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Dog Bite Prevention Week Part 2: Bite-proofing your child

A dog can be a boy's best friend.

A dog can be a boy’s best friend.

Every year, 4.5 million people in the United States are bitten by dogs. 50% of these bites are to children 12 and under, with the highest rate among children between the ages of five and nine years old. Fortunately, of all dog bites treated in emergency rooms, 96% are treated and released (source).

While few of these bites are serious, dog bites to children are a serious and scary problem. Thankfully, there are many steps a parent and a child can take to lower his risk.

The first, and I think the most important, is for parents to closely supervise their childrens’ interactions with dogs. This is especially important with new or strange dogs, but it is also important with the family dog. Dogs are animals. Sometimes they lose their patience. Sometimes their warnings go unheeded and they end up warning more strongly than tender human flesh can tolerate. Sometimes they’re in pain.

The best way to counteract this unpredictability is to learn to read and understand the dog’s body language and comfort level. While some dogs will tolerate a child climbing all over them, but for most dogs it is very stressful. So even though the dog is putting up with it, he might be trying very hard to communicate how uncomfortable he is with the situation.

We have fallen into the habit of “Disney-fying” dogs. Yes, dogs can be man’s best friend, but they are still living, breathing, feeling animals who don’t always respond in the ways we want or expect.

Here is an excellent guide to understanding how to read stress signals from your dog. Often the easiest to see are yawning, tucked tail, pinned-back ears, nose-licking, and trying to avoid the situation. All of these need to be cues to parents that it is time to intervene now because the risk of something bad happening is steadily increasing.

Children, especially older ones, can be taught to recognize friendly vs stressed vs go away messages from dogs. Doggone Safe’s Learn to be a Dog Detective is a terrific child-oriented webpage for helping kids understand what a dog is feeling at any given time and what the best response is.

Teach your child that if he is approached by a strange, loose dog, do not run but instead Be a Tree. Running or screaming makes a child more interesting and a more appealing target. Being still and quiet is boring, and less interesting to a dog.

It is also vitally important to teach children not to approach strange dogs without the owner present. Statistically, dogs who are chained, kenneled, or contained in a backyard are a high bite risk. They are often poorly socialized with people and protective of their space. This can be a recipe for disaster if a child approaches. Between 1976 and 2001, at least 98 people were killed by chained dogs. 92 were children.

If an owner is present, the child must know to ask first before trying to pet the dog. Not all dogs are comfortable with children, and some dogs, such as service dogs, should not be interrupted from their work. If the owner says it is ok, the child should be taught to extend a fist for the dog to sniff and to let the dog come to him. If the dog wants to say hi, he will!

Let sleeping dogs lie! Teach your child that if the dog is sleeping, chewing a bone, or otherwise occupied by himself, it is best to leave him alone.

Give your dog a safe place to go when he wants to be left alone, and teach your child to respect that. I cringe when I see pictures of kids in crates with dogs. If things were to go bad, they could go very bad very quickly with neither dog nor child able to quickly escape.

Teach your child to never try to take something from a dog that the dog will not willingly give up. A hard stare, a stiff body, crouching over the item, and growling are all signs that your child needs to back off and go to an adult if the dog has something that he shouldn’t. Also, a wagging tail is not necessarily a sign of a happy dog! A loose, full-body wave is a sign of happiness. A stiff or slow wag is not.

Dogs should be fun, not scary.

Dogs should be fun, not scary.

Some older children can be taught to “trade”. Trading is taking something that the dog values highly (food, a favorite toy), and offering it to the dog in exchange for whatever he is guarding. If the dog shows desire for the trade object, toss it several feet away so that you are able to retrieve the item while the dog is occupied away from it.

Resource guarding can become very dangerous, so getting in contact with a trainer or behaviorist as soon as possible is highly recommended.

Last but not least, please do not ever leave an infant alone with a dog, even if the baby is in a crib. Babies smell funny, they sound funny, and they move funny. All of this has the potential to trigger prey drive in a dog who would never hurt someone he recognized as a human.

With all of these things in mind, it is possible to minimize the risk of your child being bitten either by a strange dog or the family dog. Kids and dogs can make a great combination, but keeping safety in mind is a must!

Other resources:
Doggone Safe!
Be a Tree!
And for all things dog-bite-statistics, The National Canine Research Council

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Posted by on May 22, 2014 in Dogs, Safety

 

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Dog Bite Prevention Week Part 1: Bite-proofing your dog

My dogs are family.

