Dog welfare in the Year of the Dragon

Tonight at midnight marks the start of the Year of the Dragon. In the Chinese Zodiac, the dragon represents power, strength and good luck. These auspicious qualities are needed at a time of deep change in Chinese culture. Animal cruelty laws are lacking in China — at the same time, though, there are many who are beginning to recognize the welfare needs of animals and are starting to do something about it through individual acts like this one:

More than 1,100 dogs in Chongqing rescued from dinner table.

There is a long way to go in the West as well as in Asia when it comes to the welfare of animals. One step at a time.

Gong Xi Fa Cai, wishing all a healthy, productive and powerful New Year.

 

 

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Introducing our new employee and device-tester, Ivy

Ivy Lee

Introducing Ivy Lee, the first of several new members of our inimitable staff at Reisner Veterinary Behavior & Consulting Services. She is 5 or perhaps 7 years old and was brought as a stray to a local shelter, Delaware County SPCA, in Media, PA three years ago. She was wearing an anti-bark shock collar with hair loss and redness on her neck. When she wasn’t claimed after several days, she was recruited as an entry level toy and miscellaneous-device tester. She is a permanent employee in spite of her preoccupation with snacking during work hours. Incidentally, the shock collar was discarded — we are a positive reinforcement-based facility, after all — and she is free to express herself. Welcome, Ivy!

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Seven Litter Boxes Gone Wrong

One of the benefits of making housecalls is being invited into the homes of my patients. In homes with cats, litter boxes make for some interesting social as well as elimination (that is, bathroom) behaviors. Not everyone is aware of the “ideal” litter box environment, which I think is understandable, given the sizes (often too small) and types (covered, in many cases) of boxes available in pet supply stores.

Urinating and defecating outside the litter box is the most common behavior problem in cats. Why does it happen and what can you do to prevent it? Sometimes the best illustrations are those that tell you what not to do. So here are some examples of boxes that needed fixing, each from a case in which a cat was eliminating outside the box.

  1. The Homemade Box

There was one litter box in the center of the vast, finished basement. At first glance, the size and setting weren’t bad. But at second, it turned out to be a wooden box built by the owner 27(!) years earlier, and which had apparently absorbed 27 years’ worth of urine and ammonia. Clearly, 25 years would have sufficed.

  1. The Unscooped Box

Not an uncommon finding, and I actually appreciate seeing the box “as is” during the housecall. We’ve all been there, and our lives are busy. But some boxes are scooped so infrequently, the cat finds herself perching on a clumping litter Rock of Gibralter. At least this one is an easy fix!

  1. The Basement Box

Basements are popular litter box havens for the owner, but not necessarily for the cat. In one memorable case, the basement box was on an uneven cement floor about 10 feet from the stairs. Between the stairs and the box were several planks of wood, so that the cat could walk to the box without stepping in the 1-2 inches of water left standing after each rainfall. It was tricky to stay on the planks in the dark, as well. Not ideal!

  1. The Invisible Box

In an effort to hide the litter box, it was placed in the recesses of a homemade cabinet. In order to reach the box, the cat had to climb into a hole on the side of the cabinet and go, in the dark, to its other side, stepping down into a “drawer” which held the box. This labyrinth was not easy to maneuver, and the cat eventually decided that open air was a safer bet.

  1. The Bathroom Sandwich Box

In this home, the litter box was nested snugly between the toilet bowl and the bathtub. If the cat happened to be doing his business at the same time as a flush or a shower, his experience would be less than pleasant, and sometimes less than dry, as well. To add insult to injury, the box had to be quite small, almost dishpan size, to fit into this little space.

  1. The Laundry Room Box

Second only to the bathroom, the laundry room is a popular litter box destination. Unfortunately, it was one of the noisiest rooms in this house, especially when the washing machine changed cycles or someone threw a belt buckle into the dryer. All it took was a noise-sensitive cat, and this was another great example of feline learning.

  1. The Snack Box

Okay, not a pretty topic, but when dogs and cats live together, the litter box might be visited often…by both. In this home there were many cats, and even more Silky Terriers. Multiple litter boxes were lined against the dining room walls and one little male dog, in particular, walked from box to box looking for snacks, scaring the cats away as needed (it was the dining room, after all).

Cats are very smart, as we who live with them can confirm. If a litter box is out of reach, uncomfortable, dirty, or inconvenient, they might simply choose an accessible, comfy, clean and convenient alternative: your carpet.

Do you have an unusual litter box story?

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Ten New Year’s Resolutions for Dog People

Just in time for 2012, here are ten suggested New Year’s Resolutions for those of us who live with companion dogs. Each will be expanded in its own blog post in the coming weeks.

