Friday, May 22, 2015

Dog bites can be prevented by understanding canine body language, honoring personal space

Dog bite: those words have an emotional resonance, don't they?
If you've ever been bitten by a dog, you don't forget it. It usually happens so fast that it leaves you stunned.

May 17-23, 2015 is National Dog Bite Prevention Week, and with the holiday weekend upon us which is sure to include interacting with family pets, it seems important to talk about keeping dogs happy and everyone safe.
The following statistics speak clearly:

  • According to one study, half of children between 4 and 18 years old reported having been bitten by a dog. 

  • The vast majority of victims were bitten by a dog that they knew, not a stray dog roaming the streets, contrary to popular belief.

  • Children and seniors are most likely to be bitten. 

  • Dog bites are highly preventable, and it comes down to humans (both kids and adults) understanding what facilitates them and how to best deal with a dog who bites.
    These incidents happen in all sorts of scenarios.
    The truth is, dogs often bite for one common reason: They are uncomfortable or fearful about a situation that a human has put them in, and the human is not reading the dog's behavior correctly.
    Sometimes it's as simple as a dog being startled from his slumber. Maybe they just don't mesh well with the ever-changing dynamics at a doggie day care facility. Perhaps a human in their midst doesn't understand dogs very well, and they have handled a situation poorly, or deliberately pushed them too far. In many cases it involves a child — young children often lack the skills to understand when a dog is uncomfortable or just wants to be left alone.
    The dog then reacts.
    In most of the cases that are seen, the dog's behavior is misunderstood. The pet may have lacked proper socialization early in life, or perhaps it is because they haven't had proper positive reinforcement training. Because of that, they haven't attained the skills they need to navigate through these type of encounters (with both other pets and humans), and some are actually quite fearful. The latter really requires a deft professional who can help both the human and the canine.
    Misunderstanding these concepts or writing a dog off as merely 'aggressive', 'dominant' (a commonly misused term) or other labels and leaving it at that can escalate situations to a point when a dog bites someone — and that's not an outcome that anyone wants.
    No matter the situation involving a dog bite, it happens because of an oversight on the part of a human.
    It's up to us to learn the cues that dogs exhibit in their body language and to properly socialize pets from an early age.
    Teaching children the rules of approaching a dog — familiar or otherwise — is crucial. Here are two very wise points that the American Veterinary Medical Association makes:
    • Educate children about all things dog at a level they can understand. Don’t expect youngsters to be able to accurately read a dogs’ body language — they lack the mental sophistication to understand. Starting off by demonstrating gentle behavior and talking about that dogs have specific preferences when it comes to interaction and help them gain an understanding of canine behavior that will flourish as they age. 
    • Giving kids too much responsibility for a pet too early can put them a risk of being bitten. Always supervise kids when they are around a pet.
    Click here for a great illustration "How Not To Greet a Dog", by Lili Chin. It's also kid-friendly and can be a super way for kids and their adults to have a good discussion on interacting with dogs. 
    With diligence, proper education and understanding of canine socialization, behavior and body language — and precautions to ensure that dogs are not placed in a situation where they will react by biting — we can keep it from happening. 
    Click here for more comprehensive information on the topic. 
    Lorrie Shaw is a freelance writer and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. Reach her at 734-904-7279 or 

    Thursday, April 16, 2015

    A dog's mental capacity is more sophisticated than previously thought, study indicates

    Dogs are intelligent.

    They've demonstrated that their mental abilities are on par with that of a 2-3 year old child, but in one area, dogs leap ahead: their ability to pick up on when they are being misled.

    Canines have lived alongside of us for a period of time that would make it seem unlikely that they wouldn't be able to figure out many things about our behavior, but some concepts are quite complex, for example, untruthfulness. A research team from Kyoto University wanted to delve into whether or not dogs could recognize that behavior (or how long it would take to do so).

    The researchers, led by Akiko Takoka, decided to keep things simple, and the payoff was surprisingly telling. 

    A pair of experiments were done in a study titled,  "Do dogs follow behavioral cues from an unreliable human?", with the results appearing in an October 2014 issue of Animal Cognition.

    In the first experiment, 24 dogs were used, and it worked in three phases. (It seems important to note that the team was confident that the dogs would follow the prompts given by the humans in the study.) In the first phase, two opaque containers — one of which had a food treat hidden underneath — were presented to each dog. Phase one consisted of the human pointing to the container with the food underneath. The dog then chose that container and got the food reward. Phase two set out to demonstrate that the human couldn't be trusted to give a reliable cue. To achieve this, the dog was shown which container had a treat underneath and which did not. Once the dog was released to choose a container, they were encouraged to select the one without the reward.

