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How to use clicker training with your dog

 by lucy on 26 Jun 2018 |
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Unlike traditional training, which relies on fear, pain or intimidation to bully pets into learning, clicker training uses positive reinforcements. Clicker training is a popular way to train dogs by rewarding good behavior. Unlike traditional training, which relies on fear, pain or intimidation to bully pets into learning, clicker training uses positive reinforcement to shape your pet’s actions.   A clicker is a small, handheld device that—as the name implies—makes a “click” noise when pressed. Owners use the sound in place of marker words traditionally used in training, and for good reason. While praising your pet with a “yes” or “good boy” after he performs a trick certainly works, clickers make a distinctive noise. Unlike our voices, which we use constantly around our pets, the click is a sound your pet will associate only with training. Unlike our voices, too, clickers produce a constant, neutral sound. This can eliminate the confusion your pet experiences when trying to decipher the tone of your voice, helping him focus more on the task at hand.   Clicker training relies on the scientific concept that animals will continue to perform a behavior that is rewarded. To begin clicker training with your pet, click every time your dog looks at you, followed immediately with a reward. After some practice, your pet will know the sound signals a tasty treat is able to arrive and you can begin using the clicker to shape his behaviors. If you’re teaching your dog to lie down, for example, start by clicking every time he lowers his head to follow your hand when you give the “lie down” command. Once your dog has mastered this, click only when he begins to curve his body closer to the ground. Eventually, you will only use the clicker and food reward when your pet has fully executed the trick.   As with any type of training, shaping behavior using a clicker takes practice, so simply walk away and resume teaching another time if you or your dog becomes frustrated. Canines learn best in short spurts, so training beyond five or ten minutes will likely only irritate both you and your pet. Try to find a quiet location during the early stages of clicker training and reward each small step toward the desired action until your dog fully masters each new trick. If your pet is struggling with a certain trick, you can also use a food lure to speed up progress toward desired actions. When using a clicker, it’s important to remember the sound is a reward for doing something right—not a way to get your dog’s attention. Never use the clicker to call your dog, and always follow the click immediately with a treat

The stress-free way to trim your dog’s nails

 by lucy on 08 May 2018 |
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If you’re like many dog owners, trimming your pet’s nails is an event surrounded by anxiety and drama. Some pet parents even avoid cutting their pooch’s nails altogether for fear they’ll hurt their companion. Trimming your dog’s nails doesn’t have to be stressful, however, with the right techniques and tools.   Keeping Fido’s feet healthy is important and that begins with keeping his nails short. While some active pets wear their nails down naturally, most need a little extra help from their humans. Not only are long toenails painful for your pet as they tap against hard surfaces, but they can create serious communication problems between his body and brain. In the wild, dogs run long distances, wearing their nails down so they only touch the ground when walking uphill. Your pet’s brain is evolutionarily programed to associate toenail contact with walking uphill, then, causing a shift in his body posture when his nails grow too long. Since the hill is not real, your pet is leaning forward over his front limbs for no reason, causing him to compensate with his hind legs to stay upright. The end result is a pet with overtaxed and overtired muscles and joints, which can lead to pain in the long run. Fortunately, clipping your dog’s toenails can help restore his natural balance.   To minimize anxiety over clippers, handle your pet’s paws regularly and introduce him to the clippers, using plenty of treats and praise, before you ever cut his nails. When you’re ready to trim his toenails, use sharp, high-quality, scissor-style clippers. Purchase small clippers for the best control and hold your pet’s paw firmly, but gently while cutting at a 45-degree angle. Trim in small increments to avoid cutting the quick—the a soft cuticle in the center of your dog’s nail that contains blood vessels and nerves. If you do cut too far, you can dip your pet’s paw in corn starch to stop the bleeding. For dogs with light-colored nails, the quick is easily visible, making trimming easier. For pets with dark-colored nails, however, trim only until you see the white lining inside the nail, with a small, black center. How often you trim depends on your individual pet and his activity level, but a good rule of thumb is to trim dogs’ nails roughly every three weeks.   Because the quick grows along with your dog’s nails, skipping a few trimming sessions can cause some serious paws problems. It is not uncommon for the quick to grow almost to the tip of the nail, which can make trimming your pet’s toenails almost impossible. In this case, it may be best to take your dog to the vet or a professional groomer, who can trim the nail and, over time, help the quick recede so you can go back to regular upkeep. For a DYI approach, trim a very small piece of your pup’s nail every couple of days until the quick recedes

