Category Archives: Greyhounds

Nick’s Hindquarters Weakness update

The past several months have been up and down and up again as we learned more about Nick’s late in life care. This article is a catch up to November. I never thought he’d make it that far.

References

  1. https://store.greyhoundhalloffame.com/product_p/9060.htm Care of the Racing/Retired Greyhound, National Greyhound Association and American Greyhound Council, 2007.
  2. Twitter @nickgreyhound1 has a daily vignette and tracks how he’s doing that day.
Continue reading Nick’s Hindquarters Weakness update

Nick’s Low Back Pain Update 1

In the first article of this series, I outlined Nick’s initial presentation of low back pain and the therapy he is receiving from his regular vet and his late in life care vet, Hampton Roads Veterinary Hospice. This practice specializes in late in life palliative care to maintain an elderly pet’s comfort and function late in life.

This practice offers selected Chinese therapy including acupuncture and herbal therapy in addition to cold laser and message therapy. They care for Nick in home and a significant portion of the visit is spent interviewing me about how Nick’s condition is changing, a thorough leg hip and back exam, and some coaching while the acupuncture session completes. I recommend this style of care for late in life care. This is the first time I’ve not felt alone with a geriatric hound.

How he’s doing

Nick is facing two problems, gradual deterioration of his hips and lower spine resulting from aging and slow wasting from loss of appetite resulting from pain and possible age-related metabolism changes that cause him to extract less energy from his ration.

Over the summer, Nick has stopped running the fence line and vaulting the porch steps to enter the house. He’s also been doing his toilet along the street fence rather than the customary area behind the shed that is a 100 foot walk so he’s consciously minimizing the distance walked. Over August and September he stopped doing a late night garden prowl with Missy.

His bowls are mostly regular with an occasional poo in an i’ve fallen and can’t get up context and the occasional spontaneous emission while sleeping. He remains in good bladder control.

I’ve taught him to walk up the steps and he has it mostly down but needs some support to compensate for imperfect control of his aft end. The Ruff Wear Webmaster harness has been a good thing for both of us. I can tailor the assistance provided to his needs of the moment allowing him to maintain strength and confidence. Without the harness, I’d have to carry him like a puppy risking injury to both of us in the event of a misstep and fall.

Weight Maintenance

Nick continues to experience slow wasting, mostly as a result of eating less than maintenance on the average. Nick is receiving a high quality grain free food with most of its protein from animal sources, usually salmon or duck flesh and meal plus menhaden meal. Legumes and sweet potatoes provide carbohydrates and fiber without added beet or tomato pomace. Food macronutrient ratios conform to industry standards. Nick is supplementing pot roast which he eats eagerly and packet tuna which he eats eagerly. He receives either cream cheese spread or peanut butter as a pilling aid.

Nick and Missy are eating the same diet and the same amounts roughly. Missy is chubby while Nick is distinctly under weight. Some of Nick’s weight loss is a result of him leaving a small amount of kibble at each feeding but some may result from metabolic changes associated with aging. I try to intercept Nick’s leftovers and offer them later in the evening between meals. This was a matter of teaching Missy some restraint and having a treat for her when Nick was receiving his later feedings.

Nick is a grazer so I have to feed him when he wants to eat even if that is 2300. So I offer about 1/3 of his food in the morning around 9 AM, 1/3 at 5 PM and 1/3 around 8-9 PM with pot roast at 5 and tuna at 8. This has improved his eating. I give his medications at 9 and 9 with the gabapentin at bedtime around 10 to give him the best mobility during the day.

Pain Management

Nick continues to receive 3 primary medications for pain management, carprofen, gabapentin, and Hindquarters Weakness. He also receives PhyCox supplement and GlycoFlex supplement mostly for added glucosamine and chondroitin but each has a different system of anti-inflammatories that is supposed to help maintain hindquarters comfort.