    Finally, the experiment was repeated, but this time the dog was cued honestly. 

    The findings told the story: 

    Phase one yielded what one would expect; the dogs demonstrated trust of the human. But in the later phase, each dog had deduced that the person was not to be believed, with less than 10% of the subjects following where they were cued. 

    Takoka noted that she was surprised that the dogs had caught on to this concept so quickly. 

    But the researchers were interested in learning more about whether or not dogs attached that concept to all humans, or only those that they have had that specific experience with

    Repeating the study would certainly help clarify that, so researchers did so with a new group of dogs, 26 in fact — with each phase done exactly the same way. In the final phase, however, a new person was introduced in place of the untrustworthy one. 

    The subjects followed where the person encouraged them to go. This of course means that dogs are predictive of behavior from individual people, and they adapt as needed.

    It seems that the old adage 'when someone shows you who they are, believe them' is employed by dogs just as their biped counterparts. 

    Takoka noted in an interview with"Dogs have more sophisticated social intelligence than we thought. This social intelligence evolved selectively in their long life history with humans." 

    She went further to say that it would be interesting to see how wolves would fare in a like experiment, as that would shed more light on the effects of domestication on the social intelligence in the dogs that we know today. 

    Comparatively, how do children fare in studies that test the capacity to discern trustworthiness? 

    — at age 3, children are pretty excepting of what they are told, even if the person is dishonest
    — four year-olds exhibit dubiousness in the same situation
    — by age 5, children can more easily discern that what they are being told is not true

    As you can see, the jump in the mental sophistication of humans between ages three and five is vast, and given that an adult canine's mental capacity is said to be that of a 2 to 3 year-old child, a dog's ability to process that concept reliably is certainly intriguing. 

    The outcome of the study reinforces a basic tenet in canine training and behavior: relationship and trust building is paramount in developing good communication and cooperation, thusly helping both the canine and human get the most out of of training exercises and establishing a bond. 

    Lorrie Shaw is a freelance writer -- most recently as a contributor on MLive -- and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. Shoot her an email, contact her at 734-904-7279 or follow her adventures on Twitter.

    Sunday, April 12, 2015

    Chewing is a healthy, beneficial activity and dogs with beef and other allergies need not miss out

    Dogs love to chew. They need to. It's satisfying, and can mitigate anxiety.

    Indulging this healthy behavior is usually not a problem nor something that we give a lot of thought to since there are so many products on the market that are safe for supervised chew time or when our favorite pups are alone. 

    Of course, we need to take some things into consideration, including how powerful of a chewer a dog is or what their preferences are. 

    Traditional choices

    Beef rawhides are the ultimate in chewing pleasure for dogs, there's no doubt. They're tough, long-lasting and provide they kind of satisfying mouthfeel that dogs crave. They do get a bad rap for their indigestibility and the potential hazard for choking, but honestly I've found that with my own dogs and charges whose owners supply them, they are quite safe so long as chew time is supervised carefully. I simply take the rawhide away when they show evidence of being dangerous. 

    Bully sticks, tracheas, bones, hooves and other beef-based chewing toys are popular choices too.

    Sound alternatives

    But for an ever-widening demographic of the canine population — several of my own charges included — the choices can be somewhat limited because of allergies to ingredients that many chew toys are sourced from. 

    If a dog has allergies to beef, then sadly all of the aforementioned products are off limits, and ditto for chicken-based products and the like if the allergies are more complex.

    But that doesn't mean that dogs with sensitivity to things like beef and chicken need to miss out on a good chew party. There are plenty of suitable products on the market that can be equally satisfying, and best of all, they are easy to find. 

    Available in different sizes, deer antlers are a durable offering for pets that like them. They can be problematic for powerful chewers as they can damage a tooth. 

    Rope toys are fun for chewing and playing games like tug-of-war. Though they're tough and relatively long-lasting, care needs to be taken to ensure that the fibers are not ingested, which could lead to an intestinal blockage. 

    Vegetable-based chews like Whimzees and Zuke's Z-Bones offer sensitive dogs another option that you can feel good about. Choking on chewed-off pieces (and possible indigestibility, though even my old girl, Gretchen does fine with these) is a consideration. 

    Sweet potato chews can provide that leathery, satisfying that dogs love, and while they have that going for them, they just don't last very long. Highly digestible and healthy, you can make your own or buy them from your local pet store. 

    Pig ears are a fun chewy treat that offer a little satisfaction, albeit short-lived for some dogs. Pig skin rolls are an equally favorable choice, and usually last a little longer. 

