Monthly Archives: January 2014

“It’s all in how you raise them”

How often do you hear this phrase uttered? As a pit bull owner, it’s one I hear all the time, and it drives me crazy. Because it’s not true.

Well, it’s partly true.

Luce's secret: She was adopted from the shelter as an adult.

Luce’s secret: I was adopted from the shelter as an adult.

A dog’s temperament and behavior are based on a variety of things. Genetics do play a part. If they didn’t, we wouldn’t have all the different breeds we have who perform the wide variety of functions that they do. We have breeds who were designed to be protective. We have breeds who were designed to hunt and kill vermin. We have breeds who were designed to retrieve birds without damaging them. We have breeds that were bred specifically to be companion animals. In order for these different types of dogs to breed true, to be predictable, there needs to be at least some genetic component to temperament.

But that’s not all there is to it. While genetics might dictate a range of traits your dog might display, each dog is an individual, and socialization and training can help dictate where in that range your particular dog will fall. A dog who is genetically prone to being shy might not ever be a social butterfly, but with careful socialization, he can learn to be braver than he would have been if he’d been kept at home and not exposed to anything else in the world.

Socialization starts on day one. Where your dog comes from matters! Being raised in a home and exposed to all the hustle and bustle, the sounds (tv, doorbell, vacuum cleaner), the people (of all ages and genders please!), and the experiences of everyday family life will result in a different puppy than one raised in a cage or a barn, segregated from real life, rarely handled, and not exposed to all the different parts of the world they are going to encounter later on. A good breeder provides all different kinds of stimulation– different surface textures, different toys, different places. All of these things will contribute to a pup who is more accepting of a wide variety of circumstances later on.

Once your pup comes home, it is important that you continue that socialization with all different kinds of people– men, women, children of all ages, men with facial hair, people wearing hats– anything you can think of. You want them to experience different textures under their feet. Different places. Different (known, healthy, puppy-safe) dogs. Puppy class can be an absolutely unmatchable opportunity for all of this, but you need to make a concerted effort to continue all those things outside of that one-hour-a-week class. You also want to choose a puppy class in which vaccines are confirmed as being up to date for all puppies.

The important thing to remember with socialization, though, is that it needs to be safe and happy for your pup. If you’re stressing and scaring your puppy, you are working against him. Do not force him to do things he’s afraid of. Take his individual personality into consideration. Reward him heavily for accepting new things. Have strangers feed him tasty treats. Be upbeat and happy so that he will follow your lead and be less likely to worry. You don’t want to give him the impression that the world is a scary place– you want to teach him that the world is a really cool place where weird and unexpected things sometimes happen.

Dave: a pup who was raised right.

Dave: a pup who was raised right.

The puppy socialization window starts to close around 18 weeks. After that point, socialization is harder and pups are less accepting. But all hope is not lost! It is just a longer, harder process. Even adult dogs can learn to be more accepting of the world around them, of things they find scary. But it is so much easier to do when you’re starting with a baby puppy.

Training is another part of the puzzle, and how you train your dog matters. Dogs who are trained using heavy-handed corrections and punishment are frequently more aggressive than dogs trained using reward-based methods. Well-respected veterinary behaviorist Dr. Sophia Yin has a couple of really nice books available with a positively, dog-friendly approach both to starting your puppy off right as well as for dogs of all ages. These methods are based on the science of learning, but don’t let that scare you! They’re user-friendly and practical and both books are very easy to understand and apply.

I hate the labels “good dog” and “bad dog” as dogs are just animals and behavior is just behavior, but often times the difference between the two is the owner’s ability to recognize a problem early on and their willingness to seek help from a professional before things progress to the point of, say, biting. A puppy who tenses up and holds his head over a toy or a chewie (or his food bowl!) when you approach is a dog who could turn out to be a biting resource guarder in the future if the problem is not addressed or if the problem is addressed with punishment. Resource guarding is a completely normal behavior in animals! But it is not appropriate in our pet dogs, so we work on changing their response to being approached.

