While it is easy to tell a person’s or dog’s emotional disposition — happy, sad or peeved — by looking at their facial expression, cats wear a mysterious poker face so they aren’t as easily read. But cats have several behaviors and vocal intonations by which they communicate. Once you learn to recognize and translate the behaviors, you’re on your way to great conversations with your cat through the art of communication.
Cats communicate with other cats predominately with body language and scent. They communicate with us using body language, vocalizations and scent marking (although we cannot smell most of it). Unfortunately for cats, we humans have failed to uphold our end of the communication deal. We need to better understand normal feline behavior and the cat’s communication methods. Our cats do communicate with us and we need to do our best to “listen” and understand their language. Otherwise, we may miss important messages like, “Back off!” “I’m sick,” and “You are my favorite possession in the whole wide world!”
Cats are highly intelligent beings and have mental skills equivalent to that of a human toddler. Let’s talk about the subtle and not-so-subtle art of feline communication:
The art of feline nonverbal communication with humans engages the total body, from the tip of the nose to the tip of the tail. Sometimes, we misinterpret nonverbal cues or interpret the cue to mean the same as a dog’s behavior — which is very often the opposite. Misinterpretations can lead to injury, scratches and bites. The best clue to nonverbal communication is to observe the total body for more accurate communication.
The eyes may be a beautiful, mysterious window to the soul, but you can think of them as your cat’s mood ring. Cats’ pupils vary in size from the narrowest slits to wide-open black pools, for different reasons from emotional to environmental. For example, pupils may widen or narrow adjusting to light levels or signifying fear or aggression. A happy kitty’s pupils are narrow, but the narrowest of slits means you’ve got an angry cat or a sleepy cat. The opposite, dilated pupils, again, may be adjusting to light or may indicate a fearful, agitated cat. Yet, it may also signal pain. The best interpretation of mood is reading the body posture in conjunction with the eyes.
Direct eye contact, or staring, is sometimes considered rude in human communication. In cat communication, a direct stare is an intimidation posture. The first to look away, blink or slink off will be considered to have ceded defeat.
Can You ‘Ear’ Me Now?
Cat ears are remarkable. Like radar dishes, cat ears hear the faintest sound, especially important for the hunter outside or inside the home. They also swivel independently, move up and down, and rotate 180 degrees thanks to 32 muscles. Ear placement indicates mood, too. An interested, relaxed cat sports upright, forward-facing ears.
An aggressive cat’s ears also stand up straight initially before moving sideways and flat. Look at the body to tell the difference. An aggressive cat’s ears rotate back and flatten, with whiskers forward. A swift paw, hissing, growling and/or spitting may accompany the posture. Hint: the flatter the ears, the angrier the cat!
Don’t Get Your Whiskers in a Twist!
Whiskers, or vibrissae, are sensitive tactile hairs, aiding the cat’s sense of touch. Whiskers are deeply embedded in muscle tissue and connect to sensitive nerve endings. Whiskers act like a cat’s barometer, transmitting information about air currents, air pressure and objects they touch. Additionally, whiskers act as a GPS system, sending back information about the cat’s surroundings. Cats have three sets of facial whiskers: the eyebrows, chin hair and the longest set, the muzzle whiskers. Muscles allow the whiskers to move forward and backward and it’s this movement that serves as a mood evaluator.
Much like body position and ears, whiskers and ears work together to indicate mood. A happy cat’s whiskers point forward while the ears are upright and forward. Whiskers pointed outward, with ears rotated back and flat, signal a cat is gathering information or agitated/aggressive. Whiskers pulled flat to the cheeks, accompanied by ears pulled to the side, indicates fear or aggression. Heed the warning.
A cat’s body posture and attitude can invite us closer or warn us away. The classic Halloween stance — back arches with raised ridge fur, raised rump, legs straight and tail fur puffed out — is a warning stance. These are physiological changes indicating extreme stress, fear, aggression or threat. Distance yourself if you come upon a cat exhibiting these characteristics.
Conversely, if a cat approaches you with a raised back and flat fur, rubbing up against you, you’ve been invited to a pet fest.
