Monday, December 23, 2013

Attentiveness is an essential skill that all dogs can benefit from

The personalities of the dogs that is get to meet and work with every day never cease to amaze me. They certainly vary, and observing those canines that are in multiple-pet families is really interesting.

When meeting with a family for the first time, one thing that I am keenly observant of is how naturally attentive a dog is to their people. This gives me a lot to go on as I'm getting to know my prospective charge. If the property has a fence, I suggest heading outdoors to play off leash.

In doing so, it helps me understand what sort of things will garner attentiveness toward me, especially if they don't offer it easily.

As a caregiver, much of what I do is all about relationship building, and from that, everything else follows: trust, bonding -- and an environment of cooperation.

The latter is vital, as the single most important aspect of my job is to keep a pet safe. If their attention is on me when a situation arises that may cause their safety to be compromised, that can make all of the difference.

Consider the dog that has a habit of bolting out of an open door, or when a pet is safely able to be outdoors off-leash. Trying to connect with a pet while giving a command like "sit", "stay" or "come" is impossible without having their full attention.

It seems important to say that the foundation for training, not to mention daily interaction is built on the concept of attentiveness.

While some dogs offer it effortlessly, others are easily distracted by things, or perhaps or have difficulty in connecting with people. I've met canines that simply lack connection with some people in their tribe. That's not to say that attentiveness can't be learned by a dog if they aren't so good at offering it. With the practice, they can gain the skill.
The best way to lay the groundwork when it comes to fostering attentiveness from your pooch is simple: build your relationship with them. By interacting with each dog one-on-one with activities like play, walks, brushing, talking to them -- anything that they find satisfying -- and then the connections begin.

Once that relationship has been supported positively, working on attentiveness is a simple task, though being consistent is where the magic lies.

There are two common cues used to teach the skill: “watch” and then of course the dog’s name.

“Watch” signals a dog to look at you, and saying her name lets her know that she should pay attention to you and wait for what's next.

When I get a pet's full attention, I always immediately follow up with a treat to reinforce the skill. This increases the likelihood that I'll get that favored response in the future, and of course sets them up for success.

Once they get the hang of it, feel free to use a favorite game, a belly rub or something specifically valuable to the pooch to alternate with a treat as a reward. Eventually, you should be able to ask for their undivided attention and it will be like second nature to them.

Teaching this valuable skill makes it easier for a dog to respond to other important cues, like “down,” “stay” and “come,” or simply to follow in a different direction while out on a walk.

Working on this essential building block of communication enhances the success on another vital skill: recall.

As with recall and other cues, I highly recommend "proofing" attentiveness in different environments regularly. Remember, simply because a dog has learned a skill in one scenario, it doesn't mean that they can apply it to another as easily. Work on it everywhere: indoors, while outdoors with varying levels of distraction. Practice makes perfect.

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.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Heading out for a walk with your dog this winter? Make it safe and fun on both ends of the leash

We're heading into the harsh winter weather here in the Ann Arbor area, and we've swapped our lightweight coats for heavier ones, and pulled out the hats and gloves in recent weeks.
The snowy mess outdoors is a consideration when it comes to our feet for obvious reasons —we want to stay warm and dry.

As bipeds, it's also a challenge trying to walk on snow and ice covered areas, and the risk of injury from a fall increases greatly this time of year. If you’re walking a dog, your risk of a slip and fall in winter conditions is even higher.

Being safe and smart when you’re enjoying the winter weather with your dogs on or off leash is a must.
For myself, there is one key tool in staying safe this time of year: the proper footwear.

Nothing beats my Betty Boots by Keen to keep my feet protected from the elements, and my STABILicers give me extra traction in winter weather. I can go from a wet sidewalk to snow-covered trail to icy country roads in rapid-fire succession, and can do so with more confidence because of what's on my feet.

But footwear is only one part of the equation when it comes to being safe while out walking your dog.
The other part of winter safety on dog walks is quite simply, the dog.

Case in point: when I'm out on daily walking rounds, all-to-often I see people struggling with their dogs, trying to get them not to pull, to listen to commands and maintain an even cadence. In more than one instance, I’ve seen the human get knocked off of his or her feet because of slick surfaces and unruly pooches — a pretty dangerous situation where the consequences are not limited to a possible injury to the human and the dog.

In one instance, said dog became physically separated from the human and ran off in all of the confusion. Luckily, the pooch was easily coaxed back to the owner, and all was well.

Rule number one: each dog must listen to the commands of their partner on the other end of the leash.
Don’t get me wrong. When I’m out with my charges, it’s really all about fun. I’m there to get them out for exercise and a good time — a chaperone, of sorts. Reading and leaving 'pee-mail' is par for the course and exceptionally good for canines, as is exploring things along the way — within reason of course.

The difficulty begins though, when the pooch you're with must constantly pull or tug, or when they yank on the leash when you’re trying to clean up after they've done their business.

If your furry friend is having trouble getting the message about what you expect when they are out and about, I can offer a little wisdom to help you persuade your pup —no matter the age —to behave a little more politely on a leash, and advice on basic walking tools that will keep both of you safe this winter.

Ditch the retractable leash. Your dog should be able to walk politely on a traditional leash before you ever consider using a retractable. (I use a six-foot one most often.) Unruly dogs can get wrapped around trees or snarled in bushes and are not easily controlled when on a leash like this. Worst case scenario: These types of leashes do snap easily, and that's last thing that you want.

Teach your dog to 'sit/wait' when you're cleaning up after it. This command is invaluable in so many situations, but it's especially handy when you're trying to pick up their waste. I often offer dogs a treat to munch on to keep them occupied while I quickly scoop.

Consider buying a harness. I provide these for dogs when they're in my care, as they are securely tethered to me once the harness is attached to the leash — no worry of them slipping out of a collar and taking off. A secondary benefit: when using a harness that uses a front-chest leash attachment like the Easy Walker from Premier, if the dog pulls, the harness tightens slightly across their chest and shoulder blades, (as opposed to their neck) and redirects their attention back toward you. I've used them on dogs that normally would pull constantly, and they get the idea quickly that pulling isn't a favorable thing, especially when coupled with teaching the next concept.

Loose leash walking or walking without pulling is a must. It doesn’t matter if you're on a sidewalk, on a desolate dirt road or on a hiking path. It's quite simple to teach, although I will admit it does take time to do. The key is consistency and patience, just like when you're working with your dog on basic obedience. Dogs learn best when those two elements are part of any routine. Knowing basic commands is so important for a dog and really should be taught alongside walking on a leash with manners. Click here for a great tutorial that employs an effective positive reinforcement method for loose leash walking.
Consider putting these things to work on your outdoor adventures with your pet, and you'll not only enjoy the time more, but you'll increase your chances of staying out of the emergency room this winter.

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, November 25, 2013

Motion sickness in pets could be mitigated by employing one simple trick, vet finds

Cats are not known for being terribly excited about traveling in a car for any distance. Most find it to be a scary thing, but a percentage of our feline friends actually experience motion sickness from riding in a vehicle.

The latter can complicate the already daunting prospect of going to the vet. No one wants their pet to feel queasy or vomit, nor does anyone want to clean up a mess.

One clinician seems to have stumbled on a way that just might help mitigate the incidence of car sickness in cats.

Tom Morganti, DVM recently posted his unexpected findings on the 'Idea Exchange' section of the veterinary website DVM360.