Owners who learn to recognize the signs of stress in their dogs are given a fantastic tool in heading off problems before they start. A good trainer will be able to teach you what to do after you recognize that your dog is stressed, and how to change his reaction to that stressor, but not if you don’t know enough to seek help.

Dogs are so much a product of everything– experiences, socialization, training, and genetics. No part can be discounted, and no part can be fully blamed. “Good dogs” are born and raised and responsibly owned. No part exists in a vacuum.

Need more proof? Look at the dogs who were rescued from Michael Vick’s notorious Bad Newz kennel back in 2007. Those dogs were bred to fight. They were raised in the ways that would make them the “meanest” and the “baddest”. They were not nurtured or loved or cared for like a pet dog would be. And yet a number of them went on to become certified Canine Good Citizens; several of them are even certified therapy dogs! Something about them was right even when all was wrong in their worlds. And they were fortunate enough to end up in the hands of people who were willing to help them bloom.

Learn how to help your dog bloom. Learn how to understand him, how to work with him, and how to help him be the best that he can be.

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Posted by on January 30, 2014 in Behavior, Breeding, Dogs, Puppies, Training


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Websites you should know about.

The internet has become a wonderful resource for many things over the past decade. There is bad information out there for sure, but there is also good, helpful, and timely information. Here are a few websites that might be useful to you.

klwindowThe Indoor Pet Initiative from The Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine is an extremely nice and informative website packed with information about how to enrich your indoor pets’ lives. This began as a cat-only project, and they are only just now beginning to flesh out their site for dogs, but the cat information is absolutely invaluable. It has information about why cats are the way they are, what they need to be mentally healthy, and how to solve some common behavior problems. Dr. Lauren frequently recommends this site to clients with indoor kitties.

Petfinder. Looking for a new family member? Petfinder allows you to search for a suitable new pet available from a shelter or rescue in your area . And they don’t just limit themselves to cats and dogs. They have listing for everything from horses to hamsters to birds. You can refine your search by species, breed, size, and age to help you locate pets who might end up being The One.

Looking for a good dog trainer? Check out the Association of Professional Dog Trainers’s Trainer Search. This is not an exhaustive list of trainers, but of members of the organization, which is one of the foremost professional training organizations around. They also have a nice page on how to choose a trainer.

Having behavior troubles with your cat? The Cat Behavior Associates website is a wealth of good information on dealing with issues at home as well as when to contact a professional. There is also a really nice tutorial on how to give your cat medication, which is something that can be a very tricky thing, depending on the cat.

For lots of general information and entertainment, check out the Dogster and Catster websites.

Another good source of general information, largely health-related and veterinarian-approved, check out Vetstreet. They also have a nice overview of dog breeds and cat breeds.

cooperlaneNot sure what breed of dog is right for you? Try out Animal Planet’s Dog Breed Selector to help narrow down your choices. They have one for cats as well.

The ASPCA offers a great resource for poisoning, including a thorough list of plants that are toxic to pets, and their Poison Control for Pets hotline in case of emergency.

The American Veterinary Medical Association offers an up-to-date list of pet food recalls, which is worth keeping an occasional eye on. We have definitely seen an increase in pet food recalls over the past several years. This website includes treats as well, which is nice.

Interested in breeding or considering buying a purebred dog from a breeder? Health is of major importance! The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) website provides information on a wide variety of different genetic concerns, from hip and elbow dysplasia, to thyroid and cardiac screenings. They offer a records search, so you can look up individual animals who have been tested, and see what their results were, as well as the results of their relatives. Anyone considering breeding or buying should know what health issues are a concern in their breed, so that they can make sure that dogs are being tested for the correct things to help increase the odds of producing sound, healthy puppies.

And last but not least, some very helpful information for owners of pets who have been newly diagnosed with diabetes. Diabetes can be an overwhelming disease, especially at the beginning. It can take awhile to get pets stabilized, and you have to learn to give your pet an injection twice a day! Here is the website for cats, and here is the one for dogs.

