Author: Leonie St Clair

Pets Corner: Preparing your pet for fireworks season

Every year pet owners of dogs, cats and other small animals will be forced to seek help because their animal has been traumatised by exposure to firework noise. Use of the word trauma may seem excessive but in my work I see animals that suffer debilitating noise phobia, sometimes after only one exposure to very loud fireworks or thunder noise. The saddest part is that fear of loud noises can generalise very quickly to anything that vaguely reminds the animal of the first scary event. These pets go on to require medication and extensive behaviour treatment. The animals suffer greatly and some harm themselves or run away in efforts to escape the noise. The key issue is predictability. Forethought and widespread communication by licensed organisers of fireworks events enables pet owners to prepare well in advance- the Blue Cross advises owners of young animals and older animals with a known noise phobia to seek veterinary advice 6-12 weeks before firework season begins. The greatest problem is the impromptu back garden fireworks show and, of course, …

Pets Corner: How dogs learn

Getting to grips with the way dogs learn can be a source of immense frustration for many new dog owners. We humans have a great tendency to anthropomorphise and expect dogs to learn and memorise in a similar way to ourselves. Many owners do not understand how a dog can appear to understand a training cue in one session but seem to have entirely forgotten it by the next. It is thought that dogs learn primarily by association and have an association memory of around 2 seconds. Quite simply, any given stimulus is either rewarding, punishing (a perceived danger or threat) or neutral. Dogs will seek to repeat experiences that are rewarding and avoid those which are punishing. Clearly these values are subjective. Most dogs find rolling in fox poo intensely rewarding, whereas most humans would find it punishing. Given the choice, I suspect most dogs will forgo the average dog treat if the option to roll in fox poo is available to them. The key to great training is to build a strong, rewarding …

Pets Corner: Teaching your cat how to use a cat flap

Most cats will benefit from being able to use a cat flap but it is not unusual for early stages of training to founder. As with so many areas of animal training, the solution lies in trying to see everything from the animal’s perspective. Remember, where cats are concerned we are talking about a relatively solitary animal that values its territory and space. Choosing a cat flap An obvious point but do look at how large your cat is or ask about the size of your kitten’s parents. Some cats will need a dog flap. There are a number of reputable brands out there, so do shop around. The proper height of the cat flap should align with the distance of your cat’s belly to the floor. Installation Try to put your cat flap in a relatively protected area or place plant pots and similar either side of the cat flap outside the house. When looking through the cat flap cats are unable to scan for predators or ambush by rival cats and this can …

Pets Corner: Are muzzles a good idea?

Under certain conditions even the friendliest dog can bite and a muzzle might be necessary. The very first time many dogs will ever wear a muzzle is at the vet for some sort of emergency procedure. Dogs that are frightened or in pain are much more likely to bite. Safety must come first, however sudden muzzling can make a traumatic experience even more difficult and may cause a lasting negative association for the dog, both with the vet clinic and the muzzle. In my view, each dog should be taught to wear a muzzle as part of everyday life. This means that on the very rare occasion the dog has to be muzzled (travelling abroad or a veterinary procedure are just two examples) the dog is already relaxed about wearing one. Muzzling can also be an important management tool as part of behaviour modification, especially in aggression cases, and for dogs that might be fearful of children or that are space- sensitive. However, even if a dog is muzzled, care should still be taken to …

Pets Corner: Dogs that eat poo

Dogs that eat poo can be one of the most distressing and frustrating of behaviour issues.  However, although disgusting and anti-social for us humans, coprophagia is normal dog behaviour. The fact is, for many dogs poo is just another food source. It is thought the ability to eat poo might be a hardwired remnant of ancestral wolf behaviour, where faeces of the young, old or maimed would be eaten by other pack members to stop parasite infestation in the den. In addition, dogs probably evolved alongside mankind precisely because human food waste and faeces presented an easy source of nourishment. In some cultures puppies are still used as ‘baby wipes’, licking bottoms clean! Studies even show that dogs prefer ‘fresh’ faeces; poo more than two days old is less likely to be consumed, probably because it harbours a greater parasite load. There are various reasons where and why dogs learn to eat poo. Some pups learn in the nest by copying their mother. Whelping bitches are hardwired to eat puppy poo, to keep the nest …