Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Happy Tails: Salvador

Guest Blogger: Shawn Schrag, adopter

I adopted Salvador from Animal Friends I in November 2010. I wanted a friend for our 3-year-old rescued black Lab and now the two are inseparable! 





I volunteered with both of them in a nursing home and they were awesome. Everybody wanted to meet Salvador because of the various pit bull shows on TV.  Salvador has an extremely high amount of energy and needs to run often. I run and walk both of them daily and keep them occupied with various enrichment activities. He especially loves to play ball, tug o war, and anything that involves running. At the beginning of this winter I picked up a few frisbees and he fell in love. What makes him so good is his high energy level and the true pitbull eagerness to please his owner.




We are now in the beginning stages of becoming a Frisbee team and both learning along the way. Don't tell him that I am the one holding this team back though!
On April 20, 2013, we will be our first competition together and we are registered in the beginner category for the 7th inning fetch in Poolesville MD. We are doing freestyle, spot landing, bullseye and time trial. Win or lose, we both have fun together!



I owe many thanks to Animal Friends for all the hard work that they put into Salvador. He is the sweetest dog you will ever meet, an awesome addition to the family and a true ambassador to his breed.


We love when we find committed owners for dogs like Salvador!  Check out our adoptable dogs here and meet more wonderful pets!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Top Ten Reasons to Foster a Pet




By Eve Salimbene, Animal Behavior Technician

10. You want to help Animal Friends, but can’t make it here every day.
9. You can help an animal recover from illness or injury in a quiet home environment.
8. You can help an animal get adapted to home life, build its self-esteem, and give it a better chance of a successful adoption.
7. It gives you your pet fix, without the long-term commitment.
6. You get to evaluate the animals’ habits and behaviors, so the potential adopter has more information about the pet, thus making a better match.
5. It’s very rewarding to see the animals grow to trust and love again, due to your nurturing and training.
4. The animal gets a much-needed cage break from the hustle and bustle of the kennel.
3. Fostering provides much needed socialization for young animals.
2. “Changes in Latitude Changes in Attitude!” You can observe the differences in the animal when not in a shelter setting.
1. FOSO. Foster One, Save One. When animals are placed in foster, shelter cage space is opened up for us to rescue more animals.

We appreciate those who selflessly open their hearts and homes to animals who need them. Fostering is an important job and Animal Friends could not save as many lives without kind foster parents!

Can you help us?
Get started by completing this survey.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Animal Friends Hosts MORE Low-Cost Vaccine and Microchip Clinics!



Keep your pet healthy and safe! Due to public demand, Animal Friends will host 4 more clinics to offer low-cost vaccine, microchip and flea treatments for dogs and cats. The following clinics will be held at Animal Friends at 562 Camp Horne Road, Pittsburgh PA 15237:

Thursday, April 11, 2013 - 1pm - 3pm
Thursday, April 25, 2013 - 1pm - 3pm
Thursday, May 9, 2013 - 1pm - 3pm
Thursday, May 23, 2013 - 1pm - 3pm

Rabies, distemper, Bordetella and FVRCP vaccines will be offered for $10 each. In addition to insuring your pet’s health, rabies vaccines are required by law.  All pets over three months of age must be vaccinated against rabies, with non-compliance resulting in $300 per day fines. 

Microchipping services will be provided for $20. Microchips are tiny chips, the size of a grain of rice, with a unique bar code. They are implanted under a pet’s skin and can be read with a scanner to identify your pet. Microchips can help reunite a lost pet with his or her family.

Flea treatments are offered for $5. There will be discounts for multiple services!

Dogs must be on a leash and cats must be in carriers.  Cash only please. No credit cards will be accepted.

Register today by calling 412.847.7029.  Spots are limited so call now!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Scratching Post Woes (Or How Your Cat Learned to Love Their Scratching Posts)



Most cats have preferences for scratching post textures.  These can include sisal, wood, corrugated cardboard, and carpeting, among others.  Essential attributes of any cat-preferred scratching post are:
 

  • Tall enough for the cat to reach/stretch to his full body length and still embed claws in the post
  • Sturdy enough that the post will not tilt, wobble, or fall over with vigorous scratching
  • Cat-specific texture preference (most cats prefer sisal or rope-covered posts)

Door-hanger scratching boards are too wobbly and unstable to provide a satisfactory scratching experience!  If your cat is scratching the carpet, perhaps he prefers a horizontal scratching board.  There are many inexpensive horizontal scratching boards available, with sisal and corrugated cardboard textures.  Carpet-covered horizontal scratchers are not recommended for carpet-scratching cats, for obvious reasons, and it’s hard to convince a kitty that it’s OK to scratch a carpeted post but not a carpet!

Introduction of the new scratching post should include rubbing catnip along its length, positioning it close to the area which he’s currently scratching, and placing a passive deterrent on or around the inappropriate, “old” scratching area.  The most effective passive deterrent is a piece of clear vinyl carpet runner (you know - the one you put beside your door in the winter for boots).  These runners have a smooth side and a “nubby” side.  Cats do not enjoy walking or standing on “nubbies,” so the runner should be placed “nubby” side up where you do not wish the cat to scratch.  For furniture-scratching kitties, the runner should be fitted and placed where the kitty stands to scratch.  Not many cats will enjoy the scratching experience if their back paws encounter these “nubbies.”  Your cat will then look for an alternative scratching area, and it is your job to provide him with one.  Another deterrent is double-sided tape, but this has the disadvantage of becoming very furry very fast, and will need replaced frequently.

Proper introduction to the scratching post is suggested as well.  You should never force your kitty to scratch the post.  You can, however, lure him to the post by rubbing it with catnip or placing a treat or toy on the top – he will have to put “paws on the post” to get it – or lead by example and scratch it yourself!  His curiosity will get the best of him and most likely he’ll join right in!  Interactive toys may do the trick as well – while he’s chasing the toy, lead him to the post, raise the toy so he needs to put paws on the post to get to the toy, and he will discover his new, enjoyable scratching post.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Why Cats Have Claws and How to Live with Them



Why Cats Have Claws...

  • Claws help provide balance and agility when a cat jumps and walks.
  • Claws help cats grip and enjoy stretches that tone their backs and shoulders.
  • Without claws, a cat can feel defenseless and can be more prone to biting.
  • Cats scratch to release happiness or frustration…which is why your cat may joyfully scratch the scratching post when you come home!
  • Declawing is a painful procedure that removes part of a cat’s toes, cutting bones and nerves.
  • Declawing frequently causes an aversion to kitty litter…which can lead to inappropriate soiling.
  • Animal Friends and the ASPCA discourage declawing, and it is illegal in many countries where declawing is considered inhumane.


...and How to Live with Them


  • First, give your cat a pleasurable and approved surface to scratch.
  • Cardboard, carpet, rope or fabric scratchers are available. You can find a scratching surface that your cat will like more than your sofa!
  • Trimming a cat’s claws every few weeks can curb damage from scratching. Make trimming a pleasurable activity for your cat by using treats as a reward.
  • Professional groomers will also trim your cat’s claws.

How to Introduce a New Dog to Your Cranky Cat

By Jolene Miklas, Director of Communications

I never thought my cat would let me have a dog.

My cat, Firefly, is 14 years old, suffers from irritable bowel, and hates everyone
but me.
Firefly: trying to flip you the bird.

And I love that cat so flippin’ much. She showed up as a stray kitten when I was in college. Firefly was by my side (or in my lap) though my first threadbare apartment, some of life's traumas, and she outlasted several (shut up!) boyfriends. And in a way, the fact that she hates everyone but me makes our bond all the more sweet. She is my ever-loyal, doting little darling.

Firefly: "Let's get this over with."   


Even though I dreamed of bringing home a dog, I never wanted to upset Firefly’s delicate routine. Some of my friends at Animal Friends assured me that Firefly would “get over it” if I adopted a dog, but I adored my cat too much to subject her to the bother.

Then I met Porter.



That was Porter the day I discovered him in his kennel. He had lived with another dog who, a week earlier, was senselessly beaten to death with a metal rod. You can see how frightened and sick Porter was when this picture was taken, but you can't see that his tail, which he was sitting on, was attempting a forlorn wag.