Hindquarters Weakness is a traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine believed over centuries of experience to be effective at managing hindquarters pain in Chinese draft animals. The formulation Nick receives is from a US supplier that runs an FDA style quality program to verify the purity and potency of China-sourced leaves and roots from which the product is prepared. The Chinese herbs have proved much more effective than the glucosamine and chondroitin supplements. I suspect this is because his food has adequate glucosamine and chondroitin while the Chinese herbs found only in Hindquarters Weakness have a robust anti-inflammatory action.

We started the gabapentin first followed by the Hindquarters Weakness. When we started 2 a day gabapentin, Nick became sedated and showed reduced rear leg control as indicated by a drunken gait with slouching hindquarters.

He’d improve at random. Invariably, each good day was preceded by a missed round of medication remaining in his pillbox, usually the bedtime dose. This suggested that one of Nick’s medications had slow removal kinematics in Nick.

We tested the Hindquarters Weakness first by reducing the dosage from 2 and 2 to 1 and 2. I started with it because I knew none of the ingredients had been FDA trialed to determine kinematics and that greyhounds have slow liver function relative to other breeds.

The dosage change produced no change in sedation and slouching. So I returned to 2 and 2 and reduced the gabapentin to one tablet at bedtime and stuck with it. Nick showed an immediate improvement in alertness, appetite, and walking posture.

At hospice vet’s suggesting, I increased Nick’s Hindquarters Weakness to 3 in morning and 2 in evening. This appears to have improved his mobility. We’ve been on this protocol for about 2 weeks. In that period, Nick has been much more alert during the day, is sleeping through the night, and is waking around 9. He can be a bit rubber-legged in the morning but this walks off in 10 minutes or so.

Flatulence

Since starting added pot roast, both dogs have shown reduced flatulence. It appears that adding some additional meat has shifted gut bacteria and less fermentation is happening in the back end. Of both dogs.

Thoughts on Greyhound Low Back Pain

When Nick began 2018, it was with good posture and mobility. As the year progressed, Nick began to display indications of low back and hip arthritis. The primary indication is that that standing posture slowly deteriorates from an erect stand to a slouch like that shown in the featured image. Note that neither rear paw is being dragged or knuckling over during gait. Gait is normal but maybe bowlegged or somewhat stiff.

Low back and hip arthritis is common in greyhounds and in humans. As with humans, it reduces quality of life by causing pain that the critter accommodates by reducing activity volume and diversity.

As with humans, there are things you can do to maintain quality of life including use of supplements, pain management via medication, and physical therapies such as acupuncture. After the break, the Head Moocher will talk about what is helping Nick.

Moose’s Sight-hound Trust

Moose, one of my Twitter buddies, is a disgustingly cute Italian Greyhound (I believe) who has attracted an unseemly number of Twitter followers. Somewhere along the way his minions had the notion to start a Sighthound Welfare Charity in the UK. Being in the UK and (for the moment in the EU) my peeps are well aware of the plight of the Spanish Glagos (a field bred coursing hound) and the UK is awash in lurchers (deliberate greyhound crossbreeds bred as field dogs). Strong regulation and a strong network of adoption charities support the UK racing greyhound population but the hunting bred dogs are not well regulated and don’t have the industry assisted adoption network enjoyed by the racing dogs. It is with the field bred Galgos and Lurchers where I see Moose’s Trust filling a need.

Continue reading Moose’s Sight-hound Trust

Hi Crash and Nick are Half-Brothers

Back in the winter, I kept a friend’s greyhound while she was on holiday. Crash joined Nick and Missy as their guest. Crash was a perfect gentleman with impeccable manners in the house, in the garden, and on lead. After all, he’s a US racing greyhound and they’re indeed special.

krash-greyhound-1-of-1
Hi, I’m Crash

Crash enjoyed his stay with us. He and Missy had several epic chase sessions in the back garden. Missy was overjoyed to have a bouncy boy about her own age for play. Nick, he’s 11 and acting positively senior.

nick-and-missy-christmas-2015-1-of-1
I’m Lord Nick

Continue reading Hi Crash and Nick are Half-Brothers

If you live in a mosquito’s garden by the sea …

It’s summer. It’s mosquito season again, and zika and aedes aegypti are upon us. Aedes aegypti is the aggressive gal with the white stripes on the legs that goes after you in broad daylight. And your pets, and it can spread heart worm in addition to zika, equine encephalitis, Nile fever, and a host of other tropical wonders. Mosquito control is an important first step to prevention of these diseases.

