Loose Leash Walking – Training Aids

I’d like to look at a few products available in stores that can help you while you are retraining your dog to walk without pulling. None of these products work miracles; you still need to train your pet to walk on a loose leash, but these products can be useful in training particularly stubborn dogs.

Standard Harnesses

Contrary to popular belief, standard harnesses do not curb leash pulling. They are really just an alternative to a collar. Some dogs will benefit from a harness, especially those that tend to slip their collars, breeds that have short noses, and breeds that are more prone to suffer collapsed tracheas from pulling (such as small breeds). I’ve actually found harnesses make it easier for some dogs to pull, because they are not pulling against their windpipe and gasping for air. You can still teach your dog to walk on a loose leash using a standard harness, but it will not serve as a ‘helper’ for the training. Read More »

Loose Leash Walking – Training Techniques

urrrgggh! pulling at his leash!A simple search on Google for “leash pulling” brings up a lot of different products that claim to end the days of your dog dragging you around the block. Could it really be that simple? A collar/harness/leash attachment/doo-dad can solve one of the most prolific dog behavior problems all for only $19.95?

Well, I really don’t think it is that simple. A search for any common dog behavior issue will bring up a lot of ‘miracle products’ that claim to end bad behavior with a single swipe of your credit card. The truth is, these products are really just cashing in on our desire for instant gratification without all the work. If dog training were easy, everyone would have a well-behaved dog walking by their side without pulling, lunging or barking excessively who brings you your slippers to you when you ask, without de-stuffing them first. Read More »

The Great Pet Vaccination Debate

Vet VisitIf you’re like me, you get friendly reminder cards from your veterinarian each year asking you to set up an appointment for an exam and any required vaccinations for your pet.  It got me thinking. Children-of-the-human-variety receive their vaccinations and booster shots in their childhood and adolescence, but the immunity to most of those diseases lasts through adulthood.  As our pets become more like children to us, pet parents are starting to question whether or not our pets truly need vaccinated every year or if the vaccinations could be causing more harm than good.

A few years ago, I walked into my vet’s office with my new puppy, my first as an adult. I was bombarded by pamphlets and discussions on all the different diseases that Barrett could be vaccinated against. It was my vet doing most of the talking, and I trusted (and still trust) that they are only trying to do what is best for my pets’ health. He told me about diseases, how they are contracted and, truthfully, almost scared me into signing Barrett up for every vaccine offered. What I didn’t hear from him were the possible side effects of the vaccine, how effective it really was against the diseases it claimed to prevent or if over-vaccinating can have adverse side effects. Doctors and vets operate on a risk/benefit comparison. If the collective benefit of a vaccine is greater than the potential risk, the vaccine is recommended.

How many different diseases should a pet be vaccinated against, and how often should the boosters be administered? Read More »

Pets and Plants Living In Harmony

Cat and Kitten_4522I have 2 main loves in my life (aside from my husband and family, of course): My pets, or furchildren as I like to call them, and gardening. From time to time these two loves clash. Most of my friends’ cats don’t bother the garden or the houseplants. Mine, on the other hand, have a knack for grazing on just about everything in sight. My dogs are equally mischievous. I can’t count the number of times that I’ve gotten up in the middle of the night to hear a crash in the kitchen only to find a beloved houseplant lying on the floor, dirt everywhere, and the culprit(s) nowhere to be found or found a pup trotting towards me in the yard with a seedling or two in tow.

So what is a plant enthusiast to do? First and foremost I always consider the safety and health of my pets. Before I decide to bring home a new plant, I check the ASPA’s list of poisonous plants.  The list may seem daunting at first, but there are still a lot of plants that you can bring into your home or garden that are safe for pets.  Another thing to consider is that some plants are only mildly toxic to pets, while others can be highly toxic.

mimeticSecondly I do a mental check of where the plant will reside in my home or garden, and determine if those areas are accessible to my pets. There are few places inside my house that my cats can’t reach, but they do exist, and that is where my most prized plants reside. I also have a lot of hanging baskets that the cats can’t reach.  I’ve unofficially classified my dogs as ‘diggers’ and because I know their behavior around potted plants usually leads to a muddy disaster in my house, I avoid placing plants in dog territory at dog level. A lot of keeping the peace between pets and plants requires proactive planning. Read More »

A Legacy of Cats in Rome From Antiquity to Present Day

Cat Mosaic from PompeiiDomesicated cats have a deeply rooted history in culture. Most of us are familiar with depictions and roles of ancient felines in Egyptian society, but did you know that cats were also prevalent in ancient Rome?