It turns out that Porter tested positive for heartworm, a serious and potentially fatal disease. He had several weeks of intense treatment ahead of him and he needed a safe place to recover.

My heart broke for him. I offered to foster Porter in my home.

Initially, I agreed to take in Porter for one month. I did not expect Firefly to adjust well to having a dog. In fact, I thought she might present a dealbreaker, and I'd have to sheepishly end my foster period at the adamant behest of my cat.

But to my surprise, having a foster dog made my feisty cat friendlier! In fact, after one month with a foster Beagle, Firefly became more confident and is friendlier with strangers. Now, I’m basking in the joys of having a multi-species household. I couldn’t be happier. And Porter is now a “foster failure”—a permanent member of our little family.

Here are some of the steps that can help a cranky cat adapt to a new dog.

Pick the Right Dog
Not every dog will be able to safely live with cats. So, go to a shelter like Animal Friends that will cat-test a dog before you take him home. They might even be able to introduce you to a dog who has experience living with cats!

Choose a dog who’s calm, doesn’t have a strong reaction to cats, and who responds well to correction.

When I met Porter, I introduced him to both a shelter cat and a rabbit while he was securely leashed and under my control. Both times, he acknowledged them, backed off slightly, and calmly resumed minding his own business. What a good boy! While that didn’t mean I should let him loose in my house, I felt comfortable that I could introduce him to Firefly without putting her in danger.

Always introduce a dog and cat slowly, while your dog is firmly under your control, and where your cat has access to an escape route if needed. 

Establish Separate Spaces
Your cat is going to feel very vulnerable at first, so make sure she has a dog-free zone. Firefly spends most of her time in my bedroom, so from Day 1, I taught Porter that my bedroom is off-limits to him. Firefly can always go there to get away from him.

Have a dedicated place to put your dog. Porter has his very own bedroom in my house. If you don’t have an extra room, consider crate training. Porter gets shut in his room with something to keep him occupied (a compressed rawhide) when Firefly eats or wants to cuddle with me.

See: Happy, relaxed dog and compressed rawhide.
Always crate or confine your dog when you’re not home, so the dog and cat are never together unsupervised. This way, they can’t get into any scuffles.

Establish a Pecking Order That Favors the Weaker Pet
Lots of pet owners report that their cat is the boss of their dog. This is okay, because a pushy dog could seriously hurt a cat.

Firefly established herself as the queen of the household, and I reinforced that hierarchy. I never scolded her for hissing at the dog. Instead, I taught Porter to leave Firefly alone when she hissed at him. It’s okay for your dog to be intimated by your cat; otherwise he could accidentally hurt her.

Share Your Affection
Spread the love! When Porter moved in, I was tempted to dote on him endlessly. I wanted to spend all my time adoring him.

But Firefly definitely appreciates it when I carve out alone time for us girls. As I type this, Porter is freshly fed and walked and sleeping happily in his bedroom. Firefly is curled up in my lap, purring. For a Pet Person like me, this is Heaven.

Be Cautious, but Project Calm Confidence
Dogs and cats respond to our signals. So, even though I was constantly policing their behavior, my household mantra was “You’re okay.”

Don’t act like you need to rescue your cat from your dog, or she’ll perceive that she’s in danger. In fact, don’t act like anything out of the ordinary is going on. Tell an anxious dog or cat “You’re okay!” and let them see that they’re overreacting for nothing.

Celebrate Small Successes
Don’t expect your dog and cat to become best friends—and don’t push it! They may start to cuddle and play together, or they may remain stoic roommates for life. This is fine.

Call it a success when your cat greets you and your dog at the door, instead of bolting at the sight of your dog. Celebrate the day that your cat climbs onto the couch with you while your dog naps at your feet.
Firefly: "Tell me I'm still your favorite. Say it!!"

Your cranky cat may even do what mine did. Firefly surprised the heck out of me when she started coming out and greeting guests in my home. She used to cower and hide when my friends came over, but now, it seems like Firefly will actually compete with Porter for attention. For the first time in all her 14 years, she’s joining parties and mingling! I’m so happy for her.

As millions of pet owners know, a multi-species household can bring so much love and laughter into your life. And just imagine how many animals could be spared senseless euthanasia if more families would just adopt another pet.

It may take time, but Animal Friends can help you add another animal to your home. Just go slowly, and good luck!





When Pets Grieve

We all find it hard to say goodbye
Our pets are just like us in many ways. Many of us can clearly understand their moods and emotions by the way they look at us or the way they wag their tail.

Our pets display emotions every day, but do they experience a complex emotion like grief? Grief is a reaction to the sudden absence of something or someone who brought comfort and satisfaction—and many pet owners will attest that their pets grieve when they lose a loved one.

Research now confirms that our dogs, cats and rabbits experience symptoms of grief when they lose a beloved human or animal companion. Grief has even been observed in wild species. Elephants have been seen caressing the body of a deceased companion. There are published reports of pets who constantly search for a deceased loved one and animals who no longer want to play or eat when a companion dies.

Animal Friends recently received a call from a couple whose dog lost her lifetime canine companion. The dogs grew up together and were inseparable. When one of the dogs passed away, the surviving dog began crying all night, having accidents in the house and losing her appetite. Our team at Animal Friends explained to the couple that their dog was grieving. As a pack animal, she was mourning the loss of a member of her family pack.

Many grieving dog often act as if they’re searching for something. They become restless or lethargic, lose their appetite, have accidents in the house, cry and don’t want to play. Dogs are certainly not alone; many cat and rabbit owners report similar experiences with their grieving pets.

Just as you’d comfort a grieving friend, you can help your pet cope with grief. First and foremost, keep your pet’s routine as normal as possible. This may be difficult if a pet’s primary caregiver has passed away, but it is essential to maintain as normal a routine as possible. Second, don’t reinforce any behavioral changes. If your pet stops eating, don’t change the food, and don’t increase the amount of attention you give your pet. It may lead to new problems, like separation anxiety.

If you have multiple pets, they’ll need time to form a new household hierarchy. Most importantly, don’t get a new pet until you are ready. If you attempt to bring a new pet into your home too soon, you pet could sense this and your plan could backfire. Try pet-sitting for a friend or family member. This will allow you to figure out if it’s time to welcome a new pet into your home.

If you find that nothing helps your pet, speak with your veterinarian. Your vet can help you decide whether prescription medicine will be effective to help calm and relax your pet.
In the end, it takes time to recover from the wounds loss brings, and you may find it takes a great deal of time for both you and your pet to adequately grieve. Animals are very sensitive to human emotions; if you’re upset, your pets will likely sense this and may display unusual behavior. If you’re finding it difficult to deal with the loss of a pet, you may find it helpful to speak with a bereavement counselor and attend a Remembrance and Celebration
Ceremony at Animal Friends.

Both humans and animals find it hard to say goodbye, but with love and understanding, we can work to help our animal friends cope with loss.

To learn more about Animal Friends’ Remembrance and Celebration Ceremonies, call 412.847.7031.

The Feelings Associated with Grief

When a pet passes away
Anyone who considers a pet a beloved friend, companion, or family member knows the intense pain that accompanies the loss of that friend. Following are some tips on coping with that grief, and with the difficult decisions one faces upon the loss of a pet.

Am I crazy to hurt so much?
Intense grief over the loss of a pet is normal and natural. Don't let anyone tell you that it's silly, crazy, or overly sentimental to grieve!

During the years you spent with your pet (even if they were few), it became a significant and constant part of your life. It was a source of comfort and companionship, of unconditional love and acceptance, of fun and joy. So don't be surprised if you feel devastated by the loss of such a relationship.

People who don't understand the pet/owner bond may not understand your pain. All that matters, however, is how you feel. Don't let others dictate your feelings: They are valid, and may be extremely painful. But remember, you are not alone: Thousands of pet owners have gone through the same feelings.

