Pet Advice & Ideas

Five Ways to Give Thanks to Pets

With half of November already over and done, the holiday season is practically upon us. At this time of year, our thoughts linger over how much we have to be thankful for, as well as everyone who fulfills an important role in our lives. For many of us, a special canine or feline friend makes our family complete!

Since partaking of turkey and all the trimmings is out of the question for most dogs and cats, we devoted some serious thought into novel approaches (that won't lead to gastric upset) pet parents can use to express their gratitude to companion animals. Just like with people, going the extra mile to show how much you appreciate everything they do to enrich your life can make all the difference!

Without any further ado, here’s our handy infographic outlining five simple ways you can show your dog or cat how grateful you are to have them in your life. To view or download the full-size PDF, simply click on the image below.

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What are some of the ways you use to show your companion animal how much you care? Be sure to share your thoughts and ideas in the comments section below!

World’s Creepiest Cat Legends

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If we asked you to name something spooky about cats, you’d probably mention a black cat crossing your path leading to misfortune. But a bit of bad luck pales in comparison to some of the terrifying myths of times past.

Cats are undeniably mysterious. There’s just something about those haunting eyes, their silent, stealthy movements and a wail that reminds some of babies crying. Whatever the cause, that air of mystery has lead humans over the course of human history to entertain a whole host of seriously scary - or even downright strange - beliefs involving felines. Honestly, it would be easy to fill a book’s worth of information of this topic, but we’ve culled that down to a manageable list of five. After reading these decidedly spooky superstitions, you’ll feel like the scaredy cat. But don’t worry, your sweet kitty will be there to comfort you.

Sith Cats

A fairy creature from both Celtic and Scottish mythology, Sith Cats were large black cats with splash of white fur on its chest. While Sith Cats were believed to be spectral in nature, they were inspired by actual creatures known as Kellas cats, a hybrid between wildcats and domestic cats only found in Scotland. They were believed to have wicked purposes, including a desire to consume souls immediately after death. Every year on Samhain (which we now celebrate as Halloween), houses where an offering of a saucer of milk was left outside would be blessed by the being, while those that did not would suffer a curse. Fun Fact: The Scots believed the Cat Sith was actually a witch that had the ability to transform into a cat, but that the witch was limited to only nine transformations in a lifetime. Scholars believe this is the origin of the belief that cats enjoy nine lives!

The Matagot

First conceived in the oral traditions of southern France, the Matagot (also referred to as Mandagot) is a mischievous spirit. While it was capable of shapeshifting into a number of animals (such as a rat, a fox, a dog and even a cow), its preferred form was that of a black cat. Matagots were considered evil in nature, but they could be trapped whereupon it would take a largely beneficial role for its captor. The legend states that if you lured one from its hiding spot with a serving of fresh, meaty chicken and then scooped it up and walked straight home without looking behind you, it would become a source of dependable good fortune. There were a couple of catches, as there always are with magical beings. First, before every meal, you would have to feed the first mouthful of your food and the first sip of your drink to the Matagot. If you managed to stick to that routine, each morning you would find a gold coin. Second, you would have to release the creature from this servitude well prior to your death. Otherwise, your last days on earth would assuredly be agonizingly painful.

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The Bakeneko of Nabeshima (aka, Vampire Cat)

The origin of this terrifying legend is from 16th century Japan. One of the more frightening creatures, this cat not only sought to devour humans, but immediately afterwards would assume their victim’s exact likeness, whereupon they would attempt to deceive other humans, thus continuing a vicious cycle. Aside from their shapeshifting abilities, they were believed to wear strange hats for dancing, perfectly imitate human speech, have the ability to place hexes on people (especially those who were known for their cruelty to cats), possession, and even a penchant for hiding in mountainous locales where they would tame and train wolves to assist them in attacking weary travelers far from home.

The Wampus Cat

Believed to originate among the Cherokee people, the mythical Wampus Cat is a common staple of Appalachian folklore. A shapeshifter, its most common manifestation was as a large, wild cat, but it could also take the shape of a beautiful woman. It was considered a ferocious creature, capable of driving even the bravest of warriors to the brink of insanity. J.K. Rowling’s fans may recognize this magical being as a source for the hair that Garrick Ollivander used in the creation of certain magic wands. Fun Fact: the word “catawampus,” which means “out of alignment” but also “fierce and destructive,” arises from this myth.