Some cats do what I call the “Stop, Flop and Roll” maneuver. The cat stops walking, flops on the floor and rolls back and forth, exposing the tummy. It’s usually right in front of you and it’s an attention-getting scheme for petting. Go ahead give the cat lots of chin scratching and head rubbing.
Careful, though. Here’s the scheme part: don’t pet the tummy! While some cats tolerate it, most don’t. A cat’s exposed tummy is not a submissive posture or invitation to a tummy rub like a dog. In cat language, it’s a strategic posture to better engage claws and teeth, even if it’s your hand that’s the possible target of attack. The more you try to pull away, the tighter the grip. Relax — yes, really — the cat will release shortly.
There is one posture or behavior that I think is an overlooked, misunderstood behavior: the defensive cat posture. The defensive cat sits curled in a tight, crouching position with the tail curled around the body, head to the side and fur flattened, trying to be as little as possible. This withdrawn posture should alert you to your cat’s nervous state. Salivating, shaking, vomiting and/or defecation may also be seen.
The defensive posture denotes stress, which may be from a larger problem of intimidation, bullying or harassment from another pet in the home, or, sadly, maybe even a human.
A cat’s tail clearly telegraphs the feline’s emotional state of mind. Learn the signs and remember the condition can change in a quick flick:
• Tail swishing side to side indicates a slightly irritated cat. But because some cats express joy with a swishy tail, you should know your cat’s disposition and personality. If not, be sure to look at other body indicators.
• Swiftly slapping tail means agitation. Leave this cat alone. Unlike a dog’s rapid, happy, wagging tail, approaching a cat with this tail movement often results in pain — yours.
• Tail thumping, similar to a drum beat, signals frustration or a warning.
• Tail up and fully fluffed means the cat feels threatened. If that fluffed tail moves over the top of the back, and the cat looks mad as well, stand back. Attack is imminent.
• Tucked tail is the universal sign of submissiveness.
• Low horizontal tail position says, “I’m cool, calm and collected.” • Upright, erect tail with a slight hook indicates a jaunty swagger and means your cat is interested in you or the surroundings.
• Straight up with a quiver is a great sign. Your cat is shaking with delight.
Feline Signs of Affection
Cats show us many signs of love and affection using body language. They sit near us, on us or follow us from room to room. They lick us, give us head butts and give us cheek rubs, all as love signs. Here are some common love signs and their translations:
• Head butts, known as bunting, involve cats rubbing against us gently with their forehead as a happy greeting and sign of affection.
• Eye blinks are “kitty kisses: in feline parlance. Direct eye contact is confrontation, but slow eye blinks express love and trust. Be sure to blink back.
• Licking, the pillar of cat grooming, health care and cleanliness learned way back in kittenhood, is lavished on us when they consider us a member of their family.
• Nose kisses are a sweet, gentle, nose-to-nose greeting between cat friends (and humans when we’re lucky).
Once you learn the basic forms of feline communication, it’s important to learn your cat’s quirks or dialect. Learn feline signs of affection and reciprocate them for a loving relationship. Learn the warning signs before they escalate to aggression, and then heed the warning.
By Sarah Zumhofe
Who hasn’t visited a cat lover’s home and inhaled a lungful of ammonia? Ah, Eau de Toilette Feline. Your friend holds out a World War II gas mask, saying, “You might want to put this on before you come inside. I’m having a little trouble with my cat.”
Getting rid of the cat isn’t the answer. The problem will persist long after the perpetrator has left your home. Imperceptible pee clings to surfaces, posting an invisible olfactory signal that instructs any new pet (both cat and dog) to, “Pee here.”
There is hope. You can reform your cat and rid your home of the odor of cat pee. Even the most odoriferous home can be restored to a pollution-free zone.
I’ll walk you through the process of regaining your home and help you rekindle your love affair with your kitty. Take a deep breath. I smell fresh air in your future.
Inappropriate elimination is more complicated than a congressional health-care bill. To arrive at a fresh-smelling home, you’ll need to:
• Figure out who’s making the mess if you have a multi-pet home. • Take your kitty to the vet.
• Determine if he’s marking or going to the bathroom.
