Sylvia MacDonald & a Lifetime Spent Grooming Our Furry Friends

What are you passionate about? What gets you up in the morning? What keeps you up at night?

Some of the best companies in the lower mainland are those built on passionate the labour-of-love shops created just because the owner wanted it to happen, rather than needing it to happen.

When it comes to pets, dogs in particular, there’s nothing else that stirs those emotions more strongly for Sylvia MacDonald, the owner of K9 Brite Barks.

That’s right, I scored some time with the boss! Enjoy!

Kelvin: Describe your background – what led you to opening up a dog grooming and teeth cleaning shop in North Vancouver?

Sylvia: I’ve been working with dogs since I was 8 years old, I’ve loved dogs and animals my entire life. I started showing dogs when I was 8. My parents were presidents at the Alberni Valley Kennel Club. By the time I was 15 I became a professional handler. I was handling dogs in the ring, getting paid and working for people. I loved everything about the dog business. At around 16 I started grooming dogs with my own business in my basement. My next door neighbours would bring their dogs over. By the time I was 17 my dad built me a store, I called it The Barking Lot…

Wait, seriously? A dog grooming business called The Barking Lot? That’s incredible.

(Laughs) Yep! At about 20 I moved to Victoria and that’s when I opened up my business training people all over the world in grooming show dogs. The Barking Lot became a post-secondary trade school teaching people proper dog grooming. Then I opened a doggy day care with 7 groomers working for me. Then a retail store.

So it’s your life’s work then. There’s no other way to cut it.

I suppose so! K9 Brite Bark came about when I was grooming and I started hearing stories from people losing their pets to anesthetic when they were put under. It was horrible, sometimes there’s no avoiding it, but it’s just so sad. I started researching and using new tools because you can’t show a dog with bad teeth. So I went into it in further depth and I started volunteering with veterinarians to learn as much as I could. I ultimately decided to sell the Barking Lot to get into teeth cleaning full time. My manager took over and I started promoting anesthetic-free teeth cleaning in the store. After dogs were groomed by The Barking Lot they got their teeth cleaned. From there I opened up K9 Brite Bark in Victoria and the rest is history!

When did K9 open up officially?

I think it was 2002, time flies, wow. Now it’s a full business in different cities, we have 3 stores just in Victoria, one in North Van and one in Duncan. We’re mobile as well, we go to Gibson’s and to Castle Rock once a month. We have 6 stores in Calgary, too. People line up the dogs and we do education sessions with everybody on good oral health, how to hold your dog and how to brush your dog. That’s the whole thing with dental, people just don’t know how to do it and we educate them along with doing the cleaning and polishing.

Let’s talk more about the philosophy behind the business. Why do you believe in anesthetic-free teeth cleaning?

First, I don’t believe every dog should be put under, but sometimes it’s necessary. What we do is determine when it’s not necessary, when the teeth can be cleaned ultrasonically. Sometimes the tartar, isn’t underneath the gum line. We can treat a dog before there are severe problems. It’s non-invasive. A lot of different breeds, the dogs with the pushed-in faces, they can’t go under anesthetic, it’s too hard on them. To be able to take them somewhere where they can get their teeth cleaned is exactly like a human going to the dentist and having the hygienist do your teeth. If there are issues we can’t deal with we send people to a vet right away.

We’re behaviourists as well, that’s the key. We’re trained to work with difficult dogs in different situations. That’s the skill, getting into a dog’s mouth, being gentle to the point where they’ll actually let you do it. Our ultrasonic girls come and they have to have 6 months of training and then there’s a long process. It’s all about handling that dog in a gentle way where the dog actually enjoys it.

Can I call my house The Barking Lot if I get more dogs?

(Laughs) Whatever you need to do, you go for it.

Police Dog

4 Reasons Why Dogs Are Boosting the Mental Health of Humans

Praising your dog and giving him treats does a lot for his self esteem. Can you imagine perfectly performing a trick and being gifted with a treat? Every time? That would be amazing!

Unfortunately for humans our emotions aren’t so easily swayed. Sure, we operate on a basic system of rewards as well:

  • We work, we get paid
  • We eat, we get full
  • We exercise, we get healthy
  • We watch Old Yeller, we get sad

But the human mind isn’t so cut and dry. Human beings’ self awareness means we’re constantly considering elements that have nothing to do with rewards. How long will we live? Why do I feel this way? Does life get any easier?