Norfolk City Health Department stopped by to check standing water and conduct homeowner mosquito control training. Just a few days before, I had bought a new paddle pool for the greyhounds so health department’s visit was timely.

References

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aedes_aegypti
  2. http://midatlanticgardening.com/did-you-know-goldfish-and-rain-barrels/

The gouge

Aedes aegypti can breed in any amount of stagnant water that sits undisturbed for more than 4 days. These beasts will breed indoors so change flower vase water, out of the way dog bools, etc. Some breeding grounds found in suburban environments include the following.

  • The pet’s paddle pool
  • Outdoor pet water buckets
  • Flower vases
  • That rain barrel you’re so proud of (fish are the answer here)
  • Dog poo bin lids
  • Anything concave up that can hold water, pie tins, flower pot saucers, left out dishes, bin lids lying on the ground.
  • Upside down stuff that has troughs that can hold water, for example, a flower pot in storage.
  • Livestock troughs for horses, chickens etc. Even if filled by a float valve. Drain ’em  and refill. Rain barrel fish may work here also. Just as long as Dobbin is not carnivorous. Will  chooks go after mosquito larvae, Cousin Sandy?

To break the breeding cycle, empty each vessel every 4 days, say Sunday after church and Wednesday after work. Just dump and refill if needed. Dump any container seen with standing water in it..

Naked Dogs!

Back in the ’60s Russel Baker wrote this great column about SINA, the Society for Indecency to Naked Animals whose mission was to make dogs, cats, horses, etc dress in public. It was a send up of newly created PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals who were on the warpath in Washington DC at the time.

On a serious note

Naked dogs is a pet peeve of mine, dogs without an ID collar on. I see naked dogs in many Twitter photos and almost every walkabout dog in our neighborhood is naked! Sir Speedy in the mast-head image is naked but he’s not going walkabout.

My dogs always wear their ID collars. You never know when they will get out.

  • You’re distracted at the door and they make a break for freedom
  • Tradesmen leave gates open
  • Gardeners disturb a fence section opening a gap
  • Dave forgets to install the X-Pen across the carport opening
  • Tree widow-maker smashes fence section.
  • Fido learns to scale the chain link
  • Fido leaps tall fences in a single bound

Though you mean to be good, there are just too many ways for the fence to develop a break and hounds will go walkabout if the fence is broken or they know how to defeat the fence. Mine are walkabout 1-2 times a year, usually as a result of a fence malfunction.

Old School Collar and Tags

There is a simple bit of technology, the collar and dog tag that will get your dog back quickly if encountered by a neighbor. If your dog has the sense to approach a human for assistance, a speedy return is a phone message or walk away. Without a tag, pup is off to the impound for identification and return complete with fine and service fee for boarding.

I buy my hounds tags from http://www.boomerangtags.com, a US online seller of engraved tags. Their stainless steel tags may be engraved on both sides giving your phone numbers and street address on one side and alternate contact instructions on the other, a family member, rescue, or your vet. These tags will outlast a greyhound so they are best for those who are more or less permanently settled. I’ve been handing mine down from dog to dog.

And no batteries are required. No smart phone app. No Google search. All needed information is in the clear on the tags. The only problem is that collars do slip off and s-hooks may not be tightly crimped.

To get around the s-hook problem, I use a 2.5 cm key ring to attach tags to collars. I’ve never had a collar come back from a walk missing tags since switching to stainless steel key ring attachment.

Why the UK wants all dogs chipped

The UK animal control folk and the rescues (various Dog Trusts) receive naked dogs. Without chipping, there is no way to ID the dog and determine the owner. So the dog goes from the strays process to the unknown owner process. If you are lucky, you call the correct agency and they associate one of the inmates with your pet’s description. With a chip, they look your pet up in the chip-service’s registry and call you — assuming your registry record is up to date. In some cases, the registry also contacts you.