    Bison rawhide, with all of the qualities that dogs love in a chew, but with a much lower risk of allergy reaction and may be just the right thing when addressing a pet's chewing needs. As with beef rawhide, products derived from bison do require the same level of mindfulness with regard to safety and indigestibility.

    Nylabone products are ever popular, but as with any other type of chew toy, they need to be enjoyed under supervision. Available in edible and non-edible varieties for dogs and puppies, care needs to be taken to see if they're right for your furry friend.

    Attractive options — but on second thought 

    Yak chews are a relatively new product on the market, and they have the reputation for lasting a long time. They also have a taste that is appealing to dogs, which is a plus. With their high protein and fat content, they are not suitable for some dogs. One caveat that might not be obvious is they are not made solely from yak's milk. Cow's milk is also used to create these products, which despite their price are gaining popularity. If your pet has an allergy to beef, these products would not be suitable.

    Finally, synthetic rawhide chews are widely available and since they're largely plant-based (they do contain chicken jerky as well as grain starch and vegetables) by all accounts appear to be a fine option. In theory, yes. Their high level of digestibility is a plus, but in my research, one glaring drawback cannot be ignored: they are made in China. 

    Considering the questions that loom with regard to the safety of pet consumables imported from China, the general consensus is that they not be given to pets.

    All of that said, chewing on appropriate bones and toys is a healthy activity that dogs not only love, but need to indulge in. It relieves stress, helps clean their teeth and indulges an innate need -- and choosing the right product can make it safe.

    Lorrie Shaw is a freelance writer -- most recently as a contributor on MLive -- and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. Shoot her an email, contact her at 734-904-7279 or follow her adventures on Twitter

    Tuesday, March 31, 2015

    Indoor pest problems require natural, safe solutions around parrots and other pets

    With the warmer weather making its way to much of the country faster than you think, it brings uninvited guests with it.

    Those who share life with birds can relate to the increase in indoor pests with the weather changes, but one culprit is at the heart of attracting insects: our feathered friend's penchant for not only enjoying their fresh food — which often includes vegetables, fruits and eggs — but flinging it about enthusiastically as they dine. 

    Getting things cleaned up after chow time is certainly helpful in preventing an infestation, though doing so isn't always possible, as birds aren't always in the mood to eat right away when they're given a meal. 

    The good news is that getting things under control can be a lot easier — and safer — than one might think. Birds are a sensitive species, and when it comes to any product, chemical or ingredient that is effective in keeping pests at bay, being choosy is essential. Fortunately, there are some safe alternatives to traditional methods, and they are easy to put into use. 

    General pests, like ants and fleas can be a problem. The former, like other insects, are most often attracted by the food flung from a bird's enclosure, though some households seem to battle them year-round. Fleas tend to be more of an issue in households that have dogs and cats (flea prevention for our furry friends is a must) as well, and it goes without saying that products to address any insect issues that are labeled natural or or environmentally friendly have been deemed so around our four-legged friends, but with our avian housemates, likely not so. 

    Tiny, but mighty 

    Mindful cleanup and vacuuming is certainly helpful, as a start, but a product called diatomaceous earth could be an attractive option in preventing or addressing an infestation of many insects. This finely milled powder, long used to address insect problems, is made from fossilized diatoms. These little gems are included in a group of algae, and what sets them apart from others is that they're encased in the cell wall made of silica. Because of that composition, diatomaceous earth or DM, as it's called, is also used in other applications, like as a filtration aid in pools, in toothpaste, among other things.

    In insect control, it works by way of it's mild abrasiveness and its ability to act as a physico sorptive. In essence, the fine powder wears down the protective exo-skeleton of insects like ants, fleas and roaches, and they dehydrate from sorptive action and then die.

    No ordinary that diatomaceous earth will do: food-grade quality is necessary since this type has not been calcinated, and has been derived from freshwater sources. It's also milled more finely. Here's a link for one resource on where to obtain it. 

    Though food-grade DM is safe for birds (and other pets), it's a good idea to take your feathered friends to a different room while the product is being applied. To use, simply sprinkle the powder on the areas where insects are found.

    Multi-purpose and non-toxic 

    Neem oil has long been used for many purposes, but many are familiar with its ability to repel bugs. Derived from the neem tree, oil contains a component called azadirachtin, which is where neem gets its insecticidal punch from. Azadirachtin acts as an insect growth regulator, among other things. Due to its distinctive garlic-sulfur odor, some people find neem to be unpleasant. Available at health stores and natural food markets, neem can be purchased in different forms — even an extract — and can be diluted and used as needed. Read more about it here

    Create your own traps

    Fruit flies seem to appear out of nowhere and are a common and bothersome site around bird enclosures, which is no surprise: they love the same fresh foods that birds do. Combating infestations of fruit flies naturally is a cinch. These insects are motivated by the aroma of fragrant foods like mango, banana and the like, so using that idea can work as an advantage in getting rid of them. 