The vet, who practices in Avon, Conn., indicated that one of his patients, a senior feline, had an ongoing problem: they vomited each time that they rode in a vehicle.

On one occasion, the cat required minor surgery and was sent home after the procedure wearing an Elizabethan collar (or E-collar, as you've probably heard it referred to). For the very first time in it's life, the animal did not experience any motion sickness-related symptoms.

The cat was transported back a short time later for suture removal -- once again wearing the collar -- and exhibited no signs of nausea or vomiting.

Morganti saw a correlation and thought that the trick might also prove to be useful in helping other pets.

"I have suggested E-collars as a treatment for car sickness for more than a dozen cats and even a couple of dogs, and, anecdotally, it seems to work," says Morganti.

Whether a pet is hopping in the vehicle for a visit with the vet or heading out to have fun with family, this simple tip could be a boon for family members, whether they have two legs, or four.

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.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Teaching children how to interact with dogs mindfully is an ongoing process that will yield lifelong skills

The other day, I ran across an article written by David Valdes Greenwood that piqued my interest, and for a lot of reasons.

The topic was resonant: the interaction between children and dogs.

As someone who lives and works with canines everyday, I know that teaching children about how to mindfully share life with dogs is likely the most important legacy that we can leave.

Dogs and kids -- they go together, there's no doubt. But because of their young age and lack of experience, children need positive exposure, supervision and lots of help from mindful adults in gaining the finesse to co-exist with four-footed friends safely and happily.

Greenwood mused about a potential outcome from his 8 year-old daughter's interactions with the family's 2 year-old miniature Schnauzer in a way that was nothing short of alarming.

The child was closely interacting with the dog, rubbing his tummy, then at one point playing with his muzzle in a way that caused him to display displeasure by letting out a growl.

After Greenwood's interjection that the pooch was uncomfortable with the young girl's actions, she continued and the animal gave another but more pointed growl. At that point, child let go of the dog's muzzle and he ran off.

It was after detailing that incident that Greenwood expanded on a silent wish that came to mind: "Next time, I hope he bites her."

A seemingly harmless thought? A potiential 'Low-Cost Lesson', as this father put it? To a pet professional like myself and many others, hardly.

Natural consequences and those like them are undoubtedly a part of a young child's learning process, and they can be some of the most resonant teaching moments and often a parent or responsible adult need not intervene. But when it comes to the interactions between children and pets, there is no substitute for the oversight of a responsible adult to help both of those parties navigate them safely and mindfully, regardless of the size or breed of the dog. After all, a bite is a bite, and 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 -- regardless of the age of said human -- and the dog's behavior has not been read correctly.

Later in his piece, Greenwood revealed that later that day the dog did end up biting his daughter, citing that it was "was suitably frightening to her", and "a perfect 'Low Cost Lesson' -- no blood, only tears".

Let's consider that an injury like this could prove to be more than just a nip -- and maybe that a bite would need medical attention. Certainly during the course of treatment, the question of "how did this happen?" would arise and dog bite of any kind would be cause for further concern.

What started out as a so-called 'Low-Cost Lesson' would then become quite complicated.

I acknowledge that it can be quite challenging for adults to police the interactions between kids and pets; to remind that animals are living things who, just like people, have preferences, thresholds for interaction and pain. It's a tough job, but that's part of parenting, right?

Perhaps rather than a 'Low Cost Lesson' in this case, let's keep the focus on an approach that is more mindful -- more effective, even: educating children about all things dog at a level they can understand.

It's unrealistic to expect youngsters to be able to accurately read a dogs’ body language — they lack the mental sophistication to understand, so 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.

Granted, children have a natural tendency to push the limits (or in some instances would make the case that if they were another dog, their interactions might make it okay), and because of that, it's even more important to supervise things.

Neither party should be put in a situation that is less than ideal.

Whether it's basic interaction with a canine, giving a dog a treat or helping children to understand that puppies lack of self control and mental sophistication at different stages of development, there are many opportunities to have a teachable moments with youngsters that are safe and are the real 'Low-Cost Lessons' that are valuable for a lifetime.

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.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Thanksgiving can be a happy holiday for pets and people by keeping some things in mind

When it comes to holidays, Thanksgiving offers a bit of all things that we really love: a little time off from work, more time with family and friends — and especially food!

Pets are a part of the equation for many families, and, although the idea of having more people around the house can seem like a boon for pets, the extra hustle and bustle, upset routine and the table scraps that inevitably find their way to a pet's tummy can prove to be a bit more than some pets can handle.

Pet health emergencies and behavioral problems tend to increase during the holidays. With some mindfulness, the next few days and weeks can be more enjoyable and safe for everyone, whether they are on two feet or four.

Stay on track

Just like most of us, pets thrive on routine. There is something to be said for maintaining your pets' regular meal and exercise schedule. In doing so, you’ll encourage good behavior and keep them feeling good.

We all need to be alone, sometimes

When company comes, it’s a lot of fun, but as any host knows, having house guests for any length of time can be a bit stressful; it’s natural. Times like this can be difficult for any pet, too.

Minimizing any tension is simple. Provide your four-legged friends with a quiet, out-of-the-way room during gatherings. Even if your pets enjoy socializing with people, having a space where they can chill out without being bothered is a must. I particularly like the idea of providing a crate for dogs in that quiet space, with a comfy dog bed in it to provide an extra sense of security.

Stay hydrated

Make sure your pet always has fresh water. With more people in the house, invariably someone is bound to bump into the water bowl, leaving your pet high and dry.

Counter surfing

A common, yet unwanted behavior, some dogs easily reach things in the kitchen that are counter-level. Ingesting yummy food that can harm or cause simple stomach upset is an obvious concern, but so is dragging off a heavy dish or pan or getting burned. Click here to get practical, positive reinforcement tips on curbing this dangerous behavior and dissuading curious canines.

Keep the wraps under wraps

The holiday season is synonymous with more cooking and baking. Intestinal obstruction can result from ingested pieces of aluminum foil, wax paper and plastic wrap. Make sure that these items are put into the garbage.

Talking trash

All of the extra cooking means that a higher volume of the amount of refuse thgat accumulates. Let’s face it — it’s attractive to some pets. To be on the safe side, take out your trash often, use a trash can with a lid or, in some cases, physically lock up your trash container where it’s completely out of reach.

Playing keep away

Too many fatty, rich, or unfamiliar foods can give your pet pancreatitis or gastroenteritis, two medical conditions that can be very painful and even life-threatening in some breeds.

A tiny bit of skinless fully-cooked turkey, gravy and veggies like plain sweet potato are okay to give your favorite feline or canine, (consider stuffing a Kong full of these goodies for your pooch during mealtime in their space), but too much of a good thing can result in a bad time for them. You also want to avoid giving pets any bones, grapes, raisins and chocolate.

Keep an eye on your beverages

Many gatherings include alcoholic refreshments. Bear in mind that dogs will readily lap up an errant beer or other alcoholic drink if given the chance. Alcohol can prove deadly to pets, so make a point to keep an eye out for unattended drinks, and remind guests to keep their beverages close at hand.

Ready, set, go

Considering a road trip with your furry friend? Lots of families do it, and successfully so! After all, dogs, especially like to be included, too if possible. Click here for things to keep in mind when heading out with your pooch.