  1. Read a positive reinforcement-based training book. There are plenty of dog books on bookstore shelves, but bestseller status doesn’t necessarily mean a book contains ethical or well-researched information. Scan the book beforehand and see for yourself whether the author’s suggestions are humane and whether they make sense.
  2. Omit the word “no” from your vocabulary. When a motivated dog is inhibited by an exclamation of “no”, he may become frustrated and then redouble his efforts behind your back. Most important, yelling at your dog may make him nervous around you. Instead of telling him what you don’t want him to do, try telling him what you’d like him to do, and reward him for it.
  3. Use a humane collar and secure lead when walking your dog. Whether or not you need a device to inhibit pulling, there are better choices than chokers (also called “training collars”) or pinch/prong collars. Head collars work well, although they may require some extra attention-diversion at first, and there are several no-pull harnesses available as well. A retractable lead is not as secure as a web or leather lead.
  4. Avoid working with dog trainers who use aversive (negative) techniques. Remember that quite literally anyone can hang up a trainer’s shingle. Trust your instincts if it seems the trainer is doing things you wouldn’t do yourself.
  5. Do not use a shock collar on your dog. No matter if it’s called “stimulation” or other euphemism, shock is painful, and pain can lead to fearfulness and aggression. The worst offenders are remote-controlled (by the owner) devices. If in doubt, throw it out.
  6. Don’t be afraid to use “human food” as positive reinforcement for desirable behavior. I often hear from clients that they were advised to avoid human foods because their dog will become fat or learn to beg at the table. But positive reinforcement rewards should be high value and certainly don’t have to be high in fat. Cubed chicken trumps kibble any day! 
  7. Teach your dog one new trick each month to keep her engaged and stimulated — and to guarantee dedicated quality time for both of you.
  8. Feed your dog at least some of his daily food in puzzle toys. There is no law dictating that dogs must inhale their food from a bowl. Making the food a little more challenging to obtain also serves as mental enrichment.  
  9. Don’t force your nervous dog to tolerate petting by strangers. When someone asks to pet your dog, and you know that your dog is less than thrilled with such contact, don’t be shy about saying no.
  10. Never leave your dog unsupervised in unpredictable situations. Although she may be a reliable dog in most circumstances, the behavior of others around her – especially children – is not as reliable. It might be best to leave her safely at home when visiting street fairs, picnics and soccer games.
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After the Holidays….

The Holidays — all of them — last a long time and many of us are preoccupied by the inevitable planning, shopping, hosting or visiting, travel and other out-of-routine activities. Our companion animals manage to skate through it all, but they (along with their human family members) often show some signs of wear. Yes, there are annual warnings about cats and tinsel (don’t have any), and dogs and chocolate (don’t have….well, at least put it away in a high cabinet), but there are other concerns that might not become apparent until sometime in January.

For 2 or 3 months, our dogs’ and cats’ routines have been disrupted. On top of this, if any problems were noticed, they were firmly placed on the back burner, to be dealt with after the holidays. When schedules and patience are stretched, it is common for dogs to urinate in the hallway and bark a little more than usual, for cats to hide under the spare bed or argue a little more heatedly with each other. Boarding or enduring house-sitters, cat feeders and dog walkers can also take a toll.

The moral? Our best intentions — to try and minimize stress for our pets — might be kiboshed by chaos (and reality).  Once the holidays are behind us, then, it’s a good idea to take inventory of behavior changes and do our best to address them systematically and kindly. Sit down with some of that chocolate (it’s up in a high cabinet), sketch out a plan for your pets, and reimagine their routines — as well as your own. You’ve got only nine months to do it.

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Welcome to our new website!

Welcome to Reisner Veterinary Behavior & Consulting Services’ website. Please visit the different pages to get an idea of our services. On the navigation menu you can scroll through pages for the behavior consultation service for pet owners, professional consulting services for pediatric/medical, corporate, educational and other clients, information about veterinary behavioral medicine as a veterinary specialty, and frequently asked questions about behavior and behavioral medicine. Please check back for blog entries by visiting the blog directly at reisnervetbehavior.com/blog or by clicking on the headlines/news listed on the home page (News and Events).

You can contact us at any time by telephone (484-443-8738), email (drreisner@reisnervetbehavior.com) or via the website’s contact page.

The website is still being constructed behind the scenes and soon will also include article pdfs authored by Dr. Reisner as well as other behavior-related materials and articles.

Please also visit our facebook page (www.facebook.com/reisnervetbehavior) and introduce yourself, and visit this blog often. I hope to provide information and regular updates that are useful for all of us who live with, and care for, dogs and cats.

Best wishes,
Ilana Reisner, DVM, PhD, DACVB

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