    A do-it-yourself trap can be fashioned with a canning jar, some plastic cling wrap and cider vinegar. Pour an inch or so of vinegar in the bottom of the jar, and cover the top with a piece of wrap after making a small depression in the middle, and then poke two or three small holes in the wrap. The flies are attracted to the strongly scented vinegar and eagerly make their way into the trap, but they can't get out. Toss the contents of the trap after a few days and repeat as needed. 

    Lorrie Shaw is a freelance writer -- most recently as a contributor on MLive -- and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. Shoot her an email, contact her at 734-904-7279 or follow her adventures on Twitter

    Wednesday, March 18, 2015

    Make a long-lasting edible diversion to distract an apprehensive dog during a veterinary exam or a similar situation

    I spend much of my day bent over or crouched down to wipe the wet or muddy paws of any number of dogs, or to check them for ticks or burrs after an outdoor adventure. Minor injuries aren't that uncommon either, so tending to those is a necessity. 

    I need to exercise caution, as having my face eye-level with a dog's — their teeth, more specifically — could land me in a dangerous situation. 

    It's not that the dogs that I'm with each day aren't behaviorally sound. Touching a pet can reveal a sensitive or painful area, or might startle them. I've previously written about how I stay safe while performing tasks like checking for ticks or having a look at why a pooch has a sudden limp, and the tips that I offer are equally valuable for pet owners too. 

    Lately, my 15-year-old St. Bernard/Shepherd mix, Gretchen, has needed a little more consideration than in recent months, as her arthritis makes her more apprehensive about being touched. Naturally, I pick my battles when it comes to muddy paws and such, but yes, there are times when I need to handle her, so being extra mindful about what I'm doing so that I don't get bitten has become a habit.

    But not every situation is created equal.

    Case in point: for the last few months, Gretchen has been undergoing acupuncture to address her arthritis. Initially, she was quite tolerant of her acupuncturist, Monica Turenne, DVM, CVA getting the needles in place, but lately I've needed to be more creative in keeping Gretchen distracted and her mouth occupied while that's going on. Dr. Turenne and I have devised a routine that works, which of course includes high-value treats.

    Though I'm not opposed to muzzling my pets should I find it necessary while a clinician is interacting with them, it's certainly not an appropriate option during acupuncture. 

    As you can imagine, stumbling on ideas to make interacting with pets more comfortable and safe when they might not be at their best is something I get excited about. Extra-yummy treats (think small pieces of hotdog, cheese or dried liver) are great, but offering up a "lolli-pup" might be even better in some situations: popsicle sticks, slathered with peanut butter, spray cheese, Kong filling or canned dog food do a great job of distracting and apprehensive pet if you've an extra hand in the room. These last a little longer than high-value treats, and sticking the lolli-pups in the freezer for a bit can enhance their efficacy. Try one the next time your apprehensive pooch needs an exam by the vet or facing a similar scenario, like getting their nails trimmed.

    Lorrie Shaw is a freelance writer and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. Shoot her an email, contact her at 734-904-7279 or follow her adventures on Twitter.

    Thursday, February 19, 2015

    Veterinary behaviorist seeks participants from Ann Arbor area for upcoming study on conflict, aggression between family cats

    Conflict and social tension amongst family cats is a problem that is all too common and can upend a household, leading pet owners to do whatever they have to do to keep the peace. Manifested by behaviors like passive blocking, staring, minor skirmishes or exchanges that escalate into fighting, it can at times necessitate the need for cats to spend time in separate parts of the house. 

    “Cats are the number one pet: there are 81.7 million owned cats versus 72 million owned dogs. More cats are relinquished to shelters and disharmony between pets is a common reason for relinquishment," says Theresa DePorter, a veterinary behaviorist at Oakland Veterinary Referral Service (OVRS) based in Bloomfield Hills.

    Last year, DePorter lead a study to see if a synthetic pheromone diffuser from Ceva Animal Health would be effective in decreasing aggression amongst household cats. Pheromones are chemical signals produced naturally by an animal — in this case, cats – to communicate with each other. They are released by rubbing, spraying or scratching areas to leave "messages".

    She adds, "Estimates suggest only 4 out 10 cats who enter shelters make it out alive. We need to help cats get along with housemate cats so they can stay in their homes." 