Now, the bulk of this conversation is just slightly too vast for your friendly neighbourhood dog blogger, but one thing we do know is that our pets go a long way toward improving our daily mental condition.

How, you ask?

1. They Make Us Feel Useful

Let’s start with the positive aspects of the human-pet relationship. We all want to feel useful in life – useful to our kids, useful at our jobs and useful to the world. Sometimes it just isn’t accurate though.

Except when it comes to our pets.

We feed our pets. We shelter our pets. We share a love with our pets that’s often stronger than the love we share with other people!

And for that, our pets are eternally grateful.

2. They Treat Us The Same When We’re Sick

There comes a time in everyone’s life when the ol’ clock starts to tick and we realize we’re getting older. Often it’s the same time things start to go wrong and we come down with different illnesses.

It’s why pet therapy is a growing practice in hospitals all over the world.

Why? Because pets don’t care if we’re sick. All they need is love and they’ll return the affection tenfold, enough to help us forget our problems if only for a moment.

3. They Can Be Jerks, Too

Just wait, hear me out.

When was the last time watching the news put you in a better mood? The petty crimes, the arrogance, the inconsiderate people out there – it’s frustrating to say the least.

Well, you know what? Dogs can be jerks, too. Dogs will tear up the couch just because. Dogs will go to the bathroom on the floor while staring you straight in the eyes.

But not all dogs. Heroes exist in the canine world just the same as they exist in the human world.

Plus, the jerk dogs? They can be trained to grow out of this jerk-tastic behaviour.

That gives me hope that humans can be trained as well. And hopeful is a powerful mental state in which to be.

4. They’re Family

Dogs are so much more than domesticated beasts trained to fetch sticks and balls. Dogs have a natural part to play in the overall family dynamic. When they arrive we celebrate. When they die we mourn.

The lifespan of a pet is an accelerated look at our own mortality. Sharing your home with a pet attaches us to reality, it reminds we’re human beings who will grow, learn and, if we have the desire, become anything we want to be.

Dogs are happy every day and all they really need is a comfy bed and a loving home.

And truthfully, do humans really require much more than that to find that same state of contentment?

Go hug your dog everybody.

photo credit: Kobold … 9-11 Therapy Dog via photopin (license)

Puppy Chewing

4 Tips to Deal With Chew-happy Puppies

For most dogs, chewing a toy or a stick or a bone isn’t just a hobby for young pups, it’s a naturally ingrained method of cleaning and strengthening their teeth.

Plus it’s the funnest thing ever, right? I mean, I’d way rather spend an hour chewing a plastic toy then brushing my teeth for 3 minutes. Wouldn’t you?

What was I talking about?

Oh yeah, tips for aggressive chew-happy puppies. If you’ve got a young pit bull terrier, a golden retriever or a beagle, then you’ve likely come home to a chewed up shoe or remote control on more than one occasion. There are plenty of breeds of dogs who take chewing seriously, and there are plenty of chew-happy pups who couldn’t care less what their breed is.

Fortunately for pet owners everywhere there are special ways to help you avoid a shredded couch.

1. Try to Determine the Problem

Sure, maybe your pup is going through a stage that he or she will outgrow. But what if it’s not a phase caused by youth? What if there’s another factor at work?

Ask yourself:

  1. Are your dog’s teeth clean? Dogs will try to work off excess material by finding new things to chew.
  2. Is your dog hungry? Often it’s necessary to restrict, um, chubby dogs to calorie-reduced diets. We all know what it’s like being on a diet.
  3. Is your dog lonely? Dogs will find something to chew to deal with separation anxiety. If your buddy is spending too much time alone, look into a day-care shelter or pay a neighbour to take your buddy for walks.

2. Keep a Calm & Consistent Attitude

Just like children, dogs rarely respond how we think they’ll respond. Yelling and losing your temper will only confuse your dog. It could even encourage them to find something else to chew even better. This is particularly true in the puppy stage when the young’n’s are learning about their surroundings through taste and they’re teething.

Punishing your dog after they’ve chewed something does not help the situation. Remember, he’s a dog – he won’t associate the punishment with an act he already committed. People believe dogs act guilty because they know what they’ve done, when in fact they’re acting that way because they’re frightened by their owners’ threatening demeanour. No, if you don’t catch ‘em in the act, then it’s too late.

