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Monthly Archives: March 2014

Learning to love the world: socializing your new puppy

Everybody who has ever loved a puppy knows how impressionable they are when they are babies. A puppy’s mind is so malleable, and there is so much for him to learn! The time between the ages of four and sixteen weeks are probably the most important of a dog’s life- this is when they are learning what kind of place the world is. This is the time when they are the most accepting of new things, the most adaptable to the weirdness that is the world we live in. After the age of 16 weeks, that window closes. Everything past this point is not the same. Yes, you can teach an older pup or an adult dog how to adapt, but it is not with the natural acceptance of a pup in his prime socialization period.quillchunky

There also exists during this same time a fear period, which happens generally between the ages of eight and twelve weeks. During this time, anything that scares or traumatizes the puppy can be especially damaging. A pup will typically be more suspicious and worried in general during this time, so it is important to show him what a great place the world is in a way that he finds fun, rewarding, and– most importantly– safe.

Many people think of socialization as being with other dogs or with people only, but it is so much more than that! You want to expose your pup– in a positive way!– to anything he might encounter in the future. Think big. Think outside the box. But also think keep it fun. Keep it safe. You do not want to scare your puppy. You do not want to put too much pressure on him to interact with new things if he is timid or shy. Too much pressure can make it into a bad experience. Remember: with socialization, it is all about making it a positive experience!

People. Socializing your baby puppy with a wide variety of different people will set the stage for him to be as friendly and outgoing, as welcoming and accepting, as possible when he grows up. You want to give him positive experiences (think tasty treats! think toys and play!) with people of all ages, from toddler to the elderly. You want to expose him to people of different ethnicities. You want to expose him to men with facial hair and women with sunglasses. You want to expose him to people in uniform, to people who use a cane or a walker to get around, to people wearing hats or carrying umbrellas. Dogs are not good at generalizing– just because he’s met one person does not mean that he has come even close to meeting them all. The more rewarding and fun experiences you can give him with all different types of people, the happier a dog he is going to be.

A great place to do this is at a shopping center. You’ll meet all different types of people there. Just hang out outside of the stores and, as long as your pup is happy and comfortable, invite and encourage people to come over and meet him. Tiny tasty treats can go a long way into making strangers more inviting. Remember to keep track of your puppy’s emotional state, however. If he is cringing away or trying to hide, you are pushing too hard and need to back off. Maybe have someone toss treats to him from a few feet away instead of approaching closely. Maybe find a place with fewer people or less commotion. You do not want to push your pup out of his comfort zone. This needs to be a happy thing for him, not a stressful one.

Different environments and different footing. Oh the places you’ll go! You want to introduce your pup to them young. Take field trips. Let him walk on dirt and grass, on sidewalks in town, on wooden decks and slippery floors. Some stores, especially hardware and feed stores, will let you bring your pup inside– just make sure that you ask first. There are all kinds of things for him to see and hear and experience out there. Use your imagination!beanrosie

Sounds. The world is full of sounds, and they can be scary if the dog is not used to them. Get your pup used to the sounds of the world– the vacuum cleaner, the sound of traffic while you’re walking down the street, the sound of a band playing in the park or the radio blaring.

Gentle handling. Puppies don’t come automatically tolerant of being handled and manipulated in the ways we need to do for grooming and healthcare. They don’t necessarily come with the desire to let you look in their ears, look in their mouths, touch their feet and trim their toenails. Now is the time to start teaching them! You can save yourself so many headaches down the road by touching your puppy all over now, but doing it slowly so as not to scare him or intimidate him, all the while popping tasty treats into his mouth so that he associates the strangeness of having all his parts checked with Good Things For Dogs. Now is the time to get him used to having his nails trimmed, to being bathed, to being groomed, especially if he is of a grooming-intensive breed.

And last but certainly not least, other dogs. Socializing your pup with other dogs is possibly the most fun part of all of this– puppies are so much fun to watch when they’re playing– but you need to be very careful with how and where you do this. You want to expose your puppy to dogs that you know to be safe and healthy. You want to create a safe and controlled environment– not one that could become scary or dangerous. And you want to keep in mind that your pup needs socialization the most during the time when he’s not fully vaccinated, so you want to control who and what he is exposed to from a health standpoint as well.