What Can I Expect to Feel?
Different people experience grief in different ways. Besides your sorrow and loss, you may also experience the following emotions:

  • Guilt may occur if you feel responsible for your pet's death-the "if only I had been more careful" syndrome. It is pointless and often erroneous to burden yourself with guilt for the accident or illness that claimed your pet's life, and only makes it more difficult to resolve your grief.
  • Denial makes it difficult to accept that your pet is really gone. It's hard to imagine that your pet won't greet you when you come home, or that it doesn't need its evening meal. Some pet owners carry this to extremes, and fear their pet is still alive and suffering somewhere. Others find it hard to get a new pet for fear of being "disloyal" to the old.
  • Anger may be directed at the illness that killed your pet, the driver of the speeding car, the veterinarian who "failed" to save its life. Sometimes it is justified, but when carried to extremes, it distracts you from the important task of resolving your grief.
  • Depression is a natural consequence of grief, but can leave you powerless to cope with your feelings. Extreme depression robs you of motivation and energy, causing you to dwell upon your sorrow.

What can I do about my feelings?
The most important step you can take is to be honest about your feelings. Don't deny your pain, or your feelings of anger and guilt. Only by examining and coming to terms with your feelings can you begin to work through them.

You have a right to feel pain and grief! Someone you loved has died, and you feel alone and bereaved. You have a right to feel anger and guilt, as well. Acknowledge your feelings first, then ask yourself whether the circumstances actually justify them.

Locking away grief doesn't make it go away. Express it. Cry, scream, pound the floor, talk it out. Do what helps you the most. Don't try to avoid grief by not thinking about your pet; instead, reminisce about the good times. This will help you understand what your pet's loss actually means to you.

Some find it helpful to express their feelings and memories in poems, stories, or letters to the pet. Other strategies including rearranging your schedule to fill in the times you would have spent with your pet; preparing a memorial such as a photo collage; and talking to others about your loss.

Who can I talk to?
If your family or friends love pets, they'll understand what you're going through. Don't hide your feelings in a misguided effort to appear strong and calm! Working through your feelings with another person is one of the best ways to put them in perspective and find ways to handle them. Find someone you can talk to about how much the pet meant to you and how much you miss it-someone you feel comfortable crying and grieving with.
If you don't have family or friends who understand, or if you need more help, ask your veterinarian or humane association to recommend a pet loss counselor or support group.
 
Check with your church or hospital for grief counseling, or call Animal Friends at 412.847.7031 to learn more about resources we offer. Remember, your grief is genuine and deserving of support.
 

Understanding the Grieving Process

Losing a pet
Many consider grieving inappropriate for someone who has lost "just a pet."

Nothing could be further from the truth. People love their pets and consider them members of their family. Caregivers celebrate their pets' birthdays, confide in their animals, and carry pictures of them in their wallets. So when your beloved pet dies, it's not unusual to feel overwhelmed by the intensity of your sorrow. Animals provide companionship, acceptance, emotional support, and unconditional love during the time they share with you. If you understand and accept this bond between humans and animals, you've already taken the first step toward coping with pet loss: knowing that it is okay to grieve when your pet dies.
Understanding how you grieve and finding ways to cope with your loss can bring you closer to the day when memories bring smiles instead of tears.

What Is the Grief Process?
The grief process is as individual as the person, lasting days for one person or years for another. The process typically begins with denial, which offers protection until individuals can realize their loss. Some caregivers may try bargaining with a higher power, themselves, or even their pet to restore life. Some feel anger, which may be directed at anyone involved with the pet, including family, friends, and veterinarians. Caregivers may also feel guilt about what they did or did not do, and may feel that it is inappropriate to be so upset. After these feelings subside, caregivers may experience true sadness or grief. They may become withdrawn or depressed.

Acceptance occurs when they accept the reality of their loss and remember their animal companion with decreasing sadness. Remember, not everyone follows these classic stages of grief—some may skip or repeat a stage, or experience the stages in a different order.

How Can I Cope with My Grief?
While grief is a personal experience, you need not face loss alone. Many forms of support are available, including pet bereavement counseling services, pet-loss support hotlines, local or online Internet bereavement groups, books, videos, and magazine articles. Here are a few suggestions to help you cope:

  •  Acknowledge your grief and give yourself permission to express it.
  •  Don't hesitate to reach out to others who can lend a sympathetic ear.
  •  Write about your feelings, either in a journal or a poem.
  •  Call your local humane society to see whether it offers a pet loss support group or can refer you to one. You may also want to ask your veterinarian or local animal shelter about available pet loss hotlines.
  •  Explore the Internet for pet loss support groups and coping information.
  •  Prepare a memorial for your pet.

What Can I Do for My Child?
The loss of a pet may be a child's first experience with death. The child may blame himself, his parents, or the veterinarian for not saving the pet. And he may feel guilty, depressed, and frightened that others he loves may be taken from him. Trying to protect your child by saying the pet ran away could cause your child to expect the pet's return and feel betrayed after discovering the truth. Expressing your own grief may reassure your child that sadness is okay and help him work through his feelings.

Is the Process More Difficult if I'm a Senior?
Coping with the loss of a pet can be particularly hard for seniors. Those who live alone may feel a loss of purpose and an immense emptiness. The pet's death may also trigger painful memories of other losses and remind caregivers of their own mortality. What's more, the decision to get another pet is complicated by the possibility that the pet may outlive the caregiver, and hinges on the person's physical and financial ability to care for a new pet.
For all these reasons, it's critical that senior pet owners take immediate steps to cope with their loss and regain a sense of purpose. If you are a senior, try interacting with friends and family, calling a pet loss support hotline, even volunteering at a local humane society. If you know seniors in this situation, direct them to this web page and guide them through the difficult grieving process.

Will My Other Pets Grieve?
Surviving pets may whimper, refuse to eat or drink, and suffer lethargy, especially if they had a close bond with the deceased pet. Even if they were not the best of friends, the changing circumstances and your emotional state may distress them. Give surviving pets lots of TLC ("tender loving care") and try to maintain a normal routine. It's good for them and for you.

Should I Get Another Pet?
Rushing into this decision isn't fair to you or your new pet. Each animal has his own unique personality and a new animal cannot replace the one you lost. You'll know when the time is right to adopt a new pet after giving yourself time to grieve, carefully considering the responsibilities of pet ownership, and paying close attention to your feelings. When you are ready, remember that your local animal shelter is a great place to find your next special friend.

When You Must Euthanize a Pet

Common Questions and Answers

When is the right time to euthanize a pet?
Your veterinarian is the best judge of your pet's physical condition; however, you are the best judge of the quality of your pet's daily life. If a pet has a good appetite, responds to attention, seeks its owner's company, and participates in play or family life, many owners feel that this is not the time. However, if a pet is in constant pain, undergoing difficult and stressful treatments that aren't helping greatly, unresponsive to affection, unaware of its surroundings, and uninterested in life, a caring pet owner will probably choose to end the beloved companion's suffering.

Evaluate your pet's health honestly and unselfishly with your veterinarian. Prolonging a pet's suffering in order to prevent your own ultimately helps neither of you. Nothing can make this decision an easy or painless one, but it is truly the final act of love that you can make for your pet.

Should I stay during euthanasia?
Many feel this is the ultimate gesture of love and comfort you can offer your pet. Some feel relief and comfort themselves by staying: they were able to see that their pet passed peacefully and without pain, and that it was truly gone. For many, not witnessing the death (and not seeing the body) makes it more difficult to accept that the pet is really gone. However, this can be traumatic, and you must ask yourself honestly whether you will be able to handle it. Uncontrolled emotions and tears-though natural-are likely to upset your pet.

Some clinics are more open than others to allowing the owner to stay during euthanasia. Some veterinarians are also willing to euthanize a pet at home. Others have come to an owner's car to administer the injection. Again, consider what will be least traumatic for you and your pet, and discuss your desires and concerns with your veterinarian. If your clinic is not able to accommodate your wishes, request a referral.

What do I do next?
When a pet dies, you must choose how to handle its remains. Sometimes, in the midst of grief, it may seem easiest to leave the pet at the clinic for disposal. Check with your clinic to find out whether there is a fee for such disposal. Some shelters also accept such remains, though many charge a fee for disposal.

If you prefer a more formal option, several are available. Home burial is a popular choice, if you have sufficient property for it. It is economical and enables you to design your own funeral ceremony at little cost. However, city regulations usually prohibit pet burials, and this is not a good choice for renters or people who move frequently.