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The Black Cat of KillaKee

Like all of the supernatural kitties, this Irish creature's origins began centuries ago. However, sightings have continued into modern times, which makes this arguably the most frightening. Like the tall tales that are common in the area, this one is attached to a particular great house. But we can assure you, nothing like this ever happened on Downton Abbey. Located in Dublin, the Killakee House was rumored to be haunted by a spectacularly creepy cat. Though technically it stalked the grounds, unlike other big cat sightings in the UK, the main difference is that this cat is supernatural.

In 1968, a young couple bought the Killakee House and began much needed renovations. Within days, workers started hearing strange noises and sensing things that quite frankly were decidedly spooky. Things came to a head when the workers were shocked by the sudden appearance of a towering black cat with eyes that "glowed like a demon." Just as the renovators started freaking out, the specter vanished. Afterwards, the new owners listened politely to the story, but didn't put much stock in the tale. And then ... the creature appeared to each of the new owners in turn. The giant apparition appeared in every corner of the house, despite locked doors and windows, stalking the couple with its penetrating stare and toothy snarls. The newlyweds sought help from the Catholic Church, whereupon an exorcism was performed on the estate. For a few months, everything was quiet, and the two believed their nightmare was finally over. Sometime later, however, a group of actors visiting the estate held a séance, whereupon the devilish creature returned, bringing with it two frightening ghosts dressed in nuns' garb. And thus, the nightmare continues.

5 Spooky Canine Superstitions

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We’re all familiar with the long and storied association between cats and mythology. It makes sense: they are mysterious creatures, well suited to legends and lore. But what about dogs? As man’s best friend, they fall into a bit more of a predictable and familiar category. Or do they?

As much time as we spend with dogs, it makes sense that superstitions would crop up over time. While some are specific to a certain time or place, others are more universal. Where did these myths come from, and why? Read on to learn about five of the most unusual ideas and legends surrounding our canine companions!

1. A Howling Dog Brings Death

Origin: This is one of the most common dog superstitions, and can be found in multiple cultures. In Greek mythology, the howling of a dog was thought to signal that the Wind God had summoned death to a nearby home. In Norse mythology, dogs howl at the approach of Freyja, the Goddess of Death. Why? Because her chariot is pulled by two giant cats (think about it). In Welsh lore, the king of Annwn would patrol the land riding supernatural hounds that only other dogs could see. The howling was their way of acknowledging the presence of these spooky beasts as they raced by.

Facts: Dogs howl as a form of communication. Sometimes it's for attention, other times it's an expression of anxiety, and sometimes it’s just a loud way of saying, “HELLOOOOOO." As a form of communication, it’s very effective! As a former coonhound owner, I can attest to the fact that baying carries over long distances. Remember, dogs are pack animals, much like their relatives, wolves, whose howl can be heard for many miles!

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2. Dogs Can See Ghosts

Origin: If you’ve lived with a dog, you’ve probably had this hair-raising experience ... it’s pitch black outside. You’re home alone. In the eerie silence, your dog suddenly starts to stare at a wall (or worse, a door with no window) and starts to growl, hackles raised. Are they seeing the supernatural?

Facts: Dogs do perceive the world differently than we do, but that’s hardly proof of the supernatural. From dog whistles that pick up high frequencies we cannot register to a sense of smell 10,000 more sensitive than our own, dogs enjoy a heightened experience of their environment beyond our capabilities.

Out in the world, many people report dogs appearing agitated in the moments before earthquakes or other natural disasters. It is theorized dogs can pick up on sensitive vibrations we miss. People have taken advantage of these sensitivities to train dogs in everything from seizure alerts to cancer detection, proving that in almost every sense, dogs out-perceive the world compared to you and me. So what is your dog growling at in the dead of night? Let’s tell ourselves something comforting so we can fall asleep tonight.

3. If You Step in Dog Poo, Do it Properly

Origin: This one is specific to France, land of croissants, the Louvre, and lots and lots of dog poop. According to local lore, stepping in dog piles with your left foot is good luck, while stepping in it with your right? Woe be unto you!