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.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Female dogs differ from their male counterparts when it comes to navigation, but who has the upper hand?

There are plenty of jokes made that men tend to be better navigators and that by and large, they need not ask for directions.

New findings indicate that skill may not be one that is shared amongst the male members of all species, however.

Two researchers from Duke University and the authors of The Genius of Dogs, Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods, discussed the findings in the book.

What was discovered is interesting to say the least. Hare, an Associate Professor and Woods, a Research Scientist in Evolutionary Anthropology, note that data seems to indicate that female dogs seem to possess more advantageous navigational skills than their male counterparts.

This is especially intriguing as it can offer us crucial insight into how canines see the world.

Data was gathered from the website created by Hare and Woods,, and used a game to test possible differences in the way that dogs navigate.

To play the game, treats were hid under two bowls, and the dogs were taught that the treat was always on one side, right or left. Then, the pet was brought around to the opposite side and the bowl that they picked was recorded.

The findings indicate that female dogs were more likely to use a landmark-based (allocentric) strategy, using objects in the room to gauge distance and location and figure out which bowl had treats underneath.

To better illustrate, when female dogs were introduced to the bowl of treats, it might have been near a landmark in the room, like a door or a lamp. Then, they were brought around to the opposite side of the room. Interestingly, they used the landmarks to choose the correct bowl -- demonstrating that regardless of the way they were oriented in the room, they would always go back to the same bowl.

Male dogs were found more often to use egocentric navigation: using the position of the bowl in relation to themselves ("the treat is on my left.."). When these dogs were reintroduced to the room on the opposite side, they chose the bowl on their left, which was the opposite bowl from that they had chosen before.

Egocentric navigation is associated with using the area of the brain called the basal ganglia, which is associated with motor skill use. Allocentric navigation is linked to the hippocampus, an area of the brain that mediates things like spatial awareness and memory.

This isn't the only area where male and female canines have been found to differ with regard to how their brains work. Female dogs have been found to have enhanced visual skills -- and probably for good reason -- whereas males are thought to be more scent-oriented.

Interestingly, these results are the opposite in humans: men are typically allocentric navigators, and women lean toward egocentric skills.

Click here to read more here on the topic in a recent article featured on Yahoo News.

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.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Navigating end-of-life with pets is more easily managed with the rightsupport and knowledge

Just a couple of weeks ago, our family was faced with what we knew would likely be the inevitable: having to make the decision to contact our beloved 13-year-old Labrador's home-visiting veterinarian to come to the house and intervene, as a diagnosis of cancer over the summer had made things much too difficult for him to manage. 

Because of Bruiser's prognosis, in-home hospice and euthanasia was very much a part of the initial dialogue with his vet, Dr. Cathy Theisen, who proved to be a great source of guidance and support throughout his illness. We knew that being at home would be best to allow him to transition more peacefully, though we had to stay open to the idea that there was the off-chance that things may become unexpectedly difficult and taking him to an emergency facility may have been a mindful thing to do. 

That final decision did not come easily, of course. It was made after a lot of dialogue, listening, looking clearly.

The point of diagnosis to death is not a straight line. 

Bruiser was able to have an enriching and comfortable final weeks, doing most of the things that he did prior to his diagnosis, and it also enabled our family to reap the benefits of sharing that time with him. 

At a time fraught with so many changes — at some points, daily — adapting to Bruiser's needs as they evolved was something that could not be shied away from. It was a matter of being present; assessing what was happening on a given day and under the guidance of his clinician, adjusting things in his diet or medication or simply living with the changes. 

He was comfortable for the majority of his illness with the help of medication, thankfully. But managing Bruiser's disease took diligence and care, and when it was obvious that the resources that we had previously tapped into to help him were not going to be enough, we had to muster the courage to reach out for the help that, ultimately, only his veterinarian could offer was. This decision was reached mixed emotions, to say the least. But even now, we know for sure that we made the right decision, for the right reasons, at the right time. 

Having the balance of life and death in our laps is a daunting, emotional and complicated matter when life is shared with a pet. It's unlike any other.

As it turned out, Bruiser was able to make that final transition on his own, just an hour after I had contact with his vet. 

We were glad that any suffering that he had was over. Not having to go through the process of euthanasia has, for us, made his death easier to manage; we realize that our grief would be compounded had we needed to follow through. 

The transition after an event like this proves to be something to be done slowly. It's a recalibration of sorts: after tending to a terminally ill pet who has died, you go from 60 to zero, so to speak, in a short period of time. Waking up that first morning after a dog dies is horrendous. In terms of the pets in our household, things are an unsettling one-third quieter. 

The anticipatory grief is something that builds through the process, and then there's the grief hangover. 

It's interesting, traversing life with a pet into old age. Some liken having a pet to having a child, but I disagree: we're simply caregivers. We share life with a living, breathing being who has needs that require help in having met, we look out for them in order to ensure their safety and we act as their advocate, their voice. In advanced age and at end-of-life, that doesn't change, though their needs certainly do. 

After slowly emerging into regular schedule in the days after he died, we became more engaged in things after hunkering down at home to tend to ourselves and the four-legged members of the tribe. As far as the pets go, the dynamics have changed there, too. 

We needed that time to allow everyone the space and time to process everything unencumbered by outside influences: the misguided comments, the awkward questions and statements. A few loved ones, friends and colleagues were keenly aware of the intensity of what we had been experiencing, and we've continued to feel supported and encouraged by them. 

Interestingly during this transition, a lot of people have reached out and shared their own experiences. 

One thing that has resonated with me is the angst that people feel when presented with a grim diagnosis or issues associated with advanced age, and then faced with the complicated choice of euthanasia. These situations raise emotions, brings up fears and reminds us that we're never really in full control of things.

The feelings can be complicated: some have said to me that they know it was the right choice at the right time and for the right reasons, but there's a mental wrestling match that can ensue long after the process is over. There are others who express regret about waiting too long. 

Both of these are certainly understandable and have places at either end of the spectrum. 

The feeling that I get is that people could use more support when it comes to navigating the really difficult situations like old age, or at any age, illness and end of life for their pets. 

I find that many people aren't aware of effective care plans that can be put into place in any of these scenarios, and it starts with a conversation with the veterinarian. I suggest not being afraid to ask about the next steps, and what a care plan might look like: medication, diet, extra help — maybe even alternative therapies — to aid in a pet's comfort. I made sure to ask the questions that mattered in Bruiser's situation, some of which meant getting hard-to-hear answers, but in the end, we felt better able to manage things. 

Another avenue to consider is reach out to friends or loved ones who have experience in these areas. They're a wealth of support and information. 

Old age, illness and death are not viewed as favorable topics to approach. In fact, they're seen as ugly, distorted, too difficult: distinctly different than what we see when we think of new life and resiliency, and that's unfortunate. 

Death is as important an time of life as birth for a family and deserves the same attention and mindfulness.

After all, doulas are seen as a beneficial source of support at the beginning of a life, so why not have that same sense of everyone involved being tended to when a pet — a valued and beloved member of the family — is coming to the end of their life? 

The tide is turning, thankfully. The idea of pet hospice is garnering a lot of attention, and there are more options for comfort and support than one might think. Additionally, many vets these days are willing to come to a client's home to intervene, rather than doing so in a traditional clinical setting. 

Pet loss support groups, like the one the meets at the Humane Society of Huron Valley is another valuable resource to tap in to.

