Wednesday, October 27, 2021

The Truth About Cats & Dogs

While a 2018 survey found that 61% of American households had a dog OR a cat, the researchers also found that 14% of those households had both cats AND dogs, which brings up an important question.  Can dogs and cats truly live together harmoniously in a home?  This seems to be the question on several pet owners'  minds this week, so I think it's time we looked more closely at the topic of living with dogs and cats under the same roof.

I believe the key to successfully living with dogs and cats in the same household is to do sufficient pre-planning to optimize your chances for four-legged harmony. While many pet owners seem to feel that peaceful coexistence is the best that they can hope for, I like to think that if you've done your homework, you may even be able to have dogs and cats who don't just coexist, but get along well together and perhaps even play, groom, etc. 

Here are some pointers to keep in mind:

  • The ideal situation involves adding a puppy and a kitten to your home at the same time. While this may seem like a lot of work, raising them together right from the start increases the likelihood that they will learn to get along and appreciate one another. 
  • Take a good look at the breed of dog you are choosing.  Some dogs are simply more predatory than others and would thus be more risky around a cat or kitten.  And while many feel that you can't have cats in a house with herding dogs, I have several clients who share their homes with felines and herders and the arrangement is blissful. Keep in mind too that for brachycephalic dogs like Pugs, Frenchies, etc. you must be cautious adding an inexperienced cat to your home as one swat with a claw could cause permanent damage to your dog's protruding eyes.
  • If you already have an adult cat and you are looking to add a dog, look for a dog who is calm and maybe a bit submissive.  And they will ultimately do better together if the experiences your cat has had with dogs previously were positive.
  • The opposite is true as well. If you already have an adult dog who seems fairly calm and interested in cats in a non-predatory way, then adding a kitten could work as that kitten would be raised with a tolerant, adult dog companion. 
  • If you are looking to adopt a cat from a shelter, talk to the staff there.  They can tell you which cats are more bold and inquisitive with the dogs in the shelter and which seem the most frightened and overwhelmed by the canids around them.
  • When introducing cats to dogs and vice versa, keep your sessions short and safe.  This means using really yummy treats (canned chicken, canned salmon, etc. for your feline friends and perhaps steak, hamburger, or cheese for your dog buddies) and ensuring that dogs are leashed, crated, or confined behind a gate or in a pen and the cat can escape by climbing up on something out of the way, or simply moving away from the controlled dog if they become overwhelmed. 
  • Persevere!  Even if the first meeting doesn't go well (the dog barks and tries to chase the cat and/or the cat hisses and runs away from the dog), you'll definitely want to try again.  Try adding in extra humans for support, even better treats, and making sure you time the introductions for when both the cat and dog are well-rested and calm to begin with.
More food for thought: If you have an established dog home, the safest way to add a cat is by isolating the cat in a separate territory at first so that they can acclimate to the new home environment and know where their safe space is before introducing to the dog.  Make sure your cat's safe space is enriching; it will need places to hide, places to climb, and place to look outside, toys, perches, and scratching options.  You will want to spend significant time bonding with your new cat as well, so make sure your cat's safe space is human comfortable too (this is why making your cat's safe space a bathroom, laundry, room, etc. isn't ideal.  Who wants to spend any extra time in their laundry room?!).  Do the introductions slowly and not in your cat's safe space.  Always return your cat to their safe space following the introductions. Over time, you can increase the frequency and duration of the sessions together.  Hopefully, by the time you are ready to open up your whole house to your new feline friend, they'll be on speaking terms with your dog.  And they will still know how to escape the dog and return to their safe space when they need to.