Are essential oil diffusers safe for dogs?

 by lucy on 24 Apr 2018 |
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Essential oils are more than just a recent trend: They’ve been around since Biblical times, and for good reason. These concentrated plant oils don’t just offer calming or invigorating properties, but have also been used for natural healing for hundreds of years. While they can provide health benefits for humans, however, there is conflicting information on whether essential oils have the potential to help or harm our pets.   Essential oils occur in nature, giving plants their fragrant qualities. They protect plants and play a part in pollination, and for a long time, have helped in natural healing for both humans and animals. It’s important to note, however, that essential oils are volatile compounds that can be toxic to dogs at certain concentrations. Our pets can lick or eat these oils as well as absorb them through their skin, causing harmful or even fatal reactions in some cases. For this reason, using an essential oil diffuser is not recommended when you have a puppy under 10 weeks of age or dog with liver disease, which makes pets more sensitive to environmental factors.   Many practitioners, however, use essential oils as a natural alternative to medications for dogs. Adherents say lavender helps calm anxious pets, for example, and other uses range from boosting the immune system to increasing appetite. From shampoos to soaps, salves and sprays, these natural remedies are widely available for pets. If you’d like to use therapeutic essential oils for your dog, do so only under the guidance of a registered aromatherapist, found at, or a member of the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy, at Be sure to research which oils are safe to use with pets before starting any program.   Consuming essential oils or other potpourris can be harmful or deadly to pets. If you notice your dog drooling excessively, pawing at his mouth, experiencing difficulty breathing or walking, having muscle tremors, vomiting or otherwise acting lethargic, he may have eaten something poisonous. If you think your pet has consumed essential oils, call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center hotline at 888-426-4435 or the Pet Poison Helpline at 800-213-6680 and contact your veterinarian immediately. The sooner you seek treatment, the better the outcome for your pet. If possible, bring the product your dog ate to your vet to help with diagnosis.   While essential oils have healing properties for you and your pet, keep them out of reach of your four-legged friend at all times. This will help keep curious critters away from the sweet-smelling liquids. Consult your veterinarian before using any essential oils or other herbal products on your pets, and never apply undiluted essential oils to your canine companion or add them to his food or water.

Debarking: Facts and myths

 by yunus on 28 Mar 2018 |
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Barking is one of the major ways your dog communicates, but excessive vocalization can lead to disputes with the neighbors and owners relinquishing their dogs to the shelter. While voicing his concerns is a natural part of your dog’s daily life, these issues lead some owners to consider surgery to “debark” their dogs.   Also known as voice softening, debarking is an elective surgical procedure that reduces tissue in a dog’s vocal chords. Some veterinarians use a punch to remove tissue while others make cuts of varying sizes or use a laser. The goal is not to totally silence your pet, but to lower the volume of his voice so it does not carry. While some describe the procedure as cruel, others describe debarking as a relatively simple procedure that saves the lives of many pets that would otherwise be surrendered to shelters due to their loud voices.   While debarking is a simpler procedure than spaying or neutering your pet, there may be less invasive options to address Fido’s excessive vocalizations. When he barks, your dog is trying to tell you something, so pay close attention to what he’s trying to say. Ask yourself whether your pet is getting enough exercise, spending too much time alone, or feels the stress of separation anxiety when left home alone. Other common causes behind excessive barking include responding to neighborhood noises or alerting you to other animals or people on the property. Once you’ve pinpointed the source behind your dog’s barking, you can address the root of the problem. If your pet barks at passersby or the neighbor’s dog, for example, you can set up a privacy fence that keeps them out of sight. Dogs that bark when their owners leave home often feel safer with a comfortable spot to rest, such as a crate outfitted with soft bedding and a cover. Or, if your pet gets stressed spending long hours home alone, consider taking him to a doggy day care where he will get physical and mental stimulation throughout the day. You can encourage your pet to stay quiet by rewarding the behavior with treats and even teaching him the “quiet” command. Make sure your dog is getting enough exercise and don’t leave him alone for long periods of time, which can exacerbate barking due to pent up energy or separation anxiety.   As with any surgery, debarking involves a risk of complications and you should seek a skilled veterinarian if you opt to debark your pet. Benefits of the elective procedure include a dog that can bark whenever he wants without disapproval or risking conflict with the neighbors or his family. Because barking is not a problem in and of itself, however, it is worth working to identify and address the underlying cause of your pet’s persistent bark before opting for surgery. If you cannot determine the reason for Fido’s boisterous behavior, you may want to work with a behaviorist to pinpoint and address the issue. Chances are, spending money on training will lead to a happier, healthier relationship as you better understand what your dog is trying to tell you.