Fact: More than anything, this legend reflects that as a “scoop your poop” culture, France has a long way to go. A recent survey noted that while 1.85 million dog waste bags were sold in the UK in 2015, France sold a mere 3,600. That’s one fifth of one percent as many bags being sold, people. Until 2007, dog poop wasn’t even mentioned in French law at all. Mon dieu!

I think no matter where you live we can all agree on one thing. Stepping in a warm pile of dog waste never feels lucky, regardless of the foot.

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4. Seeing Three White Dogs Together Signals Good Luck

Origin: An English myth contends that seeing three white dogs standing together is a sign of good fortune, particularly financial luck. An alternate version states the same good luck will come to you if you spot a Dalmatian (pun intended!) on the way to a business meeting.

Fact: No one is quite sure where this came from. Maybe because these dogs were rare, it was more of a unique find to see them wandering the streets! Just as possible is the simple associations people make between white being a symbol of good luck and black a symbol of bad luck, an unfortunate fallacy that results in many wonderful black cats and dogs having a more difficult time getting adopted. As someone who adopted both a beautiful black Labrador and a sweet and wonderful black cat, I’m convinced they bring nothing but great fortune.

5. No Dogs Allowed On Board Ships

Origin: Historically, nautical legend is filled with a wide variety of superstitions about who and what can come on board. It makes sense. Sailing is by nature a dangerous occupation, so every time something terrible would happen, it’s only natural to look for some external cause. Better to blame the flowers or bananas you brought on board than the terrible weather you had no control over. But why dogs? That, unfortunately, remains a mystery. You’d think those long, lonely days out on the open seas could only be improved with a happy companion. Maybe it was the fleas they brought as stowaways?

Fact: Times have changed. Dogs are now considered faithful companions to many seafaring people. You can even get your dog his or her own lifejacket if you’re planning to bring him aboard. If you want any further proof about how much our views have evolved over time, consider this: cats on board ships used to be considered good luck, probably due to their ability to control the rodent population. Can you imagine taking today's average house cat out on the high seas? Yikes!

If you ask me, having a dog in the house is good luck no matter what. According to my own personal legends and lore, dogs bring good health, happiness, and reduced stress to all they come across. That's a story I could tell again and again!

Have you ever heard a dog-related superstition? Share it in the comments section below!

Dr V
Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, DVM

Pudgy Pet? Surprisingly Easy Fixes

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The latest surveys indicate that over half of the dogs and cats in the U.S. are overweight. Moreover, a sizeable percentage fit the criteria for moderate to severe obesity. The extra heft puts pets at-risk for serious conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, painful arthritis, high-blood pressure, kidney disease and cancer, all of which can shorten their lifespan. The good news is that solving your companion animal’s weight problem might be easier than you’d expect.

A pet parent’s strongest weapon in the fight against obesity is small and powerful … a measuring cup! If you’re like many pet parents, you guess at the amounts, or simply replenish the bowl when it’s empty. The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention states that as few as 10 extra pieces of kibble can lead to excess weight gain in smaller dogs. Amazingly, just by measuring meal portions, you can help your dog or cat shed unwanted weight!

While the feeding guide on a label offers a good rule of thumb, remember that most of these standardized charts are based on the needs of young adult dogs. If you’re feeding an older “couch potato” based solely on the label, you could be over-feeding your dog by about 20%. Each pet’s metabolism is different, so it’s a good idea to consult with your veterinarian … they can calculate your pet’s ideal daily intake.

Another vital measure towards curbing weight is also a simple one … selecting the perfect food. Choose a diet that states an animal-specific protein source (such as chicken or fish) as the number one ingredient. Avoid foods pumped up with corn, wheat and glutens, as carbo-loading will sabotage any weight-loss efforts. Made for canines with weight issues, Life’s Abundance Adult Weight-Loss Formula has 28% less fat and 32% fewer calories per cup compared to our original formula. This recipe also features higher protein levels to aid metabolism, and is enhanced with L-carnitine to support a healthy metabolism and weight management.

happy-frenchie

Now, let’s talk about treats. You know that great feeling you get when you give your pup an edible goodie? Yeah, you might not be doing them a favor, because too many treats on the market aren’t much better than canine candy bars. Again, stick with a trusted brand, one that commits to only selling treats with a targeted health benefit. For example, Life’s Abundance offers a whole line of baked treats, each made to promote overall health and happy tummies. Wholesome Hearts are delicious, low-fat dog treats, perfect for dogs who need to be careful about their weight. The rich aroma makes Wholesome Hearts simply irresistible. Break treats into smaller pieces and dole them out as mini-rewards for your pupper.