    That said, it can also be difficult to ease a new cat into a household. And Bombay, a 1 year-old tabby cat, is an example of that scenario. He's also a success story stemming from that study.
    Bombay is a success story from the 2014 study.
    Photo courtesy of Theresa DePorter

    After being found as a stray (the owners were never located), Bombay joined a family that included 4 other cats, and it wasn't long before the skirmishes started. Bombay chased, tackled and bit while the other cats responded in kind by hissing, screaming and swatting. His owner, Susan Holland, is practice manager at the Michigan Humane Society and remained dedicated to resolving the issue, as she didn't want to rehome him — despite the knowledge that there was peace amongst the other cats previously. 

    After pre-qualifying and then entering the study, Holland noted that by the two week mark, the "cats were out together more. I had to decide if some interactions were aggression or play! This was more playful than they have been in 6 months. I am thrilled to have the cats be social again."

    45 multi-cat households with felines that exhibited aggression (more accurately defined as conflict/social tension) toward one another participated in the double-blind, placebo-controlled study, with 20 of the households being given the pheromone diffuser and 25 having received a placebo diffuser. The diffusers were used for a period of 28 days, and the participants kept a daily journal documenting any aggressive events as well as a weekly Oakland Feline Social Interaction Scale, (which assesses the frequency and intensity of 12 aggressive interactions, like biting, swatting, staring, blocking, vocalizing, etc.) 

    The results of the study definitely show promise. The OFSIS scores were similar at the beginning, but by day 7, the mean OFSIS score of the pheromone group was measurably lower than the group getting the placebo. By day 21, the response was even better. That trend continued not only until the last day of the diffusers use, but beyond. Click here to read more results from the study.  

    On the heels of success in the pilot study (which interestingly included households where felines exhibited aggression toward one another for an average duration of 822 days), DePorter is eager to recruit more cats and their humans to participate in a follow-up study, with enrollment continuing until April 28th. 

    Though pheromone diffusers will still be the focus, this trial will be longer — 15 weeks — and DePorter is seeking only 70 households to take part.  Those aren't the only ways that this trial will differ from the previous: there will be no placebo group. Instead, this will be a comparative trial between two test formulations that are akin to each other. 

    In order to be considered for the study, participants must first meet criteria with a prequalification screening. 

    From there, participants will be required to attend one enrollment meeting, two of which are being held in Ann Arbor on April 6. At the meeting, DePorter will explain the complexities of feline aggression, how cats communicate (for example, body posturing), feline social structure and more. Attendees will also learn about what to do (or not do) when aggressive behavior between cats is present. Cats do not attend this meeting. 

    DePorter, who has most recently written for Psychology Today in the 'Decoding Your Dog' series emphasizes, "It’s a safety and quality of life issue for cats and for owners. What is remarkable to me is that many of these cats have been fighting for years and years. These owners are dedicated to their cats but torn by the anguish. Understanding the cats innate motivations and responding with kindness and respect is essential to improving a cats welfare."

    To learn more about the study, including how to be considered for participation, click here or contact Dr. Theresa DePorter by emailing or visit the OVRS website.

    Lorrie Shaw is a freelance writer and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. Shoot her an email, contact her at 734-904-7279 or follow her adventures on Twitter.

    Monday, February 16, 2015

    Life hack: a multi-purpose item can be used as a litter box for pet rabbits with arthritis

    There are countless ways that we can help the pets in our midst live better, even if they have special needs. 

    I've shared life hacks for aiding dogs in their mobility, and in creating an elevated feeding platform for them to make it easier to eat. 

    Cats can use a little help when it comes to having success in the litter box department, and as I've illustrated, not all litter boxes are created equal. Dependent on a feline's size, age and how able-bodied they are, a shift in size or slope can make all of the difference and keep both of you happy. 

    Another species isn't so different. Though most bunnies do fine learning to use a traditional litter tray made to fit in the corner of their enclosure, they can also benefit from a bit of consideration as they age or have mobility issues at other stages of life. In this case, thinking outside the box a little bit might just do the trick. 

    A feeding tray, like one designed by Marchioro, is a viable option. The small tray is generously-sized yet compact enough to fit inside an enclosure, and is easily accessible for bunnies with mobility issues. It's easy to clean and has rubber feet to keep the tray in place. A spongy cabinet liner from the home improvement store cut to size adds a non-skid layer between the bedding and the tray to allow sure footing for your pet. 

    Of course, the tray is great for messy canines and felines during mealtime or for their water dish, and can be ordered in a larger size. 

    Click here for dimensions, consumer reviews and ordering information. 

    Lorrie Shaw is a freelance writer and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. Shoot her an email, contact her at 734-904-7279 or follow her adventures on Twitter.