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December 2016

Teaching your dog good leash manners

 by lucy on 21 Dec 2016 |
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Every dog parent has watched with envy as a friend, neighbor or relative walks his canine companion seamlessly down the street. Good leash manners don’t come easily, however, and require patient and consistent training on your part.   Leash tugging can make walking your dog stressful, but good leash etiquette stretches beyond comfort. Pulling on the lead can cause your dog to accidentally break free from your grip, for example, not only toppling you into the pavement, but also putting your pet at risk of encountering cars, animals and other outdoor dangers. Walking side-by-side is a bond-building exercise, too, showing your dog is paying attention to you and making it easier to guide and direct him on walks.   To teach Fido to walk with you side-by-side, start with a big bag of treats. Food is a great motivator, after all, and a tasty reward will reinforce good behavior on the lead. Attach a long, 10- to 20-foot leash to your pet and take him to an open area where he will be free to roam to and from your side. Choose either your right or left side and feed your dog a reward at that hip. Then, take up a fast walk and continue to offer your pet a treat whenever he walks next to your chosen hip. Soon, your dog will associate your side with tasty treats and you will not need to feed him as often.   Once your dog has mastered staying by your side with some consistency, practice giving him the command to join you. Start by walking him on a long line in an open area. Wait until your dog is off on his own and then give him a command such as “let’s go.” When he catches up with you, reward him with a treat and praise on your preferred side. If he continues walking by your side, reward your pet with a treat every few steps. If, however, your dog doesn’t follow and the leash becomes taut, stop walking and gently apply pressure to remind him you’re there. When he does approach, praise him and release the pressure on the leash.    Once a dog responds to the “let’s go” command, you can switch to a shorter lead and practice changing walking speeds and directions. Continue to reward your pet when he stays by your side, gradually decreasing the frequency with which you give him treats. Eventually, you will be ready to take to the streets with your new, leash-savvy companion.   Remember, teaching a dog good leash manners takes patience as well as a hungry pet. If you’re having trouble with leash training, take a break and try another time when your dog is hungrier. In time, you’ll find you have a pet that walks faithfully by your side, not only making walks more enjoyable, but also allowing you to take more and longer jaunts with your canine companion.

Why do dogs chase their tails?

 by lucy on 15 Dec 2016 |
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Everyone has watched in wonder as a puppy turns circles in a frantic attempt to catch his own tail. This playful behavior comes naturally to our young canine companions, but obsessive tail chasing in adult dogs can be signal something is wrong.   Tail chasing— also known as whirling— is a common behavior among young dogs and other juvenile predators. Some experts believe this is because, unlike prey animals, predators don’t have to constantly worry about being hunted and so have more free time to engage in play. While this is healthy behavior among puppies, it can be a sign something’s wrong when whirling continues to excess in older dogs.   Like humans, our canine companions can develop compulsive disorders ranging from obsessive chewing or licking to constantly chasing their tails. These behaviors can arise for many reasons, from spending too much time indoors to past trauma and separation anxiety. If you believe your dog’s obsessive whirling is due to a psychological issue, you should seek help from a behavior specialist. Excessive tail chasing can arise for other reasons, too, though. It can be a sign your dog has fleas or worms, for example, which can agitate pets and lead to compulsive behavior. Your dog can cause serious damage or injury by biting his own tail, so it’s important to address these problems with your veterinarian’s help. Whirling isn’t always a serious symptom, however, and may simply be your dog’s way of getting your attention or alleviating boredom. Running in circles provides pets with a means of expelling excess energy and entertaining themselves. Tail chasing also tends to garner laughter from humans, so your dog may be engaging in his tail-chasing antics to get positive attention from his human companions.   Most whirling stops as puppies mature into adult dogs, so there is no need to worry if your youngster is often in pursuit of his own tail. If, however, your adult dog continues chasing his tail, you may want to discourage the behavior by distracting him with a toy, such as a ball or Frisbee, that he can also chase. This will help dispel the excess energy and boredom that often lead dogs to chase their tails. If you notice your dog continues compulsively chasing his tail, however, schedule a trip to the veterinarian’s office to determine the cause of the behavior. And remember, certain breeds such as German shepherds and terriers are genetically predisposed to chase their own tails more often than other breeds, so don’t be alarmed if your adult dog has a solo circle chase from time to time.

What does hissing mean?

 by lucy on 08 Dec 2016 |
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Every cat owner is familiar with the sharp, sibilant sound of hissing— the noise cats make to express fear, aggression, displeasure or uncertainty. Because hissing is your cats way of saying something’s wrong, you should never punish him for the behavior, but rather seek to understand what’s upsetting him.   Cats hiss by forcing air out through their arched tongues, creating a burst of wind from their mouths. Other behaviors that accompany hissing include your cat pulling his lips back, flattening his ears to his head and arching his back in a threatening stance. The whole purpose of the disturbing display is to express a warning— that a stranger is too close, that your pet feels threatened or that something is hurting your cat. While he uses hissing to ward off potential opponents and avoid fights, it’s a warning sign that aggression will follow if the perceived threat doesn’t cease and you should take this threat seriously.   To avoid being bitten or scratched, you need to understand what is causing Kitty’s conniption fits. Cats hiss due to territorial aggression, for example, especially when a new pet is introduced to the home. Assess any recent changes to you pet’s environment, being sure to introduce newcomers slowly by confining the new pet for the first few days to allow the cats adjust to each other’s scents. If your cat is hissing at human strangers, give guests with advanced warning before they visit and gradually introduce your cat to trusted outsiders so he learns that company isn’t a always a threat. Cats also hiss when they feel scared. If this is the case, take steps to make your pet feel more comfortable in his home: Provide Kitty with plenty of hiding places, perches and other nooks, and consider using Feliway, a mood-enhancing synthetic pheromone that signals feelings of comfort for cats. If your cat is hissing due to aggression, however, the solution may be more play to expel pent-up energy and providing outlets such as scratching posts. Cats also hiss when they’re forced to do something they don’t want to do, such as get in the pet carrier, and the best solution for this type of fit is to remain calm and introduce the undesirable activity slowly so your pet has time to adjust. If all else fails and you must get your cat to do the undesirable, use thick gloves or oven mitts to avoid being scratched.   If none of the above sounds like your pet, he may be hissing due to pain, injury or discomfort. Consult your veterinarian to rule out any medical causes if your cat has started hissing or has ramped up the behavior recently and you can’t figure out why. Remember, hissing is a sign that something’s wrong and you should never punish your cat for the behavior. Instead, work to discover the underlying problem and address it so Kitty feels safe and secure in his home.
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