Lastly, research has proven the most effective way to living a long, disease- and pain-free life is daily exercise. Dogs make the best exercise partners … they’ll never tempt you to skip your new routine in favor of a flavored latte. We’re not talking about going out and running a marathon. As little as 20-30 minutes of brisk walking can have a remarkable effect, improving cardiovascular health, enhancing mood and boosting immune function. Plus, you’ll likely eliminate behavioral problems common among cooped-up canines. Do yourself and your dog a favor and commit to daily walks.

If you implement these simple suggestions, your companion animals will be well on their way to slimmer figures and healthier lifetimes.

Be sure to share this post with other pet parents. It just might be the first step in the process toward a better life for an overweight pet.

Ways a New Puppy Improves Life with Teens

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For the past three weeks, I have heard “Are you nuts?” more times than I can count. I think the answer is mostly likely “yes,” but then again I challenge any one of you to turn down this face ...

Puppy-Oliver

Yes, our family now has not one but two puppies. Dakota is eight months old, and just getting into that lovely stage where his adult teeth are all in and he’s starting to mellow out. So, of course it’s the perfect time to introduce a Golden Retriever puppy. Meet Ollie!

Dakota was mortified at first, annoyed at second, but now they are best buddies. He gets to bear the brunt of Ollie’s substantial puppy energy, and they spend long hours chasing each other all over the yard, wrestling like two frat brothers, and generally looking for mischief to get into.

Dakota-peeks

For most of my adult life I have had retrievers, and one of our favorite things to do was head over to Grandma’s house on the weekends to go swimming. I’ve never had a dog who could resist going into the pool. Until Dakota, that is. He hates swimming. Despises the water and looks at it like it is acid.

Ollie, not so much. I don’t think you could keep his fuzzy little butt out of the water if you tried.

Oliver-leaps

It’s entirely possible that I only agreed to take on another puppy because sleep deprivation from the first puppy left me delirious, but to be honest we’re all feeling pretty darn good about our decision here in the Vogelsang household. With the exception of the mass amounts of fur we now have to deal with every day (remind me again how a tiny puppy can shed that much?) we were well equipped to take this little guy on.

It's also possible that I agreed to this because my oldest is entering high school this year and I needed a small distraction from both the march of time and her natural (yet still sad) pulling away from wanting to hang out with us. As I sit overseeing Dakota and Ollie's mutual and seemingly perpetual wrestling competition at my feet, it’s a good time to reflect on what puppies bring to the life of a parent with teenagers:

1. Puppies are always overjoyed to see me, which I can’t always say for the teenagers. Any extra joy I feel certainly has an effect on the whole household.

2. The pups are also always excited to see the teenagers, which keeps them around a little longer in the evenings before disappearing to talk to their friends.

3. Puppies are incredibly photogenic, so my kids spend even more time with us taking photos for their Instagram feeds. Whatever it takes, right?

4. Puppies keep you in the moment. I mean, not only are you taking in every cute and adorable moment, you are truly engaged because otherwise they eat all your shoes. It’s easy to spend the day staring at your phone and miss what’s going on right in front of you.

5. Pups remind you that every moment is fleeting. It seems like Ollie and Dakota are literally growing in front of my eyes, a pound a day. They live their lives in fast forward. They remind me that even though my human kiddos grow a little more slowly they, too, are young for only a short while.

6. Puppies remind me to have compassion for other parents. As a vet, it’s very easy to sit in an exam room or on the phone and tell someone what they should be doing, but we forget how truly difficult some of the implementation can be. An act as simple as brushing the dogs every day takes me five times longer than it should as Ollie tries to eat the brush, then the hair, then a sock he found who knows where. The same goes for human parenting. Boy, it’s easy to judge other parents for the lunches they pack or a child’s choice of T-shirts but really, we’re all just trying to do the best we can!