While dogs and cats don't speak the same language, both are naturally sociable.  Raising dogs and cats together from puppyhood/kittenhood does help them to learn to read each other's body language more successfully.  Nonetheless, adult dogs and adult cats can learn to read each other's body language and respond appropriately.  For example, a cat can learn that blocking a dog, staring at him (or ignoring him), and even slightly raising a paw will be sufficient to get a cat-friendly dog to back off.  And a dog who doesn't want to have his tail pounced on or be groomed by a cat knows that if he barks or moves away to a space the cat can't use, that the cat will leave him alone.  Help your dogs and cats to be good housemates by not allowing either to bully the other one. While it would be ideal for your dogs and cats to be best friends, at the very least they need to be respectful of each other and well-behaved with you in your home.  Products like Feliway plug in diffusers, CBD treats, etc. can be helpful, but they aren't a solution in and of themselves.  Work on those slow introductions with high value treats in the space in your home you intend for your cats and dogs to share. That is where you will help them build a mutually beneficial relationship and one which you will enjoy sharing with them.

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

My friends, Patty and Dave, have Corgis and cats in their home.  Patty chooses the cats for her home based on their sociability and confidence with dogs.  She also teaches her dogs to respect the cats right from the start.  Her cats have multiple cat trees, perches, etc. for escape if they need them, and as you can clearly see, dog beds and couches are shared spaces!

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Love the Dog You're With

 I had the privilege (and the responsibility!) of helping one of my favorite clients choose her next dog.  I was able to see the puppy and his littermates, as well as one of the parent dogs.  While the situation this puppy came from was less than optimal, and in fact, I would describe it as an impoverished environment for raising healthy and sound puppies, I did find a "diamond in the rough."  One of the puppies, in spite of the chaos and neglect around him, was exceptional; he was most interested in us, but not in a pushy way.  He made eye contact and wanted to be held and cuddled.  He was purposeful in his movement and attentive to new sounds and the different objects I presented him with.  He didn't show fear or apprehension, but was thoughtful in his approach. Most of all, he would walk away from the food bowl to show empathy for a human in need, even though he was clearly hungry.  I felt like this puppy knew there was something better for him out there as I scooped him up and walked away with him.  Not only did he not look back or whine, he climbed right into my client's car and seemed immediately ready for his next task.  We talked all the way home in the car about the conditions this puppy had been living in.  Even though my client paid for this purebred puppy, she said he felt like a rescue nonetheless, and I'd have to agree.  By definition, rescue means to be saved or removed from a dangerous or distressing situation.  That's exactly what we did, we removed this puppy from a distressing situation and brought him into an environment where he will be loved and cared for, and where the environment will be enriching and full of new experiences.  So, why am I telling you all of this?

Many of my clients tell me that they want to rescue a dog, or that they have just rescued a dog, or that their dog is a rescue, with the implication being that this dog had been subjected to trauma or abuse in some way.  Oftentimes, that dog just came from someplace else that wasn't a breeder's home.  Just because a dog came from the shelter or a rescue group doesn't mean that that dog was mistreated or abused.  In fact, most of the dogs that go through the shelter or rescue groups are just dogs whose circumstances changed; life got in the way of keeping the dog in its original home.  A lot of people get a dog with the best of intentions and then realize they are ill-prepared for the day-to-day of dog ownership.  Or maybe the dog had a health or behavioral problem that they original owner couldn't afford to treat.  This means the dog transitioned to a rescue, but wasn't mistreated in any way.  I love this quote (not sure who said it originally as it always seems to be attributed to "anonymous"): "Rescue does not mean damaged. Rather, it means they've been let down by humans."  

And because the word "rescue" is so emotionally charged, and often used inappropriately, I like to encourage prospective dog owners to talk about adopting a dog, rather than rescuing a dog.  Adoption implies opening your home to the care and keeping of another individual, without implying that that individual is somehow "less than ideal."  And, of course, you can adopt a dog from a shelter, a rescue group, or a breeder, your home, your choice!

A lot of thought goes into adopting a new dog, whether that dog is a puppy, adolescent, adult or senior, and whether they come from a shelter, rescue group, or breeder.  It's a lot of responsibility and (hopefully) will be done for the life of that dog.  The reality, however, is that most dogs live in three different "homes" during their lifetime.  That actually feels to me like it might be a conservative estimate.  For example, there is wherever the dog is born (home #1), then maybe the litter is taken to the shelter (home #2).  If it's a purebred dog, it will likely be picked up by a breed rescue group and fostered for adoption (home #3) before being adopted out (hopefully, their final home, #4).  But, again, if circumstances change for the human adopters, that dog could end up back at the shelter or rescue (home #5), before being placed again (home #6).  The resiliency of dogs is nothing short of miraculous!  Dogs can go from home to home, have their names changed, and their schedules altered, and they adapt and more often than not, they thrive.  Dogs really are fascinating, adaptable, creatures.