• Find out what’s upsetting your cat.
• Fix it.
• Retrain him.
• Find all the soiled spots.
• Remove the smell of pee from the floors and walls.
• Make the target area unattractive.
• Enjoy the new feeling of calm.
Let’s focus on cleanup strategies:
As soon as you notice the mess, clean it up. Removing all traces of ammonia and pheromones from the carpet is the first step in persuading the cat to return to the litter box. After all, if it smells like a toilet, Fluffy will use it as a toilet.
Cat pee and poop in a carpet contains pheromones that continue to attract cats to the soiled areas. It is as if the cat has posted an olfactory sign saying, “Bathroom.” If you simply mask the pee odors, you may be able to fool your nose, but Fluffy, with his superior sense of smell, will be able to find his alternate potty every time.
Completely banishing the odor requires treating the entire affected area, including the carpet pad and subflooring. Here are your needed cleanup supplies:
• Ultraviolet light
• Masking tape
• Odor neutralizer
• Old sponges
• White towels or paper towels
• Spatula or putty knife
• Cheap, large crystal silica gel cat litter
Before you can clean up the cat pee, you’ve got to find the pee spots — all of them. That’s not as easy as it sounds. Hydrogen sulfide, a gas emitted by poop and pee, deadens the nerve endings in your nose. You may be able to smell ammonia, but your nose, confused by locations, can’t pinpoint them. Fortunately, those inconspicuous pee spots are visible under the right conditions.
The soiled area in the carpet resembles an iceberg. You are only seeing the tip. If the surface stain appears to be the size of a silver dollar, it has likely spread to dinner plate diameter beneath the pad. You must clean all the layers. Even the best odor eliminator won’t work if it doesn’t fully saturate the soiled layers. You may want to use a large medical or cooking syringe (a needle is not necessary) to inject sufficient quantities of chemicals deep into the carpet pad.
When the ammonia odor persists or your cat returns to the spot, pull the carpet up and treat the wood or concrete subflooring. When the subfloor has dried, seal it, then saturate the carpet with odor removers. Failing that, you may need to replace floor boards, in addition to carpeting and padding. Don’t forget to scrub the walls and baseboards. You may have to treat the carpet multiple times in order to pass the feline muster.
You can safely and cheaply remove cat pee from your concrete slab by steeping it with hydrogen peroxide. It will bubble on contact. Repeat the process until you can apply the peroxide without a bubbling reaction. It may take a week of repeated treatments to thoroughly purge the odor. Once the odor has been removed from the foundation, apply a concrete sealer. This creates a vapor barrier.
When cleaning up a fresh mistake (translation: still wet), place a white cloth or paper towel over the spot and blot it by pressing down. Do this until you pull no more moisture from the carpet. Avoid printed designs or borders because the dye could bleed into a light-colored carpet. Also, don’t rub the carpet with the cloth, as this will only force the pee farther from the original spot and deeper into the pad. Left untreated, cat pee will eventually fade the color of the carpet — another reason to clean a pee spot as soon as you find it.
Before you buy a cleanup product, find out how it works. Read the label warnings. These cautions list a cleaner’s wide range of potential injuries, from irritation of the gastrointestinal tract to chemical burns in mouth, esophagus and stomach. While the warnings are alarming, the more frightening part is they are intended for people. Your cat is more at risk.
Next, look at the ingredient list. Look for ingredients ending in “-ol” or “-ene,” which typically indicates toxic solvents. “Chlor” usually includes chlorine. “Glycols” contain petroleum-based ether. “Phenols” can include coal tar derivatives. None of these things are good for your cat.
Never allow your cat into areas where you use or store cleaners. Clean up spills of concentrated chemicals immediately so your cat doesn’t walk across it and later ingest it while licking his paws.
When you think the site is clean, rinse again. The same logic should be used whether you are cleaning carpets or mopping the floor. Avoid cleaners containing ammonia. Because cat pee contains ammonia, cleaning a pee stain with ammonia is basically inviting your cat to refresh the spot with his own ammonia — pee.
