this, to build up her confidence for distance work).
- begin her first Standard run, and -maybe- earn her first real Agility title. That might be a bit over-reaching, but I need to start somewhere.

Just have fun in agility and continue to build confidence in public areas, and to spend quality time together.

- continue warming beds like a champ!! (Love you old guy!)

November starts the beginning of the winter break again from trialling, so it's a lot to put into one season! I'm not 100% sure I'll reach all of my goals, and if not that's okay. I'm having a blast with my dogs, and that's what matters in the end. We will see how the summer pans out!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Children: A Complex and Curious Species

(Kash playing with 11-month old Alexa,
both equally interested in the mysterious covered dish)

The play on the title is not an accident; a great many dogs view children as an entirely different entity than "humans". Even well-socialized dogs understand that children are not at all like their adult version: they have high-pitched voices (that squeak, squeal, and shriek), they move fast - children generally don't walk from place to place as much as adults do ( running is a joyous thing), they are unpredictable in their behaviour, often have limited impulse control, and may even show more fear and uncertainty towards dogs they don't know. Many dogs, who grow up in the presence of children, learn that this stuff is "normal", and as long as parents supervise carefully it can go without a hitch. But for families without children, especially those who live in rural areas, even puppyhood exposure to children can result in dogs who just aren't quite sure what to do in their presence.

I had an interesting experience with Kash today. A wonderful family with two girls, 4 and 10 (I think), came to visit with a pup I am caring for who is looking for her forever home. Now, Kash was exposed to lots of children when he was a puppy. He is generally great on walks when children are present, he gets on well with my niece and nephew, but to be totally honest he doesn't see a ton of children on a daily basis. We don't have kids, we live in a rural setting, and when we are out and about he generally ignores them as I don't often -want- children approaching my dogs on their own, especially without parents present.

So it was an interesting assessment of his level of socialization when these children arrived with their family. He was, overall, great with the older girl. She was calm, laid back, and totally unobtrusive. She actually was surprisingly great with all of the dogs (surprising due to age, not anything specifically about the girl). The interactions with the younger, four-year-old girl were....interesting. The younger girl is a typical, active, child, who does very typical child-like things! Kash really enjoyed her presence immensely if she was sitting and calm, and he would show off tricks, work for her, and solicit attention and touch. However, he was clearly worried when she would run full-tilt directly at him with her arm outstretched (ball in hand), as he would pin back his ears, drop his tail, and back up and bark. Then as soon as she stood still, he would approach again. He chased a ball until he got tired, and did seem to adjust quite well over the 1.5 hour period.  Which just goes to show that it's very rarely an all-or-nothing thing.  He very much likes interacting with her, but at at the same time is not entirely confident in all of her behaviours towards him, as he doesn't understand what some of those behaviours mean.

From this, I have learned that I am going to make an extra effort to take him to places where children tend to be more active - parks, the boardwalk, etc - and actively countercondition him to the quick movements of children, so he learns that running around, running away from him (this wasn't a problem for him at all), running towards him - are not scary things, but normal things that children do!  I'm also going to work on teaching him that children running towards him is a cue for an auto-check in, so that if there is an unsupervised child running at us, I can instruct him on what to do, and know that he'll do it quicky while I intervene with the rampant child.

All in all, it was a great visit, and I do think it was good for him. He had some stressful moments, and in another situation may have approached it differently, but he recovered very quickly and continued to enjoy her presence even if a few moments before she accidentally scared him.  And boy, did he sleep after they left! Between the running for his toy, showing off his tricks, and the small bit of stress he experienced, he napped away the afternoon until suppertime.

For more information on dogs and children, and how to keep everyone safe, please check out the following great programs and resources:
"Be a Tree" Program -
"Dogs and Storks" Program -
"Dogs and Storks" Blog - 

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Getting my act together!

It's springtime! For many, that means getting ready for planting flowers and gardens, cleaning up leaves, and digging out the mowers and deck furniture.  For me, that also means it's time to start planning my dogs events for the year!