To many, a pet cemetery provides a sense of dignity, security, and permanence. Owners appreciate the serene surroundings and care of the gravesite. Cemetery costs vary depending on the services you select, as well as upon the type of pet you have. Cremation is a less expensive option that allows you to handle your pet's remains in a variety of ways: bury them (even in the city), scatter them in a favorite location, place them in a columbarium, or even keep them with you in a decorative urn (of which a wide variety are available).

Check with your veterinarian, pet shop, or phone directory for options available in your area. Consider your living situation, personal and religious values, finances, and future plans when making your decision. It's also wise to make such plans in advance, rather than hurriedly in the midst of grief.

What should I tell my children?
You are the best judge of how much information your children can handle about death and the loss of their pet. Don't underestimate them, however. You may find that, by being honest with them about your pet's loss, you may be able to address some fears and misperceptions they have about death.

Honesty is important. If you say the pet was "put to sleep," make sure your children understand the difference between death and ordinary sleep. Never say the pet "went away," or your child may wonder what he or she did to make it leave, and wait in anguish for its return. That also makes it harder for a child to accept a new pet. Make it clear that the pet will not come back, but that it is happy and free of pain.

Never assume a child is too young or too old to grieve. Never criticize a child for tears, or tell them to "be strong" or not to feel sad. Be honest about your own sorrow; don't try to hide it, or children may feel required to hide their grief as well. Discuss the issue with the entire family, and give everyone a chance to work through their grief at their own pace.

Will my other pets grieve?
Pets observe every change in a household, and are bound to notice the absence of a companion. Pets often form strong attachments to one another, and the survivor of such a pair may seem to grieve for its companion. Cats grieve for dogs, and dogs for cats.
You may need to give your surviving pets a lot of extra attention and love to help them through this period. Remember that, if you are going to introduce a new pet, your surviving pets may not accept the newcomer right away, but new bonds will grow in time. Meanwhile, the love of your surviving pets can be wonderfully healing for your own grief.

Should I get a new pet right away?
Generally, the answer is no. One needs time to work through grief and loss before attempting to build a relationship with a new pet. If your emotions are still in turmoil, you may resent a new pet for trying to "take the place" of the old-for what you really want is your old pet back. Children in particular may feel that loving a new pet is "disloyal" to the previous pet.

When you do get a new pet, avoid getting a "lookalike" pet, which makes comparisons all the more likely. Don't expect your new pet to be "just like" the one you lost, but allow it to develop its own personality. Never give a new pet the same name or nickname as the old. Avoid the temptation to compare the new pet to the old one: It can be hard to remember that your beloved companion also caused a few problems when it was young!

A new pet should be acquired because you are ready to move forward and build a new relationship-rather than looking backward and mourning your loss.


When you are ready, select an animal with whom you can build another long, loving relationship-because this is what having a pet is all about!
  

 

Pet Loss Advice;10 coping tips to help you and your children recover from the death of a beloved pet



  • Give yourself permission to grieve. Denying these natural emotions can elevate stress and physical fatigue.

  • Seek out friends and family members who share your compassion for animals. Focus more on their good intentions and not necessarily their words. Animal Friends is a great resource in this way.

  • Dismiss and ignore comments from those who may trivialize your loss. They may never have had a pet or recognized the closeness of your friendship with your pet.

  • Recognize that your departed pet is one-of-a-kind who can never be replaced. When you are ready to adopt a new pet, embrace that new pet for her uniqueness and avoid comparing her to your previous pet.

  • Treat yourself well. Eat healthy meals and get ample sleep. This is often ignored.

  • Fight through sad or blue moods by exercising. Physical activity raises endorphins and other feel-good hormones in your body. Take longer walks or bike rides, for example, in scenic areas.

  • Avoid declarations such as, “I will never get another pet.” These statements hinder your healing process.

  • Ritualize your pet’s death through a ceremony or memorial service. The greatest way to honor the memory of a pet is to learn how to become a better person for having them in your life. Please call Animal Friends about our Pet Remembrance services at 412.847.7031.

  • Spend time recalling happy, silly, fond memories you shared with your pet. Consider writing a letter or poem to and from your departed pet. Getting words down on paper can sometimes help the grieving process.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Enrichment: It’s Not Just Fun and Games at Animal Friends



By Suzanne Denk, Animal Enrichment Specialist for Animal Friends

I am having a bad day. My shoulders are tense and my neck hurts. I cannot focus and nothing has been crossed off the “to do” list.  I am eating potato chips and thinking about getting chocolate from the vending machine.  I have a headache.  I feel grumpy.  I have no energy.  I am stressed. 

But when I get home at the end of the day, my four beautiful pets greet me.  My son is on the sofa doing homework and my husband has started a fire in the fireplace and opened wine.  I begin to prepare dinner – spicy Pad Thai tonight.  The stress has gone and my family at home helps me cope. 

When we are stressed, our bodies produce the hormone Cortisol.  Once the stress has passed, the Cortisol level drops, and our body relaxes.  This can happen in just a few minutes.  As soon as I start to relax at home, my whole body starts to feel so much better.

Stress is a painful physical sensation for a shelter animal, too. And, they can’t escape tension in the shelter.  This inability to remove themselves from the stressors is dramatic because for an animal, Cortisol takes 5-6 days or months to leave the body. 

Event the best shelter environment is stressful; the animal may be under-stimulated and confined to a small area with no control over its own surroundings.  An animal’s acute senses make it highly aware of its environment.  There is continual noise: barking, cage doors closing or people talking and moving around.  They can smell other animals all around them.  Stress can cause boredom, anxiety, illness and/or behavioral problems.  If there is always Cortisol present in the body, the animal has no opportunity to relax. 

However, animals can be given ways to cope that do not require wine or a spicy noodle dish.  At Animal Friends, we work hard to provide enrichment opportunities to our pets.

Enrichment activities can decrease stress, stimulate the animals physically and mentally, provide a sense of control and prevent undesirable behavior from beginning.  Enrichment means providing our shelter animals with an environment that is varied, interesting and stimulating.  Variety in the environment gives our animals the opportunity to think and to explore their space.  The mental and physical health of the animals is also benefitted from the enrichment activity. 

At Animal Friends, our animals are provided with environmental enrichments: soft bedding for comfort, the largest spaces physically possible, and choices such as perches, cubbies, elevated platforms, tunnels and exercise areas.  Environmental enrichment can also be achieved by focusing on the animal’s senses.  Rabbits, cats and dogs all have highly developed ear function.  They can enjoy soft music, wind chimes, or bird songs.  The animals enjoy being petted; touch is very important for social development and bonding with human companions.  For cats and dogs, their brains are stimulated by pleasant and unusual scents such as lavender or the tiniest pinch of nutmeg.  (A rabbit’s nasal passage is too sensitive for scent enrichment).  Visually, we can try to provide a room with a view or bubbles!  

Reduction of stress levels in the animals can come from behavioral enrichment in addition to providing a pleasant environment.  Behavioral enrichment stimulates the brain and provides opportunities for species-specific behaviors.  Rabbits may enjoy a sandbox, mirrors, tunnels, or an egg carton stuffed with hay.  Cats take pleasure in a scratching board, milk jug rings, or a fringed toilet paper tube.  Dogs relish a good chew toy, a daily stuffed KONG, ice cubes, or bubbles. 

Clicker training for all three species makes their minds work instead of languishing in inactivity.  Touch target games for cats or hiding toys or treats in their space for them to discover benefits their mental health.  Basic manners for dogs provides mental and social stimulation and makes them more appealing to adopters.  Rabbits have daily bun runs to move freely, play with others, and with new toys. 

Try an enrichment strategy to decrease the stress of a shelter animal or try them with your own pet.  Each activity takes only minutes and brings satisfaction to the human, canine, feline, and rabbit!  Finally, please save those gallon jug rings.  The cats love them! 

One of those most enriching things we can provide to our animals is…volunteers! Visit www.ThinkingOutsideTheCage.org to learn more about how you can become a volunteer animal handler.

