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October 2016

How to help your dog’s separation anxiety

 by lucy on 19 Oct 2016 |
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If you’ve ever come home to find furniture overturned, blankets chewed and claw marks on the door, chances are you’re dealing with a dog with separation anxiety. This condition doesn’t just cause problems for your pet, but can also lead to frustration and anger for you as his owner. Fortunately, a host of techniques can help alleviate your dog’s separation woes.   Dogs rely heavily on their packs for protection and hunting in the wild, so it should come as no surprise that our canine companions hate being left alone. Separation anxiety is a panic response in which a dog shows symptoms such as destructive behavior, house soiling and unremitting barking or crying when left alone. Not all bad behavior is related to isolation, however, and owners should carefully observe their dog’s symptoms before treating him for separation anxiety. Separation-related behaviors often center on escape efforts, such as clawing or gnawing on doorframes, windowsills and trim, for example. Elimination problems related to separation anxiety will only occur while you’re away from home. If Fido is having problems soiling the carpet while you are in the house, too, he is likely experiencing a housetraining issue rather than separation anxiety. Likewise, if his destructive habits take their toll throughout your home, and not just around escape routes, he may be acting out for another reason than separation anxiety.   If you’re sure your dog is suffering from separation anxiety, there are a number ways to help relieve his stress. Make sure he gets plenty of exercise before you leave the home to help burn off energy he would otherwise spend feeling anxious and engaging in destructive behavior. Before you leave, give your dog a Kong or rawhide bone to distract him. Try switching up pieces of your exit routine — pick up your keys and then sit down on the couch to watch television, for example— and keep comings and goings as calm as possible so your dog doesn’t see them as a major event. You can also leave a piece of recently worn clothing that smells like you or try using a Dog Appeasing Pheromone (DAP) diffuser to calm Fido down. If you are often out for long stretches, consider enrolling your pet in a doggie daycare or finding a pet sitter to help minimize the time he spends home alone.   Crating your dog will not help in cases of separation anxiety, and may even result in injuries as he tries to escape. Likewise, getting a second pet may not help if your dog feels anxious when separated from you, specifically, rather than simply worrying about being left alone. If you try several solutions and are still struggling with an anxious pet, a behavioral specialist can help address your dog’s separation stress. Remember, punishment is never an effective treatment for separation-related behaviors and will only make matters worse.

Why cats like to bring home “gifts”

 by lucy on 12 Oct 2016 |
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Every cat owner has come home to find a dead mouse, bird or other hunting prize strewn across the stoop, often with Kitty waiting proudly beside his bounty. While this type of gift giving is one of our feline friends’ more off-putting habits, it is simply your cat’s way of showing he is a worthwhile hunter and offering affection to his human family.   Cats are natural-born predators, as evidenced by data showing they kill billions of birds and small mammals every year in the United States alone. Their sharp claws and teeth make them well adapted to this carnivorous lifestyle, but unlike their big cat relatives, our domesticated pets do not need to hunt to survive. As lions drag prey back to their dens for a meal, then, our feline friends also bring their bounty home— but are more likely to share it with us, their beloved owners.   Experts have found that spayed female cats are the most likely culprits behind these “gifts,” offering further explanation for Kitty’s behavior: In the wild, mother cats teach their kittens how to hunt and eat their food by bringing dead or injured prey back to the den. Domesticated cats still have this instinct, but fixed females have no young to teach. By leaving dead critters on the back porch or in your bedroom doorway, then, your cat is simply fulfilling her natural role as caretaker and teacher. She is welcoming you as a member of her family and working to take care of you— especially given your lack of hunting skills.   Though dead mice may be less than appealing, it’s important to remember why your cat brings home these treasures. By offering prey, he is working to prove he is a worthwhile hunter and showing he cares about you as his family. It is important not to chastise your cat for gift giving, then, but instead, give him praise with words or a pet. Be sure to remain calm and keep your disgust to yourself, too, as cats can read body language. If Kitty isn’t keen to let you dispose of his gift, try distracting him with a toy or treat instead of hurting his feelings. If there are other people around, ask them to help distract your pet while you dispose of his hunting prize.   Because hunting is hardwired into cats’ brains, there is no way to prevent your pet from bringing home gifts. Indoor cats have less opportunity to track down prey, but will still find mice or small bugs to offer you. When all else fails, housecats will even offer their toys to their owners. Just remember that sharing is caring when it comes to your cat’s hunting prizes.

Is it OK for my dog to eat things he finds on walks?

 by lucy on 06 Oct 2016 |
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Given half a chance, dogs will devour rancid sandwich meat, discarded chicken bones, hamburger wrappers, Popsicle sticks and most anything else they can get their paws on. While his palate seems peculiar to us, Fido’s odd eating habits evolved with his ancestors, who relied on scavenging when food was scarce.   Your dog’s wild relatives couldn’t always count on finding a meal, so they developed the ability to binge eat large portions and scavenge barely edible scraps. While your domesticated pet comes by his eating habits honestly, then, scarfing down mystery morsels can wreak serious havoc on a modern dog’s health. Some dogs simply throw up after eating rotten food, but others suffer serious upset stomachs for hours or even days afterward. Chicken bones are a prized find for your pet, but can splinter and cause serious damage to dogs’ digestive tracts. Other non-digestible items can cause intestinal blockage or even poison your pet.   Because dogs are naturally inclined to eat whatever they find on the ground, it’s important to keep their attention away from the street while walking. To keep your pet’s interest on you instead of the sidewalk, carry a bag of treats with you during walks. Start by saying your dog’s name and rewarding him with a treat each time he looks up at you. Soon, he’ll be looking at you frequently for food, drawing his attention off the ground. If Fido does pick up something up from the street, never tear it from his mouth— from his perspective, you are simply stealing the food for yourself. Instead, offer your pet a treat, which should cause him to drop the mystery morsel.   You can go one step further and teach your dog to “leave it” by giving the command and then offering him a treat inside a closed fist. Your dog will likely beg and paw at the treat, but only reward him with the food and an affirmative “yes” once he has given up and backed away.  This will teach your pet that he gets a reward for avoiding offending foods when given the “leave it” command. Once he has mastered this step, have your dog look at you to earn the treat, too. Do this by giving the “leave it” command, and then wait until your dog is both still and looking at you before rewarding him with the treat and “yes” affirmation. With some time and patience, you’ll be able to curb your companion’s consumption with this trick, helping him avoid nasty “treats” he finds on the sidewalk.
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