Why does my dog bark at nothing?

 by yunus on 27 Feb 2018 |
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Dogs bark for all kinds of reasons—to let you know they need to go out, to greet you playfully, or to alert you when a stranger is at the door. In each of these instances, your pet is trying to tell you something, but what about when Fido barks for seemingly no reason? It turns out, your dog may be noticing something you’re not, so pay close attention next time he engages in this behavior.   Canine behaviorists categorize barking in many ways, including territorial barking, alarm barking, attention-seeking, greetings, social barking, frustration-induced barking, separation anxiety barking and to let others know they are sick or injured. With so many different meanings behind your pet’s vocalizations, it can be difficult to determine what’s causing his seemingly needless barking. Dogs have hearing much better than our own, so our pets often pick up on noises we miss. If your dog is barking without cause, check if there is something making noise outside—or even in your home—that Fido may have mistaken for an intruder. The same goes for what your dog sees. A passing squirrel, jogger or other dog may be a non-event for you, but your pet may want to alert you of the change or protect his territory.   If you’ve watched for answers and still can’t find a reason behind your dog’s barking, there is a chance he’s developed a compulsive behavior. These are simply exaggerated forms of canines’ normal behaviors and can arise from conflict, stress or frustration. Compulsive behaviors often get worse with time to the point that dogs start to perform them without triggers, so it’s important to seek a professional’s help if you think your dog’s barking compulsive. Start by calling your veterinarian, who can diagnose your pet. Look for clues such as repetitive motions that accompany barking to help identify a compulsive behavior.   If Fido’s barking is causing problems for your or your neighbors, there are some steps you can take to curb the volume and frequency of his voice. If your pet barks at passersby or the neighbor’s dog, set up a privacy fence that keeps them out of sight. Dogs that bark when their owners leave the home will feel safer with a comfortable spot to rest, such as a crate outfitted with soft bedding and a cover. You can also teach your dog the “quiet” command or ask him to do a trick that prevents him from barking, such as giving him a toy and telling him to lie down. Make sure your pet is getting enough exercise and don’t leave him alone for long periods of time, which can exacerbate barking due to pent up energy or separation anxiety.

What does it mean when my dog licks the air?

 by lucy on 27 Dec 2017 |
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We’ve all watched our canine companions lick themselves clean, but some dogs lick at the air for seemingly no reason. While lip licking is perfectly normal in some cases, such as before a meal or after eating, this behavior can signal something’s wrong when it continues for no apparent reason or becomes a compulsive habit.   Dogs use body language to communicate and in the canine world, lip licking is an appeasement gesture. Dogs suffering from stress or trauma, or those that are more timid in general, are more prone to this behavior, which is your pet’s way of saying, “Let’s be friends.” To help reassure your dog, remain calm and assertive—but not forceful—and never use punishment as a part of his training. If he is suffering situational stress, such as from moving homes, try reducing the stressors as much as possible. If your dog is licking the air outside of stressful situations, there may be a physical or psychological reason behind his behavior. Licking the air constantly can indicate digestive problems or nausea as well as dental pain. Air licking is also associated with certain types of seizures, so it’s important to take your pet to the vet if he starts compulsively flapping his tongue. Your vet can help diagnose the problem and eliminate potentially serious health conditions that could be causing your pet’s behavior. If Fido does have a serious condition such as seizures, your veterinarian can prescribe medicine that can help prevent problems. If, however, your dog shows no signs of physical ailments, his lip licking may be a diagnosed as a compulsive disorder.   Like humans, our pets can suffer from psychological disorders that cause them to engage in repeated, obsessive behaviors. Air licking is one of these behaviors, and some dogs respond to treatment from a trained animal behaviorist. Other helpful changes include increasing Fido’s mental and physical stimulation; reducing stress-inducing stimuli; and positive replacement behavior for lip-licking, such as teaching your dog to lie down when the licking behavior starts. Before taking these routes, however, ask yourself if your dog has experienced any upset that could be causing the problem. Changes from moving house to introducing a new pet to the home, shifts in routine or the absence of a common person in his life can cause your pet stress. Rule out these stressors before seeking your veterinarian’s help.   Lip licking isn’t always a sign something’s wrong, but if you think it is, you can help your vet by providing him with some basic information. Give him a history of your pet’s licking behavior—including when it started, how long it’s been going on and where it most often occurs—as well as training and punishment practices used at home and how your family responds to the lip-licking behavior. This will help him get to the root of the problem causing your pet’s lip-licking behavior.