Grouchy Canines: Dogs Who Growl or Snap

By: Lilian Akin, CPDT

If your dog recently growled or snapped, you may be wondering why. After all, you may have done your research and made sure you adopted the best dog for your family. Does this sudden behavior change mean you must rehome him, or worse?  Does it mean you have a dominant dog on your hands that you must force to be submissive? What would suddenly make your dog act aggressively?

To us humans, expressions of canine aggression are unacceptable behaviors. However, for a dog, they’re simply ways of communicating. From a dog’s perspective, there’s always a good reason for aggressive behavior.  The good news is that growling and snapping don’t necessarily mean that worse behavior is inevitable.

Simply put, dogs can’t use words to talk to us. They can’t say, “Please don’t do that to me. I don’t like it.” They can’t reason with a small child to quit pulling their ears or quit crawling on them. Instead, they communicate via the only means available to themthey growl or snap.

Humans and dogs have different communication systems and as a result, there are often misunderstandings between the species. Many dogs are uncomfortable with being hugged or being approached with direct eye contact. When humans approach dogs in this way, they usually intend to be friendly, but dogs may perceive this behavior as threatening or intimidating, and react accordingly.

There’s no way around it: we don’t want canine aggression in our homes. A dog’s aggression can lead to a bad outcome if your dog bites someone. The good news is that a growl or snap is your dog’s way of communicating a waning—and your dog is choosing to warn you instead of biting.   

In the past, many dog trainers viewed growling and snapping as dominant behaviors and advised dog owners to respond by doing alpha rolls (forcing the dog down onto the ground and onto his back), stare-downs (staring at the dog until he looks away, which signals his acknowledgement that you are dominant over him), shaking his scruff, and long, forced “stays.” Unfortunately, even though a wealth of information now exists about the hazards of these training techniques, a number of trainers continue to use them, including popular celebrity dog trainers who make them appear effective through highly-choreographed video editing. Some trainers recommend even harsher methods for dealing with aggression such as shock collars, which allow you to administer a shock to dog when he displays aggressive behavior. You’d be best advised to stay away from such trainers and advice.

Any trainer/behaviorist who understands dog behavior and the psychological process behind modifying behavior knows that punishment does not help aggression.  In fact, punishment often makes the problem worse. If the aggression is motivated by fear, punishment will only make the dog more fearful, and therefore more aggressive.  Attempting to punish a pushy or controlling dog is likely to make his behavior even worse. In either case, the dog and owner end up in a vicious cycle of escalating aggression. Punishing territorial, possessive or protective aggression is likely to elicit additional defensive aggression and is likely to ultimately result in worse behavior.

My own sweet collie-shepherd mix growled at me this winter when I leaned over him to wipe salt from his paws. Luckily, I was walking him with a dog trainer who said, “Don’t lean over him next time.” I’d been trying to comfort him but to him, my leaning wasn’t comforting at all, and he growled to let me know he didn’t like it. Since then, by simply being aware of my posture while cleaning his feet, I’ve had no further problems. Had I ignored his growl, he would have learned that I don’t listen to him. And, if I had continued to act in a manner that made him uncomfortable, his growling could have escalated. I didn’t punish him for growling because I understood that his growling was simply a verbal cue. He wasn’t behaving badly—he was communicating with me the only way he knew how.

Sometimes, dog owners assume that punishment prevents further aggressive behavior. I probably could have intimidated my dog into not growling at me again. But would that have solved the underlying problem?  Not at all.

If you don’t address the underlying issue—perhaps of fearfulness or possessiveness—behind your dog’s aggressive behavior, you’re not changing your dog’s feelings about the incident that caused the growl in the first place. The danger in this is that even if you’re successful in making your dog suppress a growl, your punishment might intensify his feelings. Thus, the next time a similar incident happens, your dog will still feel threatened and become more likely to bite. The dog has learned that his warning (growling) doesn’t work, and in his mind, the next logical step is a bite.

It’s also important to remember that your dog will associate his punishment with whatever is causing him to be upset in the first place. For example, if you punish your dog for growling at a crawling toddler (when your dog was just trying to tell the toddler, “Please don’t bother me!”), your dog may interpret your punishment as “I get yelled at when that child crawls towards me.” Thus, the punishment could cause an escalation of aggression towards the child.

The moral of this story is that we want our dogs to communicate with us. We want them to warn us when they feel uncomfortable or threatened and we want them to know we’ll respect their warning. If they growl and we respect the growl, they’re much less likely to resort to further aggression in the future. The purpose of this article, however, is not to advise you to be permissive with your dog or to ignore the circumstances that caused the growl. If your dog is growling, there is something bothering him and you must address it. It’s important to understand why your dog is growling and what you can do to fix the problem proactively rather than punitively.  Your dog will thank you and you will ultimately reap the reward of having a great relationship with your dog.

If you wish to learn more about how dogs perceive human behavior, behaviorist Patricia McConnell has written two very insightful and easy-to-read books about this titled The Other End of the Leash and For the Love of a Dog.



If you have any questions or concerns about your dog’s behavior, please call our Behavior Helpline at 412.847.7070 or click here.

Grouchy Canines: Dogs Who Growl or Snap


By: Lilian Akin, CPDT

If your dog recently growled or snapped, you may be wondering why. After all, you may have done your research and made sure you adopted the best dog for your family. Does this sudden behavior change mean you must rehome him, or worse?  Does it mean you have a dominant dog on your hands that you must force to be submissive? What would suddenly make your dog act aggressively?

To us humans, expressions of canine aggression are unacceptable behaviors. However, for a dog, they’re simply ways of communicating. From a dog’s perspective, there’s always a good reason for aggressive behavior.  The good news is that growling and snapping don’t necessarily mean that worse behavior is inevitable.

Simply put, dogs can’t use words to talk to us. They can’t say, “Please don’t do that to me. I don’t like it.” They can’t reason with a small child to quit pulling their ears or quit crawling on them. Instead, they communicate via the only means available to themthey growl or snap.

Humans and dogs have different communication systems and as a result, there are often misunderstandings between the species. Many dogs are uncomfortable with being hugged or being approached with direct eye contact. When humans approach dogs in this way, they usually intend to be friendly, but dogs may perceive this behavior as threatening or intimidating, and react accordingly.

There’s no way around it: we don’t want canine aggression in our homes. A dog’s aggression can lead to a bad outcome if your dog bites someone. The good news is that a growl or snap is your dog’s way of communicating a waning—and your dog is choosing to warn you instead of biting.   

In the past, many dog trainers viewed growling and snapping as dominant behaviors and advised dog owners to respond by doing alpha rolls (forcing the dog down onto the ground and onto his back), stare-downs (staring at the dog until he looks away, which signals his acknowledgement that you are dominant over him), shaking his scruff, and long, forced “stays.” Unfortunately, even though a wealth of information now exists about the hazards of these training techniques, a number of trainers continue to use them, including popular celebrity dog trainers who make them appear effective through highly-choreographed video editing. Some trainers recommend even harsher methods for dealing with aggression such as shock collars, which allow you to administer a shock to dog when he displays aggressive behavior. You’d be best advised to stay away from such trainers and advice.

Any trainer/behaviorist who understands dog behavior and the psychological process behind modifying behavior knows that punishment does not help aggression.  In fact, punishment often makes the problem worse. If the aggression is motivated by fear, punishment will only make the dog more fearful, and therefore more aggressive.  Attempting to punish a pushy or controlling dog is likely to make his behavior even worse. In either case, the dog and owner end up in a vicious cycle of escalating aggression. Punishing territorial, possessive or protective aggression is likely to elicit additional defensive aggression and is likely to ultimately result in worse behavior.

My own sweet collie-shepherd mix growled at me this winter when I leaned over him to wipe salt from his paws. Luckily, I was walking him with a dog trainer who said, “Don’t lean over him next time.” I’d been trying to comfort him but to him, my leaning wasn’t comforting at all, and he growled to let me know he didn’t like it. Since then, by simply being aware of my posture while cleaning his feet, I’ve had no further problems. Had I ignored his growl, he would have learned that I don’t listen to him. And, if I had continued to act in a manner that made him uncomfortable, his growling could have escalated. I didn’t punish him for growling because I understood that his growling was simply a verbal cue. He wasn’t behaving badly—he was communicating with me the only way he knew how.