Hopefully you’ll find some of these resources helpful to you, whether now or sometime out in the future, and that this post will prove to be a valuable resource.

Do you have any favorite websites about pets? Please feel free to share in the comments! We’re always looking for new information to hand out to clients when it will be helpful.


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He peed on WHAT? Cats and inappropriate urination.

Cats make great pets.

Cats make great pets.

Cats are extremely popular and make great pets, but if there is one thing that comes between cats and their owners and is high on the list of reasons why cats get put outside, surrendered to the shelter, or euthanized, it’s inappropriate urination.

Inappropriate urination– urinating in places that are not the litterbox– is disgusting, stinky, destructive, and extremely frustrating to deal with. Unfortunately, it’s not that uncommon. Fortuately, there are a number of options to try before doing anything drastic.

The first thing to consider is that this could be a physical problem. Cats are prone to prone to forming crystals in their urine, in part because cats do not typically drink enough. In males this is much more dangerous because the crystals can become a blockage that makes them unable to urinate. This is an emergency situation and requires prompt medical attention. Stress-induced cystitis is another common cause of peeing outside the litterbox. In this case, stress causes irritation to the bladder, sometimes resulting in bloody urine, but also resulting in frequent urination, both in the litterbox and outside. Again, this is a medical condition and requires an exam by a doctor.

Another medical cause of urine issues is bladder stones. For whatever reason, we have been seeing an increase in bladder stones recently, and the constant irritation that they cause to the bladder can cause all kinds of urinary problems. These can be diagnosed through xrays of the bladder. For some types of stones, the only option is surgical removal. For others, there is the possibility of dissolving them through the use of a special prescription food. But this is a problem you’re not going to fix by yourself- it requires veterinary intervention.

To help prevent urinary crystals and stones, increasing the water consumption of your cat is tremendously helpful. Cats, before they became domesticated, relied primarily on their fresh-caught food for the moisture that their bodies need. They didn’t need to be great drinkers. Now that most cats are fed primarily a dry kibble diet, many cats live in a state of constant low-grade dehydration. This makes urine more concentrated and crystals more problematic. Dilution is the solution to pollution! Adding a kitty fountain with running water may entice your cat to drink. Leaving water bowls in a variety of places may help. And adding canned food (ideally mixed with water to make a “soup”) to their daily diet is highly recommended.

Health problems aside, behavioral problems are also common. Fortunately, there are a lot of things a cat owner can do to prevent and even try to solve the issue at home.

Sake would never do such a thing.

Sake would never do such a thing.

1. Litterbox numbers, types, placement, litter type, and maintenance. The general rule of thumb is one litterbox per cat plus one extra, located in different places in the house. Litterboxes should be out of high traffic areas (privacy, please!), and of appropriate size and height. I personally use large plastic storage boxes as litterboxes because they are bigger and the higher sides helps prevent so much litter being kicked over the sides. But this may not be appropriate for an older cat with arthritis or mobility issues. While covered litterboxes are available, most cats don’t care for them because they concentrate the litterbox odor inside, and cats don’t enjoy going to the bathroom in a stinky place.

Some cats also have a distinct litter preference- clay, corn, wood, and paper litters are all available. Cats are also not big fans of change, so switching litter types suddenly can trigger your cat to stop using his litterbox. There are also some products available that contain things like catnip that are attractive to cats and encourage them to use the litterbox.

2. Clean up your act. Cats are, generally, pretty tidy animals, and they like their bathrooms to be tidy as well. Daily or twice-daily scooping and regular changing of litter and scrubbing of boxes will make the litterbox less offensive and more inviting.

3. Clean soiled areas well with an enzymatic cleaner (we like Nature’s Miracle). Consider covering problem areas with plastic (a showercurtain draped over a couch that is being soiled, a plastic carpet runner laid upside down on floor areas).