My dogs are family.

This week is considered Dog Bite Prevention Week, a week in which professionals who work with animals strive to put out good and useful information about dog bites and about how to prevent them. In a country where more homes contain dogs than don’t, it’s an important topic. Dogs bite humans every single day. The good news is that according to the National Canine Research Council, greater than 80% of reported bites require no medical treatment at all. 19.4% of reported bites require minor medical attention, and the last 0.01% of bites are the ugly ones requiring major medical attention.

This is probably not the impression you get from the media. So frequently there are dramatic news stories about children attacked by vicious pit bulls, or police having to shoot attacking dogs. The truth is, a lot of this is media and attention-driven. In 2010, there were 33 dog attacks that resulted in fatality. In contrast, there were 33,041 unintentional poisioning fatalities, and 3,782 unintentional drowning deaths. (Source: NCRC).
According to Janice Bradley’s book Dogs Bite But Balloons and Slippers are More Dangerous, you’re more likely to be struck by lightning twice than you are to be killed by a dog. There are more cow-related human deaths every year than dog-related ones.

So why this great fear of dog bites?

I think it is just something primal in us. As a society, we have in many ways taken the “animal” out of dogs. We’ve tried to turn them into Disney characters– always affable, never dangerous. They are “man’s best friend” and they are supposed to fit neatly into our cultural expectations. But the truth is, dogs are living, breathing, thinking, emotional animals. They are the sum of their genetics and their environments, and when they get into serious trouble, it is almost always the result of human error in one way or another.

The next question: How do you bite-proof your dog?

First off, choose a breed or dog that is appropriate to your lifestyle and experience. If you’ve never owned a dog before, it’s probably not the best idea to go out and get a dog who is going to react to everything he sees in his environment by wanting to bite it. If you have kids, you are going to be better off looking for a dog who likes kids and is pretty go-with-the-flow, not a dog who is scared of his own shadow. If you plan to use a dog-park to exercise a dog, do not choose one whose entire breed is built around fighting with other dogs. Do your research! There are lots of breed-selectors available online that can point you in the right direction. Here’s one from Animal Planet that’s pretty nice. Iams has an interesting breed selector as well.

If you bring home a puppy, it is so very important that you socialize him so that he learns to roll with the punches and tolerate having to deal with new things. Helping him to have plenty of good experiences in all kinds of locations with all kinds of people will set him up to be more tolerant later on, and tolerance is always something we prize in a pet dog.

Buy your dog either from a responsible breeder who is breeding dogs who have been proven to have good temperaments or rescue one from an organization that temperament tests its dogs, and ideally keeps them in foster homes. Meet the dogs. If from a breeder, meet the dogs’ relatives. Make sure you are seeing dogs who are steady and engaged, not dogs who are shrinking back from the world, and not dogs who are aggressively approaching every person they meet. You don’t want to see hard eyes, raised hackles, stiff bodies. Look for fluid motion and appropriate interaction.

Please please do NOT buy your puppy from a petstore, online vendor, or a puppy mill or farm where the pups have lived their whole lives in cages or a pen, rarely handled, and not at all socialized to the world. Socialization in puppies is HUGE and if your pup is not exposed to a variety of people and sounds and experiences and textures under his feet at a young age, life is going to be that much harder for him, and he’s going to be that much more of a bite risk.

Whether your new dog is a baby or an adult, attending a postive-reinforcement-based obedience class dramatically decreases your dog’s future bite risk.

All dogs should go to school.

All dogs should go to school.

One of the biggest factors in serious dog attacks and fatalities is that they frequently involve dogs who are not considered members of the family. These dogs are referred to as “resident dogs”, and while they live on the property, usually chained or penned or relegated to the backyard, they miss out on the bond with humans, they miss out on the opportunity to learn appropriate behavior, and they miss out on the constant mental and physical stimulation of life shared with people.

The dogs with the highest risk of getting into trouble are those who are recently acquired, kept as “resident animals” instead of pets, are chained and rarely if ever let off the chain to lead a normal doggy life, who are not spayed or neutered, not trained, and have had little socialization.

So basically, to bite-proof your dog…. Do the opposite! Include your dog in your family, train him, teach him the ways of the world, let him have good experiences, protect him, and learn to read his body language and what he is telling you. Dogs are pack animals. You are his pack.