7. Pups put to rest, once and for all, any regrets about the size of our family. One of my neighbors has three dogs and six children. They are lovely and she is very happy. I am very happy with two dogs and two children, and my hands are more than full! I don’t know how she does it, but I am glad she has the family that makes her fulfilled. Everyone creates the family that is right for them.

Any other puppy lessons you care to share? Leave your stories in the comments section below.

Dr V
Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, DVM

5 Meds That Are Toxic to Pets

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The past four months have been a blur of training, cleaning up and chasing around after our new puppy, Dakota. I wouldn’t change it for the world, but I did forget how much trouble a curious puppy can get into! Last week I found Dakota chomping on a travel-sized bag of trail mix that included chocolate covered raisins. Chocolate covered raisins! How did that even get into the house? I still don’t know where it came from, but fortunately I was able to intervene before he opened the bag.

Most people know that chocolate and grapes can be toxic for pets, but potential threats can lurk elsewhere in your home. Prescription and over-the-counter medications are among the top reasons people call into poison control hotlines for both kids and pets, and with good reason. Here are the top five medications of concern when it comes to pets and toxicity:

1. Ibuprofen. As the active ingredient in common over-the-counter products such as Advil and Motrin, ibuprofen is unfortunately ingested by pets both accidentally and intentionally by owners unaware of its potential side effects. Cats are particularly sensitive to its effects. The most common clinical sign is vomiting or gastrointestinal ulcers, though it can also lead to kidney damage. Other NSAIDS such as Aleve can also be problematic.

2. Acetaminophen. Speaking of pain medications, acetaminophen-containing products such as Tylenol are also high on the list of pet poisons. Like ibuprofen, cats are particularly sensitive to the effects of this medication, and one pill is enough to kill a cat. Both cats and dogs can experience liver damage as a result of this medication, starting with decreased appetite and leading to yellow skin (a sign of jaundice), swollen paws or difficulty breathing. Acetaminophen is a common ingredient in combination products like cough and flu remedies, so be careful to read the label on your products!

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3. Stimulants. ADHD medications such as Adderall and Ritalin can be toxic to companion animals. Sadly, they are more likely to be ingested by pets as they are often prescribed for children who may be less vigilant about keeping the pills out of the reach of the household dogs and cats. Signs of ingestion may include dilated pupils, seizures, shaking or hyperactivity.

4. Antidepressants. Antidepressants fall into several categories depending on their mechanism of action. In the most commonly prescribed medications (such as Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft and Effexor) work by increasing the concentration of neurotransmitters in the brain. When overdosed, the brain can be flooded with these chemicals and pets can experience a variety of symptoms such as depression, hyperexcitability, seizures and vomiting.

5. Vitamin D. As doctors are starting to diagnose Vitamin D deficiency more often, this is a common supplement in people’s medicine cabinets. When there is too much in the body, blood calcium levels also rise, resulting in serious damage to the kidneys. It is so effective at causing damage that it's commonly used in rat poisons such as d-Con. Vitamin D might appear on rodenticide labels as “cholecalciferol,” and should be avoided.

There’s no time like the present to ensure any of these items in your house are safely secured away from prying pet paws. If you suspect your dog or cat has ingested any of these harmful substances, call your veterinarian or a pet poison control helpline ASAP!

Dr V
Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, DVM

Keep Your Dog Cool in Summer Heat

Everyone knows not to leave their companion animals unattended in a hot car. But there's much more you can do to counteract the high temps we've been encountering this summer.

Dogs are particularly susceptible to heat stroke, which can often prove deadly. With a smidge of prep work and consideration, you can protect your floofers from the worst heat-related health issues. In this month's infographic, we're showcasing five tips that pet parents should know to keep their doggos safe and cool when the heat is on.

Without any further ado, here’s our handy infographic with all the details. To view or download the full-size PDF, simply click on the image below.

PDF DocumentPDF Document

Do you have any additional tips for beating the summer heat? Be sure to share your thoughts and ideas in the comments section below!

Make Your Dog Happier by Thinking Like One

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Most people who have a dog love their dog. Unfortunately, sometimes that love falls short of actual empathy. For example, many of the "problem dog behaviors" that people complain about aren't really your dog's fault. If someone you know keeps getting "bad dogs," chances are that the dogs aren't the source of the problem. By showing your pupper a bit of empathy by viewing recurring issues from their perspective - both physically and mentally - you will develop a deeper appreciation and love for your furry companion. And that translates into a happier dog ... and a happier you!

