This is a topic that comes up often in our neighborhood chats. It’s not surprising that your cat wants to explore. After all, it’s pretty interesting on the other side of the door. Trees to climb and things to stalk and chase. They get to practice their natural hunting skills, mark a new territory, and sharpen their nails.
Most of the time when cats dash out the door or work their way through a screen, they stay pretty close – usually less than five houses away. But once out, they may decide that the sensory overload is too much for them, become scared, and hide. Cats are territorial and their territory is in their house so they seek shelter out of fear. When you go out to look for them, they may even be watching you, but are too afraid to respond to your calls. They may stay hidden in silence for days until their hunger outweighs their fear and then will emege from their hiding place.
If your cat gets outside, it’s important to do a physical search for them immediately, and don’t give up too soon. Look under bushes, sheds, decks, and porches. Ask your neighbors if you can check for your cat on their property. Your neighbor may be willing to keep an eye out to report your cat if spotted, but is not likely to crawl under their deck or shed they way that you would. If you see an open garage, check there too. Put up signs, post on social media (Nextdoor, Pawboost, your FB page}. Include recent photos and your contact information. When it gets dark, shine a flashlight where you are looking. A cat’s eyes will be easily detected in the light.
You can also set up a humane trap in a place where you can check it frequently. You may be able to borrow one from Animal Control or a rescue group. Place some yummy food in the trap to lure your cat inside. If your cat is skittish, it may take days or even weeks to enter the trap. Don’t be discouraged. Professional cat detectives use wildlife cameras. They set out a plate of food and the camera snaps pictures of the animals that come to eat. You can set one up near your home to see if you can spot your cat wandering across the lawn, going under cars or moving around when it feels safe to do so. Most cats are more active at night or in the early morning – times when you are not likely to be paying attention.
Sometimes cats will hang out with feral cat colonies in order to get food. Try to find out if there are any near your home and see if your cat is among them. When you are reunited with your cat, make sure you cat proof any escape areas to prevent your cat from being displaced again. Make those areas unattractive with repellent sprays, aluminum foil or by putting sticky paw on mats that lay by the door.
For your cat’s future safety, be proactive by placing a breakaway collar with your name and number, spay or neuter your cat, and keep your cat up to date on vaccinations. Another tip is to create an enriching environment so your cat is more interested in staying inside. Cat trees, games, food puzzles, and toys are some basic suggestions to keep your cat happier on the inside. Catios are more expensive but provide a safe, enclosed space for your cat to experience being closer to nature. Indoor cats are safer, healthier, and live longer than outdoor cats. An indoor cat can live up to eighteen years or more while the average lifespan for outdoor cats is five years.
It’s a good idea to contact veterinarians, and rescue organizations as they are often contacted by people who find cats in an attempt to reach their owner. Call and visit shelters. The most important ingredient in a successful outcome is your search. Be patient, look often in the same area, and vary the times of your route. Understand that your normally friendly and loving cat will act differently if it is panicked. It still loves you, but it is overcome by the fear of being in an unfamiliar place. Don’t take a wait and see approach. Putting your cat’s dirty litter box out to encourage it to return is passive and not effective. Do take an active approach by continuing to physically search. Your cat’s well-being depends on it.
Sometimes cats escape when a pet owner has recently moved. These cats may be already stressed because nothing is familiar and their owner may be noisily unpacking, moving furniture, and ignoring them. These cats are over threshold to begin with before darting outside and may take longer to find. Don’t give up. I have heard of cats like this being spotted two months after escaping. Until you know for sure that your cat is not alive – do not lose hope. There are cat detectives that will provide consultations and give you advice should you need more assistance. I recommend Kat Albrecht at Missing Animal Response Network. I heard her give a fascinating presentation at a Pet Sitter’s International conference that I attended. She has an awesome success rate.
The time it takes to calm a reactive dog depends on many factors so there is not a definitive answer. Fearful and over reactive behavior will not go away on its own. The dog will not grow out of it. Left untreated, both the frequency and the intensity of the problems will increase. Reactivity is one of the hardest behaviors to deal with, but have you ever wondered why that is? You may never have even thought about reactivity before you got your dog, but now when your dog starts reacting, you find yourself reacting too!