Greyhound Tattoos

Greyhounds are identified by tattoos while racing. Each dog has a unique designator that identifies the individual dog, usually some combination of birth month and year, litter number, and dog’s place in the tattoo order in the US. In the UK, it appears that each dog is given a unique alphanumeric string.

In questioning US vets, it turns out that they’re not taught about greyhound tattoos.  Or they slept through that part of lecture. US vets are unaware that birth year is encoded in the tattoo. They don’t know that the National Greyhound Association (NGA have their act together) is the US racing greyhound registry. AKC is clueless about greyhounds.

If the US vets don’t know about the NGA registry, it is unlikely that US shelter workers will know. Only the many greyhound rescues track hounds by tattoos but there is no central registry of former racers as their is with racers as few pet owners request title transfer from the racing owner. And we all move around so it is unlikely that the local greyhound rescue will have a record of a random hound.

 

 

Meet Captain SLO

Captain SLO is not Top Gear’s former Captain Slow. For one thing, James May has participated in one more race than Nick has. Rather Captain SLO take his nickname from the cause of Nick’s dodgy nails, symmetrical lupoid onychodistrophy. That’s a scary sounding mouthful. This post is about the onset of Nick’s disease in 2011 and what I’ve learned about managing it since.

References

  1. http://www.dermatologyforanimals.com/faq-49/ retrieved 4/26/2016
  2. http://www.grassmere-animal-hospital.com/SLO.htm retrieved 4/26/2016

Revision History

  1. 4/25/2016 initial draft
  2. 4/26/2016 added references 1 and 2 and dosage information taken from Reference 2.

In doing the research for this article, I discovered that I’d been giving Nick an excessive amount of fish oil and will recalculate his dosage and stick to it. I divide his dose between morning and evening meals to improve stool quality and have a more uniform therapeutic effect.

See your vet

If your hound is experiencing splitting or peeling nails do not attempt to treat the condition on your own. Splitting nails are a condition with several root causes including infections in the nail growth bed, SLO, and other systemic causes. A veterinary dermatologist will perform a differential diagnosis to determine the proper initial treatment and maintenance treatment. The information given in Reference 2 is typical and is included to indicate that SLO is easily treatable and inexpensive to treat.

It began with a split nail

One evening I came home, took the dogs out into the back garden for after work toilet, and let them in. After a bit, I noticed Nick exiting my bedroom with a limp and leaving a trail of red dots everywhere he stepped with one foot. I found a split nail and took him in to his vet’s after hours clinic to have the nail cleaned up. We’d both assumed he’d split it in the garden or in a clumsy attempt to mount my bed where he’d like to hang out. After initial treatment, we thought nothing of it until about the 3rd visit for split nails. My day vet had not encountered SLO before so she arranged a specialist consult with the local dermatology practice.

At the dermatologist

Doctor Cook took one look at Nick’s dodgy nails and immediately recognized the symptoms as indicative of SLO.

IMG_2361

This fore-paw photo looks largely unremarkable. But to the trained eye, it says SLO. The primary indications are a nail grown in a J with the bend parallel to the ground when standing and the stubby nails that looks like a carpenters pencil sharpened with a dull knife and the dull rough feeling horny covering. And from above

IMG_2371

Contrast this with healthy nails on Missy.

IMG_2362

Confirming SLO

SLO is confirmed by biopsy. This involves removing the dew claw or another nail to examine the growth plates. Most dermatologists are sufficiently confident of diagnosis by appearance and will treat without a biopsy confirmation. If the condition does not respond to tetracycline and steroids, then a biopsy is indicated.

SLO is an autoimmune disorder

SLO is an autoimmune disorder of the nail growth plates. The nail is actually a specialized bone designed to help with traction and serve as a tool for digging, defense, etc. SLO causes inflammation of the growth plate and poor formation of the nail. The nail is crumbly and weak and the horny covering is poorly attached to the quick. In the early stages, this presents as the nail peeling like a shrimp. The horny covering separates from the quick yet is attached at the growth plate. The separation is very uncomfortable and will usually result in a limp and possibly some minor bleeding.