Domesticated cats were carried to Europe by Phoenician trade ships about 3000 years ago. This African subspecies mingled with European subspecies giving rise to the domestic cats we still keep today. There is some debate whether, in ancient times, cats were considered pests or prized predators. It is evident that these pets were valued for their hunting prowess, often tolerated for keeping rodent populations at bay and left free to roam temples and estates for the same reason. Roman soldiers transported cats on conquests to keep grain stores safe. There are also other positive associations of cats in lore that supports that they were more than just a presence, though not perhaps favored as pampered pets as much in Roman society as dogs, birds and other exotic pets at the time. Cats are associated with the goddesses Diana (goddess of the hunt) and Libertas (goddess of freedom). Regardless of how the Romans of that age felt about cats, their place in culture had been established. Read More »

Black Dog Syndrome – Discrimination Against Darkly Colored Pets

Black Lab“In speaking of his intelligence, my wife, who at heart was not a little tinctured with superstition, made frequent allusion to the ancient popular notion, which regarded all black cats as witches in disguise.”
– Edgar Allan Poe, “The Black Cat”

Have you ever visited a pet shelter or rescue and noticed that their resident pets were mostly dark in color? It probably wasn’t your imagination. The idea that black dogs and other dark colored pets remain in shelters longer, and are more often euthanized than pets of other colors, is debated by some. But people who volunteer, work in or run animal shelters can tell you that the seeming discrimination against black animals is a reality. The condition has been given a name–Black Dog Syndrome.  Despite the gentle and loving personalities thes pets may have they are often passed over for others in the shelter, but why?  Having known and lived with several inky-black cats and dogs, I can attest that each was as affectionate and sweet as their yellow, white, tan, brown or grey counterparts, maybe even more so.  In fact, their satiny, glossy black coat may have even made them more appealing to me. So what causes these pets to be passed overin a shelter situation? Read More »

A New Member of the Pack – Considerations When Bringing Another Pet Into Your Home

Doggie gamesAny owner of multiple dogs can tell you that each dog has a unique personality and removing a dog, or adding a new one, can significantly alter the dynamics of the group. Last December, I added a new dog, Sara, to our pack (she makes 3). I’ve been watching the dynamic of my group of dogs change ever since. To successfully add a new dog to your family pack requires training and management of certain situations until the new group dynamic has been established.

Making the jump from 2 dogs to 3 was easier for me than the jump from a single dog to 2 dogs, partly because my boys, Barret and Gatsby, were already past the adolescent stage and partly because I’d learned some hard lessons when I brought Gatsby home from the shelter. The decision to add a second or third dog to your family isn’t one that should be taken lightly. While animals in the shelter can be tempting, take the time to decide if you can properly care for your new animal and consider the personalities of your existing pets to decide if they would benefit from a new companion. Read More »

Controlling Allergies in Homes with Pets

Cold?Allergies. The very word causes many people to shudder. The itchy eyes, stuffy and runny nose aren’t fun to deal with, but a lot of us suffer from allergies; about 1 in every 4 Americans has an allergy of some sort. Some of the more common allergies are seasonal allergies (outdoor allergies) and pet allergies (indoor allergies). So, what are you supposed to do if you want a dog or a cat, but you are allergic to their dander? Depending on the severity of your symptoms there may be a way to reduce your symptoms if you decide to adopt a pet.

Tilly - IMGP3818There are many dogs and a few cats available today that are advertised as ‘hypoallergenic breeds’.  They are usually smaller companion dogs, such as Yorkies, Bichon Frises, and Maltese, or hairless breeds of cats and dogs. The truth is there is not a single breed that is hypoallergenic. All dogs and cats produce dander, excess hair and saliva that contain the allergens that cause our allergic symptoms. These smaller dogs and hairless breeds are often presented as hypoallergenic because they simply produce fewer allergens. These breeds have a slower shedding cycle and often require frequent haircuts and grooming to keep their hair a manageable length. The size of the dog is also relevant, as a larger dog will produce more dander and excess fur! Even with these benefits it is important to note that so-called hypoallergenic breeds produce allergens, and each pet is individual and can produce more allergens than its littermate.