Sometimes, dog owners assume that punishment prevents further aggressive behavior. I probably could have intimidated my dog into not growling at me again. But would that have solved the underlying problem?  Not at all.

If you don’t address the underlying issue—perhaps of fearfulness or possessiveness—behind your dog’s aggressive behavior, you’re not changing your dog’s feelings about the incident that caused the growl in the first place. The danger in this is that even if you’re successful in making your dog suppress a growl, your punishment might intensify his feelings. Thus, the next time a similar incident happens, your dog will still feel threatened and become more likely to bite. The dog has learned that his warning (growling) doesn’t work, and in his mind, the next logical step is a bite.

It’s also important to remember that your dog will associate his punishment with whatever is causing him to be upset in the first place. For example, if you punish your dog for growling at a crawling toddler (when your dog was just trying to tell the toddler, “Please don’t bother me!”), your dog may interpret your punishment as “I get yelled at when that child crawls towards me.” Thus, the punishment could cause an escalation of aggression towards the child.

The moral of this story is that we want our dogs to communicate with us. We want them to warn us when they feel uncomfortable or threatened and we want them to know we’ll respect their warning. If they growl and we respect the growl, they’re much less likely to resort to further aggression in the future. The purpose of this article, however, is not to advise you to be permissive with your dog or to ignore the circumstances that caused the growl. If your dog is growling, there is something bothering him and you must address it. It’s important to understand why your dog is growling and what you can do to fix the problem proactively rather than punitively.  Your dog will thank you and you will ultimately reap the reward of having a great relationship with your dog.

If you wish to learn more about how dogs perceive human behavior, behaviorist Patricia McConnell has written two very insightful and easy-to-read books about this titled The Other End of the Leash and For the Love of a Dog.



If you have any questions or concerns about your dog’s behavior, please call our Behavior Helpline at 412.847.7070 or click here.

Adopting Two Dogs is Twice as Nice


Adopting a dog can be one the biggest blessings in life. Imagine how much better that blessing would be if you took two dogs home instead of one!
The staff at Animal Friends are always working hard to place all of the animals in the best possible “forever homes,” and making sure that each of our canine friends finds a family that will give them all the love and attention they need. However, sometimes the dogs in our lives thrive on the kind of social interaction and play that only another canine companion can provide. In fact, many vets report that that the healthiest dogs come from multi-dog families, because those dogs benefit from more opportunities to exercise and play together.

Having two dogs has many other benefits as well. If you’re away from home all day, two dogs can keep each other company while you’re gone. Additionally, dogs who must share time and attention often learn to be more easy-going.

Families with multiple dogs often say their dogs are happier and more loving since there’s been another dog in their home. A family’s understanding of its dogs and their behavior improves when they have the chance to observe the dogs’ interactions. Many of these families never go back to keeping just one dog. Having two dogs brings twice the love, affection, joy and fun that one dog can bring.

Most importantly, the Humane Society of the United States estimates that there are between six and eight million dogs and cats entering shelters each year, about half of whom will be euthanized. Think of how much easier the work of shelters across the country would be if more families were willing to welcome not one, but two dogs into their hearts and homes.

The decision to adopt an animal always requires careful thought. If you’re contemplating adopting two dogs or bringing a second dog into your home, careful planning and preparation are especially important.

First and foremost, make sure your dogs are spayed or neutered. Not only do you want to prevent any unwanted pregnancies, but dogs that are unaltered are much more likely to fight. Also be sure to consider the added cost of care, vet bills, food, kennels and toys for two dogs. Many of these items already carry a high price tag and adding a second dog will double these costs. Do you have the time to spend with a second dog? Dogs require a great deal of time and having more than one requires more of your time and attention. It’s important to not let one dog get “lost in the crowd,” so individual bonding time will be extremely important.

Compatibility in a multi-dog home is also an important issue. Many dogs prefer to live with another dog of the opposite sex. Some dogs will have a wonderful relationship with each other, but must be separated at dinner time to prevent any disputes over food. And, some dog owners report that two dogs can get into mischief that one dog alone might not!

Families must thoroughly evaluate their reasons for wanting a second dog. A second dog is certainly not a substitute for human companionship and generally isn’t a cure for another dog’s behavioral issues. First, you may want to try pet-sitting for a friend or family member or taking your dog to a park or one of Animal Friends’ many pet-friendly events to see how your dog interacts with other dogs.

Before deciding to bring another dog into your home, make sure you’re able to make the commitment of the extra money, time, attention and love that your new family member will require. If you are, then you’ll soon find that having two dogs is “twice as nice” as having one!



To meet adoptable dogs today, visit www.ThinkingOutsideTheCage.org.

Crate Training


Imagine going to stay with a new family. You're in a strange place, and nobody speaks your language.  Think about what would go through your mind: Where's the bathroom? Where do I sleep? Will I have my own room?

Every dog faces these questions when he moves into a new home. Crate training can help show them the answers. Den animals by nature, dogs appreciate having a small covered space that makes them feel secure to sleep in. They don't like their bed and bathroom to be the same place, and will make an effort to keep their sleeping area dry.  If things are hectic, or if they want to eat a treat in a safe place, they will seek out their "den.”

Understanding your dog's instincts will help make the transition into a new home easier for both of you.  Animal Friends’ on-site supply shop and boutique store carries Midwest brand crates from 24" to 48," and our staff is happy to offer advice on choosing the right crate and using positive reinforcement techniques for introducing them to dogs of all ages.

Animal Friends is proud to sell crates at minimum prices (from $45.99 to $86.99) because we know that crates can help a new pet adjust to his home, and increase his chances of staying in that home.

If you have questions about crate training and how it can benefit your dog, call 412.847.7022, or come visit us! Best of all, all purchases at Animal Friends’ shop benefit our homeless residents.

 

Clicker Training Can Help Your Pet


Have you ever watched a wild animal show at theme or marine life parks and found it fascinating? Watching eager dolphins leap through hoops; happy parrots chortle away show tunes; and menacing lions, tigers, and bears play so gently with their handlers makes can make anyone’s mouth gape open in wonder and amazement!
You may wonder ‘how do they do it’?  Certainly it is very different to train a dog than it is to train a dolphin . . . or is it?  For one thing, you can put your dog on a leash, and physically direct him or her to sit, lie down, or come. Imagine trying to leash a killer whale to teach it a trick! And leashing a bear to a human . . . well, maybe that’s not such a good thought.

You surely can’t scold a wild animal for doing something incorrectly, and you must keep the exercises mentally stimulating and exciting, less you lose your eager candidate.  With that in mind, the question arises: Can one train a dog the same way that they train a dolphin? That is where clicker training comes into play.

Clicker training is the process of training an animal using a friendly, conditioned reinforcer, which indicates to the animal which precise behavior was correct. It was originally used in training animals, such as dolphins and pigeons, for which traditional methods of obedience training aren't useful.  But clicker training is not a new phenomena. It is based on the century-old Pavlovian observation of stimulus-response.

In Pavlov’s famous experiment, he pooled a group of hungry dogs.  Immediately before he fed a dog, he rang a bell.  He quickly began to notice that the dogs would salivate upon hearing the bell ring, in anticipation of the forthcoming food.  He repeated this process for a few weeks, each time ringing the bell and then giving food.  Finally he took the food out of the equation.  Pavlov noticed that whenever he rang the bell, the dogs would salivate whether or not food was presented.  Even after the dogs had had eaten their fill, when the bell was rung, the dogs would salivate in anticipation.  This salivation is termed, in the training world, as conditioned-response.  

Fast forward to the modern world of animal training:  Pavlov’s bell has been replaced by a clicker, a small box which, when pressed, makes a clicking sound.  The clicker has become the conditioned or learned reinforcer.  A clicker can be a very useful tool for telling your dog “That’s It! You did the right thing!”  The clicker is used to catch or “mark” the exact behavior that we like.  When an animal hears the clicking sound, it forms a mental picture of what he was doing at the exact time when it heard the click for future reference.  More than likely, if your dog has that picture stored in his mind, he will attempt the behavior again and again.  Therefore, with the clicker, it becomes simple to catch a certain behavior that your dog does naturally, and praise for it.