As the disease continues, the nail sheaths (skin from which the nail emerges) can become swollen and infected. Most owners notice something is amiss long before this point and seek treatment.

Initial Treatment

Doctor Cook started Nick on a course of oral steroids and tetracycline. He also prescribed topical steroid (Synotic) to apply to the nail growth area at the knuckle. Doctor Cook also started Nick on Vitamin E (400 IU), niacinamide, and fish oil. I was to give the fish oil 180 mg EPA per 10 pounds of greyhound.

Your dermatologist will prescribe the dosage rates for the niacinamide and fish oil and leave you to calculate the proper amounts for the products you are using. It is important to give the fish oil at the proper rate to get the dosage he recommends. Excessive fish oil adversely affects blood clotting. Do the math.

Your vet will prescribe initial treatment based on the assessment of the hound’s condition.

Maintenance

SLO is an autoimmune disorder. It is not cured, just managed. The initial treatment with tetracycline and steroids brings the inflammation under control quickly to restore comfort. Continued treatment with niacinamide, fish oil, and Vitamin E manages the condition long term.

One issue I encountered was that I had misplaced my vet’s instructions and treatment began to drift.

Reference 2 gives dosages for a typical 60 pound greyhound.

  • EPA 180 mg per 1o pounds of greyhound (5 kg)
  • 500 mg nicainamine every 8 hours
  • 400 IU Vitamin E every 12 hours

The combination is synergistic so both the fish oil and the niacinamide must be given to maintain relief. The Vitamin E replaces E lost to fish oil metabolism. Some fish oils are supplemented with Vitamin E so don’t double up if you give a fish oil with a stated Vitamin E potency.

Not all Vitamin B are equal

Niacinamide is one of the many forms of vitamin B manufactured. Get this one. Not niacin, nor the non-flushing alternative. The body converts each of the three into Vitamin B but the but each has different secondary effects. Only nicinamide has the correct internal therapeutic action though all 3 will prevent deficiency diseases.

Niacinamide plus tetracycline is as effective as oral steroids in the initial treatment of several inflammatory diseases and its low toxicity and lack of side effects makes naicinamide preferred for maintenance. I give Nick 500 mg once or twice a day with peanut butter. Based on my reading today, I need to be careful to give 2 or 3 doses a day. It has a strong taste and is uncoated so pill with peanut butter.

Niacinamide is available over the counter in the US by special order from Target and CVS. A bottle of 90 or 100 tablets is about $5 so I buy in lots of 5 bottles to make it worth while. This usually lasts about a year. It can also be ordered from Amazon. Be careful that your supplier doesn’t don’t substitute on you.

The first year

If you give the fish oil at the proper dosage, the nails should show improvement over the first three months of treatment. It took me a good bit of fiddling around to begin to use bulk oil and to give an adequate amount.

Initial treatment brought improved comfort for Nick but his nails continued to peel while I learned to get the Synotic in the right place and tried various forms of oil. I had been getting capsules from the vet and giving 4 grams of oil a day. That was too little. We continued to treat a peeled nail every month or two.

After a bit, the vet decided that it was easy to get oil out in town and stopped carrying the oil capsules. I picked up some Verus coat supplement from my food dealer and began giving it. Over a couple of months, the splitting decreased while continuing the Synotic, E, and B with the oil.

The Verus oil was derived from Flax seed and was low in EPA and DHA relative to fish oil so I looked for a cold water fish oil to give in its place. I found two that are available in the US, Sea Pet and Alaska Natural. The oil that you give should have a statement like

  • provides 775 mg of EPA, 520 mg DHA and 200 IUs (134mg) of natural form vitamin E with each teaspoon.

that allows you to calculate the proper amount of oil to give. For 70 pound Nick, the dosage of this product works out to 1.6 teaspoons or 2 teaspoons. I’ve used both but tend to buy the Alaska Natural which is about $32/quart from my pet food dealer. The product comes in a thick hard plastic bottle with a 1/2 teaspoon pump. The Sea Pet product comes in a lighter soda plastic bottle without a pump. Both should be refrigerated once you start to use them to retard oxidation.