Family dogs who bite very frequently give you plenty of notice (unless this notice has been punished out of them) but you have to know what you’re looking for and you have to respect it. A dog is growling at you over a toy is communicating important information. And this should be a red flag that you need to contact a trainer ASAP so that you can learn how to change your pup’s reaction to your approaching his toys. A lot of bites could be avoided by learning to recognize stress signs in your dog and by seeking help as soon as you notice the beginnings of the problem, not after somebody gets bitten.

Hopefully this post gave you a basic overview of why dog bites happen and ways to “bite-proof” your dog. But what about bite-proofing your child? Stay tuned. We’ll look at that later in the week.

 

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In Praise of Difficult Dogs: Luce’s Story

lucesurveyWhen they say that pit bulls aren’t necessarily a great choice for first-time dog owners, they really do mean it. They’re very high energy, they’re smart, they’re demanding, and they’re frequently not good with other dogs. Oh, and they’re really really strong. But I fell in love with the breed anyway, and so when I was in a position to bring home my first dog, I went to the shelter and picked out a cute little young adult pit bull with silly bat ears and a charming snort.

Oh, I had no idea what I was getting into. Not a clue.

I took her home, I named her Luce, (Short for Eleusis, pronounced like “Lucy” without the y). I fell in love.

But oh, was I in trouble.

“Naughty” doesn’t even begin to cover what she was. The first thing she did when set loose in the fenced yard was check each individual board in the privacy fence to make sure it was secure. Not all of them were. She escaped. We fixed that board, she found a new loose one. She managed to crawl underneath the neighbor’s shed. I have no idea what she hoped to find there– adventure, perhaps. Or something to eat.

Her favorite game was to run like a maniac all over the yard and bite my legs on the way past. She was not being aggressive in any way– she was simply playing in a manner that works for playing with other dogs, just not for us tender-skinned humans. It hurt. She thought it was hilarious.

But the hardest thing to deal with was her extreme reactivity to other dogs while on leash. She would pull, she would scream (and I mean scream, not bark), she would lunge. It was scary and embarrassing.

I was completely out of my league, and I knew it.

I was left with the decision of whether to give up and return her to the shelter and an uncertain fate, or to enroll her in obedience class and try my best.

We started Beginner Obedience a few weeks later, and I had no idea that I was embarking on such an incredible and life-changing journey.

We started out our classes completely segregated from the rest of the group. Here is the first thing I learned: a dog who is freaking out (known in trainer-speak as “Over threshold”) cannot learn. Their brains are so busy freaking out that nothing else gets through. So when I was yelling and jerking her leash to try to make her stop carrying on, I was wasting my energy– she could not hear me anyway.

Food is good. Yelling is dumb.

Food is good. Yelling is dumb.

We were set up behind a barrier. Luce knew the other dogs were there, but she couldn’t see them. So while she was distracted, she was able, with the use of high value treats (hot dogs, cheese, meatballs) frequently delivered for the smallest bit of attention on me, so start to calm down and actually learn some stuff. Sit, down, stay, leave it– all those important Dog Skills.

(A note about rewards: They have to be highly rewarding TO THE DOG. While we like to think our dogs work for our love and affection, really they prefer food or toys. Each dog is different– a dog who goes nuts for cheese may not care about hot dogs. A dog who is not accepting a reward that he typically does is probably over-stressed and you need to take a step back in your training and find the place where he’s not stressing.)

The second important thing that I learned was that heavily rewarding the behaviors that I wanted was a whole lot easier and more effective than trying to punish out the behaviors that I didn’t want. It is much easier for a dog to learn a specific behavior to do than to try to figure out from many options what not to do. In this case, I was looking for attention on me.

For her to learn this, she needed to learn self-control.

Self-control is a really hard thing for a lot of dogs, but it is at the heart of so many behaviors that we want, from walking politely on a leash without pulling to responding to a “leave it” command instead of snatching a dropped pill off the floor. We did a lot of work with Luce lying on a mat on the floor (bathmats work great for this) while I rewarded her heavily with wonderful tasty food for being calm and staying on her mat as I gradually increased the amount of distraction..

So proud!

So proud!

The absolute best resource for this is Karen Overall’s Relaxation Protocol. There is also a handy audio version.

