Monthly Archives: January 2012

Pet Fun Facts

By Langley Cornwell

Cats and dogs are a source of unending discovery. The more time I spend with my pets, the more questions I have about certain behaviors – like why my cat purrs or why my dog wags her tail. We all have a general idea but I wonder, specifically, why animals do what they do. I’ve read loads of books about animal behavior and I’ve just added a few more to my list of ‘must reads.’ One thing I’ve noticed is that a few common theories about basic pet behaviors are being reexamined. Some of these findings may surprise you, and some you may already know.   

Cats Purring – Most of us believe purring indicates that a cat is happy. That’s part of the story. Purring by domestic cats is not just a sign of contentment; it’s also used as a method of self-calming. Our cat Margaret was a loud, enthusiastic purrer. Once when she was injured and we took her to the vet, they had a hard time checking her heartbeat because she was purring so loudly. In general, purring is a way for cats to communicate.    

Dogs Wagging Their Tails – Like a cat’s purring, a wagging tail is believed to indicate a happy dog. When a dog wags his tail, it can actually mean a range of emotions from approachability and excitement, to anxiety and aggression. A dog’s tail is an important communication tool. To fully understand what a dog is trying to convey, the tail needs to be considered along with the rest of the dog’s body language.

Cats Rubbing Against People (and other animals) – Yes, getting a nice rub from a cat signifies affection, but it also serves another significant cat function: scent-marking. Our cat always greets our dog by rubbing his face all over hers. Cats have scent glands in various places on their bodies and they use them to ‘mark their territory.’ Leaving their scent on things they come in contact with helps cats become familiar with the smells around them, which helps them claim a particular person, animal or object as ‘theirs.’

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Facing the Fear of Being a Bad Dog Owner

By Julia Williams

If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, you know that I am a cat lady through and through. What you may not know is that I’ve also thought about getting a dog. I know cats better because I’ve shared my home with them for decades but have only had one dog. I “get” cats, but dogs remain largely a mystery to me. Perhaps it is precisely this unknown territory that intrigues me. I adore my cats more than anything, yet as an animal lover I want to experience the unique joy of having a dog. Actually, I could say the same thing about horses, rabbits, hamsters and birds – I’ve wanted to have all of these as a pet at one time or another.

The desire to adopt a dog is more intense, though. I think it’s because there are so many fun things you can do with a dog that you can’t do with a cat. You can go places with them, and there are umpteen dog sports you can enjoy together. My cats loathe the car, and the only sport that interests them is competitive eating….as in, let’s see who can finish their food first to “help” the others with theirs. I don’t think having a dog would be better than having cats, just different.

So why don’t I get a dog then? Oh, I’ve asked myself that question a thousand times, and there are so many reasons. The biggest is fear. Not fear of the unknown, but fear of being a bad dog owner. Dogs are complex creatures, and there is a lot involved in raising a happy, social, well mannered dog. I’m afraid that I would screw it up, and end up with a problem dog I didn’t know what to do with. I’m afraid that I don’t know enough about dogs to do it right. And if I’m going to adopt a dog, I want – no, need – to do it right.

I know that a lot of my fear comes from the painful memory of the time I did it wrong. When I was 18, I succumbed to those “sad puppy eyes” and adopted a dog from the shelter where I’d been volunteering. Never mind that I knew nothing about dogs, how to raise one, or how to deal with little problem behaviors before they became gigantic, insurmountable issues. I didn’t stop to consider what breed of dog might be best suited for me, or what they required beyond food and water. I was young and dumb, but that’s really no excuse for doing it wrong. I’ve never forgotten, and probably never forgiven myself, for being a bad dog owner.

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What Eye Contact Means to a Dog

By Linda Cole

I love to sit back and watch my dogs interacting with each other. When I watch them playing and wrestling with each other, I’m reminded of a wrestling match between humans. It’s fascinating to see how dogs jockey into position with similar moves that humans use. What’s most interesting, however, is how they use their eyes to communicate with each other, just like human wrestlers. Eye contact is important to a dog, and we need to learn how to be respectful with our gaze and not stare.

Watching a dog’s eyes gives you an idea what they are thinking and how they are feeling. It can also signal that a potential dog fight could be brewing between two dogs. A dominant dog may feel challenged by direct stare and a submissive dog can be intimidated with the eyes. But when you stop and think about it, eye contact between dogs isn’t that much different than it is between people.

People who are shy or intimidated by someone direct their eyes away from a more dominant personality. The idea of confronting someone is distasteful and something they will avoid at all costs. Unless they are challenged or forced to stand up for themselves in some way, they are happier if no one notices them. The confident and dominant person isn’t afraid to make eye contact. Their eyes are generally relaxed, open to the world and friendly looking. They aren’t looking for trouble, but they won’t back down from it if they find it. A more aggressive person has a hard stare and his eyes are narrowed. They may be angry or looking for a fight and their stare is meant to be intimidating. Someone who is fearful is wide eyed and their pupils are dilated. Dogs that are timid, fearful, dominant, friendly or aggressive view eye contact in the same way, and react to the eyes like we do.