You may get stressed at the very thought of going for a walk. Of course, it is not your dog’s fault. They are acting in response to an emotion – that might be fear, anxiety or frustration – and, when they react, that can make them feel better in the moment so they keep doing it. But we can teach them a better way to respond that also feels good. Over time they can start to ignore what once caused a meltdown or maybe even enjoy meeting other dogs or new people. In order to make this shift, we need to create a calmer space for our dogs. They can’t learn when they are stressed. This is what our Reactive Training Program is designed to accomplish.
This program will give you all the support you need.. You will develop the right skills to teach calm and accommodate your dog’s reactivity! You’ll learn easy, fun and practical ways to keep your dog’s focus when there are distractions, how to manage situations where things are less than ideal, and how to bounce back when everything has gone belly up!
There are eight core areas that are addressed to ensure you tackle reactivity and develop the relationship of your dreams. In each session you will build core skills and progress through milestones until you have mastered each area. By the time you complete our program you will have clear step-by-step instructions to help you navigate problem behaviors with ease!
The core elements include:
Understanding – Learn what is behind your dog’s over-reactivity and why the impact is so great for you. Understanding creates compassion for you both.
Observing – Tune your observations skills and learn to interpret your dog’s communication.
Reset – Press the reset button for you and your dog so that you can begin to build a new future.
Building Confidence – Fear and insecurity in dogs can manifest to over reactive behaviors. Confidence building is a great way to instill courage in fearful canines.
Essential Skills – Learn the core skills that will help you and your dog make progress by starting training at a distance from triggers.
Growing Your Relationship – Having a happy and healthy relationship with your dog will have a huge impact on your training success.
Advancing Your Skills – Build on the skills you have developed with controlled exposure to real triggers..
Ready for the Real World – Take your training on the road to real environments.
Our eight week, one-on-one program is supported by videos and handouts that address these core elements. It is designed by global leaders in the field of reactivity and is being taught world-wide with repeatable and successful results. I have studied under world-class mentors and applied this training to Davy, my dog. We have an awesome partnership today. I am passionate about helping others in my area with reactive dogs like Davy.
Our Reactive Dog Training Program is a wonderful gift for you and your dog. It builds confidence, calms anxiety, and provides support for your both. It will help you establish an unbreakable bond with your furry companion. Contact us for a fear-free, positive training experience that concentrates on your objectives and delivers the results you want.
Happy Pet! Happy Home!
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This is a simple, fun behavior where your dog bops their nose to the palm of your hand and is useful keeping your dog engaged with you around distractions. You can guide them to a specific location or teach them a new behavior. For example, if I want to move Davy, my German Shepherd, away from the front door – I go to the desired location and ask him to touch my hand. This activity can be used to move your pet off the sofa to another place or on the sofa for a cuddle. It takes a little training with treats to instill a solid hand touch.
To start, present your hand toward your dog and wait for them to investigate. If they are disinterested, smear some food on your hand than mark (say “Yes”) as soon as their nose makes contact with your hand and give them a treat. Repeat this a few times before making it more difficult by holding your hand further away. When your dog is doing really well and stepping in to make contact, you can roll their reward away from you so that they can come running back to you for the next repetition. Dogs love this fun game of dash and it helps to add more momentum to their nose touch. It’s also a confidence building exercise.
Anytime you teach your dog a new skill, it supports your bonding process. It’s simple, easy, fun, and can be a stepping stone to future skills and tricks like spin, down, and recall. Every good activity your dog learns can be used to replace or prevent undesirable behaviors.
If you have a fearful or reactive dog, hand targeting is a great way to distract them in the presence of a trigger before they get too excited. With practice, it is an easy way to regain your dog’s attention.
It can be a great management tool to move your dog closer to you to a better position for grooming and nail trimming. This will give you the chance to add duration to a hand target which may also be beneficial during veterinary exams. Most importantly, it can help to teach a reliable recall. It’s easier for your dog to perform a speedy, reliable recall when he already knows the skill of hand targeting.
