Ask AKC with Lisa Peterson
January 2007

For the New Year we asked Massachusetts Veterinarian Dr. John de Jong, DVM, to join "Ask AKC" to offer his expertise regarding general canine health and wellness as well as other veterinarian topics of interest. We hope you enjoy and benefit from his valuable expert advice. Dr. John de Jong is the owner of the Boston Mobile Veterinary Clinic, Chief of Staff at the Neposet Pet Center and Animal Hospital and Chief of Surgery at Merwin Memorial Clinic. He recently served as Chairman of the House Advisory Committee of the American Veterinary Medical Association. He has written columns for newspapers, is a regularly featured radio talk show guest, and serves on a veterinary journal advisory board. He is very involved in organized veterinary medicine having served in many leadership capacities at the local, regional, and national levels.

Dear Lisa: I recently adopted a seven-month-old Bernese Mountain Dog. He is approximately 64 pounds. He knows sit and down but he tends to jump up a lot and also I have no control when he is on a leash. I would like to be able to take him for walks instead of the other way around!!   – Taken for a Walk

Dear Taken: If that 64-pound Bernese Mountain Dog puppy is taking you for a walk now wait until he is a 100 plus-pound adult! According to the American Kennel Club’s The Complete Dog Book, the Bernese Mountain Dog is an extremely hardy dog, thriving in cold weather. This working breed, originally bred for draft work and pulling carts on the farms of Switzerland is a “willing and quick learner” and is “self-confident and exceptionally faithful.”

It takes both the dog and someone on the other end of the leash to create a pulling problem. It’s not really the leash that is the problem but the lack of attention your dog is giving you. He is more interested in getting on with his mission in life and that leash is just in the way. He’s basically ignoring your requests to walk quietly on the leash. However, you have to ask yourself, “Have I asked him not to pull? Or am I doing all the pulling?” In order to communicate to your dog you need to get his attention first.

Building on his ability to sit, take him inside the house where you can work on teaching him to pay attention. Put him in a sit (heel position) and then stand next to him with his collar and leash on, as if you were going to begin a walk. Select a word (I use ‘Ready’) that will mean “Look at me I have something to tell you.” Once he looks you in the eye after saying ‘ready’ give him a treat. Repeat this process over and over a few times a day with multiple little treats and soon he will be looking toward you and intent on listening knowing a treat may soon follow.

The Great Outdoors
Once you have his attention, a few more in-house activities may help with his jumping around and pulling during the walk. Teach him a word that signals it’s time for walking or heeling such as “let’s go.” Starting from the heel position say ‘ready’ to get his attention and then say ‘let’s go’ and begin walking. After one or two steps with a slack leash, give him a treat. Repeat this exercise a couple of times a day. As he learns to put a few steps together without pulling and he gets praise and treats add more and more steps and before you know it he’s walking around the house on a slack leash. Use a short, four-to-six foot, leash for best control. Now it’s time to move outdoors.

Before you leave the house ask him to sit, put on his collar and leash, ask him ‘ready’ and ‘let’s go’ out the door. If he starts to pull against the leash, give him a little tug towards you and then let the leash go slack. At that moment of slackness tell him ‘Good Boy’ and give him a treat. If he continues to pull, just stop. Proceed with a few steps and each time he pulls just stop. Soon he’ll learn that pulling doesn’t get him his walk but a slack leash gets him his walk and a few treats. Be insistent. Bring treats with you on your walk for rewards and extra incentive if needed to get his attention.  Remember to give lots of praise for proper walking and before you know it you and he will be on your way to developing a great walking routine.

Dear Lisa: When my Standard Poodle had his yearly check-up I noticed that the vet didn’t take his blood pressure, which is something they check first on us humans and at regular intervals. Why wasn’t this test done on my dog?  – Pressed about Procedures

Dear Pressed: You are very observant to notice such a difference between dog exams and human check-ups. High blood pressure or hypertension, just like in humans, can be a serious condition without outward symptoms. Long-term damage to the heart, liver and kidney can occur as a result of this condition.

When one of my dogs was admitted to the hospital, the vet discovered, by accident, that he had very high blood pressure with the top or systolic number at 200. The vet told me that dog blood pressure numbers should be almost equivalent to humans. For example, after they put my dog on a drug known as a “beta blocker” to address his problem, his pressure was stabilized at 108.

According to Dr. de Jong, the incidence of high blood pressure in the general dog population is not known and it is most often associated with an underlying disease. The most common possibilities would be renal disease, Cushings, diabetes mellitus, and pheochromocytoma. In addition, the procedure to check it isn’t as simple as with humans and costs may vary. Vets and their technicians use a little cuff on the dog’s leg and another piece of equipment rather than the stethoscope to measure the results. The technique can be difficult to master thus complicating getting an accurate reading.

Normal Readings
Dr. de Jong reports that currently there are no tables for breed “normals” for vets to follow. Equally challenging for vets is that there are conflicting standards for what is abnormal and what influences the readings. Routine readings of blood pressure are relatively new and still usually only done as part of a cardiac evaluation.  Hypertension is usually assessed when the systolic blood pressure is over 160-180 mm Hg or when the diastolic pressure is greater than 100 mmHg.

In addition, experts wonder how the “white coat” effect (where you go to the doctor and have a higher than normal reading because you are all nervous about being at the doctor’s in the first place) affects animals.

You should ask your vet if he has the equipment and expertise to take your dog’s blood pressure and, if so, add that check to his yearly exam. 

Lisa Peterson, a long-time owner/breeder/handler of Norwegian Elkhounds, is the AKC Director of Club Communications. If you have a question, send it to Lisa at and she may select it to be answered here in Ask AKC.

© 2006 The American Kennel Club, Inc.