Emergency veterinarian Elizabeth Rozanski remembers the Doberman Pinschzer well. "He was a Doberman who kept eating socks," recalls Rozanski, who also is assistant professor for clinical sciences at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University. "And then the owner bought him a stuffed dog made entirely of socks-36, I think. He ate the entire toy."
But as funny as the idea of a dog eating a bunch of socks may sound, those and other dangers that our canine companions encounter in our homes are no laughing marter. For the most part, though, catastrophes can be averted. Here's what you can do to keep your dog safe from the everyday perils of living in a human household.
Know the Hazards
Unfortunately, threats to canine safety abound in human households. But before you can protect your puppy or adult dog from hazards in your home, you need to know what they are.
Common dangers include household chemicals and detergents; antifreeze for vehicles, and rat, ant, and mouse poisons, all of which can he ingested. Dangling electrical cords can pose another threat, especially to curious puppies with sharp puppy teeth. Certain foods that are fine for humans are toxic to dogs, such as chocolate, grapes, and raisins. Any food that's landed in the garbage is not fine for anyone; mold isn't any better for canine digestive systems than it is for human systems.
Some common household plants can be toxic. And during the holidays, eating the mistletoe that inspires human-to-human kissing can poison your pooch, while scarfing some tinsel can cause an intestinal obstruction in the dog who decides to do so. (For more on household poisons, see "Dogs will eat anything" ).
Quite a few apparently benign items are not so benign when a curious puppy decides to examine them with his teeth. Jewelry (remember the necklace that Marley swallows in the book and movie Morley & Me?), coins, toilet paper, paper towels, underwear, and-as Dr. Rozanski noted-socks are all objects that a dog or puppy can eat and that then can land in his digestive tract, blocking food that needs to travel through there. Small items such as dropped pins and paper clips may not cause blockages, but they can certainly cause internal injuries.
Even dog toys and treats can cause problems. Balls that are small enough for a dog to swallow can cause blockages in the digestive tract, as can rope toys that disintegrate.
Finally, certain two-legged individuals can inadvertently put their dogs' and puppies' lives at risk.
"The biggest hazard for a puppy in a human household is a human who isn't paying attention to the puppy," declares trainer Victoria Schade, creator of the DVD New Puppy! Now What? (Rocket Media Group) and author of Bonding With Your Dog: A Trainer's Secrets for Building a Better Relationship (Howell Book House).
Clearly, there are dangers all around. But by paying attention and taking a few safety steps, owners can protect their dogs from the hazards of everyday living. Here's how:
Case the Premises
Inspect your home's interior from two perspectives, your own and that of your dog.
"After you've checked a room from your normal perspective, crawl on the ground and take a second look at the room," suggests Schade, who lives in Annandale, Virginia. "Puppies are creative when it comes to chewing, so be creative when it comes to puppy-proofing. Anything that dangles or moves should he put away until Baby Fido can be trusted."
Follow the Puppy
If, after you've puppy-proofed the house, your four-legged friend still gets into mischief, consider his action a wake-up call. "If you don't do a good job puppy-proofing the first time, your puppy will point our your oversights with his teeth," says Schade. "Follow his lead and remove or block off any surprising items you might have missed."
Some household items such as wastebaskets, toilet paper, and garbage cans may he difficult or just too inconvenient to remove. In such cases, your best course of action is to limit your dog's access to such temptations.
Place wastebaskets up on bookshelves, close bathroom doors, and block off garbage cans with chairs or barstools. If these measures are not possible, consider using a crate to keep your pup safe when you can't supervise.
Until your puppy or dog becomes reliably housetrained and accustomed to life in your household, keep a close eye on her. "Puppies and dogs do not have common sense!" warns certified applied animal behaviorist Nancy Williams, of Manchester, Maryland. "A good rule is that if a situation or item could he dangerous for a child, it can he dangerous for a dog."
Watch the Kids
Children, particularly those under the age off 6, aren't born knowing how to interact with dogs. Parents should make sure that their offspring play with their puppy in ways that don't jeopardize the animal. "Children should sit down on a sofa or floor when they handle a puppy," says Williams. "Puppies can be injured by a young child holding them as the puppy squirms. And children should be especially careful around small puppies, as a puppy can be stepped on and injured."
Make a Trade
If your puppy or dog does grab an unauthorized object, don't chase her; the excitement of a chase could cause her to swallow the object. Instead, offer her a treat or toy that she really likes. Chances are, she'll drop the forbidden object to take your offering. Trading is especially important if your dog has made off with the object and runs under a table or somewhere else that's difficult for you to reach.
Use Common Sense
Knowing your particular dog's favorite ways of getting into trouble can give you a head start on keeping her safe in your home but only if you're willing to use a little common sense. If your Kerry has a tendency to wander (and many do!), don't let her go out into your yard unleashed unless you have a secure fence. If your Golden Retriever likes to check our your kitchen counters and dinner tables for any people food to score, keep those counters completely food-free. And if you know your dog likes to scarf hosiery-as was the case with the Doberman Pinscher-think twice before giving him a toy made completely out of socks.
When Puppy-proofing Fails
Sometimes, despite your best efforts, your dog manages to get into something she shouldn't or otherwise gets sick or injured in her own home. When that happens, it's important to know what to do. Quick action on your part could save your dog's life.
A dog who's limping after being dropped needs a veterinarian's attention, as does a dog who swallows a forbidden object. If you see the dog scarf down such an object, call your vet as soon as possible and ask for instructions. Chances are, you'll be told to bring the dog in immediately.
If you have reason to believe that your dog has ingested a toxic substance such as a plant, household cleaner, or certain foods, see a veterinarian immediately.
But suppose you don't see your dog's transgression. For just that reason, you need to know the major symptoms of a digestive obstruction: vomiting and lethargy. A dog who has swallowed something poisonous may also exhibit vomiting, lethargy, and seizures. If your dog is experiencing any of these symptoms, call your veterinarian immediately. If it's after hours, bring your dog to the nearest emergency veterinary clinic.
At the emergency room, veterinarians will examine your dog and, depending on her symptoms and what you think she may have ingested, order X-rays. If she's swallowed an object, either surgery or endoscopy (using a tube with a small camera to find and remove objects) will he performed.
That's what happened with the sock-eating Doberman. It took an hour of endoscopy at a cost of about $500, to remove the 36 socks. And while his story did have a happy ending, with a little planning on your part, your dog need not have such an experience in the first place.
Susan McCullough keeps all the bathroom doors in her house closed so that her Golden Retriever, Allie, doesn't get a chance to indulge her passion for chomping on toilet paper. They live with their family in Vienna, Virginia.