Most products are safe for use around cats when you follow the directions. Three factors determine the dosage of what is toxic to cats:
• Concentration: Is the concentration of the chemical 2 percent or 98 percent?
• Quantity: Did the cat get one or two licks or two tablespoons?
• Size of the cat: Is he a 2-pound kitten or a 14-pound adult? Size makes a difference.
You may turn to “natural” cleaners to protect your cat, but just because the active ingredient comes from a natural source doesn’t ensure its safety.
Here is a rundown of odor neutralizers, how they work and the advantages and disadvantages of each:
Molecular odor eliminators: This class of product bonds with odor molecules, permanently converting an odor molecule into a non-odor molecule. They aren’t affected by chemicals previously applied to the carpet. They work immediately and permanently, but they are rather expensive. Some of the best are Zero Odor, and CritterZone Air Naturalizer.
Oxygenators: These products cause a chemical reaction that adds oxygen to the odor molecule, changing its composition. These products break down odors into carbon dioxide and water. The process is frequently used in wastewater treatment plants and in the purification of drinking water. You can buy ready-to-use liquids or powders. One of the best oxygenation odor eliminator for carpets is Fizzion.
Disinfectants: Antibacterial agents kill the bacteria – the source of the odor. If the bacteria are destroyed, so is the odor. Most bactericides can be used on soiled spots with results in under an hour. The carpet should then be cleaned immediately and liquids extracted. Allow the floor to thoroughly dry before giving pets access. Disinfectants should not be used at full strength. Check the label and use according to directions.
Enzymatics: Enzymes are made of proteins that work like saliva, breaking down the odor molecules, but they do not digest it. Since they’re not living organisms, they are not vulnerable to chemicals and extreme heat and cold, like live bacteria. Chemicals in other products, such as detergents and pesticides, won’t affect the enzymes. Enzymes will dissolve detergent residue from earlier carpet cleanings. Enzymes are pH sensitive and pH fluctuates as the odor breaks down, working best at a neutral pH between 6 and 8. They only work when they are moist, and like bacteria, can take about 24 hours to break down odor molecules.
Deodorizer/Masking Agents: These products use fragrance to cover up a stinky molecule with pleasant-smelling molecule. The foul reality is temporarily overpowered by the fragrant smoke screen. The odor’s true nature will return when the masking perfume wears off. Deodorizers usually contain fragrances, alcohol and water, which mask the odor-causing molecules but do not change them. These products may fool your nose, but not your cat’s. He knows where to find the pee.
Detergents: Detergent cleans and odor absorbers (such as foaming spray carpet cleaners) use surfactants to loosen organic material and dirt from fabrics, but some odor may remain. They may contain cationic detergents that can burn your cat’s skin or mouth.
If your carpet is too heavily soiled, you may need to bring in a professional carpet cleaning company to completely remove urine odor. Before hiring a company, find out what kind of chemicals the company plans to use. Ask your veterinarian to see if those chemicals are pet-safe. Also, check with your local Better Business Bureau for complaints and other websites for other reviews the company may have.
By Sarah Zumhofe
Being a great neighbor is all about being aware of your own impact on the environment, including cleanliness, tidiness, and noise level. When you have a dog, you have to try even harder to be conscientious. Being a good dog-owning neighbor isn’t difficult, but in some cases, it requires a little bit of extra work. Here are some fairly simple tips for how you can avoid ticking off the neighbors today.
Build a fence
If you don’t have a solid, dog-proof fence surrounding your property, then the first step to being a good neighbor is to get one built. This is certainly the most expensive and possibly time-consuming step you can take - according to Thumbtack, the average price to install a fence is $500 to $4,500 - but it’s also the most vital. Without a good fence, your dog will inevitably wander onto your neighbor’s property, which can be a problem for so many reasons. Not only that, but a fence prevents your dog’s line of sight. This can reduce their temptation to act out and misbehave.
Always leash up
It doesn’t matter how well-behaved and friendly your dog is. When you’re walking around the neighborhood, it’s just good etiquette to always have a leash on your dog. A friendly dog can be seen as aggressive, even if that “aggression” is just excitement. Some children and adults harbor a deep fear of dogs, especially ones that are large and/or rambunctious. Dogs on leashes are simply easier to control than dogs that are not. To ensure your dog doesn’t frighten someone, tear up someone’s flower bed, or discreetly poop on their lawn, just use a leash. It’s
good manners. And the benefits of keeping your dog leashed are plentiful.
