Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Let's Have Some Fun!

So, last week, I talked about DIY enrichment options for your cats and dogs.  All of these enrichment options rely on the use of your pet's regular food or treats to not only stimulate their interest, but to reward them for their efforts!  While you can certainly purchase treats for your pets, it's also fun, and quite satisfying, to make your own. Here are a few recipes that my collies enjoy:

1.  Kong Filling:  combine 1 cup of cooked, skinless chicken breast with either a 1/4 cup of peanut butter (xylitol free peanut butter only!) or a 1/4 cup of reduced fat cream cheese in a food processor and process until smooth.  Stuff your dog's Kong toys with the homemade filling and place in the freezer to use once they are frozen.

2.  DIY Dog Chews:  Most dogs love sweet potatoes and it's easy to make your own sweet potato chews.  Here is a link to the recipe I use:

3.  Frozen treats:  Just as washing an old toy makes it seem like something new and exciting, so does freezing things your dog enjoys eating!  You can freeze strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries, for example, and those will make a nice antioxidant-rich treat for your dogs.  In the summer, I make "pupsicles" for my dogs using liquid yogurt and frozen berries in popsicle molds.  You can also do them in ice cube trays.  While messy, dogs really do enjoy the odd texture of frozen treats.  Plus, it has the added benefit of taking them a bit longer to consume in order to avoid brain freeze!  Here's a recipe for a frozen apple treat:

4.  Pumpkin:  It's no secret that most dogs love pumpkin as well as carrots. This recipe combines both and these treats are good for hiding when you are playing foraging games.

5.  Cat treats:  while a lot of DIY cat treats will require refrigeration (and cats don't always appreciate cold treat selections!), I like this recipe as it can be kept fresh in an airtight jar.

Ozzie loves frozen "pupsicles!"

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Mental Exercise: Let's Get Creative!

Expanding on last week's blog post, let's talk about how you can keep your pets mentally stimulated, particularly if they are receiving less physical exercise with the "shelter in place mandate" in effect in your area.  While dogs love new toys, it isn't always easy (or in your budget!) to provide them with new toys all the time.  What you will want to do is to rotate your pet's toys and activities to keep them novel and interesting over time.  And in a pinch, you can revitalize an old toy by washing it to change it's smell! Giving your pets enrichment opportunities throughout their day is ideal, but doing so shouldn't break the bank.  Here are some simple ideas you can apply to create enrichment opportunities for your dogs and cats every day:

1.  Boxes:  both dogs and cats love exploring boxes.  Put out boxes of different sizes and shapes and let them have fun.  For dogs and cats, you can add treats to one of the boxes you are having them sniff out.  If your cat likes catnip, add that to one of the boxes.  And for those of you rolling your eyes and worrying about ripped up boxes?  So what!  That was fun too and better than destroying your couch cushions or eating your TV remote!

2.  Muffin tins:  for your dogs, put treats or their food into the 6 or 8 muffin cups in an old muffin tin.  Cover those spaces with balls.  While it may not seem like much of a challenge to knock the balls out of the way to get to the food, it's still fun!  The next time around, flip the muffin tin over so now there are 6 to 8 little "hills."  Spread their kibble around those hills and let them nose around to get the food.  And, yes, some dogs will just grab the muffin tin and flip food (and balls!) all over the place.  No worries.  They still have to forage around to find every last piece of food that they flipped on the floor!  In a pinch, just spread the food on a cookie sheet for them to forage around.

3.  In your yard:  both dogs and cats like to sniff and explore (see #1 above!), so simply spreading out their food or snacks in your grass or even in a flat of ground cover on your porch, allows them to use their noses as nature intended.

4.  The shell game:  this one is a favorite when I teach classes for kids and their dogs.  Get three cups.  Show your dog (or cat!) that you have a treat and then place it under one of the cups.  Move the cups around and then let your pet use their nose (or a paw) to find the treat.

5.  Which hand is it:  another classroom favorite!  Ask your dog to sit.  Show them that you have a treat.  Move your hands behind your back and switch the treat from hand to hand.  Offer your dog two closed fists and have them bump your fist with their nose or a paw to try to find the treat. If they pick the wrong hand, that's okay, just try it again!

Interactive toys and puzzles can be purchased and added into your enrichment plan as your budget allows, of course, but this should give you a good head start.  Playing with your dogs and cats every day (fetch, lure toys, hide and seek, etc.) is important too as this enhances your bond with them. Finally, if you are out there walking your dogs, please please PLEASE let them sniff.  Sniffing is their favorite activity!  It expends energy, stimulates their brains, and reduces anxiety.  So what if you only get 2 blocks on your walk, your dog got to catch up on all the neighborhood goings on because you let them sniff out the information left behind.

As always, if you have questions about your pet's behavior, you know where to find me.

Ozzie and Desi like to forage together for treats scattered on the lawn!

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

When You Need Help, But Can't Leave Your House!

It's been a rough few weeks, right? So much misinformation out there about the spread of Covid-19 (the coronavirus), who is at risk, the symptoms, and even what to do if you think you might have been exposed. I know a lot of folks who are working from home in an effort to isolate themselves from both the virus and the panic. I agree that limiting unnecessary public interactions is likely prudent, I also know that this virus isn't going to go away in a month when the weather warms up; it will be around long term. We have to be in this for the long haul, practicing good hygiene and caring for one another. So, what does this have to do with your pets?