3. Exercise & Fresh Air Always Helps

Your dog might be tearing up the sheets because he’s bored, but that’s not his fault. Consistent exercise outside will tucker your dog out and give him an appetite for real food. Dogs who don’t get enough exercise based on their breed, their upbringing and their individual characteristics don’t simply decide to chill out on the couch. A dog with energy needs to do something with that energy, even if it means gnawing on your brand new shoes.

4. Toys!

Finally, the simplest solution of all. There are so many different types of dog toys on the market that the hard part is deciding which works best. Nothing works off the stress like biting into a hard rubber object for hours on end. There are plenty of natural bones on the market, plus rawhides, pig ears, dental-specific KONGS and other teeth-friendly items.

Make sure you avoid table scraps like wings or ribs – these can splinter and be dangerous on the way down.

Sounds like a fun way to grow up! Remember that puppies are just like little kids – they’re trying to figure everything out as they go. It’s not their fault their instincts tell them that your particular shade of green couch will be delicious. Be patient, puppy-profs your house and keep your little buddy moving and your chewing days will be over soon!

photo credit: Puppy via photopin (license)

German Shepards on the Beach

Why Heatstroke is So Dangerous in Dogs (& How to Avoid it)

The summer sun is here in the lower mainland and dog lovers everywhere know what means: chasing after sticks, playing catch and getting a good workout while the weather is hot.

… and now on to the dogs!

Haha, I know, so funny. Seriously though, pet owners in Vancouver are salivating at the thought of heading outside, but just like people, dogs are very much at risk to the effects of the heat.

What is Heat Stroke?

When the temperature rises, the body’s heat dissipating mechanisms have a tougher time functioning because of the increase in external heat. It’s not as difficult when it’s cloudy or rainy because a dog’s body can ‘borrow’ the lack of heat from outside.

When it’s hot out, there’s no escape. Your dog doesn’t sweat out excess heat like you do, they pant out the heat. If there’s too much or their internal motor gets running too hot, then they’re incapable of combatting the excess heat and severe damage to internal organs can occur, or worse.

A dog’s normal body temperature is between 100º to 102ºF, but they don’t know that and neither do you when you’re out in the park.

So how can you tell your pet is in trouble?

The Signs of Heat Stroke

If you notice any of these symptoms then your dog needs immediate veterinary attention:

  • Rapid breathing or panting
  • Bright red tongue
  • Discoloured gums (pale or extra red)
  • Vomiting or diarrhoea

One of the other ways to spot heatstroke in your dog is their mood. Do they seem depressed even though they’re doing something they love? Are they swaying slightly? Are they responsive?

In other words, if something doesn’t seem normal, then don’t think twice – something is not normal! If you suspect heatstroke then immediately remove your pet from the heat and try to cool them with shade or lukewarm water around the neck, ears and on the belly. After that, take them for aid right away.

Related: what your veterinarian do to lower your dog’s body temperature.

Stop Heatstroke Before it Happens

So why is heatstroke so difficult to detect in dogs?

Because they don’t tell us something is wrong. That lack of a common language sure is pesky, isn’t it?

Although unless we’re dealing with a brand new pet, we usually understand exactly what they’re saying, right? After all, we spend more time watching their movements and routines then we do understanding our own routines.

The key to preventing heatstroke in pets is making sure they have access to something cool. When you go to the park this summer, follow these tips:

  • Keep an abundance of cool, fresh water available
  • Choose an area with plenty of shade and thick, long grass (beaches are not a dog’s friend)
  • Keep exercise to a minimum & take plenty of breaks
  • Don’t let your dog get to a point where they’re panting or wheezing too much

Helping Those Without a Voice to Help Themselves

The summer is a wonderful time to be a pet owner. You don’t have to worry about mud tracked through the house (as much) or having a wet dog shake itself out in the living room before you can dry him off.

However, the rainy months are a lot safer for dogs who love being outside. the problem is that it often doesn’t take a lot of added heat for dangerous situations to occur.

Your dog might enjoy summer more, but they don’t quite grasp the concept of heatstroke, so it’s up to us to protect them from the dangerous effects the sun can have.

So have fun this summer, and keep everybody in your family safe.

photo credit: DSC_0353 via photopin (license)