It is boring and it is repetetive but it works. Leslie McDevitt’s Control Unleashed program builds extensively on Karen Overall’s work. Although it was initially intended as a program for dogs who play sports, it has many “real life” applications, and many people with reactive dogs have had great success with it. The puppy book is a bit easier to follow and works great for adult dogs as well as pups.

It didn’t get better overnight. It took time, patience, perseverance. It took a lot of not giving up even when I wanted to. I took class after class and worked with Luce outside of class, and eventually there were very obvious results. My instructor started encouraging me to do rally obedience trials with her. I laughed and said they can have my leash when they pry it from my cold, dead hands. She said that conveniently, the first level is all on leash.

And so began my journey into the world of dog sports. At Luce’s very first trial, we finished in second place. Together we would go on to earn six rally obedience titles, 4 rally obedience championship-level titles, two traditional obedience titles, and two national rally rankings. She retired– she’s 11 years old now– with the alphabet soup of ARCHX Luce CD CD-H RA RLV RL3 RL2X RL1X CGC TT.

Wall of glory.

Wall of glory.

Not bad for a crazy little red pit bull that somebody threw away. I hope the journey was worth as much to her as it was to me.

Further resources for dealing with reactive/difficult dogs:
When Pigs Fly Dog Training
DINOS: Dogs in Need of Space
Dr. Sophia Yin
Local behavior consultant Barb Demerest

 
 

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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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Why does my cat do that?

Nigel. King of his domain.

Nigel. King of his domain.

Cats. They are odd creatures. Unlike dogs who have developed a working relationship with people over the centuries, cats… work for themselves. And yet we love them, and we bring them into our homes despite their tendency to lord over everyone. Dogs have owners. Cats have staff.

But have you ever wondered about why cats do some of the things they do?

Why, for example, do cats purr? Most people connect the gentle purr of a cat to contentment, and it’s true that cats do purr when they’re happy and relaxed. They purr when they nurse kittens. But they also purr when they’re afraid or stressed. So purring can communicate multiple different states of mind- maybe like a smile in a human? People smile when they’re happy, but many also smile when they’re nervous.

What is even more interesting than communication is that a cat’s purr can actually help to heal bones, both in cats themselves and in others who are exposed to the purring.

Mine. All mine. Only mine.

Mine. All mine. Only mine.

Why do they go crazy for catnip? According to Dr. Ruth MacPete, catnip contains an essential oil called Nepetalactone that cats find attractive and enticing. While some cats go wild from catnip and run about the house like a maniac, others drool or become sedate and docile. The occasional over-indulger may even become grumpy or mildly aggressive. The response doesn’t last long, though. Usually the effects wear off after 15 minutes or so.

Why do cats rub their faces against things? Cats do a lot of communicating through scent. They even have a specialized organ in the rooves of their mouths called the vomeronasal or Jacobson’s organ that allows them to better analyze scents. Urine-spraying is the type of scent-marking that we are most familiar with (and dislike the most!) but cats also communicate with scent glands in their faces. When they rub against walls, against table legs, against their cat trees, they are letting other cats know that they have been there. Cats also scent-mark each other by rubbing their faces against one another, and they like to scent-mark their humans as well. This is all a part of bonding- mixing scents, including one another in the group. Head bumping (or around our house, head “bonking”) is another favorite bonding behavior for scent-marking. A sign of true kitty love!

Don't hate me because I'm beautiful.

Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful.

Why do cats scratch furniture or scratching posts (even if they’re declawed)? Scratching serves multiple purposes for cats. In cats who have claws, it helps the cat to loosen and shed the outer layers of their claws, helping to keep them healthy. It also allows them to fully stretch their backs and shoulders. But the most important part of scratching behavior for a cat is communication. Cats who scratch repeatedly in one place are communicating both visually through their destruction, as well as through the scent glands in their feet. This is the likely reason why declawed cats continue to “scratch”– they are leaving their scent on the object to communicate with other cats.

Why do cats like to drink from the faucet? Many cats are very attracted to running water from the faucet. It makes sense- cats prefer their food and their water to be fresh. Water that sits for awhile in a bowl becomes stale and simply doesn’t taste as good. The motion of running water is also attractive to a lot of cats. If you think about how cats live in the wild, a source of moving water is less likely to be stagnant or contaminated than a standing body of water like a puddle or pond. And something else to think about if you cat prefers his water from the faucet instead of his bowl– small, deep bowls may be bothersome to cats because their whiskers hit the sides. A flat, wider bowl, or even better- a kitty fountain– will provide a more comfortable drinking option. Cats in general don’t tend to drink enough to keep themselves well-hydrated, so if running water encourages your cat to drink, go with it!