Our family was grateful to have had such an active part in helping Bruiser traverse the final weeks of his life with comfort and dignity. In the end, the feeling that we have come away with is an empowered one, though it might seem to be in stark contrast to the inevitable outcome. 

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.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

We've come a long way in understanding dogs' emotions, but does the way that we treat them measure up?

As one who works with and writes about animals every day — along with those in the fields of veterinary medicine, animal behavior, ethology and dog training – being accused of anthropomorphism is a regular occurrence. I don’t think that it necessarily bothers any of us, and if anything, propels us to work more on behalf of creating a better life for animals.

An opinion piece that was published in the New York Times’ online edition over the weekend echoed much of what I’ve written over the past few years: animals – in this case dogs – have emotional needs that deserve more care and consideration.

Last year, I wrote about a study that the author of the piece, Gregory Berns and his colleagues conducted by way of using a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner to get a glimpse into the canine brain.

In the NYT piece, titled, ‘Dogs Are People, Too’, Berns expands on the findings of the study and proposes that the way we view dogs needs to change.

The study yielded interesting insight into how dogs react when presented with favorable stimuli, like hand signals indicating food, smells – most excitingly, the sight of a familiar human.

These responses are linked to area of the brain called the caudate nucleus, which is sandwiched between the brainstem and cortex, and loaded with dopamine receptors. This is the area that Berns and his colleagues found especially interesting because of its similarities in dogs and humans, as many of the same stimuli that motivate activity in that region of the brain are the same: food, closeness to those that we love, things like that.

Neuroscientists refer to this as a functional homology, and in dogs, it can be an indicator of emotions.

The importance of positive experiences in a canine's life is nothing new, in fact I’ve written about many topics related to this. These positive experiences are crucial to establish a solid footing early in life so that dogs are properly socialized, which helps to connect-the-dots, so to speak, allowing them to develop the tools to navigate challenges, daily life and to form favorable bonds with other animals and humans.

Older dogs that struggle socially because they might have missed out on the opportunity to have had those positive experiences and socialization can benefit from having their fair share of caudate nucleus stimulation, as well.

Studies have demonstrated this, even with fearful dogs.

Oh, the power of comfort, compassion and love.

All of that said, the ability of dogs to be able to form attachments to humans, and as I have been witness to, some very close and complex bonds with the humans in their life – myself included, even as a caregiver – needs a fresh examination.

Understanding what we do now about how the canine brain works should be cause to keep the conversation ignited about how we treat dogs and other animals.

Anthropomorphic? I think not.

After all, we’ve come a long way since the days of Decartes’ assertion that only humans have minds.

These days, we certainly don’t mind putting those great animal minds to work in law enforcement, as military working dogs or service animals or to perform search and rescue duties.

The military is even considering the prospect of using MRI technology to recruit the best canine candidates to use as military working dogs.

It’s clear that we as humans understand their ability to think and learn in those capacities and as house pets.

But are we measuring up when it comes to the way that we consider how they might feel about things, or if something makes them genuinely uncomfortable, for example?

The tide is turning in many ways; using terms like ‘guardian’ (though I prefer ‘human’), rather than ‘pet owner’ when it comes to expressing our capacity in their lives, and in recent decades, we’ve understood more about how pets experience pain (just like we do – what an epiphany!) and mechanisms that can be used to mitigate it, and of course other ways.

As humans, we’ve made great strides in opening our eyes to what animals experience, and dogs are proving to be integral in making that happen. As the single species that has had to adapt faster than any other to the very human world that we’ve created and purposely included them in, we owe that to them.

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.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Creating positive associations with a cat carrier helps make car trips easier and safer

So many times over a cat's life, they'll need to make a trip in a vehicle to various places, often the vet's office.

It's safest and easiest to transport them in a cat carrier, but for so many felines, the mere sight of the contraption can trigger a sense of angst, and getting them into it can be a struggle.

The key to making it as easy as possible is to, first, start them as young as possible, and to always create a positive association with the carrier as possible.

There are some easy ways to create that association, and once you achieve that, transporting them in a mindful way is important, too.

Positive associations are crucial with every pet, but especially cats. To do this with a carrier, introduce it by the simple act of leaving it out in an area of the house that they find favorable, with the carrier door open so that they can explore it at will.

Placing a comfortable blanket, a towel or — depending on the size of the carrier, a cat bed — inside can be enticing. Try leaving a favorite toy inside, some catnip and maybe a few treats. Feeding your pet inside the carrier may seal the deal.

When the time comes to take a trip, the way you lift and carry the carrier will make all of the difference in how comfortable the animal stays throughout its time inside.

Lift and carry the carrier by the sides, the rims or underneath to provide stability, rather than by the handle. Using the handles may be convenient but allows for a swinging movement, which a cat can find unsettling.

Once in the car, driving as steadily as possible makes good sense, obviously, but before departing, consider securing the carrier in the backseat by putting the seat belt through the handles or around the carrier, adjusting as needed. This promotes stability during sudden stops, and in the event of an accident, your delicate furry friend will have an added measure of safety.

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, October 7, 2013

Understanding the common signs of illness in exotic birds is integral for a long, healthy life

Being a caretaker of other people's pets: It's great fun, but there's also a very serious side to it. I spend a lot of time observing the animals I am responsible for.

As I've seen over the years, anything can happen; a sudden or even subtle change in eating habits, elimination or behavior can tell me volumes.

This is true for any animal, and that includes exotic birds.

I have a handful of them as clients — all different species — and though they share many similarities, it's up to me to hone in on any changes that I see and convey that to their humans.

Knowing all of them quite well, it's not difficult for me to pick up on things. Each bird could not be more different. They have diets that differ a little — which has a bearing on what I look for — and as far as their personalities go, those all vary, too.

Though each of my clients are experienced bird owners, I realize that other folks may not be and may have a hard time picking up on those subtleties that indicate early signs of illness. It's easy for that to happen. Captive birds, just like other pets, haven't lost their inherent habit of hiding any lameness or signs of trouble like their wild counterparts.

Because of this, those who share life with these birds may find it helpful to get better acquainted with the early signs of illness in pet birds so that treatment can be put in place by their avian clinician, so that more serious problems can be avoided.

There are a few indicators that I find offer volumes of information about the overall wellness of a bird: eating habits, water use, elimination, engagement and appearance.

What goes in, comes out

Food is big with birds. It's not just a source of nourishment, it can be paired (and should be, in some respects) with enrichment. Owners of pet birds choose to include different items in their diet, and as a caregiver I adhere to those regimens strictly. It may be a strict diet of pellets and selected fresh produce, and may include seeds, nuts, fresh produce and even as one client does — prepared omelet wedges that include healthful ingredients.

Whatever the diet, if a bird is eating more or less, if they don't seem to go after something that they'll typically gravitate toward and forage through, or in some cases if I am not able to motivate them with food treats, that is telling to me.

Elimination is a very accurate barometer with birds, and just as their diets can vary, that impacts the way their droppings appear.

Diets with a high seed content usually produce uniform, dark green feces. Birds on pelleted diets normally have soft, brownish waste. A diet high in vegetables and fruits may increase the urine component of their waste, and it seems important to note that foods like blueberries can cause discoloration.

Urine is normally a clear liquid.

With that in mind, I monitor each bird's droppings and note any changes from what I see to be the norm.