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Debunking Common Pet Health Misconceptions

By Langley Cornwell

Statistics point to an alarming trend in pet health care: even though the population of pet owners has increased, the number of dogs and cats that are getting formal veterinary care has sharply decreased. The study, commissioned by Bayer HealthCare LLC, Animal Health Division and conducted by Brakke Consulting in collaboration with the National Commission on Veterinary Economic Issues, was comprehensive and well documented. It included two phases, answers from pet owners and consultations from veterinarians. The study indicates that the decline in veterinary visits may be due to misconceptions people have about their pet’s health. These misconceptions can stem from a combination of factors including the glut of information – some accurate and some not—available on the internet, and economic drivers enticing people to independently diagnose their pet’s health problem and explore home remedies.

While it’s not necessary to run to the vet every time your dog has hiccups, there are times when proper veterinary care is the right choice. Here are some common pet health myths and accompanying facts to help you determine the best course of action for your animal companion:

Are annual wellness exams really necessary? Nothing is ever wrong with my pet.
95 percent of veterinarian involved in the study strongly suggested that both dogs and cats need at least one veterinary wellness exam annually. Conversely, a lot of pet owners believe the only time their pet needs to go to the vet is for shots or vaccinations. Routine checkups are important because that’s when the vet examines your pet’s eyes, ears, heart and lungs. Additionally, the vet may take x-rays and do a blood workup. These examinations require specialized tools and techniques. If your pet is examined on a yearly basis, the veterinarian can catch problems or conditions before they become serious and costly.

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What My Pets Mean to Me

By Linda Cole

There’s never been a time in my life when I didn’t have a pet in my home. As a kid, I loved being around any animal. Living in the country where we had cows, pigs, chickens and outside cats and dogs, was great. One of my favorite things to do was get up at dawn and head out with my dad to do morning chores, especially in the winter when there was snow on the ground. That’s when it was the easiest to see deer in the cornfields digging through the snow looking for corn left over after the harvest. Sometimes, a red fox, coon or possum would pass by. Our dog, Trixie, was always by my side. Together, she and I explored every nook and cranny we could find looking for “treasures.” My brother and sister weren’t as adventurous as I was, so Trixie was my friend, my playmate and my protector.

I didn’t understand how important Trixie was to me until my folks decided to move into town and give Trixie away. My best friend was given to an older couple in another town who wouldn’t take her out running in the fields. I was assured, “She’ll be fine and we still have another dog and cats.” But to me, it wasn’t fine nor was it fair. I was 12 years old, and my heart was broken.

It’s what we learn as kids about life and ourselves that shapes us as we grow. I’m sure my parents had a good reason for giving Trixie away, but I never knew what it was. The lesson I learned was to love each pet every day and never take them for granted.

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Behavioral Problems: Is it the Dog or the Owner?

By Langley Cornwell

When we adopted our dog, she was shy and insecure. She wouldn’t even stand up straight. Her tail was tucked, her head hung low and she cowered any time a person or dog approached her. We knew we had our work cut out for us, but were ready and entirely willing. We immediately enrolled in puppy kindergarten, and it helped her tremendously. One thing that’s abundantly clear, however, is that the class was more about training the humans than training the puppies.

So here we are, 3 years later, and I’ve fallen short. I have not held up my end of the bargain. To be specific, our dog now walks tall, is well socialized and she’s gaining confidence every day. Where I got off track was with the basic dog training skills. Additionally, we’re inconsistent with correcting behavioral problems, and we’ve allowed a few bad manners to continue. Regarding the basics, she’s pretty good at ‘come’ but I’d like her to be better. In an emergency, I’m not sure she would drop everything and come running under all circumstances. She will ‘sit’ but only for high-value treats like CANIDAE TidNips™.

Thankfully, she seems to have outgrown her destructive chewing habit. Her ‘leave it’ is okay, she doesn’t bark excessively and she’s never been one to jump up on people. But forget about ‘down,’ ‘wait,’ ‘stay,’ ‘heel,’ or ‘look.’ Even though we learned these commands in puppy kindergarten, nothing stuck (and yeah, I know that’s my fault). Additionally, she’s an excessive digger and a leash puller. She begs from my husband but not from me. I think we all know why, although he denies it… but that’s a different topic altogether. The point is – we need to get back to work.

Professional dog trainer Adam Katz at dogproblems.com has an online newsletter I subscribe to. His recent message caught my attention. He asserts that 98% of a dog’s bad behavior is a direct result of what dog owners do, and that when it comes to behavior problems, dogs only respond to the conditions and stimulus they receive from the outside world. Many of us already know this, but knowing it and doing something about it are two different things.

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