Dogs are so much more than most people know. Like humans, dogs produce oxytocin, which allows both species to experience love and affection. Canines also have highly evolved limbic systems - more advanced than the majority of other species and comparable to humans - which enables them to experience a range of higher emotions, including an appreciation for beauty and something akin to religious ecstacy. If you've ever caught your dog gazing at a sunset or drinking in the beauty of nature, such meditative moments are caused by flares of limbic activity. 

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The most important point about dogs is that they are pack members. This is one of those facts that everyone knows but hardly anyone ever considers when trying to understand canine behavior. Imagine how confusing it is for animals with a genetic predispostion towards a pack mentality when you - the de facto leader of the pack - don't exhibit pack behavior!

Your dog's socialization instincts are very strong. Pack hierarchy was established millions of years before domestication (search for "Tomarctus," "Miacid" and "Cynodictis" for more details about the ancient progenitors of modern dogs). Humans and dogs began living together starting around 30,000 BC, so there's a long history behind the "man's best friend" descriptor. Because you provide food, shelter, affection and fun, you are the de facto leader of the pack. That's why it's so vital for you to understand how this should inform your interactions with your pup! To get you started on this journey of understanding, here are three examples that frequently crop up for pet parents.

He Stares at Me Every Time I Eat!

regarding-hooman

From pitiful, longing looks to grumpy growl grumbling, dogs all over the world appear to be begging to eat the food on your plate, much to our annoyance. While he may find the smell of your food super appealing, that's not the primary take-away from this behavior. So, what is he trying to communicate? Let's put on our "pack mentality glasses." As social creatures, dogs view mealtime as a social event. As top dog, you are responsible for fairness at mealtime. But when you - and other human family members - partake, your dog feels left out. Punished even. So, in a sense, they are begging ... only they're begging for inclusion. If at mealtime, you provide them food or a healthy treat, then suddenly your dog not only feels included, they also no longer feel ostracized. Try it for yourself and see if everyone isn't happier!

She's Just Scared of Everything!

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Again, dogs are sensitive social animals. Recent MRI studies show that dogs are capable of complex emotions and reading the emotional state of their caregivers. When people express anger or annoyance - whether it's at the news, a bad day at work or problems with a spouse or partner - dogs are highly attuned to that. Frustration on your part over skittishness or anxiety will likely only exacerbate these very issues. Whether you realize it or not, you're setting the tone for everyone else in your home. If you're quick to snap, your dogs will be anxious. For the wellbeing of your pack, be careful about the emotions you project.

He Keeps Chewing Up My Shoes!

This one is so common, it's hard to find someone who hasn't experienced the heartbreak of losing a favorite pair of shoes. Sadly, many feel their dog was being vindictive and dole out a harsh punishment. First of all, canine memory works differently than it does for us. Shaking a slobbery, mangled shoe at your pupper is really going to baffle them, especially if it's been more than 20 minutes since it was destroyed. So, what are dogs trying to tell you when they chew up your shoes? This question is answered best with another question: what is the last thing you do before you leave the house for an extended period of time? You put on your shoes, right! Your dog believes - with evidence gathered basically every day - that destroying your shoes will prevent you from leaving the house (i.e., the pack). He's really not being a jerk, he's just trying to keep you where you belong ... with him! To avoid this happening, simply protect your footwear with a dog gate.

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There you have it. Three simple examples of "problem behavior" that can be understood in a completely new way that's more charitable to your dog. Just remember that you're the leader here and your dog looks to you (often lovingly) for reassurance, consideration and safety.

We're very interested to know if this article leads you to reconsider some aspect of your dog's behavior, so please let us know your take in the comments section below!

Dave Mattox
Content Editor

Why is My Dog So Nervous?

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My neighbor’s dog Chuckie is, by all accounts, an anxious canine. Sweet as can be, but nervous. Chuckie hides behind his mom when new people show up. He still doesn’t trust his dad, who is the one who lobbied so hard to bring Chuckie home in the first place (three long years ago). He runs away from him and wedges himself under a table whenever my friend's husband looks at him directly - about which the poor guy feels rather despondent.