There is a wide array of other strange cat behaviors out there to be looked at. Which ones baffle you the most?

 
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Posted by on December 26, 2013 in Behavior, Cats

 

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10 things every spoiled rotten dog should have.

Last month we looked at some of the best ways to care for and enrich your cat’s environment, so this month we are looking at some of the best ways to spoil our dogs rotten.

But we start out this post at the same place, with

1. Care Credit. Care Credit is a credit card specifically geared toward healthcare (yours and your pet’s- I’ve used mine at my dentist’s office). It is easier to get than a regular credit card and allows you six months interest free to pay off a balance of over $200. Make sure that you read the fine print- if you miss a payment or do not pay off the balance within the allotted time, you will be responsible for all that interest. But this can be a great tool in an emergency to buy you some time to get funds together and not have to take the entire hit at once. And goodness knows, with all the goofy things that dogs do (and eat!) having an extra payment option available can never hurt.

2. A well-fitted, sturdy collar with readable tags. This is your dog’s first line of defense from getting lost forever. A well-fitted collar that the dog cannot pull out of, kept in good repair, and hung with a legible tag with your contact information on it is the best chance of getting your dog home. Rabies tags and dog licenses are also tools to identify and get a dog returned to his family, but they require an extra step and the availability of extra people- either animal control or your local veterinarian’s office. A good nametag with your phone number clearly printed on it is your dog’s best bet to get home quickly.

3. A microchip. If your dog’s first line of identification– his collar and tags– fails, a microchip can still get your dog back to you. Shelters, veterinarians, and many police officers have scanners, and as long as your pet’s microchip is REGISTERED and has ACCURATE INFORMATION attached to it, he has a good chance of getting back to you. When we microchip pets at White Oaks, we automatically go ahead and register them for you with the information you provide, so that there are no worries that it is done. A microchip will also allow you to get a lifetime license for your dog- you pay one time and don’t have to worry about it ever again.

Bully sticks make for good chewing and are fully digestible.

4. Things to Chew. Most dogs love to chew. It keeps them occupied, it helps them to destress, and appropriate chew toys can be a great way for them to clean their teeth. Dog chews are available in everything from plastic Nylabones in a variety of shapes, textures, and even flavors (I get a kick out of the dinosaur ones); to dried meat and smoked hooves; to real marrow bones from the butcher; to antlers. You want to pick a size and hardness appropriate to your dog. A small dog will usually require a smaller, maybe even softer chew toy, whereas a small chew toy is dangerous for a big dog who could swallow it whole and risk having it lodge in his throat, stomach, or intestines, requiring emergency medical attention.

Rawhides can be a good choice or a bad choice, depending on your dog. For dogs who are thorough chewers, they can be a good choice. For dogs who inhale treats whole, they are a bad choice because, again, they can get stuck. If you do feed rawhides, make sure the ones you buy are made in America, not just packaged in America. Chinese-made rawhides have shown up with some pretty scary chemicals on them.

Cooked bones, on the other hand, are never a good choice. Cooked (including smoked) bones have a high tendency to splinter, and those spinters can wreak havoc in your dog’s mouth and in his gut. This means no cooked bones from your kitchen, no turkey carcass, no hambones, no steak bones. It’s just not worth the risk.

Frisbee!

Frisbee!

5. Toys to chase. Fetch is a great game to play with your dog. Many of them love it, and it is terrific exercise. Whether it is a frisbee, a ball, or any of the wide variety of toys available for fetch games, time spent playing with your dog is good for him and good for you as well. Dogs who do not naturally fetch can be taught to do so. Some dogs love to retrieve in water, and that is even better exercise for them if you have a safe swimming hole available.

But chasing can come in other forms, too. Many dogs like a toy referred to as a flirt pole. This pretty much amounts to a giant cat toy for dogs. A rope run through a long piece of PCV pipe that acts as a handle with a fun chase-able toy on the end. It’s like a giant fishing rod, basically, and a lot of dogs go crazy for it (especially terriers and herding breeds). It allows you to exercise a dog in a relatively small space without having to exert yourself very much. This game should not be played with dogs who have joint issues or who do not know how to release a toy that they’ve grabbed onto, but it is also a terrific way to teach self-control (wait to chase the toy until told, lie down and stay to make the game start). So. Much. Fun.