Sea Pet offers the cold water fish oil in three grades, regular oil, and two oils that have elevated levels of EPA and DHA. These sell at a significant premium proportional to the increased DHA/EPA level but the dosage is lower so they work out similarly cost wise per treatment. If you are experiencing sloppy stools, the more concentrated oil will help with that while still providing adequate levels of EPA and DHA. The Sea Pet products are available locally in the Virginia Tidewater and are easily mail ordered from the usual suspects.

After switching from fish oil capsules

Several months after I began giving bulk oil in the chow Nick experienced a reduced rate of nail splitting. The initial improvement occurred with the flax based oil but the best improvement came with the switch to salmon oil. For the two years that I’ve been giving salmon oil, the split nail rate showed a big drop. Nick is getting about 1 teaspoon of oil per 10 pounds of Nick, maybe a bit more. I had been putting 8 pumps or 4 tsp on a ration. Over time, the amount crept up. Having found Reference 2 and doing the math, I can reduce this to 3 pumps per ration.

Nick likes the salmon oil and won’t eat until I’ve put oil in his ration. He goes to the fridge and barks when time to be fed. He associated the oil with dinner and barks at the fridge rather than at the coat close where the food bin is. So I guess he likes it. It’s definitely a better deal than gelcap in peanut butter.

Four years on

Nick still has SLO. It’s an autoimmune disorder, but his is managed and he is comfortable. Peeled nails are rare but his nails are still dodgy as indicated by the crumbly ends. But the horny covering is smoother and is well attached to the quick. Splitting or peeling is rare because they are short and nail quality is improved. Nick is not not reactive to having his nails wiggled and prodded but he’s a grump about it and will tell me off if I’m overly poky about it.

One nail refuses to grow straight and has a rough porous feeling covering. the others are straight with blunt ends. Normal nails are like a machine sharpened pencil with a slick covering. So his are not normal but he is comfortable and his disease is well controlled.

Fish Oil and Clotting

Nick was due for dentistry about a year ago. In preparation, the vet ran a clotting time as part of Nick’s annual blood work. And found it slow. She prescribed Vitamin K treatment and did another draw. Nick was in spec. We scheduled surgery. They did a draw that morning and he was out of spec. So we did a second round of K and did the surgery immediately at the end of the course of K. Success. And he needed no extractions. Go figure.

I was reading another blog about SLO and discovered that fish oil (DHA and EPA) adversely affects clotting time. Nothing to be concerned about regarding every day nicks and scrapes but of concern when surgery is scheduled. The long and short of it is to consult with the dermatologist whenever surgery is planned as the fish oil is an important factor in the ongoing management of SLO. And to alert the vet when emergency care is needed.

Reference [1] mentions the clotting problem also and cautions against exceeding the recommended dosage for that reason.

 

 

A few days with TrackR Bravo

Bluetooth item trackers are all the rage if the Interwebs are to be believed. These gadgets are dog tag sized devices designed to be tucked into a wallet, stuck to mobile items, or  added to a key ring. They are basically Bluetooth 4 beacon devices that advertise their presence. To be an item tracker, they need to do little more. Just play Marco Polo with a mobile or other compatible Bluetooth device. About 5 or 6 companies make these things with another entering the market every few months. Most fundraiser on Indigogo so that is a good place to keep an eye peeled for new developments in this space.

References

  1. https://www.thetrackr.com/?ref_code=Xp0F6&utm_source=auto-emails&utm_medium=followup_email&utm_campaign=seven_days_after_shipping
  2. https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/wistiki-the-first-connected-jewels-ever#/
  3. https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/trackr-atlas-effortless-organization#/
  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bluetooth_low_energy

The first is a link to a TrackR Bravo referral code. The second is a link to the Indigogo campaign of the European upstart mentioned below. One of the perpetrators designed Steve Jobs yacht. The third is a link to the TrackR Atlas Indigogo campaign. The fourth is Wikipedia on Bluetooth 4.0 protocol.