Due to being the sole owner-operator of Courteous Canine Training, it's not often easy to book out time for dog sports. Often I'm either booked for clients, boarding others' dogs (so cannot leave the province), or simply have trouble actually convincing myself that it's OKAY to actually book a weekend away! Living in PEI, options on-island are limited for dog sports. We're getting better, year by year, but we are still lacking quite a bit compared to other provinces. Therefore some of those weekends need to be booked off-island, which also means worrying about accomodations and the like.

Not only does it mean planning the "what" (the event I want to compete in each month), and the "when" (which weekend is feasible for travel and competing), but also the "how" - getting back into the habit of making a plan for training! 

The winter time is often the time my dogs get a break from training - after trialling season I generally do at least 8 weeks off from any formal training, but that generally turns into 12-16 weeks as I get a bit hibernate-happy myself.  They still do lots of training, generally trick training and shaping for fun games, but my serious "planned" training takes a dip.  I'm not complaining, I think it's healthy for all dogs/handlers to take a break to avoid burnout. But it's come time to start making official plans and begin developing concrete goals that I want to achieve with each dog.

I'll take Kash, as a quick example.  This year I have the following hopes for him: 
- to complete his Rally Advanced title (he got his Novice title and one leg of his Advanced in one weekend last fall), and earn at least one leg in his Excellent title.
- Enter the Obedience ring and earn a leg or two towards his CD title.
- Enter agility when he's of age (September).  I don't care if we get far this year, as that's late in the year, but I do want to get him in at least one trial this year to assess his training level (he will be in that environment several times before he competes, as Shimmer will be competing).
- Possibly attempt his RPT (Retrieval Proficiency Test) for Disc Dog, and maybe, just -maybe-, get him to actually begin catching the discs mid-air (he can catch it from my hand, catch it while it's rolling, and retrieve it after it's landed, but he hasn't succeeded in catching one while it's airborne yet).
- Developing a more concrete fitness plan to ensure that he is getting properly stretched before and after training, and to continue working his different muscle groups to prevent injury. I generally create two "fitness" days per week where we simply do strenghtening exercises.  In the past this is the first area I tend to get slack with, and I need to make sure that it remains an important part of his training.  In a future post I will share what types of things I do (and will start doing) as part of his (and the others') fitness conditioning.

And that is just Kash! Shimmer has an agility season to plan as well, and possibly her final Rally title (we took a break from Rally to do agility, and as it turns out, Shimmer prefers agility to Rally, even though she enjoys both!), if time allows. Gaci will be doing her last season of agility this year before "retiring", but I need to consider her options and where she will fit into the equation.

So, that leaves me with lots to think about:
- If I do one weekend per month for dog sports, how and where am I going to split up my time for each sport and each dog? Can I reasonably get all of that into this year with only one weekend per month devoted to trials? Am I asking too much, especially since I have more than one dog?
- Developing a training plan in order to achieve the goals I have for each dog (I will elaborate in a later post to explain more about training plans and my individual dog's goals).
- Actually carry out that plan amidst teaching classes,  coaching clients, and running the business.

I haven't been one to blog about the training process of my own dogs, but this year I think I'm going to try to make it a (semi?) regular thing, so that others can read and understand just what training for dog sports can be all about (there's a lot of work that goes into what you see!).  If nothing else,  I'm hoping that somehow writing down my thoughts and plans makes me better able to stick to a plan, because now that the world can see it, I have to actually try to live up to it! LOL!

In the coming weeks I will share some of my specific training plans for each dog; what I hope to acheive, what specific behaviours I need to introduce and/or improve, and I'll share examples of what that process will look like for certain behaviours. I'll share what I decide to enter for the year (I think I have it almost finalized!).  I'll also share some of the things that I do with my dogs as part of their fitness building to keep them in shape and to minimize any chances of injury.  And I'll also share what we do in our "downtime" that still contributes to physical, mental, and emotional health - the stuff we do in between classes.  Stay tuned!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

How does your bond with your dog rate?