Imagine how useful this is when housetraining a puppy.  Everytime puppy does his business outside, he is clicked and reinforced.  Clicker training also makes it easy to teach even a stubborn dog the most difficult of tricks, and can even be used to help aggressive dogs become more comfortable with their environment and overcome some of their issues.  What makes Clicker training so effective is the fact that you are not directing your dog to do something; rather, you are letting them think about and work out the correct solution to a problem.  All you have to do is praise them for correct answers and keep them on the right track.  

Clicker training is quickly bridging the communication gap between animals and humans.  Any animal can be clicker trained including dogs, cats, birds, bunnies, horses, and even humans!  Studies are finding that clicker training children is becoming more common in the classroom as well as in athletics.  If you would like to learn more about clicker training and upcoming classes at Animal Friends, visit www.ThinkingOutsideTheCage.org.

Dominance vs. Leadership in Dog Training


Given the popularity of the Dog Whisperer, many dog lovers have many questions about the concept of “dominance.” 

Most of us who have championed positive methods of dog training are up in arms about Cesar Milan’s fame and continued use of the term “dominance” and its justification for physical corrections in dog training. We are thrilled that someone has gone public with the idea that dog behavior can be modified. But, where we diverge is on the dog’s motivation for its behavior. Is it truly dominance that is motivating the dog?

For years, dominance was believed to be the cause and solution for canine behavior problems, including accidents in the house, pulling on a leash, getting on furniture and not coming when called. This belief is now being furthered with the popularity of the Dog Whisperer.

Methods such as alpha rolls and physical corrections (via the leash and a choke chain or by smacking the dog on the nose or by shaking their scruffs) were often recommended as a way for humans to establish dominance over their dogs. The Dog Whisperer continues to offer these corrections and teaches dog owners to be the dominant “animal” who rukes the pack.

Advocates of the dominance theory often support their argument by citing scientific evidence that dogs are pack animals.  They often compare them to wolves .    But, dogs are not tame wolves. The domestic dog is a separate species that evolved from wolves approximately 14,000 years ago. Dogs exhibit behaviors that wolves do not, such as taking directions from humans.  In village dogs throughout the world, dogs are social animals and tend to use ritualized displays of dominance and submission to prevent conflict and keep peace. Dogs in the wild rarely form packs, and when they do, they are loosely structured and have few of the traits seen in wolf packs.

And, humans are not dogs. We do not have the timing that dogs have nor do we always accurately interpret dog behavior well enough to act like a dog.

Most importantly, those who work with wolves and wolf-dogs have learned that these animals do not tolerate aversive handling from humans. There are non-adversarial ways to set rules and boundaries for your dog that doesn’t involve force or intimidation.

Any given dog may be dominant or submissive at any given time depending upon the situation. It is true that some dogs may have more assertive personalities than others, but for training purposes it does not help to classify such a dog as “dominant.” The dog with the strongest personality might in fact be the most compliant with training as well as the most willing worker. Likewise, asserting physical discipline is likely to be perceived by the dog as a physical threat, triggering an aggressive reaction.

The mark of a true leader is the ability to control without force. The true leader is in control of the resources. What you need to understand is that status is flexible it changes depending upon the dog’s motivation, the context, and the situation at the moment.

Many dogs previously considered to be dominant have are simply unruly and have not been taught basic skills or given structure and consistent rules.  They have learned that annoying, attention-getting behaviors get them what they want.

So, what is a leader, then? It means establishing yourself as someone your dog defers to, looks for guidance, trusts and follows. Leadership does not take force, violence or aggression. True leaders are quiet, confident, benevolent, fair and consistent. They rarely have to establish their position. Their attitude communicates leadership.  There is no need for physical corrections or to use dominance as an excuse to get physical with our dogs. Recognize that most misbehavior on the part of dogs is due to the fact that their (mis)behavior has been rewarded somehow and they are repeating it.  It is a rare dog who uses behavior as a method of gaining the upper hand over their human.

How can you establish yourself as your dog’s leader?  Try this: ignore pushy behaviors, don’t respond to your dog until he does something for you first (make him sit or offer a trick before he gets what he wants), control resources (make your dog say “please” by offering a behavior before you feed him), set your dog up to chose to do the right thing rather than become involved in power struggles when pushy behavior occurs (reward deferential, polite behaviors and ignore pushy ones), and prevent mistakes (don’t let your dog run around unsupervised if he chews or has accidents).  It is fine to make your dog wait for you to go through the door first as that is only good manners and shows respect, but don’t do that because you think that you are asserting dominance, because it just isn’t true.



To learn more about this topic, visit www.ThinkingOutsideTheCage.org.

Letters to Litterbox Lenny


Lenny, a wise feline who aspires to be like Dr. Phil, specializes in providing support and advice to cats who need guidance regarding sensitive litterbox issues. Below, you’ll find letters from felines in need of a little straight talk about an important issue: the litterbox. 


Litter Location, Location, Location

Dear Lenny,

My friend Socks is moving again. He heard his people talking about location, location, location and thought they meant his litter box. It turns out it had something to do with property values. Socks is hoping they’ll put his box in a better location this time. Any suggestions for Socks’s family as they decide where to keep the litterbox in their new home?

Your pal,

Patch

Dear Patch,

I guess location is important to everyone. Do you think Socks’s folks know that finding the right spot for a litter box is just as important as finding the right house?

His family should look for:

A convenient location (No one wants to hike to or hunt for the toilet!)
A safe place with a clear entrance and exit (So Socks can’t be trapped in the box by dogs, kids or other cats.)
A quiet, private area (No cat wants a loud furnace or washing machine kicking on right as you get down to business!)
A large enough space for all your stuff and enough room to spread out a little, too. No one wants to eat in the bathroom, so if separate rooms aren’t an option, the litter box should be at least 6 feet away from the food.
Paws,

Lenny


Litterbox Boycott

Dear Lenny,

I just quit using my litter box and wow, are my people flipping out! I hate to upset them, but I am absolutely not going in there on the days they don’t scoop—which  is every other day lately! Yuck! I mean, my fur-brother, can you imagine what my gorgeous long hair smells like when it picks up dirty litter?

Love,

Cher

Dear Cher,

I got you, babe! We all agree that a clean box is the only way to go.  

My people have to get dressed and go outside three times a day in all kinds of weather with the dog. But to meet my needs, they can stay inside and scoop in their PJs! They should appreciate that so much that scooping should feel like a joy!

We all know that there is nothing glamorous about stepping in litter, smelling it or wearing it—and litterboxes are easy to keep clean with daily scoops and a weekly dumping and scubbing. I hear that people don’t enjoy using dirty gas station bathrooms on trips, so they should be able to relate! Do what you have to do, fur-sister.

Paws,

Lenny



One Size Does Not Fit All

Dear Lenny,

What size box is best for cats? When I was young and went by Bootsie, my little litter box fit just right. I’m grown up now and go by Boots, but my litter box is still kitten-sized!

Big Boots


Dear Boots,

The answer, big fella, is to customize. There is no single “right” box. Little cats need little boxes, while Big Boots-kind-of-guys need big boxes. 

All cats need to be able to stand at full height and turn around in the box. Older cats with stiff joints need low sides and some cats need high sides to contain it all. Get yourself down to the Home & Litterbox show and try out some different models!

Paws,

Lenny



A Proper Burial

Dear Lenny,

What kind of litter you use in your litter box? I just moved inside from the outdoors, and while I love being safe and warm and pampered, I miss covering my business with nice soft dirt. I’ve never gone in gravel before and it seems there should be something that feels better. It smells kind of odd, too. Please help!

Tenderfoot Tigger

Dear Tigger,

Me-ouch! My research (I’ve talked to a lot of cats!) shows that if given a choice, cats don’t pick pellets or coarse, hard substrates (that’s the scientific name for what goes in the box first). We do best on bits of clay and even better on sand-like softer stuff, like clumping or scoopable litter. This is especially true if someone didn’t know better and had us declawed!