For now, I'm excited to be on this journey with my client and her new puppy.  She's sending me pictures every few days and keeping me updated on his progress. I'm not worried about him one bit; he will thrive in his new home and be a much loved family member for his entire life.  I am looking forward to watching him grow and develop.  From humble beginnings, I truly believe, he will become a reliable companion dog.

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

Eleven weeks old and ready for his next adventure!

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Helping Others is My Thing!

 I got the nicest message from a woman who discovered one of my video posts on Facebook. A friend of hers had shared it!  She said she had no idea there were people like me out there but she so enjoyed it, that she went back and found a bunch of other videos I'd done.  Then I asked her if she'd happened upon any of my blog posts.  She hadn't, so I sent her links to a couple of blog posts I thought she'd enjoy based on the videos she liked.  So, why did I do this for someone who isn't even a client?  Because I like to help pet owners get the resources they need to succeed.  There is so much misinformation out there that I really want to be part of the solution.  Giving pet owners real ideas and training options to try, whether in my videos or blogs, is part of doing business as far as I'm concerned.  If you read my blogs and follow my videos and try to implement my suggestions for your pets, then I consider myself a success.  You see I really do feel that  helping others is the secret sauce to a happy life (that's a Todd Stocker quote, by the way).  

So, what's my point in telling you this?  No, I'm not trying to toot my own horn.  Rather, I'm reaching out to you, the people who read my blog posts and watch my videos to let me know what kind of content you are looking for.  What do YOU need help with?  What would you like to hear me talk about?  I appreciate those folks who send me their questions, ideas, frustrations, and successes as those guide my creative process when I write and make those videos.  No question is dumb and I love any and all ideas.  And do keep in mind that I'll never say who sent the idea or had the problem; I'm not calling folks out!  I just figure that if this issue is a problem for you and your pet, it's likely a problem for a lot of other pet owners too and we should tackle the problem together. And I do love that several of you have asked for more videos featuring my own dogs!

I want to continue to share what I learn (and have learned) about animals. Yes, I'm still working on my book, but for now it's a work in progress!  Right this minute, I want to focus on those little bits of wisdom, those easy-to-do tips that can improve the relationship you have with your pet.  So, for now, let's continue "meeting" here on social media and keep the conversational ball rolling.

So, what's your burning question for me today?  Drop it in the comments here, or on the social media platform where you read this post.  Let's get started!

I truly feel like this should be my avatar! It's perfect, right?

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Hey, Look! Squirrel!

I don't do it very often, but I do occasionally let Ozzie off leash at our neighborhood park.  I only do it when there is no one else around so a 70 lb. frolicking collie doesn't freak anybody out!  When do I do it?  When the squirrels are out and about, of course.  One of Ozzie's great joys in life is chasing squirrels.  They do come into our yard and onto our fence every once in a while, but I think he's terrorized them so much that they've moved on to yards with less active yard guardians! When I take him to the park, I ask him to sit and wait while I unhook his leash.  They I whisper "Go get the squirrels!" and he takes off.  Once he's scattered the squirrels and sent most up into the trees, I whistle for him to come back and he'll trot right on over so I can hook on his leash and we can move on.  

Reading this, I know some of you may have questions. So, why don't I let Ozzie off leash more often if he's that good about recall?  Is is really okay to let a dog chase squirrels?  What would happen if he caught a squirrel? How did you get to the point where you felt safe letting him off leash in the first place if it's not something you do often?