I am currently reading a new (to me) book, called "Bonding With Your Dog: A Trainer's Secrets for Building a Better Relationship", by Victoria Schade.  In this book, it starts by telling you to take a sort of "quiz" to assess you and your dog's overall relationship.  Not just the training you've put in (although the two are very much intertwined, it's hard to separate one from the other), but your dog's natural inclination to check in with you, how you relate to each other, and how you feel about your dog. 

One would argue that it's possible to train your dog just about anything, but at the end of the day it is the bond between you and your dog that most people have -real- problems with. Many "training" problems can often fall into the category of "bonding problems".  After all, if you don't have a bond with your dog - if you live two separate lives, and are just two separate beings at opposite ends of the same leash, then how can you really expect training to really take off?

I thought it would be fun to take the test with my own dogs, and see where the answers lie, in terms of this quiz.  I'll go through the questions and then provide my answers for each question.

1.Does your dog check in with you during walks?

My quick answer to this is "Yes".  Zipper, Shimmer, and Kash are amazing at doing self check-ins during walks, off leash and on-leash. If I stop walking, they will also stop, to see what I am going to do next. If I change direction when they are off-leash, as soon as they notice they will run to catch up, without being prompted (at least most of the time, I would say 85%).

Gaci has, honestly, struggled with this behaviour, although we do work hard on it.  She has, by far, the highest prey drive of my four, so for her "walks" generally translate to "hunting", and when she is following a scent sometimes she will admittedly forget to check in with me on her own, although she is decent at responding once I call her. She also has been dealing with anxieties for a lot of her lifetime, as well as impulse control problems,  so on walks she has a tendency to remain more vigilant, scanning the environment and looking out for #1.  That has lessened dramatically, for certain, and most walks are completely uneventful, but she would be the one who would be most apt to end up checking in less often naturally. It's something we've worked hard at, and we continue to work together on, but for the most part I would have to say I am happy with her current level of focus.

2. Are you afraid that if your dog slipped out the front door unleashed, she'd take off running and not come home?
Honestly, no. Never with these four.  I would like to say I've worked hard to "train" my dogs to re-orient to me when they go out the door, but honestly I barely work on it at all. It is something that they just do.  We have worked on door manners so they don't run out in the first place, though, but once released through the door each of my dogs will run through the door, stop, and look at me, with a "What's next pardner?" kind of expression.  This is actually something I admit to being quite proud of, considering terriers are not always the most dependent creatures, but I never fear for leaving the door open or losing a dog off-leash out my door.  We do almost everything off-leash at home, which generally contributes to a large part of that behaviour I'm sure. My dogs also know that I am the source of all-things-fun-and-exciting, so they tend to wait to see what I have in store before dashing off in any particular direction (whether it is to the woods/fields, the van, or the agility area).

So, byproduct of other training? Or simply a strong bond? I would like to think it's a bit of both.

3. Do you think that your dog is "too stubborn" or "too dumb" to learn basic obedience behaviours?

Nope. That has never registered on my radar.  I have always said that those labels indicate a problem with the trainer, not with the dog. All dogs like to learn -something-, and all dogs CAN learn new skills. My guys take part in Rally-O, Agility, Trick Training, and lots of off-leash things that require they respond to my signals.  I believe the opposite - my dogs are extremely intelligent, and love to work.

4.  Does your dog seek you out in new environments (for example, at a crowded dog park?)
While I choose not to use dog parks as my dog's source of exercise, my dogs are constantly going to new environments, whether it be a new beach, a new provincial park trail, an agility venue, or just camping in the summer. They are well-travelled, so I don't really notice that there is any change. Kash, being the youngest and extremely social (ie. nosy), would be the most likely to investigate a new environment, but I would be comfortable in saying that he would come back to find me within a short time.  He is still building his "working focus" around distractions, for competition, it's not 100% there by any means, but I don't worry that he would just run off and forget I exist, like I see happen a lot at dog parks.

5. Are you frequently frustrated with your dog?

The next line is "You are reading this book, so it's a safe assumption that your relationship with your dog is frustrating you".  To the contrary, I saw it online and thought it was a great next read for continuing education as a way to help my clients, and I'm sure many people read it who don't feel frustrated with their dog all of the time.  But in keeping with the point......