Web reviews can be stale

Things are highly fluid in this space, especially with the application. Most brands get the hardware right and the app usable then go to market. Once launched, they continually improve the app to fix problems and refine the user interface. Last season’s review on Engadget or Gizmodo will not reflect the current product experience.

Personal Opinion

My personal opinion is that the advertising copy writers are overselling these devices but that they can be useful if you understand their capabilities and limitations and use them within those capabilities and limitations. I’m writing this article to offer you my understanding of these devices and their application in hopes that this will spare you some disappointment and help the product category find its niche.

Apps and beacons don’t currently interoperate. It would be nice if a single app would support multiple beacon families because manufacturers are tailoring the devices for different applications using different packaging. For example, one is credit card sized for use in wallets. Another is packaged for pet tagging. Some are thicker to have longer battery life.

Not for life-safety use

The Bluetooth beacons don’t work well enough to serve as a wander alert for people or pets. The desire to keep them low power and small prohibits putting a GPS receiver and cellular radio in the device which means that location must be indirect. When a receiver hears a beacon, it reports its position and the beacon ID to HQ and HQ notifies you if it is one of yours. This is what TrackR calls “crowd GPS”. It is not a substitute for the real thing when it comes to life safety.

Dave dips a toe in the waters

TrackR, one of the better known brands in the US, held a buy one get one sale between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Having purchased a new car that has high tech keys, and having successfully laundered one of my two keys (it lived, this time), I decided some precautions are in order. Can a Bluetooth tracker be helpful? So I bought 2 pair, one to go on the keys and one to go on the houndies.

My trackers arrived shortly before Christmas so I downloaded the app, set up the trackers one at a time so that they would actually be attached to the things they were named for, and gave them a try.

The pairing process is simple. You download the App, get an account from the manufacturer, and pair each critter. The pairing starts with the app and the mechanics are app specific. Basically, you tell the app to listen for a tracker, you press a button on the tracker to start it advertising, and the app finds and logs the device. The app will ask you to name the device. Once the device is named, setup is complete and you can move on to the next.

What the beacons do

The beacons announce themselves and listen for the controlling terminal. On command from the controlling terminal, they begin chirping. On a second command, they stop chirping. The beacons are always announcing at a low rate to save battery while allowing themselves to be detected

The controlling terminal listens for the beacons. The Bluetooth 4 protocol lets the beacon report the transmitted power. The receiver includes the received signal strength along with the packet. This lets the terminal indicate if the beacons is near (within a meter or so), close by (within 5 meters), or distant (can be heard but faintly). The protocol does not allow the terminal to determine a bearing or a range.

How are beacons most useful?

I bought my TrackR Bravos with the intent of finding the car keys when they went missing and with the hopes that they would prove useful with my hounds.

Locating hounds

The Marco Polo process is slow and the radio is weak so it is unlikely that a Bluetooth tracker will prove useful in locating a walkabout houndy, I was hoping that I could tell if Nick was exploring a neighbor’s back garden from the street but the radio strength and dynamics just don’t permit it to see a moving greyhound. So dog recovery the old fashioned way, check each back garden.

Locating keys

Trackers do work well for the missing key problem however. Tell missing keys to sound off. If the sound comes from the washer drum, you’ve just averted trouble. The TrackR Bravo makes a distinctive chirp using an FM modulated pulse that rises in volume and frequency. You won’t mistake it for the fridge door ajar alarm, the oven timer, or incoming SMS alert. It is distinctive but not very loud. It might be hard to hear in a noisy environment or across a large room. And not from the neighbor’s back garden. But it can be heard from a pocket,  a laundry bin, or washer drum with the door open.

Locating your mobile

Location works both ways. Pushing a button on the TrackR fob will cause your mobile to sound off. Much more convenient that firing up Find My iPhone if you know the phone is in the house. You may have to send the wake-up in multiple rooms but it does work. The ping is different than the one Apple uses but it can be differentiated from most normal phone noises.

