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June 2016

The Safe Way to Break Up a Dog Fight

 by lucy on 30 Jun 2016 |
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Like CPR or the Heimlich Maneuver, breaking up a dogfight is one of those skills you hope you never use. The fact is, however, not all dogs get along. The best way to deal with a dogfight is to watch for warning signs and stop aggressive behavior before it escalates. Sometimes, however, a full-fledged fight is already underway.   Your first instinct when a fight breaks out between dogs is to reach into the scuffle and grab your dog by the scruff of his neck. This maneuver, however, is more likely to leave you injured than stop the clash. Instead, if you and another person are breaking up a fight together, you should each grab a dog’s back legs and raise them up, just like you would lift a friend’s legs while doing the “wheelbarrow” when you were a kid. Without the use of his back legs, your dog will have no choice but stand on his front legs, precluding any efforts to continue fighting. Back both dogs away slowly, continuing to hold their legs in the air while you move in a backwards arc that will prevent your dog from reaching around to bite you. Once the two dogs are safely separated, try holding your pet securely until he is calm. It will help to turn him so he’s facing away from the infringing dog and distract him from his tiff.   Breaking up a dogfight up solo is significantly more challenging and dangerous, but you can proceed with caution if necessary. First, get a leash and then slowly approach the more aggressive dog until you’re close enough to loop the leash around his midsection. You’ll want to catch the dog just in front of his back legs and slip the free end of the leash through its looped handle so you can pull the loop taut. You can then pull the dog backward until you find something to fasten him to, such as a telephone pole or fence post. At this point, shift your focus to the second dog and grab him from behind using the technique described above. Again, pull him at least 20 feet away from his adversary and restrain him until the dogs are calm or help arrives. In both cases, remember to remain calm and avoid screaming or panicking, which can further agitate the dogs.   Breaking up a dogfight is dangerous and should only be a last resort. The best way to prevent injuries to both you and your pet is to know the warning signs of a fight and prevent the kerfuffle before it happens. If your dog is “smiling;” cowering and looking away; licking his lips; yawning; turning away and flattening his ears; flicking or tucking his tail; or turning his head away from the threatening dog while keeping his eyes on him, you can be sure a fight is about to break out and you should separate the two dogs immediately.

Turns out, you actually can take your cat for a walk

 by lucy on 22 Jun 2016 |
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To most of us, the idea of walking a cat on a leash seems absurd. Cats are, after all, free-willed creatures that don’t respond well to discipline. Our feline friends will, however, answer to treats and praise, making leash training a viable option for some cats. Leash walking doesn’t just benefit your pet by allowing him to get a safe taste of the outdoors, but can also help him get more exercise, remedy boredom-related behavioral problems, and comes in handy during trips out of town or visits to the vet.   The first step towards training kitty to join you in the great outdoors is finding a harness that fits him properly. The two main types of harnesses are leads, which are made up of several straps that fit snugly around your cat’s neck and back, and vests, which are pieces of fabric worn exactly as the name suggests. Vests velcro or snap shut and give your cat more coverage, making them a good choice for felines that might be able to wriggle out of their leads. The harness should be snug, but not too tight— as a general rule, you should be able to fit a finger or two under the strapped harness, but no more.   Once you find the proper equipment, you want to introduce it to your cat slowly, using food for positive reinforcement. Leave the harness near kitty’s food dish, for example, or allow him to sniff it, following immediately with a treat. After practicing these simple steps, try slipping the harness on your cat, again using treats for positive reinforcement. You can also feed your cat in his harness and, eventually, he’ll be comfortable enough to let you fasten it. Don’t fret if your feline freezes up or walks in a weird way initially, as this is natural. He’ll eventually get used to his harness and begin to walk around in it. This is the time to attach a leash and following your cat around the household, using a slack lead. Continue to reinforce this activity with treats, and eventually you’ll both feel confident enough venture outdoors.   You cat will likely be wary on his first trip outside, so take slow, steady steps. Carry your leashed cat outside and place him on the ground, letting him explore at his own pace in a quiet area. Remember to never push your cat beyond his comfort zone— leash walks are, after all, meant to be an enjoyable experience for your pet. Some cats are naturally skiddish or shy and may not be good candidates for walks, so it’s important be mindful of how your pet responds to training. If he seems happy to continue, however, remember to always conduct leash training with a hungry cat who will respond to treats, and to always end each training session on a positive note, meaning its time to call it quits when your cat drops to the ground twitching his tail, for example. With some practice and patience, many owners will find they have a happier, more relaxed cat after some time outdoors.