First off, they still need exercise. Please don't restrict them from getting their daily walks. Obviously if you are ill, they will miss the walks (unless someone else walks them for you), but getting them out for walks is low risk and good for your mental health as well as theirs.

Second, if your pet has a behavior problem, either one you've been putting off treating, or a new issue that has arisen, it won't go away on its own. While you may be hesitant to attend classes or seminars as that puts you in close physical contact with people you don't know, you can still get help. Many practitioners, including myself, offer remote assistance for your pets. I have clients around the country and around the world who I would never have had the pleasure of working with had it not been for my ability and desire to conduct both phone and video consultations. There is a lot that can be done via phone and video, believe it or not! If we do a video consultation, for example, I can see you and your pet, and you can see me if I'm demonstrating what I'd like you to do. While it may feel less than optimal, in reality, remote training and consulting can accomplish quite a bit and is by far better than doing nothing or hoping that you and your pet can wait until the world is a safer place.

I talked to a client on Saturday about this exact topic. She said she is still kicking herself for discontinuing puppy classes last year during the canine flu uproar. She attributes her now adolescent dog's fear of new places, new people, and other dogs to the fact that she missed socializing him during that critical period. While I agree that missing those puppy classes was not optimal, I also told her that he wasn't a lost cause. While we can't make up those experiences, we can make sure he has good experiences in the world now. She has to take him for walks and to new places so that he can learn that they are safe. It's really important for her to adjust her own attitude as her dog looks to her for comfort and reassurance. If she's panicking or worried or stressed, so is he! Dogs are much better at reading their human's body language and facial expressions than we are at interpreting theirs, and thus our own anxieties are often reflected in our dogs' behavior. Consequently, she and I will be working remotely on ways to keep her dog engaged when they are home, how to work on her confidence level with him out in public, and where to go to work with him that feels safe/low risk to her.

Our world has changed so much in the almost 30 years I've been a practicing animal behaviorist. Even the ability to have remote consultations with my clients beyond just over the phone is a wonderful development! Being able to help one another and take care of ourselves and our pets is important. Maybe we just need to get a bit more creative in how we get that done.

As always, if you have questions about your pet's behavior, you know where to find me.

My office assistants are always supportive, even when they are sleeping on the job.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Every Dog Needs a Job!

On Sunday afternoon, I took Desi for his pet assisted therapy visit to a local nursing home.  Desi loves doing his visits!  He wags his tail for every new person he meets, puts his head on laps, lays on feet, and nuzzles the hands of patients who don't move their hands on their own.  I didn't teach Desi to be a good pet assisted therapy dog.  Desi IS good at it intrinsically.  He loves meeting people and never shies away from attention of any kind, in fact, he seeks it out.  Pet therapy is Desi's job and he is excellent at it.  And then there is Ozzie.

Ozzie is, by nature, aloof.  While he is friendly with people he knows, and downright goofy with family, he doesn't seek out the attention of strangers.  He'll surprise me on occasion and walk right up to someone in greeting, but for the most part, he lets Desi do the socializing.  In fact, if kids run up to the pet the dogs, Ozzie will often cross the street!  Thus, pet assisted therapy is not Ozzie's job of choice.  While he will do occasional visits with me in a pinch, I don't take him to very many because I know he doesn't enjoy them and is only doing them because I've asked him to.  So what is Ozzie's job?  Ozzie likes to perform.  No surprise given that he is a direct descendant of Lassie, right?  Ozzie likes to do tricks, learn new behaviors, and basically show off how smart he is, even to an audience of one, namely me.  He'll perform even without treats, if he's really in the mood.  And that's the key with Ozzie. He has to be "in the mood." If he's not feeling it, he'll just make me look stupid as I try to get him to do any one of the behaviors he knows how to do.  Ozzie also likes herding.  I wish we could do it more often for his sake, but I just don't have the time to drive him to herding as frequently as he'd like to go. I've often said we just need goats in the backyard and Ozzie would be happy as a clam moving them around. Ozzie also loves to hike.  He will eagerly run to the car and is always ready for the next hiking adventure. Desi does not like herding or hiking at all.  He looks on livestock with disdain and is more likely to get run over by the sheep than move them anywhere.  If you try to hike with Desi you will be forced to carry him for half the trip.  I know because it's happened before. To each his own.

The whole point of my rambling is this: Every dog needs a job.  It doesn't matter if you have a Chihuahua, Great Dane, or a mutt, all dogs need jobs.  Whether it's a sport like agility or flyball, or an activity you do like pet therapy, dogs need to have something to do.  Activities stimulate their minds and keep them mentally and physically healthy.  Help your dog to find the job that's right for him.  There have been so many times I've turned people away from pet assisted therapy because their pets just weren't suited to it; the humans very much liked it, but their animals really didn't.  And even if the job your dog chooses is playing fetch in the yard with you, or solving puzzle feeder toys, that's okay too.  Every one of us is good at something and the same goes for our pets.  And if you're really lucky, you may have a dog who is good at several jobs, so their choices are limitless.  It's all about giving them choices and trying new things to find out what is a good fit.  And what ends up being a good fit for your young dog, may change when the dog gets older.  Be flexible and help your dog find their job.  The rewards for doing so are profound.

As always, if you have questions about your pet's behavior, you know where to find me.

A story of two dogs: One who likes to hike steep trails and one who likes to cuddle little kids.