If your dog has never been properly trained to walk on a leash, it’s important that you train him. He can be a danger to others and even himself, especially if he excites easily and tends to jump on people or take off running at any free opportunity. Angie’s List notes that it’s important to get the right gear
including a nylon, non-retractable dog leash and a harness or collar with ID tags. When you’re ready to start walking, Canna-Pet suggests starting inside and teaching him cues to enforce good and discourage bad behavior before taking your first stroll around the block.
Focus on proper training
There’s not a lot you can do to mitigate the misbehavior of a bad dog - so don’t have a bad dog. Improperly-trained dogs will bark, and will not stop when commanded to. Poorly-trained dogs will dig, jump at fences, and attempt to convince neighboring dogs to misbehave as well. You cannot overcome a bad dog through tricks and tips. The only way to avoid this is to focus on training.
The most annoying action a dog can take, in terms of infuriating neighbors, is to bark incessantly. How do you get your dog to stop barking? There are a variety of techniques that, if used in tandem, should make your dog relatively quiet. First, never leave your dog outside if they are barking. Second, remove the motivation. Do not reward your dog with attention when they bark. Ignore it (but ignore it inside). Finally, teach your dog to respond to the “quiet” command. You do this through positive reinforcement (praise and rewards when they are quiet).
Check here for more tips on this.
Pick up the poop
Many dog owners forget this simple fact: dog poop smells. It smells terrible. If you think that your neighbors can’t smell your dog’s waste that is left sitting in the backyard in the hot sun, you’re sorely mistaken. Being a good neighbor means scooping the poop, even if it’s just on your own property.
It’s also good for your dog’s health to clean up after them. As DogTrainingBasics.com points out, “Poop left lying around is just unsanitary. It can also lead to your dog picking up intestinal parasites.”
The key to being a good dog-owning neighbor is to remember than nobody loves your dog as much as you do. Not everyone is a dog person, and even the ones who are have trouble forgiving dog faux pas if they are committed again and again. In the end, if you focus on training, always clean up after your dog, and keep them under control at all times, you’ll be fine.
By Jessica Brody
Photo by Taylor Bryant on Unsplash
During warm months, the nose-sniffing curiosity and predatory nature of your dog could land them on the losing end in a confrontation with stinging insects in your yard or home.
And forget about trying to train an indoor cat, who is hardwired to pursue moving prey, to not chase, swat or even eat a wayward stinging insect flying inside your home.
“In regards to bees and wasps, the real issue is the number of stings the animal gets and whether he or she is allergic to the sting,” says dermatologist William H. Miller, VMD, a director of the Companion Animal Hospital at Cornell University School of Veterinary Medicine.
The Buzz on Bees
Honey bees are work-driven insects on pollinating missions. They are more out and about during the heat of the day, flying from one patch of flowers and ground covers to the next to collect pollen. They tend to sting only when they’re protecting their hives or dogs or cats are aggressively stalking them.
However, killer bees can be provoked enough to inflict a swarm attack on dogs and cats.
If you can easily see the stinger on the dog or cat, slide the edge of your driver’s license or credit card against the stinger to push it out. Refrain from using tweezers or even your fingernails — you can unintentionally rupture the venom sac. Monitor the pet and if necessary, consult a veterinarian about giving the pet a pet-safe antihistamine to reduce mild swelling.
It can take hours for an oral over-the-counter medication to be effective. However, some pets can have a severe allergic reaction to insect stings. If the pet’s throat swells, cutting off his air supply, and begins breathing rapidly, wheezes, vomits, trembles, displays pale gums or collapses, immediately take him to the veterinarian. He could be going into anaphylactic shock, an emergency in which the blood circulation shuts down.
“Be prepared to do CPR if necessary, especially with swelling around the throat that may block breathing,” says Dr. Miller. “And get to the clinic as quickly as possible.”