What is a pet lover to do if a family member (or yourself) has an allergy? There are some options, though admittedly they are limited. If you are willing, there are many pharmaceuticals available both with a prescription and without to alleviate your allergy symptoms. Schedule a visit with your doctor to discuss your personal options, and any risks associated with medication.

You may also want to consider the size and coat-type of your pet. Choose a smaller pet (who produces fewer allergens) and one that doesn’t shed excessively. A German Shepherd or a Siberian Husky might not be best option for a household with allergies. No matter what breed you adopt you will want to adjust your cleaning regime.

CleaningReducing allergens in your home is possible, but can be costly depending on how resolute you are.  Some of the more manageable changes include vacuuming flooring and furniture daily, washing rugs and throws frequently, washing pet bedding and crates weekly, washing your clothing after a single wear, and washing your curtains, blinds and linens frequently. If you are purchasing a new vacuum cleaner, look for one designed for pet hair and one that contains a HEPA filter, which you should change every month or two.

If you have central air or forced heat in your home the ventilation system is spreading allergens throughout your home. Consider fitting your unit with a HEPA filter, or investing in a central air purifier which, when used at least 4 hours a day, can significantly reduce allergens in your home. If you plan to make major renovations to your home, consider opting for hard wood or linoleum flooring instead of carpeting, and limit your use of area rugs and throws.

JR in bedA lot of dog lovers, including myself, love to share the bed with pets. If you have allergies, you might want to think twice about snuggling up with Fido for 8 hours each night. You might sleep more peacefully, and feel better in the morning, if your bedroom is strictly pet-free. Set up your pets a warm, comfy bed in another room, or consider crate-training your pet at night and when you are away from the house.  Most pets can be conditioned to enjoy time in their crate if you take the time to train them properly. You should also invest in dust covers for your mattresses and pillows to keep any residual pet allergens at bay.

There are also some grooming habits that can reduce the number of allergens your pet spreads in your home. Consider bathing your pet or having them groomed once over week or two, as long as their skin doesn’t dry out or become itchy. In between baths, have a non-allergic member of your family wipe your pet’s fur with a bath wipe or baby wipe every day or two. To reduce even more allergies, have them do this outside of the home and immediately dispose of the wipes in the garbage.

Make it a habit to wash your hands after interacting or petting your animal, and don’t touch your eyes or face immediately after touching them. If you can’t find a non-allergic family member to do the cleaning or grooming while you are out of the house, arm yourself with a dust mask to reduce the number of allergens you are exposed to during these sometimes unpleasant, but necessary tasks. Always have an antihistamine on hand (such as Benadryl) in case of a sudden allergy attack.


buddiesIf you are or a family member is allergic to dogs, and you choose to try to manage that allergy and adopt a dog, be sure to have a solid back-up plan in case the allergies become unbearable. Allergies can build and develop over time, so after a few months living with your new pet, allergies might become more severe. Before bringing your pet home, develop a back-up plan to either co-exist with your pet and your allergies, and have an alternative home set up ahead of time with a reliable friend or family member who will care for the pet if you are unable to. After you adopt a pet, they become your responsibility to care for. It isn’t fair to your new pet to be put back into a shelter for something that they cannot control. We’re all pet lovers and advocates here, so I don’t think that won’t be a problem among our readers.

Owning a pet can be a rewarding experience that is second to none. Often the companionship and friendship that your furry friend will give you outweigh the hassle of allergy shots, excessive cleanliness, and expense that comes with managing allergies. Each person, pet, and their allergies/allergens are unique. Do plenty of research and prepare yourself well in advance of choosing a pet and you will be rewarded tenfold.



Dogs in Ancient Culture

dogThroughout the ages dogs have always had a special bond with people. They were among the first animals that humans domesticated. Dogs have had their roles in ancient mythology, religion and cultures from Ancient Egypt to modern day pop icons. I’m a history buff, so I thought it might be interesting delve into the role that dogs played in ancient cultures and religions. Keep in mind it is by no means all-inclusive, just an outline on how dogs have been viewed by various cultures of the world. Read More »

Skunks as Pets

Friendly SkunkThough most people try to avoid encounters with skunks, there are those who actually seek out these black and white mayhem-makers as companion pets, comparing them in personality to cats, dogs, and ferrets. Skunks are rising in popularity due to their intelligence, carefree personalities, and (believe it or not) cleanliness. Pennsylvania and most other states require a permit to keep a captive skunk as a pet. Before deciding to bring a skunk into your family, do your research and be sure you can handle their requirements. Read More »

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