When a dog is this fearful, many people assume that at some point he or she has been abused. It’s the catch-all people use whenever a dog whose history is unknown shows stress or fear. We say, “He’s scared of men so he must have been abused by one." Or, "She’s scared of ballcaps, so she must have been abused by someone who wore one.” The same sentiments are expressed for men with beards, people wearing sunglasses, pulling out a camera, you name it!

It would be horrifying to think that every dog who exhibits fear (chiefly because there are a lot of them) do so out of a direct result of abuse. While it certainly happens, and it's terrible when it does, a much more likely and less harrowing explanation is that these dogs may not have been adequately socialized as a pup.

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After puppies are born, a great deal of neurological development takes place, much of it occurring in the first 16 weeks. Their early experiences in this crucial time make a lifelong impact on their ability to react to stress. During this period, they are most open to new experiences, sights and sounds. From vacuum cleaners to cats to children (and, yes, men with beards wearing sunglasses and baseball caps), a dog who has a positive experience with these things during this critical time is much less likely to react negatively to them down the road.

Most puppies go to a new home at eight weeks at the youngest, ideally even a little older than that. Back when I started out in veterinary practice, vets were trained to advocate from a health standpoint: keep puppies at home and away from potential sources of illness until they are fully vaccinated at 16 weeks. Unfortunately this "common knowledge" means pups may be missing out on some key socialization time.

As our understanding of the importance of socialization has increased, many trainers are opening up puppy classes to 12-week-olds and veterinarians are re-evaluating the four-month quarantine rule. Each of us needs to assess the risk/benefit analysis of taking puppies out into the world, but in a controlled environment around dogs who are healthy and up-to-date on vaccines, many of us find the socialization benefits are well worth it!

When Dakota came home with us, he was 14 weeks old. He spent his early weeks in a house with nine adult dogs and all of his littermates, which was quite chaotic. But, it led to him being super comfortable meeting new pups. Before coming home with us, he had already gone home with an elderly couple who returned him after a couple days when the reality of living with a puppy set in. So he had been exposed to quite a lot! Nonetheless, as he was current on his preventive care, we also attended socialization classes from the get-go. Based on his reactions at the door, it’s clear he was never exposed to men in UPS uniforms, but we’re working on it. 

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When talking to friends who are experienced breeders, I learned there are several formal programs you can use to socialize puppies at the very early stages of life (aka, “puppy preschool"). These programs are great because they walk people through each important aspect of social exposure needed for good socialization, from touching to meeting strangers, to music and doorbells. In fact, the breeder we are getting our next Golden puppy from is doing it as we speak, and started when the litter was only one week old! And yes, that is my way of saying I am bringing another puppy into the house this summer, which is insane but at least I will have lots to talk about here on the blog! 

As for Chuckie, his family has come to love and accept him as he is. That isn’t to say that dogs can’t change or improve after 16 weeks of age has passed! I often see Chuckie walking to the dog park with the husband, who learned that when Chuckie is in the presence of other dogs he also relaxes more with people. Their patience and love has helped him adjust and modulate his fear, even as an adult.

Have you ever used a puppy kindergarten training program with a new litter? Do you think it helped? What have you done to diminish your dog's outsize fear?

Dr V
Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, DVM

Infographic: 5 Common Cat Allergies

You hear a lot about people being allergic to cats, but did you know that sometimes THEY are allergic to US?

The truth is that you hear very little about what allergies cats suffer, even though a significant percentage of domesticated cats have them. In this month's infographic, we're highlighting five common feline allergies that pet parents should be aware of.

Do you already suspect your cat is suffering from a chronic allergy? Be on the look-out for the symptoms, such as:  sneezing, coughing or wheezing; itchy skin and watery eyes; ear infections; vomiting or diarrhea; noticeably louder snoring; and swollen or irritated paws. Some of these symptoms aren't what you would expect, so keep a journal (or at least a running list) of any health-related issues. That way, you'll be prepared to discuss all the relevant details should a vet visit become necessary.

In the meantime, here’s our handy infographic that reveals the most common causes of cat allergies and what pet parents can do to help their feline companions feel better. To view the full-size PDF, simply click on the image below.

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