As for the odor—it’s called perfume, and it’s designed to please our humans, not us. If we had a choice, litterboxes would be “au naturel.”  

Maybe if you kick all that hard stuff out of the box they’ll fill it with something nicer. Welcome in from the wild, Tigger!

Paws,

Lenny



Long Lines at the Litterbox

Dear Lenny,

Why is it always we girls who have to wait in long lines at the restroom? Couldn’t they put in a few more boxes?

Crossing my legs and hoping,

Callie

Dear Callie,

Even though things can be less complicated for us guys, I’ve had to wait a few times myself, and you sure have the right idea. There is nothing worse than waking up from a great nap and racing to the nearest box only to find it occupied or unsavory. There should always be at least one box for each cat in the house and an extra in case of an emergency!

Paws, Lenny


Need more help? Submit your cat behavior-related question to our Behavior Team online at www.ThinkingOutsideTheCage.org. (Cats, you may want to get a human to help.)


Cats and Agility Training



They said the earth was flat.
They said man would never walk on the moon.
They said you cannot train a cat.
They were wrong!

A new form of competition is attesting to cats’ great ability to learn. Cat agility is popping up at cat shows across the country. In cat agility, a cat and her handler negotiate a series of cat-sized obstacles. The competitive event is timed, and points are deducted for incomplete or missed obstacles. Running the course demonstrates the cat’s grace, athletic ability and coordination, along with the quality of her training relationship with her handler. The competitions are open to pedigreed, non-pedigreed, purebred or mixed cats who are eight months of age or older. Adoptable shelter cats often participate in agility demonstrations all over the country.

If you think about combining the cunning and natural curiosity of a cat with its love of climbing, jumping, crawling under things, and chasing the elusive butterfly, the sport seems meant to be! Cat agility becomes the ultimate game or play! The benefits of the activity, even if the cat practices only at home and never participates in an actual competition, are obvious. Healthy exercise, mental stimulation and an outlet for energy are added to the cat’s anticipation of special time with a favorite human!

Most competitions are sponsored by The International Cat Agility Tournaments (ICAT), which was founded in 2003 and uses the slogan “Play with your cat every day.” The purpose of the organization is to sanction cat agility competitions held by local cat clubs. You can find ICAT course standards, rules, training tips and general information on its website at http://www.catagility.com/.

In cat agility, cats are guided through the obstacles by a handler with a teaser toy.  Cats can be clicker- or reward-trained with treats before learning to negotiate individual obstacles. When cat agility began, handlers expected training with treats to be the norm.  To everyone’s surprise, it was discovered that for most cats, the best reward was to get to run the obstacle or course again! Play, with a little praise thrown in, was the best motivator. There are even cats that balk at the final obstacle because they do not want the game to end!

Is your cat ready for agility work? Any healthy cat with a positive bond with a handler can learn to do agility at home.  If the cat also has the confidence to handle new situations and stay focused on the game, she may become cat who participates in competitions. Getting started is easy.  Set up a simple tunnel of boxes, a jump onto a chair, a stool to leap up on, or a hula hoop to go through. Guide kitty through each obstacle with a teaser toy, treats or praise, then put a few together and do it again!  Work in ten-minute sessions to reduce any frustration that may occur and to keep kitty eager for the next time. She can learn it, and you both will have fun and grow together. PLAY WITH YOUR CAT EVERYDAY! And we’ll see you on the agility course!

 

Adopting Two Cats Is Twice As Nice



When you adopt two cats, you soon find that you can’t imagine life without them.  There are many benefits to keeping two cats.

• Having a constant playmate to chase and wrestle with helps keep cats lively, well-exercised and healthy. 

• Often, destructive behavior in pets can be traced to boredom. The stimulation of a companion can help ward off inappropriate feline behaviors and scratching.

• Two cats will keep you laughing with their antics.
 
• Many cats are social creatures, and will happily groom one another and sleep cuddled together.  People who work long hours, travel overnight or spend frequent evenings away from home will find a warm greeting upon returning, but without the guilt of leaving a beloved pet all alone.

• Two cats will bring their humans double the love.  They make great lap warmers in winter and will offer an endless supply of purrs and head butts.  The only thing more heartwarming than the love of a pet is the love of two.

• Adopting two cats actually saves four lives - the two you're adopting, and the two that will take their places on Animal Friends’ adoption floor, given a priceless second chance thanks to your adoption. The Humane Society of the United States estimates that between six and eight million dogs and cats enter shelters each year, about half of which are euthanized. Think of how much easier the work of shelters across the country would be if more families were willing to welcome not one, but two cats into their hearts and homes.

Having two cats doesn't require much additional effort. An extra food and water dish and litter box is worth the joy your instant family will bring. And, being rather compact creatures, cats don't take up much space.  As long as your home can provide a bit of separation from time to time, there's no worry about needing a larger home with room to roam.

Often, Animal Friends has pairs of cats who have come in together and would love to find a home with room for two.  But in any case, Animal Friends' Adoption Counselors will work with you to find exactly the right cats - two that are compatible with you as well as each other.  Our free roam rooms are full of feline-friendly cats who cheerfully share their living quarters and would love to have a live-in friend.  We'll give you advice on introducing your new cats to your home and giving them the time and space to bond.

How can you resist?  We recommend making the trip to Animal Friends at double speed, two-stepping all the way. After all, two cats certainly are twice as nice! Animal Friends is located at 562 Camp Horne Road in the North Hills. From downtown, take I-279N to exit 8 and turn left at the light. Proceed through two more lights to find Animal Friends on the left. Learn more about Animal Friends and meet adoptable animals by visiting www.ThinkingOutsideTheCage.org.

 

Thinking of Declawing? Why Cats Have Claws ... and How to Live With Them

Have you considered declawing your cat as an easy way to protect your furniture? Before taking this irreversible step, you should understand how declawing works and what it means for both you and your cat. Scratching is a healthy and natural activity for cats and doesn't have to be destructive – there are ways to modify your cat's scratching habit!
 

What is declawing?

Declawing is more than just a surgical procedure to remove a cat's nails. The veterinarian actually amputates the tips of the cat's toes, cutting bones and nerves in order to remove the entire claw, equivalent to cutting of the tips of your fingers at the outermost joint.
 
Not only is declawing painful, it typically takes 7-10 days for a cat's toes to heal, during which time they cannot step into grainy litter because of the risk of infection. This can lead to negative association with the litterbox which frequently means inappropriate soiling outside the box.
 

Cats need their claws.

Claws are a cat's main defense if they are in danger. When frightened, a cat may feel defenseless without claws and could resort to biting as an alternative defense. Cats also use their claws to grip when enjoying a long stretch that tones the muscles in their back and shoulders. They also rely on this gripping ability when walking and jumping.
 
Cats sometimes scratch to remove the outer sheaths of their claws, but often do it to mark territory both visibly and through scent glands located on the pads of their feet. Finally, scratching can be a way for cats to express happiness. If you've ever come home to your cat running for the scratching post, this can simply mean that she is happy to see you and is using scratching as an emotional release!
 

If scratching is natural, how can I prevent it from being destructive?

Despite their reputation for being independent, cats can be trained to scratch appropriately in a way that redirects undesirable behavior and rewards good behavior.

First, find a surface that your cat likes scratching more than the sofa, such as a scratching post. A good scratching post should be at least three feet tall on a sturdy base, placed in a visible location and allow a complete vertical reach for the cat. Inexpensive cardboard scratchers sprinkled with catnip and placed on the floor are a good alternative to carpet for cats who prefer to scratch horizontally.

Trimming a cat's claws regularly is a simple way to reduce damage caused by scratching. Trimming is easy when a cat is introduced to it at a young age. Your veterinarian can show you how to safely trim your cat's nails. Or, if you prefer, many groomers and pet stores offer walk-in nail trimming for a reasonable price.


Cats use their claws for many purposes. Unfortunately, many loving cat owners aren't aware of the ill effects of declawing until it is too late. With proper education, patience and a little positive reinforcement, your cat can continue to scratch happily without your home paying the price!

Contact Animal Friends at 412.847.7000 if you need help training your cat to scratch appropriately. Your kitty (and your furniture) will thank you!