Honestly, I am quite patient with my dogs, for most things. Life with my dogs on a daily basis is quite easy, most of the time. Sure, sometimes Kash gets "interested" in Gaci, and will spend a day here and there certain that she's meant for him, driving her batty, and as a result driving me a bit batty while I remind him to leave her alone and redirect him to other tasks, but for the most part my dogs don't do a lot of irritating things.  They don't steal food or garbage (sweaters thrown on couches with treats left behind are fair game, however), I can leave things on the table and leave the room and know it'll be there when I get back.  They aren't over-the-top barkers (although Gaci has been dealing with barking at Kyle when he returns home,  a conflicted happy-but-anxious behaviour we have been working on for a bit now, although it doesn't irritate me at all, to be honest. Him, maybe a little bit?).  Life's pretty care-free, stress-free, and straightforward.

I think part of my lack of frustration is due to my stance as a trainer, though.  I suppose it's not that I don't get frustrated - we all do at some point or another - it's a normal part of living with any social species, whether it be a dog or another human, but I think I say no to this because if I -do- get frustrated, I know how to deal with it effectively and quickly, and can acknowledge that building frustration means that I need to deal with some situation to reduce the frustration. So it never lasts, and it never becomes a chronic issue. I don't let problems get to the point where they are frustrating, if I see a problem I deal with that problem.

I do see this problem happening with a lot of my clients, though, simply because they don't understand the motivation behind the behaviour, or they don't understand what their dog is saying. Once they do, they find it easier to develop a solution (which, of course, is what I'm there to do for them!).  And that solution will depend very much on the circumstance - sometimes it's a family with an otherwise great relationsihp and it's simply a training issue, but often it is a symptom of a deeper problem in the overall relationship between the dog and the family, and that needs to be addressed before the problem can be trained away.

So, whether you decide to do it publicly or not, I do challenge you to answer these questions for yourself.  And if you have the means, feel free to share your answer publicly, as you may surprise yourself at the results! 

Monday, April 9, 2012

Life with Senior Dogs

(A poor photo, but Gaci is hanging out with her best bud Zipper the day he came home from the vet).

I've always said that I've been lucky with having medically healthy dogs. Sure, we've had some vet visits - I had Zipper's thyroid tested due to his thin hair coat (actually tested twice, but both times medically totally normal!), Gaci's pulled muscle in her back last year, etc.....but generally we see the vet pretty much only when they are due for their annual exam. I do attribute this to a healthy diet (raw diet, and when feeding a commercial food it is soy-, gluten-, and corn-free, and where possible entirely grain-free), minimal vaccines (I am not anti-vaccine, but I do not vaccinate yearly, and some vaccines I do not give at all), and lots of healthy exercise while keeping them at a healthy weight. 

But even so, as dogs age, some things start to change, even if just a little bit.

We had a scare on the eve before Good Friday long weekend. I had gotten home just a little bit late from teaching classes. As usual, I got in, dropped my bags on the counter, let the dogs out to have a pee, took off my coat and shoes, and then let them back in to feed them.  All was normal.  As I was getting their supper ready, I noticed that Zipper was not present. I called him, then went to look for him, and found him vomiting in his dog bed. No big deal, at first. Dogs throw up sometimes. But then he went to another bed, laid down.  Then to another one. It looked like he couldn't get comfortable. Finally, he went into the office, and collapsed. 

Fast forward to the vet visit, he took an allergic reaction to....something. What, I have no idea. My yard is extremely "dog-proofed", with no flower beds, the lawn is not treated, there is no access to any chemicals.....but as it turns out, I can't keep all the bugs and grasses away, and the vet said it was likely something as simple as eating a bug (apparently caterpillars can be quite toxic, and stink bugs can be caustic, which I did not kow!) - this time of year they are crawling out of the woodwork on the warm days. He said we'll probably never know. Anyhow, Zipper did have to stay the night at the vet's, but he pulled through.  We were scared for a while, though - his heart rate had dropped to a mere 27 beats per minute (normal range should be about 70 for him), and his temperature was over two degrees lower than normal, his extremities so cold to the touch.  His body was, in essence, shutting down.  It is likely that the slow speed at which his heart rate came back up is in part due to his age (almost 9 years old).