4. Re-establish litter habits. Confine your offending kitty to a small room like a bathroom with his litterbox to prevent him from urinating in the wrong places. Closely supervised roaming is ok but you need to be vigilent and prevent mistakes– no letting kitty sneak off! Expand his range slowly as his litterbox habits improve and his house-soiling stops.

Neither would Sam.

Neither would Sam.

5. Housesoiling can be a result of stress. Taking action to relieve that stress may help resolve litterbox issues, whether that stress is coming from tension between multiple cats, stress from the family, a new environment, or even stray cats hanging around outside. Feliway is a synthetic pheromone that can help to calm your kitty down and make him less anxious. It is available in a variety of forms including collars, sprays, and plug-in infusers.

6. As a last resort, there are medications available that may help decrease the anxiety that leads to housesoiling. Medication requires bloodwork to start and then continual bloodwork monitoring to make sure the cat’s body is tolerating it, which means it’s not a dirt cheap option, BUT if it makes your cat stop peeing on your couch or in your laundry basket, it may very well be worth it.

Not sure which kitty is the offender? Check out this link for ideas on how to figure out who the culprit really is. This whole website is chock full of great information on cats and their behavior and is well worth a look through, even if you’re not having any specific issues right now. It is an excellent resource.

So, the bottom line comes down to: rule out medical issues first with an exam, urinalysis, and possibly xrays, and then move forward from there. It is a very frustrating problem, and I think every member of our staff truly understands that. But with patience and effort, in many cases, the problem can be resolved.

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Posted by on January 16, 2014 in Behavior, Cats, Health


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How to keep your active dog sane in bad weather.

Baby it's cold outside.

Baby it’s cold outside.

Guys, it’s cold outside. It was -2 when I left my house this morning, and that’s not counting the windchill. My dogs are active dogs, and they love to run and play frisbee outside, but there comes a point where it is just too cold and I don’t want to be outside in it. And my little dog is shivering and holding up his paws in complaint. We need some indoor fun right now!

Fortunately, there are all kinds of things you can do with your dog in the house that will satisfy him both mentally and physically. With a big dog and a small space, it can be tricky, but keep in mind that tiring out a dog’s brain is just as valuable in helping him settle as tiring out his body.

Here are some of our favorites:

Find It. This is a very popular game with many different types of dogs. To play this game, leave your dog in one room (either in a stay, have somebody hold him, or close the door) while you hide a smelly, tasty treat in another room. At first you want to make it very obvious for him so that he understands the game. Release the dog and say “find it” and then just stand back and watch while he follows his nose. Dogs have amazing noses. Their sense of smell is unbelievably powerful, which is what makes them so useful for sniffing out bombs, drugs, and even cancer. Plus sniffing and hunting plays into their natural instincts- most dogs love this game. As he begins to understand, make the game harder. Put the treat up higher. Hide it behind a pillow. Hide it somewhere difficult to get to. Make the search area larger. The possibilities are endless.

If you find that you and your dog really love this game, there is a dog sport called Canine Nosework that challenges dogs to find specific scents hidden in boxes, rooms, and on vehicles. It’s a lot of fun for the dogs, and even dogs with disabilities or who do not play well with other dogs are welcome to participate.

Hide and Seek. A similar game to Find It, but this time you send the dog to find another person. Again, start easy and then gradually make the game more challenging. When the dog finds the right person, he gets a reward and a celebration. This is a great game to play with kids, and it can actually be kind of handy to be able to tell your dog “Go find [this person]” and have them understand what you’re telling them.

Food-dispensing Toys. For a more passive way to keep your dog occupied, consider looking to food-dispensing toys. These come in all shapes and sizes, but probably the most common one is the Kong. Kongs are toys made out of different strengths of rubber and are designed to be stuffed with tasty goodness. There is an endless variety of options. You can use them to feed your dog’s meals– mix kibble with a small amount of broth or canned food (enough to make everything wet) and stuff it all inside the toy. Pop it in the freezer for a couple hours and there you go- a pooch pacifier. But don’t stop with boring things like kibble! Low fat yogurt, cottage cheese, fruits and vegetables, healthy leftovers from your meals, even a little bit of peanut butter or EZ cheese. You can stuff dog biscuits in there. Pack things tightly to make it more challenging, more loosely for the beginner Kong dog.