If a bee enters your home, shuttle the pet into a closed room and then try to usher the bee back out a door. Restrict access to popular bee areas: flower beds with pollen-producing plants and yards with clover.
The Word on Wasps
Unlike honey bees, wasps, including yellow jackets, paper wasps and hornets, tend to be aggressive attackers who repeatedly sting their targets. Heed the same care advice as given for bees.
Wasps tend to make nests in holes in the ground and the eaves, under porches, sheds and even fencing. Regularly inspect these areas for signs of wasp nests, especially during summer. Contact a professional pest control company if you find multiple nests or a large one. For a small nest, don long sleeves and pants, follow the instructions on the pesticide container and spray at night when wasps are less active and more apt to be inside the nest.
By Sarah Zumhofe
Are you thinking of getting your first dog or cat? Becoming a pet owner is a big commitment, but it’s well worth the investment. Companion animals are a source of comfort and can ease anxiety and stress. If you’re ready to bring a pet home, here are six questions you’ll want to answer first.
Which Pet Is Right for You?
Take some time to really think about your answer to this one. Consider your home, your lifestyle, and your new pet’s comfort when making your decision. Love getting outside and have a big backyard? A dog could be your perfect companion. Don’t like walking that much and live in a small apartment? Then a cat may be a better option for you. Once you’ve picked your pet, think about which breed will be best as well. Some breeds are more active than others, and some may require more grooming and upkeep. You can even get a hypoallergenic pet (see www.babble.com/home/12-great-pets-for-people-with-allergies) if you suffer from allergies.
How Should You Prepare Your Home?
Help your new pet feel right at home by taking some time to really prepare your home. If you have houseplants around, check to see if they are safe for animals and remove or reposition those that may be toxic. If you plan on letting your dog out in your yard, check for poisonous plants (see www.thespruce.com/plants-poisonous-to-dogs-2132451) there as well. Be careful when using pesticides and lawn treatments and think about switching out cleaning products for more natural products that won’t cause harm to dogs or cats.
What Supplies Will You Need?
If you’re getting a new pet, you’ll need a few necessities. If you’re leaning toward a large dog, you’ll want to make sure they have a large bed of their own, a leash that’s easy on your hands, and maybe raised food and water bowls. A cat will likely need a good brush that will keep excess hair away, and a couple of scratching posts will save your furniture from scratches. Pick up some basics, like food and litter boxes, as well. Getting the right gear will keep your pet comfortable and you stress free.
How Will You Keep Your Pet Safe?
Your new pet will depend on you for their safety, so take steps to keep them out of harm’s way. Keep dogs on a secure leash and be careful when opening doors if you have a cat. Microchipping is a smart idea for any pet and can improve the chances for a reunion if they do get lost. Be mindful of foods that can be hazardous to your pet’s health. Keep an eye out for these toxic foods in trash and out in public and make sure to keep them out of reach in your own home.
What Kind of Schedule Will Your New Pet Have?
Dogs and cats thrive on routines, so set up a schedule for your new pal. Most vets recommend feedings twice a day and daily time for play. Dogs need walks twice a day and a few trips outside for potty breaks in between. Puppies may need more frequent trips outside. You may need to spend time teaching a new kitten how to use the litter box. Keep time commitments in mind when picking out your pet and then establish their new routine as quickly as possible to help them settle in safely.
How Will You Bond With Your New Pal?
Connecting with your new pet may take some time and effort, so be patient when building the bonds between you and your new buddy. Training and play are wonderful ways to connect with your pet, so set aside a few minutes each day to hang out together. Using positive reinforcement can also help foster a healthy relationship. Rescued animals can be especially nervous in a new home, and you may need to take extra steps to establish trust and encourage affection. Patience and positivity can go a long way in welcoming a new pet into your world.
You should be excited to become a pet owner! It’s quite the commitment, but a little planning and knowledge will keep your new pal healthy and help you enjoy your new life together.
By Jessica Brody
Next to housetraining, one of the biggest challenges — and frustrations — you may face as a pet parent with the arrival of a newly adopted puppy is his insistence on mouthing and nipping your hand, forearm and ankle. It also ranks among the top reasons puppies and young dogs are relinquished to animal shelters.