How a bird engages with me is integral. Each animal has its idiosyncrasies when interacting with me — games, forms of communication, physical interaction — and if those seem to be "off," I take note of that. Unusual or decreased vocalization may be a concern.

Appearances are everything

Birds will act out-of-sorts — even a bit crabby — and lose feathers when they are molting, but overall their appearance looks normal.

Feathers that look broken or chewed on are not normal. Feathers that appear discolored or matted are a concern, especially those that are near the vent (their bottom). Feathers around the nares (nostrils) or face should not be stained. Crusting around the nares is something to take note of as well.

Other considerations

Birds love water, and will, most often if they have a water crock (some people prefer a water bottle), dunk their pelleted or fresh food in it as well as drink from it. Crocks need to be cleaned and replenished at least once a day, as they can get mucked up with bits of food and residue. How much a crock gets used depends on the animal, but knowing an individual bird's habits can help gauge if there's an issue.

I take note of any unusual breathing patterns; a healthy bird should be able to resume a normal respiratory rate quickly after vigorous play or stressful event. In the latter case, ditto for their disposition once the stressor is gone.

Lameness, like favoring one foot or shifting their weight in an unusual way, warrants further consideration.

Birds also have incredibly good balance. Clumsiness that seems out of the ordinary should be taken as a sign that something isn't right.

All of that said, it's never a good idea to take a "wait and see" approach when it comes to your bird showing signs of illness or disease. And, it's vital to have an avian veterinarian to reach out to should anything out of the ordinary arise, and of course to have your bird be examined by on a regular basis.

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.

Resolving aggression in cats can take time, and identifying the root of the behavior is the first step

Many of my pet sitting clients are felines, and that is very telling.

Cats, by and large, do better in their own environment in their human's absence, as opposed to being boarded. That's not surprising: Cats, though personable and connected to their family, are often more centered around their environment as opposed to their people.

Over the years, I've seen some cats that are unwaveringly friendly — almost dog-like — and that can be due in part to natural characteristics of their breed, or simply part of who they are.

Some, I find, may prefer to have their basic needs met, a little lap or play time, a quick ear scratch and not much else.

Others are uncompromisingly aloof, and will go out of their way to make themselves scarce. A small percentage of those cats will become aggressive should they be approached, so I always take care to be respectful of their personal space, for their own well-being, and mine.

If you've ever had an encounter with an aggressive cat, you know what I mean. Quite honestly, I find a hot-tempered cat more daunting to deal with than a dog, because of the unpredictability, not to mention the damage that sharp claws and teeth can inflict.

Aggression is a term that isn't often attached to cats, but when it's there, it can seriously upset a household, and in some cases, is grounds for relinquishment because a family doesn't feel that they have another option.

Encompassing a broad range of behaviors, feline aggression can manifest from warnings like swatting, hissing and growling to much more serious manifestations that can cause physical harm, and these behaviors stem from different motivators.

Two things are certain: It's important that it's addressed, and situations that facilitate it should be minimized or avoided, and, secondly, punishment is counterproductive.

First, it's important to understand there are different types of aggression. Whether it stems from being cranky as a result of having an illness, injury or source of pain that has yet to be identified, under-socialization as a kitten, fearfulness or a status- or territorial-related cause (think multi-cat households), knowing the source can help you employ an approach that offers the right solution to address the behavior, safely and effectively.

Redirected aggression and aggression from a cat after it initiates physical contact with you can be confusing and especially daunting to encounter, because this aggression can seem to come out of nowhere. But no matter the cause, there are signs that indicate an elevation of behavioral arousal that means there is trouble ahead.

Signs include:

  • Tail twitching
  • Vocalization
  • Dilated eyes
  • Flattened ears
  • A stiff posture

The first step in identifying the cause of your cat's aggression is to keep track of what's happening. Keep a journal daily and observe the day-to-day events — even small details can yield helpful clues and identify patterns. Here are some things to consider:

  • What kind of stimuli seem to be triggering?
  • Are there specific cats that tend to be a target of the unwanted behavior?
  • Are there feral or free-roaming cats around the home?
  • Is your cat sufficiently stimulated? Is there enough environmental enrichment, like toys that invite play, foraging toys, cat trees?
  • What changes have occurred in the household recently? (Remember what I said about cats being more connected to their environment than people?)
  • Does your cat have enough personal space?

Taking this information and talking about it with your pet's veterinarian is key. An underlying illness or pain (dental pain is often overlooked by owners) is common, especially if the behavior seems to appear out of nowhere. Once a cause of that nature is ruled out, then the next obvious step is to dialogue with your vet about the patterns and triggers that you've noticed.

From there, you can put a plan of action in place to help quell the angst that this sort of thing  can bring, and understand how to best maintain peace in your household.

Kelly Moffat, DVM, DACVB, medical director at VCA Mesa Animal Hospital and a behavior consultant wrote an excellent piece on the topic of feline aggression, and she offers more in-depth insight for cat owners and clinicians alike. Click here to read more from Clinician's Brief.

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, October 3, 2013

Teaching your dog to accept treats gently from bare fingers takes practice

It's no secret that dog treats work great to help me accomplish a lot of things in my day, like getting a reluctant dog to cooperate, or curbing their barking, or to divert the attention of a dog who has a hard time handling himself around other canines (or people) while out in public.

Like you, perhaps, I also use treats to reward desired behavior from my clients and my own dogs. I'm always looking for an opportunity to do that.

Because I hand out so many treats in a given day, then also means that there are more opportunities for my fingers to get nipped.

Much to the chagrin of many clients when they have the opportunity to see their pet interacting with me, they are reminded of their pooch's habit of snatching treats from bare fingers with great enthusiasm. The wince that I see on their face as their pet gazes at my hand as it comes out of my treat pocket is telling, but a sense of relief washes over when nothing unfavorable happens.

That's only so because I make it so with all of my clients, manners or not.

Not taking treats gently can be a source of conflict for plenty of reasons, but you're all-too-well aware of this if you're in the midst of working on training favorable behaviors. Repeated opportunities for their teeth to meet fingers can make for a frustrating go of things.

I should note that some dogs only exhibit this excessive eagerness when they're in a state of excitability, or it can of course arise only when there are multiple dogs present.

By and large, canines can learn to have some self-control (some are gentle about taking treats by nature) when it comes to accepting a yummy treat from their humans, and you can teach it at home — just make sure that you are steadfast in the idea that unless your furry friend does so gently, he doesn't get a treat at all.

This is done with the cue that is called "gentle."

Some dogs cannot be taught to take a treat with care (there's one in my family!), so if there's one in your midst, take heart — you can still safely offer your enthusiastic pooch a bit of something good.

It seems important to note that teaching this cue should always be done as a stand alone training so as not to confuse your pet.

Start by teaching your pooch what the cue means: hold a treat in your hand, close your fist around it and offer it up. If your dog bites at your hand, keep it closed. How you deal with this will depend on your tolerance and how enthusiastic your furry friend is (wearing a glove comes in handy). Generally, they will stop biting and lick your hand — some even nibble gently — and at that point you'll want to say "gentle" and open your hand completely to give him the treat.

Repeat this exercise every time you give him a treat, as consistency is the key. If your dog has sudden amnesia when it comes to being careful, pull your hand away and then try again, once again using the "gentle" cue as a reminder.