Puppy class is a fantastic option for this. I cannot say enough good things about well-run, positive-reinforcement-based puppy classes. A good puppy class will confirm current vaccinations for each puppy, minimizing risk of exposure to diseases like Parvo. A good puppy class will manage interactions between puppies so that no puppy is allowed to bully or be bullied. The controlled interactions will give puppies the socialization they need but without much of the risk of getting hurt or scared. This is exactly what puppies need!beanpuppyclass

Dog parks, on the other hand, are not a good place at all for socializing your pup. In a dog park, you have no proof of vaccination status. You don’t know what diseases or parasites are lurking there in the dirt and the grass. You also have no idea what kind of temperaments the dogs coming into the park at any given moment are going to have. There is such a great risk of your puppy being hurt by an intolerant adult dog, or scared by excessively rough play. These things can have lifelong implications if they happen at the wrong time or to the wrong puppy. It is just not worth the risk.

So the take away from all of this? Get your puppy out in the world. Show him all there is to see and teach him that it’s all good. Be free with your rewards. Be creative in your adventures together. And above all, have fun with him!

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Getting your scratch on.

Happy kitty.

Happy kitty.

We love kitties. But it can be tough to live with them when they’re destroying your house. Previously, we looked at some ideas to help with inappropriate urination, which loses many cats their home. Another problem we see a lot in pet cats is destructive scratching of furniture, carpets, drapes, etc. This can be a frustrating problem. Who wants to have their new furniture destroyed, after all? No one. Hopefully this post will give you some ideas of how to discourage your destructive scratcher from scratching what you don’t want him to scratch, and instead turn his attention toward things that are appropriate for scratching.

The first thing to look at is what and where your cat is scratching. Does he like to scratch on a verticle surface (the back of your sofa) or a horizontal one (your carpets)? How high up does he scratch? What kind of surfaces is he seeking out? Soft ones? Rough ones? What rooms of your house? All of these things will give you clues to help you select an appealing, more appropriate option for your kitty.

There is a seemingly endless array of cat scratchers available in petstores and online. They run from expensive and elaborate cat trees to inexpensive carboard pads. There are carpet, sisal, and wood options. There are things that lay flat on the floor and others that sit at an angle. If you can imagine it, somebody probably makes it.

Cats scratch for a number of reasons. First off, it’s good for their claws. It helps them shed old claw coverings and keeps their nails healthy. It is also a good way for them to stretch their back and shoulders. And last but certainly not least, it is a way for them to mark their territory. Cats have scent glands in their feet, and so when they scratch on a surface, they are leaving their scent calling card behind.

Kitties in a kitty tree.

Kitties in a kitty tree.

Scratching is a completely normal and healthy behavior for cats. We just need to figure out how to channel it toward the right targets.

Using the clues you obtained by noticing what and where your cat is scratching, buy some things that you’d like your cat to scratch, and that might appeal to him. Take into consideration texture, and whether he likes to scratch on horizontal or verticle surfaces. Make sure that the surface is large enough for him to really stretch out while he scratches. Make sure your choices match his natural preferences. Many cats like rough surfaces that they can shred (so be sure you don’t get rid of a favorite scratching post when it’s well worn in!) If you have multiple cats, you will want to provide scratching options in multiple locations. Different cats have different preferences, and this will also ensure that there will be appropriate scratching surfaces available if one cat takes “ownership” of a certain item (remember that scent marking thing?).

Place your new scratching posts and pads in the locations where your cat is scratching. This is important. Yes, it might be unsightly for a while, but eventually you’ll be able to slowly move them to a more convenient place. In the beginning, though, you want to give your cat every chance you can to make the correct choice. You want to make the new items as welcoming and appealing as possible. If your cat enjoys catnip, a sprinkle of dried catnip or some catnip spray might be inviting. Do not try to force your cat to scratch on the new items. That could scare or offend him and turn him off to them. Let him find it on his own.

And to help him, you want to make his usual favorite spots less appealing by covering them with something like aluminum foil or double-sided tape. On flat surfaces, you can also use a plastic carpet runner placed pointy-side up to discourage little cat feet.

Again, this is not forever. When your kitty is happily scratching away on what you want him to be scratching, you can start to fade away the offensive things, being careful to monitor the situation to make sure that he continues to scratch where he is supposed to. Make the changes slowly and let him make the right choices a number of times before changing things more. With patience and perseverance, you really can train your cat to scratch only appropriate objects and not your new couch.

 
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Posted by on March 21, 2014 in Behavior, Cats, Training

 

How to stuff the perfect Kong.

If you have a dog and you have not heard of this wonderful toy called the Kong, you are missing out on a great tool to use to help keep your dog occupied on days when it’s hard to get him enough exercise. Kongs are hollow rubber toys that come in a variety of sizes and toughness, and while they look kind of boring on the outside, the tasty delicious food that you can stuff on the inside is hard for most dogs to resist.

A herd of Kongs.

A herd of Kongs.