Crate Training Your Dog

 by lucy on 16 Jun 2016 |
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Your dog’s decision to nap under the table or behind the sofa may seem odd, but to him it is perfectly natural. That’s because dogs seek out safe spaces to sleep, where predators cannot easily attack. More often than not, these are small, enclosed areas, which is why crates make an easy fit for most pets. Though some pet owners are put off by crates’ cage-like appearance, your dog’s crate can become his personal den, providing him with a safe space to rest once the legwork of training is over.   Crate training doesn’t just give your dog security, but can help speed up house training, protect your home from chewing, and give your dog a familiar carrier during trips to the vet or family holidays. Once your canine companion feels safe in his crate, he can stay there during short periods when you are out or busy. And, although you should never use the crate as punishment, it can be a valuable time-out spot when a puppy is feeling overly excited or tired.   Dogs that are simply placed in a crate and left there will associate the space with an unpleasant experience and be reluctant to enter again. That’s why introducing your dog to his crate slowly and carefully is crucial to successful training. As is often the case, it is best to begin crate training with a puppy. Size matters when choosing a crate, and the dimensions should be big enough for your full-grown pet to stand up, turn around, and stretch out when lying down. After picking the right crate, make it comfortable by equipping it with soft bedding, fresh water and toys or long-lasting treats, such as a stuffed Kong. To create a cozy, den-like feeling, you can also cover the crate with a blanket or sheet and place it is in a quiet corner of the house where your dog can see what’s going on, but won’t be disturbed. At the start of training, leave the door open so your pet can come and go as he pleases and praise any voluntary exploration. Encourage your pet to check out his new digs with treats and food. As you work up to asking your dog to go fully inside the crate, use a simple associative command such as “Crate” or “Bed.”   Eventually, your dog will be comfortable entering his crate and you can begin to close the door for a second or two and work up to longer spans. At this stage, you can begin feeding your dog meals inside his crate, reinforcing positive associations. Remember to remain in the room with your puppy in the beginning, but don’t acknowledge any whining or barking, as this is a cue that the closed door is cause for alarm. Instead, wait until your dog is quiet to let him out, immediately visiting the bathroom afterwards. Remember, never leave your dog in his crate for more than a few hours, except overnight once training is complete.

The Dos and Don’ts of Making Eye Contact with Dogs

 by lucy on 09 Jun 2016 |
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While dogs are capable of forming a range of barks, grunts and whimpers, their primary means of communication is body language. As with people, eye contact is one of the foremost forms of body language used by our canine companions. However, locking eyes means something very different in the canine world and people need to be aware that their friendly gaze may be considered a challenge or threat before meeting the eyes of an unfamiliar dog.   Humans view eye contact as a polite way to connect and show interest. Dogs, however, see the same action as a sign of dominance. Dogs rarely make prolonged eye contact with other dogs and a straight gaze is generally deemed threatening behavior. In most cases, one dog will break eye contact with another to avoid a potential fight. In the same way, a dog you’ve locked in a stare may show submissive behavior, such as looking away or rolling over onto his back. Some dogs, however, react aggressively to the perceived challenge, backing up and barking or even biting in response. Rather than unwittingly threaten a dog you’ve just met, then, greet him in a way that is comfortable for both parties. Approach the dog with your body slightly angled, so your shoulders aren’t squared towards him, and avert your eyes from a direct gaze. This non-threatening body language combined with a soft voice will let the dog know you are not a threat and should deflect any aggressive reactions from your new canine friend.   There are, of course, some settings in which eye contact doesn’t disturb dogs. Dogs will locks eyes with each other to initiate playful games such as chasing, for example. However, you’ll most often catch canines politely avoiding any prolonged stares, with one dog turning his head away from the other in an appeasing gesture. In the same way, your dog may defer dominance to you by avoiding your stare, but you can teach him that eye contact with people is positive and can lead to rewards, such as attention or treats. Ideally, eye contact training begins when your dog is a puppy, although adult dogs can learn to make non-threatening eye contact with humans, too. One easy way to teach your dog to meet your gaze is by simply putting him on a leash and either waiting for him to make eye contact on his own or prompting him with a treat a few inches from your face. Once he locks eyes with you, reward him with a cue, either verbal or with a clicker, and a treat. Over time, you can practice the same routine in different settings and with new people, teaching your pet to lock eyes with a range of people. If your dog displays aggression in response to eye contact, however, ask your veterinarian to refer you to a professional trainer for help.

Why do cats sleep in strange places?

 by lucy on 01 Jun 2016 |
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Every cat owner has come home to find his favorite feline sleeping in shoeboxes, dresser drawers, or behind the sofa. It’s common knowledge that cats love to sleep in strange spaces, but few know why their pet prefers staking out the flowerpot to naps on the couch. Cats are always on high alert — even while sleeping — making these odd places prime spots for a snooze.   Part of why cats prefer sleeping in small spaces is that they are less likely to be pestered there. In the wild, these spots provide a safe retreat f away from predators. So, by nestling between neatly folded sweaters or inside a paper bag, kitty is ensuring he has the safest spot to sleep. Cats also love napping in slightly-too-small shoeboxes because these tiny spaces help keep them warm. Any owner who’s seen his cat sleeping in sunny spots or burrowing under blankets knows that cats enjoy the heat, and cardboard boxes provide an extra bit of insulation during an afternoon nap. Similarly, you may find your cat napping in the bathtub or sink when he needs to cool down. There may be other reasons your feline friend sleeps in peculiar places, though. Cats are curious by nature and this inquisitiveness can drive your pet to explore new nooks and crannies, such as opened dresser drawers. Pregnant females may look for a spot to nest and end up in strange areas, such as behind the sofa, when a litter is born. Cats searching for some fun may choose unconventional hiding spots, such as under a piece of furniture, as a prime spot to attack unsuspecting feet as they pass.   Though hiding is generally considered normal behavior, there are some cases when it can be a cause for concern. Hiding may be a sign of stress or illness, for example, and some cats become more antisocial as they age, which can be a sign of dementia or brain tumors. However, if you’ve ruled out any sickness or recent upset to your cat’s routine, then lurking in odd spots is likely just part of his nature. Remember, cats are creatures of habit, so your primary concern should be whether your cat has undergone any major behavioral changes. Most cats that hide do so habitually, and will often return to the same spots. So, if kitty has always been keen to sit under the couch instead of on the cushions, this is likely just part of his shy personality and nothing to worry about.
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