Food-dispensing toys are not limited to Kongs, however. There is an endless array. There are toys that need to be manipulated or shaken, toys that need to be rolled, toys that need to be wobbled in order to get food to come out. Buying a couple different types and rotating them to feed your dog his meals keeps things more interesting, makes mealtime last longer, and engages your pup’s brain, helping to keep him mentally satisfied.

This is Steve with his Tug-a-Jug. His kibble goes inside the bottle and he has to work the knotted rope in and out in order to make the food come out. He thinks it’s great fun, and it keeps his hyperactive brain active longer than it takes to scarf down a bowl of kibble.

Trick training. This can be fun for you and for your dog, but you have to keep it happy and positive! There are a variety of books available that will walk you through the steps of the most common tricks (Kyra Sundance has a number of really nice trick books and DVDs, and you can even get your dog titled as an official Trick Dog!) but use your own imagination. Shaking hands, barking on command, sitting up and begging, rolling up in a blanket, retrieving the tv remote– all fun things to have your dog be able to do.

Sit pretty is a great trick because it helps strengthen your dog's abs.

Sit pretty is a great trick because it helps strengthen your dog’s abs.

Join a class. If you don’t know how to go about training your dog to do tricks, consider taking a class! Positive reinforcement-based classes are what you’re looking for- you want this to be fun for your dog, not stressful! There are a number of training clubs in the area that offer a wide variety of classes, from obedience and manners classes to tricks classes, to agility (an obstacle course your dog runs), to flyball (a fast-paced relay race with ball-crazy dogs), to nosework, to treibball (a game where dogs learn to “herd” balls into goals). Look on the internet and call around to see if there is something that interests you and your dog and fits your schedule. A fun class is a great way to get your dog active during the winter months, and it’s also a great way to bond.

Consider a swim. Kind of an off-the-wall idea, but if you’ve got a water-crazy dog who is missing his swims in the lake, consider a trip to an indoor dog pool. We have a couple within reasonable driving distance (Bainbridge and Dillsburg) that, for a fee, will allow you to swim your dog (or even swim with your dog). Swimming is fantastic full-body exercise and is a great way to tire out an energetic young dog. It’s also great to get older dogs with arthritis issues moving as the water takes the weight off aching joints.

Get out when you can. When we get a day or two of milder temperatures, do your best to take advantage of them! Bundle up, but remember to dress your dog appropriately too, if needed. Thick-coated or stocky dogs often don’t need coats to stay warm, but dogs with smooth coats and low body fat will be much happier with an extra layer to keep them warm. And don’t forget about the feet! Especially in town on salted sidewalks, winter can be tough on a dog’s paws. For some dogs, disposable rubber boots do a great job of providing a layer between paw and salt. But other dogs in other situations may need something sturdier. Choose wisely, and get out there and have fun!

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Posted by on January 7, 2014 in Behavior, Dogs, Training


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Princess: the story of a heart dog.



by Kristen

We begged. We begged for months. We promised to brush him, feed him, bathe him, scoop his poop. We would’ve promised just about anything to convince our parents to get us a dog. My sister was 16. I was 8.

I’ll never forget the day we got her. We went to the pound and could only pick one. There were so many. How do you choose just ONE?  As I walked by kennel after kennel of barking dogs, tails wagging, panting heavily from excitement, I came to one little black and tan pup curled up in a tight ball in the back of her kennel, her eyes peeking out over her skinny little body. She was trembling.  I bent down to her level and asked her to come to me. She was so scared. “It’s okay”, I told her.  She hugged the floor as she scooted up to me. She was beautiful. Her name was Princess.

After long negotiations with my mother about why THIS dog was the one, my mother gave up on trying to change my mind to the little white fluffy dog she had taken a liking to, and we took Princess home with us.  I loved her already.