6. A cozy bed. There is a huge variety of dog beds available for purchase, ranging from cheap to ridiculously expensive. They come in soft and cushy, firm, orthopedic, even heated. Or, you know. The couch and your bed work too, depending on your preferences. But older dogs especially tend to enjoy a soft place to park their bones, and it is easier on their bodies to have something cushioned and soft.

Stuffed Kongs make dogs happy.

Stuffed Kongs make dogs happy.

7. Food-dispensing toys. Food-dispensing toys are a great way to occupy your dog’s mind, as well as to slow down his eating. There are two basic types of food-dispensing toys available- toys that dogs have to work to unstuff (Kong), and toys that dogs have to push, shove, bat around, or otherwise manipulate to cause the food to come out (Kong Wobbler, Buster Cube, Tricky Treat Ball, Tug-a-Jug).

The right toy to choose is the one your dog likes. Kongs are great because they can be pre-stuffed with tasty snacks and frozen for a time when you need your dog to take a break and do something quiet. And they can be stuffed with all kinds of different foods! Think outside the box! Yogurt works great, small amounts of peanut butter, canned food, fruits and veggies, kibble soaked in broth- anything that is soft and will freeze well. You can also stuff large, hard-to-remove treats like biscuits into Kongs that the dog will have to work and manipulate to get out, but some dogs are easily frustrated by this and give up quickly.

Dogs need to eat, and most dogs love to eat. Using that most basic drive as a way to exercise your dog’s brain is a simple way to enrich his life.

8. A warm jacket when it’s cold outside. Many dogs don’t mind the cold, but some breeds and some individual dogs are, well, delicate flowers and appreciate protection from the cold. Dogs with smooth, sleek coats like Dobermans, Whippets, and even Boxers and pit bulls tend to be more bothered by low temperatures. Smaller dogs are also more likely to mind the cold, in part because they have a smaller body mass, but also because their bodies are closer to the snow on the ground.

Like with beds, there are an endless array available. Simple tshirts and sweaters, fleece jackets such as Fido Fleece, and more expensive outwear such as Hurtta, Foggy Mountain, and Ruffwear. And if you are handy with a tape-measure and a sewing machine, there are so many adorable fleece prints available to make your own snuggly jackets.

Puppy class is so much fun!

Puppy class is so much fun!

9. Training Classes. Training classes are a great way to bond with your dog and learn how to teach him what you want from him. Puppy class is especially important and FUN! but it is never too late to join a class. And there are more than just obedience sit, down, stay, come, walk on a leash classes out there. Dog sports are exploding, and there is something out there for every dog. Does your dog love to play ball? Maybe check out flyball classes. Enjoy running and jumping and climbing? Agility might be a good match for you. Does your dog love to sniff? Nosework classes are a lot of fun for dogs. There are classes for teaching tricks, there are classes for teaching manners, there are classes for learning to dance with your dog. Heck, I’ve even seen classes that combine yoga with dogs (dubbed “Doga”). There are a number of training schools around- take a look to see if there is something out there that sounds like fun to you.

10. Daily Exercise and Enrichment. As the saying goes, a tired dog is a good dog. Our dogs, even older ones, need daily exercise and enrichment in their lives to keep them happy, healthy, and fit. A walk around town to let your pup sniff all the smells, a hike in the woods, a good game of fetch or hide and seek, or ten minutes training a new trick are all options that help give your dog what he needs. Continued mental stimulation is important in young dogs to help tire out their brains so they are less likely to make up their own fun games that you won’t like so much, and it is important into the golden years to help your dog maintain her capabilities. Use your imagination, think outside the box, and above all- have fun with your furry friend. After all, that’s why we have them!

 
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Posted by on December 19, 2013 in Behavior, Dogs, Just for Fun

 

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10 things every spoiled rotten cat should have.

1. Care Credit. Care Credit is a credit card designed specifically for medical uses- accepted at doctors offices, dentists, and the like it is also accepted by many veterinarians. It is easier to get than many credit cards and offers the benefit of six months interest free financing for six months on purchases over $200. If you have an unexpected sick kitty emergency and a tight budget, this is a great way to get your furry little guy the care he needs. It is easy to apply online so that you can be prepared.