Digression on modern car keys

My VW keys have survived a run through the wash but the dryer will probably fry their brains. Modern keys have RFID transponders and near field transponders that open car doors and allow you to start the car. The transponder ID is matched to the vehicle and the vehicle responds only to the registered transponders. That means you can’t go to Home Depot to have a key cut for a few dollars. It is back to the dealer for expensive parts and a hour of tech time to pair the new key to the vehicle. And if your vehicle is old, you may have to wait for Black Forest elves to make a replacement. So caution is good.

TrackR Atlas, Greyhound Doorbell?

TrackR has an Indigogo project to raise funds for a device they call TrackR Atlas. Atlas is a night light sized plugin terminal that listens for beacons from all manufacturers. Put one Atlas device in each room to be covered and it will tell you by WiFi what can be heard in that room. The app can be configured to give an alert when a devices enters and leaves Atlas’s earshot.

So, what might this be good for? A greyhound door bell? They never remember to ring the bell. And they may bark once to call you to the door. The bark is optional. So, what happens if I plug in a TrackR Atlas on the back stoop? Will it tell me when a houndy comes up on the stoop? Probably. Most of the time. I can come to the door and let them in.

TrackR Atlas is the first product brought to my attention that will report other maker’s beacons. If you have a Tile or one of the European brands, you can use them with TrackR Atlas. One French brand has an Indigogo to launch their products in the US. To differentiate themseves, they chose to use a bigger battery and go for 100 meters range vs the 10 meters or so that a TrackR Bravo can manage.

So Won’t Ring Announce the Dogs?

I had considered using a Ring doorbell for this task but the motion sensor gives a fair number of cry wolfs from passing traffic. Having an emitter on the hound solves the motion detector cry wolf problem. If only Tracker would make the TrackR Atlas device outdoor temperature rated. Basically, it needs to work from -40F to 120F or so, operating temperature, not storage. Mine is under canopy sparing it the summer sun. It does not need to be drip proof as electrical code outdoor outlet assemblies are required to be drip proof in the US.

Crowd Location

So, what happens if your dog goes walkabout at the park? That’s where “crowd GPS” comes in. Each TrackR app listens for all TrackR beacons, not just the ones paired to it. When a mobile hears a TrackR, it reports the TrackR UUID and the phone’s location to TrackR world headquarters. World HQ tells your phone where your beacon was heard. This mechanism has successfully recovered walkabout dogs in an urban environment.

One of the TrackR sales pages shows where TrackR apps are active. Just where they are, no identifying information. This gives you a feel for coverage in your city and neighborhood. There are several instances of the App active in within a few miles of home. Not enough to find a walkabout dog.

Got Ya Plus 13 Months

I’m late. I meant to write this in October but got distracted by contractors.

Missy, Nick and I have been together for 13 months and she’s been an absolute joy. She’s finally felling pretty settled in as indicated by a drop in nervous play, chewing, and funky emissions. She’s still an active goofball but she’s happy to have a yard in which to romp, loves to hang out on warm evenings, and takes great joy in trolling school kids, bicyclists, and motorcyclists.

Bedtime Dog

At sunset a neighbor would walk her terrier mixed breed. This stumpy little guy was white with black spots and walked the street head out and determined. Because he showed up every evening just past sunset, we took to calling him bedtime dog. Missy would stay in the yard until she’d chased bedtime dog at the fence. Take her in before bedtime dog was chased and she’d pester you to go back out. I think they had a thing going.

Improved Confidence

After a summer of contractors, day care at Judy’s, and random trips, Missy is much more confident with strangers and has taken the lead on our walks. Missy is still reserved with visitors but she’ll usually stand with me while visiting rather than hiding behind. She’s doing much better when out shopping but a trip to Home Depot is still a bit much stimulation for her.

She and Nick Get On

Don’t even think of giving preferential treatment. She figured out that Nick was getting fish oil on his ration and she wasn’t. They both became fussy eaters because Missy wanted fish oil and Nick had to check both dishes to find the one with fish oil. This fall, I found both standing at Nick’s ration grumbling. So now they both get oil. Other than that, they get on pretty well. Occasionally, Nick tries to pull rank for preferred seating but she’s not buying it. Rhea would let him have where ever. Missy tells him off. And when Missy calls out in the garden, Nick comes running to join the chase. He definitely looks after her.