Sure, your pup is darn cute and full of canine charm – but ouch! His little pointed teeth can hurt and even break skin. And, without being taught the safe and acceptable way to interact with people, your dog’s playful biting behavior can evolve into a more serious issue: play aggression.
“Play aggression is playful behavior, but with over-exuberance and without adequate (bite) inhibition,” notes Pamela Perry, DVM, Ph.D., a veterinary behaviorist at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine’s Animal Behavior Clinic in Ithaca, NY. “Uncontrolled play is dangerous because the dog can knock people down or injure them with their teeth.”
It is important to recognize that playful mouthing and nipping is normal behavior among fast-growing puppies. Play mouthing starts to develop in puppies between 2 and 4 weeks of age and accelerates between 4 and 14 weeks of age as they learn the proper play etiquette with their littermates. When one puppy accidentally bites down too hard on another or jumps on him too hard, the other lets out a painful yelp. This is a signal to the first puppy to tone down his play.
“Puppies learn from their littermates that overly exuberant play (growling, biting and wrestling) is not tolerated,” says Dr. Perry. “This is very important that puppies have adequate socialization with littermates or with other puppies of similar age so that they learn to inhibit their bites.”
But sometimes, a puppy is separated from his littermates before learning the canine rules of bite inhibition. He needs your help in learning how to play politely.
Dr. Perry offers these strategies to help you tone down your dog’s mouthing and nipping actions:
• Head to school. Enroll your young pup (after he has completed his round of puppy vaccinations) in a class taught by a professional dog trainer. During these supervised classes, your puppy gets to learn how to play properly with other puppies of his own age.
• Select the right toys. Your fast-growing puppy is teething and transitioning to permanent adult teeth. His gums may ache. Provide him with appropriate chew toys to satisfy his oral needs.
• Choose your interactive games wisely. Two safe games to engage with your puppy are fetch and tug-of-war. When done properly, these games provide an acceptable outlet for your puppy’s innate urges to grab and pull on things with his mouth. Ideal fetch toys include tennis balls and nylon floppy discs. Fetch provides a safe distance between you and your puppy. For tug-of-war play, choose a tug toy that is at least three feet in length to give a safe distance between your hand and your dog’s mouth. Teach your dog to drop the tug toy on cue so he learns that you start and end all fun games.
• Avoid hand wrestling with your puppy. Never tease your puppy by placing your hand over his muzzle in a friendly game of wrestling. Don’t permit him to nibble or pounce on your toes, either. Unintentionally, you are encouraging his mouthy behavior. • Don’t hit or pin your puppy. Resist smacking your puppy’s muzzle or holding his mouth closed if he nips you as these punitive tactics can backfire and cause him to bite more, and harder.
• Teach your dog to be gentle during play. If your puppy’s teeth contact your skin, make a high-pitched yelp to let him know it hurts. Don’t quickly yank your hand from his mouth because this rapid movement can trigger his play drive. Instead, let your hand go limp as you move it away from his mouth.
• Know when to stand up and end play. Employ time outs to teach your puppy that fun playtime ends when he becomes too mouthy or nippy. Do this by abruptly yet calmly standing up, turning around and walking away. This technique teaches your puppy that gentle interactive play reaps your attention and overly aggressive actions halts playtime. Resume play with your puppy when he is calm.
“As soon as the puppy will calmly sit for the owner, play may resume,” adds Dr. Perry. “In general, puppy mouthing can be prevented or managed by giving the puppy lots of exercise, play dates with other puppies and obedience training to teach appropriate behaviors.”
Start teaching your puppy the proper play rules from Day 1 while he is still young and his bites are not as harmful. Dr. Perry also recommends teaching your puppy to learn to sit on cue before any interactions with people: greeting visitors to the home, engaging in fetch or other games or getting ready to go on a leashed walk.
Be on the lookout for warning signs that over-exuberant play mouthing has evolved into canine aggression that warrants seeking the help of a veterinary behaviorist. Some dogs may start biting out of frustration or fear.