I am extremely lucky that I was home when this happened. While I know it was just a fluke in the timing, as if it had have been mid-day and I was just letting them out for the last-minute pee that pretty much everyone does, and left right after, he would not have survived. It's scary to think that way, but I do tend to overthink these things after the fact.  But I did learn a lesson from this:
Never again will I do the "send-you-out-to-pee-then-dash-out-the-door" routine that I, and many, do.  I will always make sure my dogs are out, AND back in, at least 15 minutes before I actually leave the house for any period of time.
It's awful how these things can make us a little more anxious (or anal?) about our habits, but it's easy enough to do and I know I'll leave the house reassured that they are all healthy and safe.

Zipper was due back for his bloodwork today, as well as a urinalysis. As "luck" would have, didn't Gaci, out of the blue, urinate while she was sleeping last night, and apparently did not awake when she did so, so we all awoke this morning to a soaked Gaci and a soaked bedspread.  And when I mean she peed, she PEED. Not leaked, downright peed. So off she came to the vet with us, with this sudden turn of events!

Zipper's bloodwork is all normal except for one liver value (his ALT). It was outside normal ranges, but was not dangerously high. Scheduled to recheck in one month to make sure they go back down, and that there is no long-term problem from the event.

Gaci's urinalysis showed totally clean urine. No blood, no bacteria, no crystals, glucose normal (no diabetes). The only part of it that was off was that it was a little to alkaline (pH of 8), where it should sit at about a pH of about 6.  Anyhow, since there is no sign of trouble, in fact her urine was really healthy other than the pH, basically we'll just be taking the "wait and see" approach to see if anything happens again.  I've been discussing starting Gaci on cranberry supplements for some time now, to help with some of her hind-end issues she has experienced over the years.   This confirms that it is indeed a good idea for her, one which I will be starting for her this week. The cranberry extract will ideally bring her urine pH back into normal levels. Although she's never had a true "problem" with her urinary system, she did have a tucked vulva that was corrected surgically, which left her with some discomfort issues as well as *possible* incontinence (I say possible because up until this time, we'd never seen any evidence of her leaking urine).

I felt most badly, though, because Gaci had a particularly stressful experience this time around at the vet. She's made huge strides in her vet visits,  in which vet staff have even complimented her behaviour improvements, but I will admit that this visit was a bit out there, even for her. No reactivity - there was no barking or anything of the sort. In fact, it was totally the opposite - a desperate attempt at escape from the counter and climbing up me for safety. This is totally -not- Gaci's way in doing things. The only thing I can think is that she did just recently have a single-tooth extraction due to a bad tooth (from chewing a bone or playing tug? She had great teeth for her age, has never had a dental - another benefit of her raw diet), which did require a sedative, and she had a really tough time with the sedation. It really made her anxious - very anxious, while sedated - she would whine if I left her sight, howled in her crate (she generally loves her crate!...I ended up not crating her at all, but instead resting with her), and she felt really defensive at the other dogs approaching her, until the next morning. I think that experience, only being within the last two weeks, has made this current visit stressful for her. I'll be taking care to let her body de-stress over the next 72 hours, with low-key interactions and some calm exercise, but I'll have to keep it in mind for next time. I think next visit we have, I will use her Thundershirt and some Rescue Remedy to see if it'll help her stress levels a bit, as I don't want to see her that stressed about vet visits, especially after we've come SO far. Time will tell.....

So thankfully, I continue to have medically healthy dogs. But as it goes, seniors tend to bring us just a little more concern at times, and begin to require slightly different things as they age.  I'll knock on wood for no more vet visits for the year (after Zipper's bloodwork re-check, that is), and appreciate that even with the scare, my old dogs are still aging gracefully and heathily along the way!