This can be a challenge while in a dog park or a class, needless to say. In these settings, you can offer the treat with your flat palm. Most dogs are able to take treats properly when they are offered with an open hand.

With my Bruiser and a couple of clients, dropping the treats on the ground rather than giving them directly to the dog makes most sense.

Because it takes a lot of practice for most dogs — including some of my clients — to refrain from nipping fingertips, I for the most part will use the latter two approaches. They by no means teach a desirable behavior, but they keep my fingers intact.

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, September 30, 2013

Life after a pet's hearing loss can be less daunting when you both learn new communication skills

One chilly pre-dawn morning this past year, I quietly padded past the dog bed where I can usually find Gretchen either lightly snoozing, as she appeared to be that day or already sitting up, looking around quietly. She's always been easy to rouse, either by my simply walking by or with a quiet whisper asking if she'd like to go outside.

That morning, nothing.

My heart sank, as at 12, I was all too aware then that my time with her is limited.

I tried again, and nothing.

I reached down and softly touched her shoulder, and she woke up with a start.

What I should have realized was that she couldn't hear me, but I dismissed it as her being sound asleep. Gretchen failed to hear me again later that day as I called to her later as I was cutting up an apple to eat, as she will always come to beg for a piece. I called to her, then puzzled, I observed her as I loudly clapped my hands, then whistled.

Not even a look in my direction.

She had seemed to have lost her hearing so quickly, and of course a visit with the vet was in order. She was due to go back for a recheck after being treated for a urinary tract infection, and upon conferring with her doctor, my suspicions were confirmed: the antibiotic that Gretchen had been prescribed to treat her infection had likely caused her hearing loss. As was expected, her hearing did return, but for the few weeks that sense was gone, it was a game changer.

Gretchen has always been an engaged dog who listens well, and I was all too aware of how much she had relied on that sense to function day to day, not to mention how much we relied on it together to communicate in different ways.

I often wondered how disorienting that might be to her, to suddenly have that sense disappear.

Her sense of hearing was one thing that I capitalized on to train her as a puppy, of course. However, her training wasn't limited to simple verbal commands. I'm grateful to say that I I insisted on including hand signals along with each verbal command (sit, stay, come). Even when praising her, I would clap my hands. I have been mercilessly teased by family because of my natural tendency to not be able to talk without moving my hands, so this came quite naturally to me, I think.

I'm quite certain that over the years, she's picked up on my non-verbal communication too.

In those weeks when that one crucial sense wasn't available to her, we were able to fall back on those established and recognizable hand signals and body language, thankfully.

Those few weeks weren't without an adjustment period and a few gaffes on my part, though Gretchen seemed to fall into our new routine with ease.

A dog who has always been reliable off leash in the yard and in public, Gretchen could be easily called back without issue. But without the ability to hear me call out to her, I needed to be more aware of her whereabouts and mindful of staying out with her so that I could get her attention in other ways. On more than one occasion, I found myself forgetting and needing to go to her to get her attention. Old habits die hard!

Here are some other tips in teaching and incorporating hand signals to communicate with a pet, should the need arise due to age or, in Gretchen's case, a medically-induced cause.

First and foremost, a visit with the vet is necessary to rule out any medical issues.

It's important to remember that a hearing-impaired dog needs to focus on her handler to see visual commands that correspond to the verbal ones, for example, "sit" and "down." So, it's essential that you have a “look at me” cue or signal that gets your dog’s attention. This tells her to look at you. Then, a desired behavior can be performed by being prompted by a visual command.

To do this, prompt her to look at you in response to the "look at me" cue: give a stimulus, a gentle pull on the leash, a light touch on her shoulder or even move a treat out in front of her nose and up toward your face. As soon as she makes eye contact, mark with a “good job!” signal, such as a thumbs up, or like I do with clapping hands and follow, (or mark it) with a treat.

(The goal is to get your pooch to make eye contact when you give the first cue, like the shoulder touch or gentle leash tug, without any further prompting from you.)

Once your pet gets the hang of it, you can phase out giving the treat. Do this by moving your empty hand, still shaped like it has a treat inside it, up toward your face. Praise your pooch for making eye contact. Eventually, you'll be able to fade out the hand signal by moving your hand near your face.

You'll want to continue focusing on the wanted behavior with the “good job!” signal and a reward, or immediately ask your dog to do another behavior, such as a sit, when she looks at you.

Commands your furry pal previously learned on a verbal signal will need to be retaught with new visual or physical cue. This can be facilitated more easily if your pet still has some hearing, and is called transferring or replacing the cue. Click here for more on that.

Consistency is the key, so you'll want to be succinct, use the same signal each time you work on that desired behavior and ensure that everyone in the family (and caregivers!) are using the same signals.

As with anything else, these skills become better with practice for those on either end of the leash, and by establishing another way to communicate, you and your pet will find life easier to navigate after their hearing loss.

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.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A retractable leash can seem like a cure-all when walking your dog, but these tools are not all they're cracked up to be

People have a hard time understanding my disdain for retractable leashes. It's certainly understandable, considering how much the pet product industry has lauded them in an effort to sell.

In theory, they certainly do have attractive qualities: they allow a dog to remain tethered to its person while being able to get some distance so that the dog can try to find just the right spot to relieve itself, or while snooping around in a safe proximity to its human in an open area, like a field or a beach.

Another aspect of these leashes is that they come with a trigger lock that can be easily pushed with the thumb, to keep a pet from moving any further away from you, should the need arise (and if they're used correctly).

The use of retractable leashes have increased in the past few years, and it's understandable on the part of the dog owner. In a world full of leash laws, they appear to make everyone involved happy: the animal can stay safely tethered to its human while having a bit more freedom to be a dog.

In a perfect world of mindful dog owners and well-behaved dogs, this would be the case.

The problem is, I'm seeing these contraptions used in situations that are totally inappropriate and even border on dangerous.

I'm going to be blunt: Having a dog on a leash can be hazard if the situation is handled casually, no matter the size or breed.

As a professional pet sitter, I've been in many a situation with a client when we are approached by an exuberant (but rarely an aggressive) dog, on or off leash or when a squirrel comes into view that the dog just can't seem to resist. Walking in the winter can pose a special challenge: coming upon a particularly icy surface and having an animal that you cannot manage well on the other end of the leash.

The cords on retractable leashes have a reputation for snapping (one of the reasons that I refuse to use them), and biped legs are easily tangled by them and can be cut as if the cord were a knife — ditto for arms and hands (there's actually a warning label with regard to that on the packaging for these leashes).

Retractable leashes can even fail to lock. No one wants that when a car is passing by.

Unfortunate situations often arise in public places, like the vet's office, where I'm seeing a too-eager dog, because of their thoughtless human, get in each and every face in the waiting room — some of which, I might add, aren't feeling well and are understandably grumpy.

I often hear that besides affording a little space on walks, retractable leashes
do offer some middle ground for dog that that pulls on a traditional leash (even worse at times it's coupled with a head collar!). I find that this really isn't the case, as the dog really isn't learning not to pull and stay engaged with his person; he just has more freedom, and always palpates that bit of tension these leashes have.

My suggestion is to consider ditching the retractable leash, and instead utilize a much more sensible solution: a long training lead.

I use mine often when on out on walks with some clients, and always use it with a harness.