For dogs who are new to unstuffing a Kong, it is best to keep things easy and very tasty. You want the dog to have instant gratification, so pick soft foods. I usually use a dab of peanut butter to cover the hole in the closed end and prevent leaks, and then add something like yogurt or cottage cheese, maybe some fruits or vegetables, a glob of peanut butter smeared down deep inside, or maybe some EZ Cheez. Something tasty and easy to lick out. This will help to create a dog who understands what the Kong is all about and finds it rewarding. It won’t take a dog very long to empty out a Kong stuffed like this, but it will be enough to distract him for a short time.

For the more advanced Kong-unstuffer, I like to make things more difficult. Stuffing Kongs ahead of time and then freezing them is a great way to make them harder and more time consuming to empty. Anything soft and moist can be frozen, even your dog’s regular dinner. Soak his kibble in some warm water, mix with a spoonful of canned food or yogurt or a sprinkling of parmesan cheese, spoon it inside and pack it in tightly, and then freeze solid. This is GREAT for a dog who is on bed rest for an injury. You have to feed him anyway– why not do it in a way that requires him to work for it?

Another way to make Kongs more challenging is to stuff large pieces of things inside so that the dog needs to manipulate it with his mouth to get it out. Dog biscuits can work wonderfully for this. You need big enough ones that it’s a tight fit, and they can be tricky to wrestle through the hole sometimes, but it’s worth it when it keeps your dog working for awhile. Apple slices or chunks of melon can serve the same purpose (remember: no grapes for dogs!). If I need a quick, challenging Kong, this is the way I’ll go. It doesn’t require time to freeze solid, but it keeps my dogs working for a bit longer.

Once you get going, there is no end to the possibilities— it just depends on how creative you want to get. Leftover Mac and Cheese? Stuff it in a Kong. Need to use up some eggs before they go bad? Scramble them up, maybe with a little bit of cheese, and stuff them in a Kong. What about a peanut butter and banana “Elvis” Kong? Or healthy scraps from last night’s dinner?

Some people like to stuff in layers- a soft bit, some crunchy stuff, and then more soft stuff on top. If it’s healthy and safe for dogs, go for it!

BUT

Keep in mind the extra calories. It is so easy for food-oriented dogs to become overweight, so if you’re feeding a lot of calories in Kongs, you’ll need to either cut back your pup’s food, start using his food portions as Kong-stuffer, or get him more exercise. This is especially important to keep in mind if you’re using Kongs to entertain a dog on crate rest, when you’re probably going to need to cut his portions back anyway because he’s not getting any exercise. When I was crate resting my dog, I would dump all of his kibble for the next day into a bowl, soak it, add a little something special, and stuff it all in Kongs to freeze overnight. He didn’t really get meals during that time. Instead, he got Kongs at various times throughout the day. I don’t know how I would have gotten through those months of resting a young athletic dog without this trick. Anything that can make his food serving last longer and to require more mental work to get it is going to help me keep my crate-resting dog calmer and easier to rest.

I hope this post opened your eyes to the wonderful world of Kongs, or if you already use them, has broadened your vision of the way they can be used to occupy dogs for longer times. I seriously don’t know what I’d do without these simple toys and all the options they provide to me.

 
 

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A Beginner’s Guide to Reading Pet Food Bags Part 1

pidgefoodThe pet food business is certainly booming today, and there are so many different options to choose from. There’s everything from Walmart’s cheap Ol’ Roy to the super-premium, super-expensive holistic foods. How on earth do you begin to evaluate what is on all those shelves and pick something that will be good for your pet as well as your wallet? In this week’s blog post, I hope to give you some of the basic information you need to read pet food labels in the hopes that it will help you be able to choose more wisely based on information instead of marketing and attractive packaging.

Before the mid-1800s, pets were generally fed whatever scraps were left over after the humans ate. It wasn’t until a man named James Spratt came along and invented the first dry dog food, completely revolutionizing how pets in this country are fed, that pet food manufacturing became an industry. These days, pet food is a big, complicated, profit-driven business. Everybody is out to attract consumers with what they think will be the most appealing. “Now with chicken!” “Holistic!” “Gluten free!” Cute happy puppies and catchy jingles on tv! But what does any of this really mean, and what is truly important?

The first thing to look for on the packaging of a food is the AAFCO statement. AAFCO is an organization which analyzes pet foods and guarantees that they meet a certain nutrient profile that is deemed to be acceptable for either adult pets or for growth and reproduction. This can be done in one of two ways– either simply by analysis of the ingredients, or analysis done with the addition of actual feeding trials. It is easy to tell which method was used because one of two statements will be printed on the packaging: ““(Name of product) is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles” or “Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that (name of product) provides complete and balanced nutrition”. Is one better than the other? Potentially. Just because something looks good on paper, so to say, doesn’t mean that it will function as expected when it’s actually ingested. Feeding trials will prove in a real life situation that a formulation really works.hameat

The next thing we’re going to look at is ingredients.