Once you and your dog get the hang of this, you’ll find plenty of moments where it comes in handy! Happy Training.
Happy Pet! Happy Home!
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We welcome family and friends over the holidays. It’s a time of gratitude and celebration that may include joyful gatherings, good food, pleasant conversations, and fun. Sadly, for many pets, the holidays mean stress, fear, and anxiety. Strangers come and go, it’s noisy, the house is filled with different decorations, and the quiet routine is disturbed. As good pet owners, we can prepare our pets for the holiday season by having a plan.
MANAGEMENT: This can be as simple as blocking the window view, keeping food out of your dog’s reach, preventing door dashing with a baby gate, setting up a safe spot for your dog in a quiet place. If your family has friends over and you can see your dog is getting anxious from the noise and distubance of their usual routine, consider moving your dog away from the gathering. An X pen, crate, closed door, and using a muzzle are ways to help your dog feel secure and safe when they are habituated to them.
The benefits of good management are under-rated. Managing a situation rather than trying to change your dog’s behavior is sometimes the easiest answer to a behavior problem for both you and your dog.
DITCH THE BOWL: One of the best activities you can do to calm your dog is feeding your dog without using a bowl. You can distribute food in different places, at different levels, and on different surfaces; allowing your dog the opportunity to sniff, search, and chew. You can use containers, towels, cups, and boxes or chairs to put food at different heights. You can vary the surface with metal, towels, mats, and carpets. Your dog will have a blast spending ten to fifteen minutes pursuing an epicurean delight.
You can offer different treats and watch your dog show you their true preferences. This is a natural activity that is soothing, provides mental stimulation, and includes scent work–all rewarding activities for a dog! It’s a good power-up when the unfolding day includes company, a vet visit, fireworks, storms, and other trigger moments that create fear, anxiety, and stress.
This is good for dogs of all ages. It doesn’t require any special training and can be a creative DIY project with awesome results. It’s fun, enriching, and relaxing.
CALMING SIGNALS: How do you know if your dog is calm or stressed? There are certain indicators a dog will display when they are anxious. These are called “calming signals.”
Examples of Calming Signals:
Lowering the tail
When you observe these signals, your dog is telling you that they are uncomfortable with either where they are or what is going on. This is a time for you to manage their environment by moving them to a quieter place.
SAFE SPOT: Many dogs are not comfortable with other people, a lot of noise or children. This can may make a holiday gathering stressful for them. It is better for an anxious dog to have a safe space away from the action. While there is not a one-size-fits-all solution, there are a number of ways of making a comfortable place for a dog that is not a fan of noisy gatherings. Get your pet used to a calming environment beforehand. Dogs need a sanctuary to seek refuge from the hubbub of household activity when they are stressed. Here is a list of topics for creating a safe place:
Location: Set up a quiet location that is furthest from the festivities for your dog.
Containment Options: If your dog normally sleeps in a crate, you will want to move the crate to a quiet room so that your dog can rest in a familiar spot. If your dog does not use a crate, be sure to dog proof the area where you set up the safe spot. You can keep your dog contained with an X Pen or a baby gate. This option is to support your dog and keep them feeling secure.
Calming Music: Try leaving on the AC, a fan, Dog TV, or soothing music that can help mask the sounds of the festivities. There are hundreds of classical, reggae, jazz stations that have a calming effects for dogs. Special music, like Through a Dog’s Ear, is made specifically to relax your dog.
Comforting Items: Leave a worn shirt or blanket with your dog as your scent can be very comforting.
ADAPTIL (Pheromone Spray): Science has found a way to mimic a mother’s calming pheromone in the form of ADAPTIL. Just as puppies are quiet while nursing, this pheromone calms adult dogs in the same way.
Rotate Toys. Instead of leaving all the toys out, pick them up and offer them a few at a time. Change it up so your dog isn’t bored.
Go on Walks. Dogs love to sniff and explore. If they spend time in the house all day, it’s a good way for both of you to have quality time together.