Available in 20-, 30-, or even 50-foot lengths, long training leads are a mindful approach in offering your dog the space that they crave, while keeping them safely tethered to you and offering more control over any situation. This tool does require you to have both hands free (yes, please put the smartphone away), and your attention on your pet.

Not only does your dog benefit from having a bit more autonomy when it's safe to offer it to them, but you have the sturdiness and unquestionable control that a traditional leash offers.

A secondary benefit that I invariably find when using this tool, is that because the leash will drape to the ground, your dog will have the feeling that they are actually off-lead; this simultaneously improves their loose leash walking skills and can help with training or proofing a recall.

(I trained and proofed these skills with my own dog, Gretchen, with a long training lead.)

One of my charges, a young Dalmatian who typically would be pulling non-stop on a six-foot leash, becomes a very different dog in her busy neighborhood while on a long training lead, as you'll see in a video that I taped last week. Click here to view it.

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.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Marijuana poisoning in pets is on the rise, and prompt treatment by aveterinary professional is necessary

The medical use of marijuana in humans has been a vigorously-discussed topic in recent years, and along with that, a conversation about using pot to help ease the discomfort associated with illness in pets has emerged.
Flickr photo by chrismatos

In fact, earlier this year one veterinary doctor, Doug Kramer, DVM made his case to have a clinical trial established on the efficacy of the use of medical marijuana in pets, primarily in the area of pain management.

He acknowledged that medicinal pot could be of use in issues associated with end-of-life care, pain management and mitigating the debilitating side effects of some very useful drugs, including those used to treat cancer. But because there's been a lack of much-needed research, those possibilities aren't being pursued.

The area of pain management is in dire need of more research, and Kramer notes that there are some pet owners who are seeking alternatives in helping their pets be more comfortable, and they're experimenting with the use of marijuana in an effort to do that.

But that could put a pet at risk by going it alone.

Perhaps the amount of the drug could be too high for a frail pet, or if an adverse reaction occurs, the 18-36 hours that the drug stays in the pet's system could complicate a health problem.

Kramer cites another example, like the use of a cannabis patch designed for pets, which one company was able to obtain a patent for back in 2011. He indicated that it could pose a problem.

"From a veterinary standpoint, the recently reported 'pot patch' is an obvious safety hazard and the perfect example of what happens when professionals fail to address a clear, unmet need in their field."

The fact is that marijuana is a drug, and it can cause adverse effects on pets via a patch that really hasn't been solidly tested (or if the drug patch is inadvertently ingested by the animal or another in the household), being administered the drug intentionally or by ingesting the recreational stash of one of their humans.

One veterinary study published in the Journal of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care reported a significant increase in the number of canines treated for marijuana intoxication between 2005 and 2010, and interestingly enough, states that have passed the legalization of marijuana for medical or recreational use saw the biggest increase in cases.

Since 2008, the Pet Poison Helpline has experienced a 200 percent increase in the number of cases of pets having suffered poisoning after ingesting pot.

"Of all illicit drugs, marijuana has always been responsible for the most calls to Pet Poison Helpline, but this recent increase is the sharpest we have ever seen," notes Ahna Brutlag, DVM, MS, DABT, DABVT and associate director of veterinary services at Pet Poison Helpline.

According to the Pet Poison Helpline, cases of death from cannabis poisoning are rare, but treatment is necessary to recover. Recovery can be somewhat slow.

Ingesting foods laced with the drug (usually the marijuana butter that is used to make brownies, cookies and the like — or the baked good themselves) or inhaling the smoke are typical sources of poisoning. If the food contains chocolate, the danger is exacerbated.

Symptoms of poisoning in pets can occur within 30-60 minutes after exposure, depending on the source, and can include stumbling or lack of coordination, dilated pupils, vomiting and glassy eyes.

In dogs, it's not uncommon for them to present with urinary incontinence or dribbling. In about 25 percent of dogs, agitation and excitement occur.

More serious effects include changes in heart rate, coma, tremors, and seizures.

Treatment for marijuana poisoning can be limited to IV fluids, anti-vomiting medication, oxygen, blood pressure monitoring, thermoregulation, but in more severe cases, ventilator/respirator support may be called for.

Prevention is best, of course, but the experts at the Pet Poison Helpline stress that like with other poisoning cases, swift action is necessary if your pet has somehow ingested marijuana, and that people that seek assistance by calling to speak to a veterinary professional will not be reported to the authorities. Their only objective is to the pet's welfare.

The Pet Poison Helpline is available 24/7 by calling 1-800-213-6680.

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.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Keeping pets occupied and happy during a recuperation period after aninjury or post-surgery can be easy

"... she is not overly happy about being in a crate when we are not home, at night and being on a leash even in the house with the strict directions of no playing, no running, no jumping and no stairs."

This is an excerpt from a recent email from a client, and a scenario is not all that uncommon in my line of work. Through the years, I've been able to help many of my canine (and feline) charges navigate through those first few days and weeks after a surgical procedure or injury, as resting the affected area is crucial in healing. Having two large breed dogs myself, I've been through this a few times too.

Sure, when a pet has had an injury that requires some time off its feet and it is under doctor's orders to be on restricted activity, it can put a damper on things for a while. That said, I always remember that I'm not only there to take care of the pet's needs — but for fun as well.

I've found that shifting the focus from what activities a companion animal normally does to what they can do physically to those that are allowed, and of course compensating by adding more mental stimulation is of great help.

After all, a pet who has not had adequate exercise can develop unacceptable behaviors, like whining, barking, chewing or excessive licking (the latter can lead to bigger problems), to pass the time. This only exacerbates the original injury.

The first thing that I always begin the dialogue with when getting up to speed on where a canine client is at post-surgical or injury, is by asking what the doctor's orders are, and what the timeline looks like for gradually reducing any restrictions — essentially what can they do week by week.

Some of the things that I like to know are:

How long can the animal walk while on leash? (Unleashed walks are almost always not allowed.)

Are they able to swim at some point instead of running?

Under what conditions do they need to be crated?

Are stairs off limits, or can they be managed with assistance?

After I get that information, it's all about working with a client to work together to put a plan of action in place. Depending on the animal, you would be surprised at the kinds of things that can temporarily take the place of the activities that are off-limits.

A refresher course
Simple obedience is great for your dog's brain — and you get to the benefit of having a dog that is well-trained.

Dong a little refresher training on the commands sit, stay, down or others that he already knows can earn treats, a new toy or even an opportunity to play a favorite game, so long as it's one that is not off-limits during his recuperation.

You might enroll him in a regular class to learn new skills and can provide both physical and mental stimulation during this interim time.

Tricks for treats
The process of learning tricks is one that is mentally stimulating, and much like training sessions and playtime, has a secondary benefit: it strengthens the human/animal bond.

Because learning tricks challenges the mind, it offers your pets (canine or feline) the opportunity to burn off some mental energy, too, which can wear them out without forbidden physical activity.

Easy tricks (again, as long as the movement is allowed) include wave, shake, crawl, spin, roll over and high-five.

Stuff it
Most dogs are quite fond of Kong toys, and providing one for your ailing pooch can offset the boredom that sets in, especially while you're away and they are left alone within the safety of their crate. Click here for ideas on healthy alternatives for stuffed, frozen Kong toys, or consider some other toys that I've recommended for dogs that are not only good for the brain, but are great for those that need to adhere to a restricted activity care plan. A few ideas can be found by clicking here.