It took a little while for her to gain confidence; she was a nervous little pup. But she trusted ME to do anything to her. We took walks. We dressed her up in doll clothes.  We even dabbled in a 4-H agility program called “Puppy Pals” when I could convince my dad to take us. My sister had quickly lost interest in Princess. She would even make fun of her because she would practically fold her body in half (butt to head) and scoot around sideways when she was excited. Admittedly, it DID look funny when she did it, but it made her unique and I would never dream of laughing AT her, only with her. Because she was my girl.

Our bond strengthened as the years passed. She forgave me for my mistakes, like when I forgot her outside during an ice storm. My mother and I had gone away one evening and it started to sleet. As we approached our driveway we could see her standing there, shivering, waiting, ice accumulating in her long black tail feathers. I felt terrible. How could I forget her?  She would never forget me. As I towel dried her and apologized a hundred times, she licked my face and all was forgotten. And I forgave her for her mistakes, like her obsession with keeping the cat litter box free of any cat poop. I didn’t kiss her for a few days, but I forgave her.

A girl and her dog.

A girl and her dog.

My family life eventually took a turn for the worse and there were times when not much in my life seemed safe or secure, but she was always there for me, and I for her. Princess seemed to have a way of knowing exactly how I was feeling and she always responded appropriately. We celebrated together, we played together, we slept together, and she comforted me the day my dad left us. She never let me feel completely alone. If it wasn’t for her, there surely were times when I would’ve been.

As I grew up, she grew older. But we did that together too. If I was taking a quick trip for fast food, Princess was too. If my boyfriend (now my husband of 15 years) and I were taking a walk, Princess was coming along. Taking care of each other was never an inconvenience. It’s just what we did. And when it was time to move out of my mother’s home, my husband and I bought a small starter home so Princess would have a nice yard to play in. No apartment living for this pampered pooch.

Princess was approaching her golden years but she was still just as involved in my life. She visited “grandma”, went for ice cream, and had “career days” with me at White Oaks when she needed a nail trim, and then more frequently when she was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. My husband and I were young and just starting our lives together. Her medicine cost nearly $100 a month, but there was never any question about our willingness to do it. She was my baby. I would’ve sacrificed every luxury to lengthen my time with her. And I know she would’ve done the same for me.

Living the good life.

Living the good life.

In June of 2000, we found out we were being blessed with a baby. We couldn’t have been happier. Life was good. Princess was over a year into being treated for her heart failure, and she was doing well. Until September. Her decline was fast. Her kidneys were failing. I knew she couldn’t be with me forever, even though that’s what we both wanted, and I had to make the right decision for her. She trusted me and her fate was in my hands. So on September 23rd, 2000, at five months pregnant, I said goodbye to my Princess.  I literally could not remember what life was like without her in it. I was absolutely heart broken. She had taught me to be unselfish, she had taught me to make sacrifices for those that you love, she had taught me to get joy from giving, she had taught me that just being there with someone who was struggling could save their life, she had taught me what it was like to be completely depended upon for everything…she had taught me to be a mother.

In February 2001, my precious baby girl, Hanna Grace, was born. I know Princess would have protected this child with her life, the way she had always protected me, and I had protected her.  I miss her.  Since then, I have never gotten another dog. My children are now 12 and 8 years old. We are a busy family and I can’t imagine having the time to care for one like I did for Princess.  We are crazy about our three kitties – Pidge, Crosby, and Nigel. Quite frankly, I can’t imagine any other dog living up to my expectations since I’ve already owned the best dog in the world.  When our clients hear that I don’t have a dog they are often surprised.  But every time one of them has to say goodbye to their beloved dog, the best dog in the world, my heart cries with them, because I have loved, and been loved, by a dog.

Do you have a story about an extra-special pet that you’d like to share with us? Post it on our on our Facebook or email it to us and we’ll post it for you.

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Posted by on January 2, 2014 in Dogs


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