Ingredients are complicated. There are so many games that food manufacturers can play to make their foods look better than what they actually are.

The first thing you need to understand is that ingredients are listed in order of weight. When you look at the meat content of a certain food, and you see that “chicken” is the first ingredient on the list, what you need to remember is that fresh meat is approximately 70% moisture. When you suck all that moisture out during the kibble manufacturing process, the actual nutritional part that is left is going to fall signficantly lower on the list.

However, if you see the words “chicken meal” instead, you’re looking at an ingredient that has already been dehydrated and concentrated. If that is at the top of the list, it’s going to stay there. A named meat meal (chicken, turkey, lamb, whatever) is a great ingredient and something you want to see at the top of the list. Meal is going to offer the highest amount of protein and nutrients.

And the naming of a specific meat source matters. You want to see “Chicken meal”. You do not want to see “Meat meal” or “Meat and bone meal”. Products that list a generalized “meat” ingredient tend to be using whatever they can get the cheapest, and that may change from day to day, from bag to bag. This is especially important if your pet has any food sensitivities.

Another thing to pay attention to is ingredient splitting. Manufacturers will split ingredients (especially grains or carbohydrates) into their individual components, which will move them down the list weight-wise and make them look like less than they really are. Here’s the beginning of an ingredient list from a grain-free dry dog food. Grain-free foods are often marketed as being “better”, but in truth some of them are still relying on carbs, not meat protein, as the bulk of the diet.

Chicken, Potatoes, Yellow Peas, Pea Protein Concentrate, Potato Starch, Chicken Meal, Chicken Fat,

So here we have Chicken as the first ingredient. Remember, though, that chicken is 70% water weight, all of which will disappear during processing. Then come potatoes. Also with a fair bit of water weight to them. But look– down the list– more potato, in the form of starch, and there after that is the coveted Chicken Meal that we should be looking for, because that is where the bulk of your meat-based protein is going to come from. In the middle? Yellow peas, followed by Pea Protein Concentrate. You have to wonder where on the list that chicken would actually fall if the potatoes and the peas were not split up into individual components. Maybe not first, in the spotlight, where people are going to see and and say “oh! This food has lots of chicken in it!”

What about by-products? By-products are looked down upon by some as inferior ingredients, but I think we need to think about what “by-product” really means and what an animal would eat in the wild. Here’s the AAFCO definition for Chicken By-Product Meal: “Chicken By-Product Meal – consists of the ground, rendered, clean parts of the carcass of slaughtered chicken, such as necks, feet, undeveloped eggs and intestines, exclusive of feathers, except in such amounts as might occur unavoidable in good processing practice.”
crosbyfood

Sounds kind of gross, but in reality, if left alone with a fresh chicken, a dog is going to eat those squeamish bits too. Chicken feet, for example, are an excellent source of glucosamine, a joint supplement. So while it isn’t what I personally would want to be eating, it is not without nutritional value for an animal. Again, in “meal” form, you have a concentrated source of nutrients.

What it comes down to, at least for me, is that I want a food that gets most of its protein from meat, not grains or carbs. Cats are obligate carnivores. They need to eat meat. Dogs are technically opportunistic scavengers who will eat just about anything, but if you look at their teeth, those are the teeth of a meat-eater. With protein, the source matters when it comes to what the animal’s body is best able to use. Eggs offer the highest and most easily digestible quality of protein, followed by meat, and then followed by grains. Yes, you are going to pay a bit more for a food that is heavy in meat-based protein, but the food will be more nourishing, and you will likely have to feed less of it in order to give your pet all of what he needs. (Which will also result in less poop! Yay!)

At the end of the day, there is no one perfect food. There is no one “best” food. Every cat, every dog, is an individual. What works well for one dog may cause itchy skin in another. What works great for one cat may cause another to lose weight and look unkempt. So there is a little bit of experimentation that goes on in finding the best food to feed your pet. It is ok to switch foods. We always recommend that you do so gradually– start adding small amounts of the new food to the old food, and gradually change the ratio until you’re feeding all the new food. The speed at which you will need to do this depends greatly on your individual pet. The goal is a healthy, active pet in good weight, with a healthy coat, little odor, and a smoothly-running GI system. The right food can do amazing things.

I hope this helps a little bit in the decoding of food labels. It’s a confusing process, and there are so many games that food manufacturers like to play to make their foods more appealing. A little information about the tricks of the trade will go a long way toward helping pet owners be more savvy consumers.

 
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Posted by on March 6, 2014 in Cats, Dogs, Food, Health

 

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