Don't forget the good old standby of catnip for cats!

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.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

'Dog Faming' features canines in the act of demonstrating good behavior

Flickr photo by johnnyjet

We expect a lot from our pets when it comes to living in our very human world -- at times too much.

When that happens, we often see instances of misbehavior, especially in dogs.

In some cases, it's clear that the misbehavior stems from being asked for more than they are able to deliver because of limitations due to their age, that they've lacked the opportunity to develop good skills or that we expect the wrong things. Mostly, it's because of us. So often we communicate in a way that's unclear with other humans; ambiguously, perhaps in a hurried manner, so it's no surprise that we behave in the same way with dogs.

I was chided about sharing my disdain for the popular trend of pet shaming — snapping photos of pets after their respective displays of unruly behavior and posting them online. Yes, I know that to some degree, it's done very tongue-in-cheek, and I'm not a complete wet blanket. There are times when you just need to sit back and laugh at the mischief.

But a new trend has emerged, and is one that I'm hoping will catch on as easily as dog shaming did.  

Dog Faming features photos of pets caught in the act of being good — displaying examples of favorable behavior that interestingly enough, is the result of positive reinforcement training. The Facebook page was started by Eileen Anderson, a staunch advocate of positive reinforcement in the canine training community.

You can read more about Dog Faming by clicking here, and you can go directly to the Facebook page to see regular updates of dogs being good.

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

Saturday, August 31, 2013

One formula of Purina One pet food recalled due to salmonella risk

dog food.JPG

According to a press release from the Food and Drug Administration dated Aug. 30, one type of dog food is being recalled by the company that produced it, Nestle Purina PetCare Company (NPPC) .

The potential health risk centers around salmonella — the most common catalyst behind pet food recalls.

Purina One Beyond Our White Meat Chicken and Whole Barley Recipe Adult Dry Dog Food produced in a single production run was shipped to retailers in the United States.

Only 3.5-pound bags are affected.

The product bears a "Best By" date of OCT 2014, a production code of 31071083 and a UPC Code of 17800 12679.

No other pet food formulas were reported to be affected.

There are more than 2,000 strains of salmonella. Very young and very old pets are most susceptible to the bacteria and suffer the effects most profoundly. The most common symptoms associated with salmonella are vomiting, diarrhea and fever. Companion animals presenting with symptoms are treated with IV fluids and antibiotics.

Click here to view the FDA press release.

For more information or to obtain a product refund, please call NPPC toll-free, 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-800-473-8546, or visit

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

Thursday, August 29, 2013

New study explores efficacy of vasectomies in reducing feral cat populations

Flickr photo by hehaden
For the estimated 80 million domestic cats that are kept as house pets, there are as many roaming free.

Those numbers shouldn't be surprising, considering the rate at which felines are able to reproduce.

 I've previously written about the overpopulation issue with cats and dogs, and getting these numbers in check has been the focus of many. Spay and neuter programs and protocols are helping to make progress.

First, understand that from a biological standpoint, we are in a battle with pets.

Reproductive success drives evolution, pure and simple. It's the strongest biological factor in any species. Biology has a way of taking over, jumping any hurdle that is put in its path and compensating. The pets themselves have no control over their biological drives, and therefore can't curb their behavior when it comes reproducing.

Feral cat colonies are a supreme example of biology's stronghold.

Comprised of a clowder of free-roaming cats that are the descendants of unaltered tame cats somewhere in their ancestral line, the social structure is by no means random: at its core, it has at least one sexually-active dominant male and fertile females who are often well-bonded and who will help care for their respective litters and each other.

Colonies are often formed around shelter — be it a wooded area, abandoned house, under a porch area that doesn’t get that much foot traffic or something else — and a food source of some sort.

Because of their unique resiliency, feral cat colonies have posed a special challenge.
The structure and reproductive patterns of these groups have piqued the interest of researchers and got them thinking: Could the way that a feline in a feral colony is sterilized impact the overall numbers of new litters that are born?

A new study focusing on one method of sterilizing cats in colonies — trapping them, giving vasectomies or hysterectomies (versus ovariohysterectomy) and releasing them back into the colony (abbreviated TVHR) — offers some insight.

The results of the study, which simulated a cat population of roughly 200, were published in the Aug. 15, 2013 edition of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association.

But why a computer-simulated study?

First, TVHR is not a common way to address feral cat populations. Trap, neuter and release (TNR) on the other hand, is a more widely-accepted approach to controlling feral cat colony populations, and for a lot of reasons.

Because TVHR isn’t put into use as much and because the life span of feral cats is far shorter — an average of three years as opposed to the 15 that their indoor counterparts enjoy — it’s been difficult to extrapolate the long-term data that helps to give some solid numbers that researchers would be looking for. Each computer run simulated the feral cat population over 6,000 days, tracking individual cats on a daily basis, thus predicting effectiveness of TVHR.

New cats were added to the population as they were born and cats that died were removed, creating a “family tree” of sorts.

But before talking about the results of the study, it’s probably a good idea to flesh out the differences between the two methods and the advantages to both.

Same goal, different approaches

Neutering a male cat entails removal of their testicles — thus leaving them not only infertile, but sexually inactive.

Those two things are very advantageous: the cats don't reproduce, and because they no longer produce reproductive hormones, behaviors like fighting, spraying and howling are reduced, addressing the needs of the community-at-large. (Behaviors like those would be troublesome to anyone who lives in close proximity to a feral colony.)

A possible advantage to vasectomy as opposed to neuter procedure is that though the tube that carries semen is cut, the animal retains their testicles and their reproductive hormones. For that reason, upon being returned to the colony, the cat preserves his dominant position and can continue mating with females without producing kittens — and quite possibly protect their turf from other male competitors that are “intact”.

Conversely, a neutered male loses his dominant position in the colony, and the next most dominant male takes his place — and the cycle continues. (It's important to note that when a female cat that has not been sterilized mates with a male that has had a vasectomy, she enters a 45-day pseudo-pregnancy, dipping the chance of fertile mating even further.)

The findings and commentary

Researchers discovered that with an annual capture rate of 35 percent using TVHR, the population would be cut in half and the entire colony would disappear in 11 years. To achieve the same results with TNR, 82 percent of cats would need to be captured and neutered.

Robert J. McCarthy, D.V.M., lead author on the study and clinical associate professor of small animal surgery at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University hopes that TVHR can be put to the test in a more broad sense, rather than the controlled environments and small colonies that it has been shown promise in.

“This opens up new conversations,” said McCarthy.

“The computer model indicates that vasectomy and hysterectomy should be much more effective at reducing or eliminating feral cat populations than the traditional approach of neutering. The next step is to gather evidence on how it actually works in the field.”

The topic of feral cat colonies and how to manage them is one that brings up a lot of emotion in many communities, and Washtenaw County is no exception.

One thing that is certain is that it’s going to take time in order to see a favorable result, no matter the approach to managing feral colonies.

And, some experts believe that a combination of methods would be advantageous, including Sheilah Robertson of the American Veterinary Medical Association's Animal Welfare Division.

"…a multipronged approach will be required that includes TNVR; programs that use nonsurgical approaches, including immunocontraception and chemical sterilization of male cats; and trap-and-remove. Regardless of the method chosen, it may take 10-15 years of sustained effort to see a positive effect," she said.

Click here to read more on the study from

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