2. Cat fountain. Cats originated in the desert and are generally not great drinkers. Not drinking enough is hard on the kidneys for one, but it also frequently contributes to the large amount of kitty bladder problems that we see. Dilution is the solution to pollution, as they say, and if your kitty is making crystals in his urine, keeping him better hydrated can help flush them out. There are a wide variety of kitty fountains out there– running water can be more attractive to cats, it stays fresher, and it’s more fun, thus encouraging cats to drink more. (Adding canned food to their diet is also very beneficial for the same reasons). Drinkwell Fountains are among the most popular and they come in a variety of prices and designs.

3. Cat trees. Cat furniture comes in a huge variety of shapes, sizes, designs, and colors. There are some truly beautiful cat trees out there, and there are more that are designed simply for function. A cat tree allows your cat to make use of the vertical space in your home. Cats like to climb, they like to be up high, and they like to scratch. Cat trees give them an appropriate place to do all of these things. Placing it by a window makes it even more appealing- there’s so much for a cat to see out there!

4. The Furminator. Cats shed. Like crazy. Short-haired, long-haired it makes no difference. Some cats have trouble with hairballs because of all the fur they groom off and swallow, and that’s no fun for anybody. The Furminator comes in designs specific for both long-haired beauties and their short-haired counterparts. They remove an incredible amount of hair, so you must use them as directed and not over-brush any single area. But they can really cut down on the fur left around your house and the little squishy presents your cat coughs up for you from time to time.

5. The laser pointer. Cats love to play with laser pointers, chasing the dot here and there around the house. It plays into all of their hunting and chasing instincts and can be great fun for both the cat and the person in charge of the laser. This can become a frustrating game for cats if they never get to “catch” the dot, so you do want to allow them to win sometimes. And in some cases, cats can become terribly obsessed, so this is a game that should be played in moderation. It’s a great workout for a sedentary housecat though!

6. Feather Wand. Another great toy that nourishes the hunting and chasing instinct within your feline friend. These toys are avaiable in a multitude of designs at most petstores- some of them look like feather dusters on the end of a long thin stick, others have feathers dangling from a string. Whichever your cat finds more fun is the right choice. Tease and encourage your cat to chase this toy, encourage him to sit up on his hind legs and reach up to bat at it. Give him a full-body workout! And again, remember that to keep him interested and prevent frustration, you want to let him win sometimes. Let him grab those feathers and give them a few chomps before you gently detatch him and start the game again.

7. Food-dispensing toys. Obesity is a tremendous problem in housecats in our country, and one way to combat it is to feed limited amounts. And one way to make those limited amounts both more interesting and longer-lasting is to feed portions in toys made to dispense food as they are played with. There is a wide variety out there for dogs, but there seem to be less marketed toward cats, which is a real shame. Shopping for a small-dog sized toy may be the easiest option. Put your kitty’s kibble in the toy and encourage him to figure out how it works. This will play into his hunting instincts as well as his desire to eat. Gone for a long day at work? Leave one or two toys in various places around the house for kitty to discover during the day. It’ll keep him more active and it will keep his mind more engaged, resulting in a more satisfied and less annoying feline housemate.

8. Turbo Scratcher or other scratch pad. Cats need to scratch. It helps them to care for their claws, shed old claw coverings, as well as stretch their shoulders and backs. We often complain about cats scratching inappropriately, but far too often we don’t provide our cats with appropriate places to scratch that they find enjoyable. Cardboard scratching pads are available in a variety of sizes and designs, some laying flat on the floor, others at an angle. The Turbo Scratcher combines a cardboard scratch pad with a fun ball in a track that seems to be especially appealing to young cats. It is always good to get good habits instilled in them early!

9. Catnip mice. This is a classic, but it is still an extremely popular toy with cats and cat owners alike. Available in a wide variety of colors and sizes from realistic to neon, cats love to bat and chase these toys around (and some cats can be trained to retrieve them, which is fun!). The catnip makes them more appealing to many cats, and they seem to be a hit with nearly all cats. Plus they’re inexpensive, and that never hurts!

10. Cardboard boxes. Speaking of inexpensive. Just like young children who find the boxes more fun to play with than their expensive Christmas present, a lot of cats really enjoy cardboard boxes. They hide in them, they sleep in them, they lie in wait and pounce out of them. Some cats really enjoy scratching and biting them. The possibilites are endless and the supplies are cheap. Never underestimate the appeal of an empty cat-sized box.

 
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Posted by on November 14, 2013 in Behavior, Cats, Health

 

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