This is why your dog isn’t listening to you

 by lucy on 13 Dec 2017 |
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When your dog ignores your commands, it isn’t just frustrating—it can be dangerous to his health. Not only does snubbing your instructions show a lack of respect for you as his pack leader, but your dog’s failure to follow commands can put him in danger of being hit by a car, eating something hazardous, or engaging with an aggressive animal. There are a few reasons Fido might not be paying attention that aren’t immediately obvious.   If you’re having trouble communicating with your pet, try removing excess energy from the equation. When a dog is riled up, he’s more easily distracted and less likely to pay attention to your commands. Exercising him daily helps relive pent up energy, and speaking in a calm, assertive tone can let your pet know you mean business. This is important as dogs are pack animals and are most likely to listen to their owners when they perceive them to be pack leaders. Frenzied or uncertain speaking conveys to your dog that you do not have the situation under control and he may try to take matters into his own hands. If you’re not sure what kind of energy your commands are giving off, ask a friend or family member to observe your interactions and offer feedback.   Of course, failure to follow commands could also mean your dog doesn’t understand what you’re saying. It takes hundreds or even thousands of repetitions to master a new skill, and Fido may need to re-up his training before he’s nailed a trick. To make sit, stay and come even clearer, incorporate a unique hand gesture with each command. Body language is one of the most important ways dogs communicate with each other and this could help clarify what you’re asking. Practice commands using the same verbal and physical cues each time, offering treats and praise as rewards.   Communicating requires attention, so note your dog’s emotional state if he’s having trouble listening. If fireworks are going off, your pet may be too scared to register what you’re saying. Likewise, if your dog is busy claiming his territory from a passing pup, he may not listen to your command. If fear, dominance or another emotion is keeping your dog from being an A+ listener, it’s important to address these underlying issues. A professional behaviorist can offer help if you’re struggling with this.   There’s often more than meets that eye when dogs fail to listen to their owners, so it’s important to take a step back and examine why your pet might not be listening. Whether he’s distracted or having trouble understanding the command, your pet likely wants to please you and just needs some help along the way.

Flea allergies in dogs

 by lucy on 27 Nov 2017 |
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All pets itch when they have fleas, but some dogs face severe allergic reactions to bites from these pests. From itchy, red bumps to hair loss and life-threatening infections, flea allergies can cause a host of worries for your canine companion. Fortunately, preventative flea treatments can stop allergic reactions and help keep Fido feeling his best.   Like people, dogs can be allergic to mold, pollen and dust mites. Pets with those allergies are likely to struggle with flea allergies, too. The allergy—formally known as flea allergy dermatitis—is a reaction of your dog’s immune system to fleas’ saliva when they bite. Infected pets will itch and gnaw at irritated areas, causing hair loss and open sores. A tell-tale sign your dog has flea allergy dermatitis is hair loss on the back half of his body, especially near the base of his tail, inner thigh, stomach and groin. Dogs with fleas will also have either visible bugs on their skin or “flea dirt” that can be readily seen. Because fleas can cause your dog to itch until he has open wounds, infested pets can also develop staph infections, which can prove fatal if they spread. Fleas don’t tend to cluster on animals’ feet or heads, so hair loss or itching in those areas is likely due to another problem.   The first—and most obvious—step towards treating your dog’s flea allergy is to rid him of fleas. A wide variety of flea control products available on the market kills the parasites through oral treatments, topical applications or long-lasting collars. Most flea medications are available in a quick, monthly dose, making curing and preventing infestations easier than ever. New flea treatments are developing constantly, so ask your veterinarian which medication will work best for your pet. Secondary infections from a flea allergy, such as bacterial or yeast infections, may require antibiotics or antifungal medication to heal. Some pets will also need anti-itch medication such as antihistamines or steroids during their recovery. In these cases, follow-up exams are often necessary to track progress of treatments. Your veterinarian can test your pet for flea allergies using blood tests or pinpricks, but the easiest way to cure the symptoms of a flea allergy is to eliminate the bugs.   Certain breeds such as terriers, labs and golden retrievers are more prone to flea allergies, so owners should be especially attentive when it comes to preventing fleas. If your pet starts licking, chewing, rubbing or rolling to try to relieve his itching, he may have a flea allergy. Look for red bumps and hair loss as further signs your pet needs help treating his symptoms— and remember, the easiest way to treat a flea allergy to is stop fleas before they strike with a preventative medication.