“Things that indicate the play aggression is progressing to something more serious include stiff body postures, staring, or prolonged deep-toned growling,” says Dr. Perry. “Inadvertent reinforcement of mouthing behavior, inconsistent interactions, or use of physical punishment (hitting the puppy) can exacerbate the problem and lead to fear- or conflict-related aggression.”
By Sarah Zumhofe
Forge a Fear-Free Home for Fido; Secure a safe retreat space for your dog to minimize stress and maximize emotional rest.
When your pet is fearful, anxious, stressed or just plain needs extra space, you don’t always have time to figure out how to deal with it. Having an action plan in place is a preventive step you can take to help your dog feel safe, one that can stand alone or be used in tandem with veterinary-led interventional efforts. The feeling of being prepared is empowering for you and reassures your pet that you’re in charge and all is well.
One way to achieve this is to create a safe, secure home retreat where your pet can go when he wants to rest and relax or when he’s feeling a little — or a lot — stressed.
Building A Fear Free Fortress
A Fear Free fortress doesn’t require a moat or high walls. It simply needs to be a place where your pet feels secure, no matter what’s going on around him.
The fortress may be an area your pet has chosen in the past to hide out, such as a bathroom or bathtub. If he hasn’t indicated a preference, you can create such a space. Ideal spots are insulated from outside noise. Such spaces may include an inner room, bathroom, closet or basement.
Keep exit points and doors of the fortress open to allow free movement in and out. Fearful pets may panic if they are trapped or simply feel trapped inside an enclosed space.
When static electricity builds up on a dog’s coat, it can be a shocking experience — literally! Dogs naturally take measures to decrease the static shock that can build up in their coat during storms. They do this by fleeing for spaces like bathrooms or basements where static is naturally lessened. For these dogs, the ideal safe setup may be a space where static is minimized.
Provide Hiding Places
Inside the fortress, your pet should have places where he can take cover. Some popular hideaway options include the following:
• Blankets and bedding that allow the dog to burrow
• A covered space insulated from outside sounds. You can purchase one or make your own using an indoor doghouse, a covered pet bed, or a crate draped with blankets on up to three sides, leaving the door open.
Stock your pet’s fortress with “survival supplies” so he doesn’t feel the need to venture out if he doesn’t want to. These include water, comfortable bedding, toys, food puzzles, comfort items, and a supply of tasty treats.
Make the fortress inviting in other ways as well. For instance, spritz calming species-specific synthetic pheromones on bedding or place a pheromone dispenser near the fortress to provide a chemical sense of comforting calm similar to the serene scent a mother dog or cat provides at birth for nursing pups or kittens.
You can also create comfort through calming scents placed near the fortress. Applying them on specific items of bedding or toys gives pets the choice of moving closer to the scented item or further away. Soothing scents include lavender, chamomile, and worn, unwashed items of clothing belonging to the dog’s favorite people.
Set The Stage
Often, you know in advance which types of events are going to have an effect on your pet. He may be anxious or fearful during thunderstorms, fireworks explosions, or visits from rambunctious relatives. Have practice hangouts in the fortress prior to the frightening event.
Start by laying a Hansel and Gretel-type trail leading into the space. After your pet follows it, reinforce him for being in his fortress, using rewards he appreciates. These might include food treats he doesn’t usually get, or play with a favorite toy.
Food Puzzle Fun
Providing food puzzles in the safe space focuses the dog on something positive rather than potential negatives. Food puzzles increase the amount of time dogs spend eating, channeling their energy into a productive activity.
Provide a variety of food puzzle types in the dog’s Fear Free fortress or select types you know your dog enjoys. Puzzles that are easy to “unpack” are good choices for sedentary dogs or those without much hunting instinct. More complex puzzles call for dogs to use paws or their nose to move the toy to cause it to release food. Stuff a few food puzzles and freeze them so that you have one readily available when needed to occupy your pet. Freezing also helps the treat toy last longer.
Learn more fear-free techniques by visiting www.fearfreepets.com.
By Sarah Zumhofe
Sarah Zum Hofe was born in 1987 in St. Louis, MO- and has since then had a love affair with animals!