Train Obedience. A dog that understands what you expect is happy to oblige. They want to please you. A dog with manners is easier to spend more time with.
Teach a New Trick. One of the ways my dogs and I got through the pandemic was finding ways to have fun. High five, find it, go around, sit in the middle, and leg weaves are just a few of the long list of tricks. Cats are good tricksters too.
Maintain a Healthy Weight. Obesity in pets is a big problem today. Look at all the choices of pet food today geared toward trimming excess pounds. Your pets will feel better in the ideal weight
Play Games. They are beneficial for building confidence and focus, and are fun activities for mental and physical stimulation. You can play games with toys or food. Tug, fetch, flirt poles, hidden treats, and scent games are all good examples. Choose a game appropriate for your dog’s breed and size.
Be consistent with Rules and Boundaries. Everyone in the household is included. Dogs learn from us all the time. They watch and respond according to our praise and reinforcement or lack of it. Giving them mixed signals will confuse them.
Give them a Good Grooming. A bath—if needed—a brushing, or a comb out helps keep them clean, removes allergens from their coat, and gives you a chance to check for fleas.
Verbal and Physical Praise. Talking to them, petting them, or giving them a simple massage makes them feel safe, secure and loved.
Introduce new, good quality treats from time to time. Spread them around the house, drop some among their toys, let them seek and find. It’s fun to discover their favorites.
Cats Special Mention: Keep pine needles away; hang cat safe, shatter-proof tree ornaments with string instead of wire hooks; skip the tinsel and fake snow; avoid mistletoe, holly, and poinsettias. If your tree is live, cover the water source to prevent your cat from drinking. Double check that cords and wires are not exposed and turn off the lights when you leave. Spend some time with your feline fur babies and enjoy a few magical moments together.
A cat’s emotional and physical well-being is determined by how well pet parents are meeting a cat’s needs. These needs are equally divided among social, eating, sleeping, grooming, and hunting. Cats are both predator and prey and are literally analyzing everything in terms of being safe or being in danger. This includes every time they interact with you or other people, hear a sound, see a movement, smell something different. They are doing this every second of every day. Knowing this, we can provide a safer and more enriching environment to keep our pets healthy and happy. Here are some tips to help:
Play should always mimic hunting styles and include all aspects of the hunt (eye, stalk, chase, pounce, kill) and engage a cat’s senses of sight, sound, taste, smell, and touch. There are a multitude of toy choices or activities that are satisfying. Some of my favorites are toys on a pole, wand toys, and laser lights (providing the cat gets the red dot in the end). Interactive play between a pet owner stimulates the brain, provides exercise, combats boredom, and strengthens your relationship. Plus, it’s what cats like to do. Keeping cats inside where they are safe while providing enrichment makes for a happy and healthy cat.
Feeding can be done with food puzzles and slow feeders. Ditch the bowl for something that encourages foraging and hunting. Move the food around the house at different locations so they can search. Where would your cat want to eat? Feed it there! If you have a multi-cat household, spreading the food around gives cats more personal space to eat. Some cat behaviorists believe that how we feed a cat is as important as what we feed them.
Cats sleep 12-16 hours a day. Heated cat beds, perches, boxes or containers, a carrier, quiet places, and a spot in the sun are wonderful accoutrements for a sleepy cat.
Grooming is super important and serves more purposes than you might imagine. It hides a cat’s scent from predators, cleans injuries, removes debris and parasites from fur, and disperses natural oils in the skin. Cats love to be washed and enjoy grooming their housemates as well. One thing we can do for them that they like is wash their whiskers and mouth with a warm washcloth. Cats, being social animals, would enjoy an indoor environment that engages all of the senses. Cats love window perches, vertical climbing spaces, wall shelves, sun beam chasing, catios, cat friendly-music, videos, cat plant grass, fish tanks, and companionship. You can even bring the outside in by gathering leaves and placing them in a box for your cat to explore.
Take a look around your home from your cat’s perspective and see what delights you can add to your cat’s world. Giving your cat ways to display their natural behaviors will help reduce stress and give them more choices. Happy Cat, Happy Home!