How to talk to your dog

 by lucy on 22 Nov 2017 |
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What we say to our dogs is important, but the way we say it is crucial. Our tones and body language give our pets clues about whether we are giving commands, correcting bad behavior or lavishing them with praise for a job well done. By knowing what cues you are giving your pet, you can communicate better, reduce behavioral problems and strengthen the bond you share with your furry friend.   One of the cardinal rules of talking to your dog is to offer commands in a strong, firm voice. The most effective way to give a command is to say your dog’s name first so he knows you’re speaking to him. Even before asking him to sit or stay, however, you should teach your dog to look at you when asked. To do this, trace a line from your pet’s eyes to yours using your pointer finger or a treat. Once your dog holds eye contact with you for several seconds, reward him with a praise and the treat. Be consistent when giving commands and always reinforce good behavior with plenty of praise. Dogs use body language to communicate, too, so be sure to stand tall and act confident when asking your pet to perform a command.   Of course, our pets don’t always listen. When correcting your dog’s misbehavior, use a lower-pitched tone and short-clipped words. Once Fido has learned what a command means, do not simply repeat the command, but instead correct him with “No” followed by the command. If your dog continues to ignore you, place him in the instructed position. When he’s done what you’ve asked, be sure to reward him with praise, speaking in tone that is enthusiastic— but not so much that it drives Fido into a frenzy.   Humans and dogs use a whole different series of body language and you should be aware of this when communicating with your pet, too. If you’re telling your dog to stop barking, for example, remain calm and stand tall—an overly excited owner giving this command will only send mixed messages to his pet. Be careful not to loom over your dog, lock him in direct eye contact, or grip him in a tight hug, which can be seen as threats. Greet your dog with a hand he can sniff rather than a pat on the head, which can give Fido the impression you’re about to strike him. If you have an anxious or timid pet, you can even try licking your lips or yawning while looking away, which are appeasement gestures in dog-speak, and speaking in a higher-pitched, soothing tone.

Asistance Animals

 by lucy on 18 Nov 2017 |
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Humans and animals have been working side by side for around 15,000 years, but more recently animals have been helping us in much more complicated ways. We've all heard of hearing dogs – dogs trained to alert their owner to important sounds like ringing telephones, alarm clocks and fire alarms – but there are so many other animals, canine or otherwise, who have been helping out their human friends in new, exciting ways.   Guide horses are the equine equivalent of the guide dog. Some blind or visually impaired people choose not to use a guide dog for religious or medical reasons, and a miniature guide horse can be a useful alternative. Just like a dog, a miniature horse can be trained to guide its owner around objects, away from danger, notify its owner to surface elevation changes and retrieve objects on command. More unusual than dogs, they're more likely to be seen as working animals. They can live for as long as 40 years, twice as long as the oldest-lived dogs.   Some adults with severe motor impairments are assisted by highly intelligent helper monkeys. These highly trained capuchin monkeys go through 8 to 12 years of intense socialization and training before they're available to work with a human to assist them in their daily lives. These helper monkeys are trained to fetch glasses of water, turn lights off and on, load CDs and DVDs and to turn the pages of a book. Like guide horses, they live significantly longer than guide dogs, able to assist humans for around 25 to 30 years.   Dog noses are around 40 times stronger than human noses, so its no surprise that we've employed them in the detection of everything from drugs to termites to mobile phones. Canine cancer detection is a relatively new and potentially revolutionary non-invasive method of identifying certain types of cancer in people. Dog noses are so sensitive that they can sniff out the compounds generated by malignant tumors in the breath and urine of cancer sufferers. One study found cancer detection dogs accurately detected lung cancer in 93% of breath samples. These potentially life-saving pooches could be integrated into medical services like their bomb detecting cousins working with the military and police.   Seizure response dogs assist people who experience seizures associated with some types of epilepsy and other psychiatric conditions. They are trained to alert people when their owner is experiencing a seizure by barking or activating an alarm system to summon help. During a seizure, a seizure response dog might use its body weight to keep a person in a specific position to keep them safe until help arrives, fetch medication or help their owner to communicate and come round after a seizure. These clever canines save lives, acting as both a companion and a caretaker.   These incredible animals work together with their human owners to improve their independence, quality of life and safety. From emotional support to detecting deadly disease, these animals deserve our love and respect as working animals with real, applicable skills. Their capacity to learn is surprising and full of potential to help people as well as to act as a loving companion. 
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