Ozzie and Desi have a lovely backyard and they get walked everyday in our neighborhood.  Desi does pet therapy visits and Ozzie helps me with clients whose dogs are anxious.  For the most part, the activities I do with my dogs involve being on leash, so I've spent a great deal of time working with them on their leash skills.  They both know not to pull, that it's okay to sniff, and that they will never be allowed to meet other dogs while on leash, so no sense pulling or fussing to get to other dogs, it's just not happening. I started out working on their recall in the house (Desi was an adult dog when he came to live with us, and Ozzie was an 8 week old puppy) and built up to recall in our backyard with distractions.  I only use the word "Come!" when calling the dogs for something they'd view as a positive.  If I'm calling them indoors because they're barking, chasing squirrels, etc., I don't use the word "come." Instead, I whistle for them and they come running inside.  They do this reliably because I initially paired doing so with really yummy treats. Occasionally, I still give them treats for hustling themselves indoors when I whistle, but they never know when those treats might be coming.  They always get love and praise for a job well done.  

Before ever letting my dogs off leash anywhere, we worked on a long line. I have a 30 foot leash that I would hook to Ozzie's collar and let him wander off.  I'd let him get distracted by a smell then I'd call him, again whistling because I know whatever he is smelling is much more exciting than me!  When he was a puppy, if he was slow to come, I'd give the long line a gentle tug and then release it, whistling for him again.  Over time, he got to the point where he never needed the reminder tug to come back, he just did, again getting rewards in the form of treats, praise, and attention.  Eventually, I decided to test his recall, and I did so letting him drag that 30 foot line without me holding the end.  He came back every time. I finally made the leap of faith and unhooked the line, and lo and behold, he had great recall even without an obvious leash attached to his collar.  I started out with him off leash just working to call him off of smells, and worked up to calling him away from birds, squirrels, etc.  He's very good at it and I'd consider him to be very reliable.  I've never tested him with wild turkeys or deer as I'm afraid those animals might lure him into a dangerous situation. I have called him off of sheep and goats though in herding and he does move away.  It's really all about practice.

Now, I've done these same exercises with clients and their dogs who want their canine companions to have better, more reliable recall. I've walked them through how and where to practice on their own when I'm not there.  And, yet, some of those dogs are still not reliable off leash.  Why is that, you may ask, if they are doing it the exact same way that I do it with my own dogs?  And the answer is in the genetics of the dog.  Collies are herding dogs, thus they are bred to go out and come back.  They are bred to respond to whistles.  They want to please and they want to perform well.  This is why my border collie clients, bearded collie clients, shepherd clients, etc. all have varying levels of success with these exercises. My clients with Beagles and Spaniels?  Not so much.  Beagles and Spaniels are often lured in by smells and those smells take precedence over all else.  As such, I don't think letting a Beagle or Spaniel off leash in an unfenced area is a good idea.  I do, however, think you still need to practice recall with your Beagles and Spaniels so that their recall is as good as can be for their breed.  And, yes, there are exceptions to every rule. I've met Cavalier King Charles Spaniels with near perfect recall and Corgis who were awful at it, but I truly believe those dogs' skill levels with recall (or lack thereof) was more a byproduct of the amount of time their owners put into the dogs learning it than anything else.

For those of you who wonder if it's humane to let dogs chase squirrels, my answer is of course it is.  The odds of a dog catching a squirrel are slim and dogs need an outlet for their predatory drive just as much as any other animal.  And there are certainly dogs who never chase squirrels because their prey drive is lower.  What do I think Ozzie would do if he caught a squirrel? I think he'd be shocked and I'm pretty sure he'd let it go since the joy for him is in the chase, not the capture.  

So, teach your dogs good recall so that they may have the joy of being off leash, at least on occasion, where it is safe to do so.  Remember to only use the word "Come!" when doing so would be viewed as a positive by your dog. Otherwise, whistle, clap your hands, stomp your feet, pat your thighs, etc.  You can even use the command "Touch!" to get your dog to get close enough to you to tag your hand and check in.  Do work off leash with distractions (leaves blowing, lots of good smells, and birds or squirrels around) and don't forget to bring treats.  Keep your sessions short and positive and NEVER let them off of that long leash until they are reliably returning to you while on it.  Yes, this means never taking them to a dog park even to play until they have good recall. 

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

Ozzie on squirrel patrol in the yard!