Labor Day safety for dogs

Labor Day is the unofficial end of summer, much like Memorial Day is the unofficial start of summer. And this summer in the mitten- much like the winter- has been a weird one. We have had record few days in the 90s and a large number of mornings that started out in the 50s! The lakes were too cold to swim in, and the actual hot summer days have been so humid you just walk outside and start sweating.

All that aside, people still want to participate in classic holiday fun- the BBQ. Why shouldn’t Fido participate too? Well he should with a couple quick tips for keeping our furry friends safe.


Oh the BBQ food. It all smells so good. But cooked food from the grill can have bones that can hurt Fluffy’s insides, marinades that can damage the kidneys, or at the least cause a nasty case or diarrhea or vomiting. Or maybe your dog is like Reggie and just plain allergic to everything in site. Keep them away.

Jail Break

Parties can be chaos. This can be a perfect opportunity for your dog to plan their escape from the yard. Especially if they are not at their own house! They are wily, and many are good diggers.


It’s no secret Reggie loves the water. But he is getting older and doesn’t have the stamina he used to. I would never leave him unattended in water anyway, but this is especially important in a party situation. You might think with all the people around it’s no big deal- wrong! You wouldn’t do that with a child would you? Don’t do it with your dog. And don’t be shy about a canine life vest if your dog needs one.


There are some many things to get into at a party! Matches or lighter fluid contain cholates which can damage red blood cells and and cause difficulty breathing. Citronella candles, insect coils, and oils if ingested can cause stomach irritation and even central nervous system depression. If inhaled the oils could cause aspiration pneumonia. Short hair dogs dogs may need sunscreen but don’t ever apply human sunscreen- use a product made specifically for dogs. Don’t ever use insect repellant on dogs.


Going to and from BBQ destinations often means you need to stop and pick up something for the host, for yourself, drop something off, pick someone up…Never leave your dog in the car. Temperatures in a car can rise to deadly levels in as little as 15 minutes.


Assign someone to be the dog guardian. Have one person in charge of the dog for the course of the BBQ; they don’t refill the chip bowl or get more ice, they are only in charge of watching the dog, feeding the dog, picking up after the dog, etc. Likewise for the other host(s). They are not responsible for the dog, but are responsible for the chip bowl, the ice, etc. Or if you are the guest, take turns. This is especially important if you are in an unfenced area.

How do you greet your dog?

Every day when I come home Reggie is there, right behind the door, ferociously wagging his tail (a whole body wiggle really) ECSTATIC to see me. What a greeting! We should all greet each other this way! No matter what kind of day I’ve had, what kind of drive I’ve had, this makes it all better. I can’t resist dropping all my things and immediately reciprocating by wildly petting him, telling him “hello” and “I missed you” a hundred times over.

In a recent article in Modern Dog magazine, they reported on the proper way to greet your dog. The proper way to greet your dog will raise their oxytocin levels and decrease their cortisol levels. How do you accomplish this? It might be a little different for every dog, but the approach is generally the same.


The positive effects of touch coupled with your voice strengthen the bond you have with your dog. If you only use your voice, the positive effects dissipate much more quickly than when touch is used. Dogs can’t tell time, and at about the 15 minute mark is when they kind of zone out and it becomes an undetermined long time. As a general rule, strengthening your bond makes this “long time” not so bad and their cortisol level not as high (not as stressed). Note that dogs with separation anxiety this certainly would not apply.

I found it interesting that the article cited research done with monkeys from the 1960s and 1970s showing that the amount of love a child has for its mother is “partly due to the amount and quality of touching that the child and the mother engage in.” With monkeys, this translated as activities such as grooming, hugging, feeding, carrying offspring, etc. With humans this is seen as brushing a child’s hair, helping to wash a child’s face, hugging, simple touching of the hand or the head, etc. All of this adds up to a strong affectionate bond.

A simple test I did with Reggie some time ago (called Dognition, read that post here) showed that Reggie and I have a very strong bond. You can test it yourself: yawn and see if your dog yawns. Sounds silly, but it is the sign of connectedness.

Bottom line? No touch-no talk-no eye contact doesn’t make sense for you and your own dog if you want to foster a strong bond and, in my opinion, a dog that is responsive to you in training. A dog that doesn’t care about you and doesn’t want to please isn’t as easy to train. I will continue to greet Reggie as enthusiastically as he greets me, he deserves it!

Why do dogs bark?

Reggie is not a vocal dog. It’s a little weird; he doesn’t regularly bark, growl, or whine. I know I’ve discussed it in other posts- his lack of vocalizations make me overreactive in play situations when vocalizations are common because I’m not used to them.

He barks at the mailman. Couldn’t be more of a cliche but he gets nutty when the mailman comes to the door (just the mailman, no one else). So, why do dogs bark? Why are some dog barks more ferocious than others? Let’s see.

The Anatomy of the Bark
dog_mouth_editThe structure of the canine throat is similar to that of a human. According to The Genius of Dogs by Brian Hare, the vocal chords- which are contained in the larynx- are more plastic than a human’s, and allow for greater vibrations and subtlety of sound. You probably can tell the difference between your dog’s “throw the ball!” bark and “there’s a stranger!” bark. These slight vibrational variances create an entire language.
The length of the larynx, and consequently vocal chords, make a sound impact too. A St. Bernard has a large, booming, deep bark. A Pug has a short, sharp, staccato bark. The vocal chords of the St. Bernard are longer and have a longer vibration time, whereas the Pug has very short vocal chords. Think of it like a dog with a long or big neck equals a big or deep bark, and small or short neck equals tiny or high pitched barks.

Types of Barks
You know your dog and can probably tell the difference between his or her barks. Dogs bark for attention, boredom or frustration, territoriality, playfulness, or health issues. A bored dog is like a bored kid- they can be destructive, annoying, and will get that energy out one way or another. My mailman issue is a common one and an issue of territoriality. I need to teach Reggie that the mailman is ok. When Reggie is outside and the mailman comes to the house he is fine (although the mailman is not fine, he is terrified). Reggie’s dad has done a very good job of fostering a good Reggie-mailman relationship.

Other Vocalizations
Dogs are ancestrally and genetically linked to wolves. However, only 3% of wolves’ vocalizations are barking. Wolves howl. Through the domestication process, barking became the main form of vocalization and howling less. There are also breed considerations- you may never train barking out of a Beagle or howling out of Basenji.
Scientists have recorded dog barks and growls and played them for dogs, and yes- they are communicating different things. One such experiment, as relayed in The Genius of Dogs, involved two dogs playing. Dog A and Dog B are both barking and growling. Dog A takes Dog B’s toy. Dog B growls but there is no incident and play continues. Scenario two is feeding. Dog A and Dog B are eating and Dog A tries to get Dog B’s food and Dog B growls. Dog A backs away. The growls in the two scenarios are clearly different and communicating different messages. The follow up of that experiment was that they recorded those growls and played them for different dogs at feeding time. With the “play” growl there was no reaction; with the “feeding” growl the other dog backed away!

I have a good handle on Reggie’s whines (seizure indicator), but I am still learning his growls and barks. He is not a talker, and while I am largely grateful for that, it can be difficult sometimes. Maybe I should work on a “speak” command!