Have a Howl This Halloween

Shih Tzu HalloweenIs it the sudden appearance of a smiling pumpkin on every porch that elicits that first startled “ah” of recognition? Is it the toffee-toned moon split by a band of black clouds that causes that first, shivery chill of remembrance? Is it the lengthening shadow that you yourself cast on the sidewalk that resets your mindset to recall?

Opt for any or all of the above, and the diagnosis is obvious: a clear case of Halloweenitis. Or in people speak: you miss Halloween. Most mature adults have, for years, cloaked this chronic condition in secrecy, with only occasional lapses. Like the impulse purchase of a bag of black and orange jellybeans or a hasty scoop of candy corn.

Lately, however, like the teeming street scene in Michael Jackson’s classic video “Thriller,” all of you wannabe werewolves and witches, goblins and ghouls have been freed to face the musical limelight. Secure in the knowledge that there are hundreds of thousands of former trick or treaters who suffer from the same annual affliction.

With hundreds of websites devoted to the subject of human Halloweenism, is it any wonder then, that prescient providers of pet-themed products have carved out a giant jack-o-lantern sized slice of the pumpkin pie for themselves? Everything from specialty online stores to opulent pet boutiques and pet store chains now offer costumes, sweet and sassy, silly and scary, to discerning pet parents everywhere.

From “A” as in angel to “Z” as in zombie, select any letter of the alphabet, and you’ll find a treasure trove – both virtual and real — of costumes, complete with accessories to clothe and cloak your dog. According to some pet store surveys (yes, there are pet store surveys now), the most popular costumes are pumpkins – no surprise there – and bees. Is that “B” as in … bee?

And since all costumed canines need an appropriate setting to strut their sartorial stuff, what better place than a party? Not just any party. One devilishly designated a Howloween party! When competing, hound-happy hostesses turn spectacular into spook-tacular and invite their human friends along with their canine companions to a fabulous fright night they’ll never forget. When all of the pet parents suffering from Halloweenitis can live vicariously through their own dolled-up doggies by playing chaperone – not to mention second fiddle.

If there’s a cottage industry for costumes, there’s a profusion of pet-specific services ranging from party planners and photographers to pastry shops and paper products. Specially inscribed invitations are snail mailed — not emailed — early to be assured of snagging the doggie A-list for the requisite hour allotted to these doggie dos. Why an hour? Because even the most decked-out diva and gorgeously-garbed guy will grow pouty and have to potty after that.

Author: Nomi Berger

Dog Bites: Forewarned is Forearmed

Close-up of angry Chihuahua growling, 2 years old, in front of wDogs may nip or bite for a variety of reasons. The following are the most common:

When these dogs bite, their likeliest targets are the ones nearest to them: members of their own human families. The expression “Let sleeping dogs lie” is never more true than in the case of an owner stepping over a dog napping in an inconvenient place or brushing one off a chair, couch or bed. Push down too strongly on a dog’s rump to reinforce the “sit” command or attempt to stare down a dog who seems oddly unsettled, and a warning bark may all too quickly be followed by a bite.

This response is usually directed toward strangers. Much like people, dogs are, by nature, fearful of unfamiliar and potentially threatening situations. In old cartoons and movies, it was always the postman who was at the receiving end of a bite. But, in reality, it can be anyone. Anyone the dog doesn’t know, anyone innocently “invading” a dog’s space, or anyone who seems particularly menacing. If a series of cautionary barks doesn’t fend off this perceived danger, a lunge and a bite may result.

Well-intentioned, but ill-advised attempts to break up a dogfight often cause the referee in question to be bitten. When two angry dogs are squaring off against each other, baiting, barking and air snapping, and a hand reaches in to seize a collar or a coat, either dog may suddenly whip round and lash out with his mouth at the “intruder.”

Even the sweetest and gentlest dog can — if the pain is severe enough — bite the hand that’s trying to help. Whether a novice owner, an experienced trainer, or a seasoned vet. Every dog has his own particular threshold and tolerance for pain. Cross it with a normally soothing touch or a tender pat of reassurance, and that nursing hand will need a doctor.

This category is reserved for people who either don’t respect a dog’s boundaries or don’t understand that every dog has his limits. Thoughtless behaviors, inconsiderate overtures, constant pestering, poking or prodding – and the perpetrator will be punished with a bite. 

Dogs chosen by families either for personal protection or for the protection of their property may find themSELVES the unwitting target of their dogs’ over-zealous guarding. Trained to defend everything of value – from the family house and car to the family itself – from outside threats, some dogs will even “protect” one family member from another by biting the one they considers a threat.

Children between the ages of 5 and 9 are at greatest risk for dog bites. To minimize these risks, they should be taught to:

  • Report a strange dog wandering through their yard or neighborhood to an adult.
  • Never approach a strange dog.
  • Never approach an eating or sleeping dog, or a mother caring for her pups.
  • Never look directly into a dog’s eyes.
  • Stand as still as a statue if approached by a strange dog.
  • Never scream at or run from a strange dog.
  • Roll into a ball and not move if knocked down by a strange dog.
  • Never play with a dog unless in the company of an adult.

To help reduce the incidences of dog biting: 

  • All responsible dog owners must learn about and understand fully the complexities of canine behavior.
  • All responsible dog owners must obedience train and socialize their dogs – the sooner, the younger, the better.
  • All responsible dog owners must teach their children to respect ALL dogs, starting with the ones in their own homes.

It’s said that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. In the case of dog biting, however, a little knowledge is less dangerous than no knowledge at all.

Author: Nomi Berger

October is Adopt a Shelter Dog Month

Zac CACCFor decades now, designated months have been devoted to an increasing number of awareness-raising issues. And for more than a decade, raising awareness about the crucial issue of animal adoption has been no different. Their designated month is October.

Once again, the ASPCA and the AHA are reminding us that October is Adopt-A-Shelter-Dog Month. Once again, they are reminding us of the vital, life-affirming roles dogs play in our lives and of our responsibility to pay it forward by saving the lives of those less fortunate. Once again, they are reminding us that every year, millions of healthy, adoptable dogs across North America are being euthanized because there aren’t enough homes for them. Once again, they are reminding us that every animal adopted opens a space for another animal in need. Once again, they are reminding us that by choosing adoption, we are helping decrease the number of dogs left homeless each year.

The observation of Adopt-a-Shelter-Dog Month draws attention to the dismal plight of homeless animals in our communities and across our country, and highlights the disappointing fact that only 20 to 30 percent of them are actually adopted from shelters and rescue groups. Whether it’s called Adopt-A-Dog or Adopt-A-Shelter-Dog Month, the message is the same: ADOPT, DON’T SHOP!

Over the years, this simple three-word message has captured the hearts of potential dog adopters and fired the imaginations of caring and conscientious communities everywhere. It has also attracted a growing number of civic-minded and social conscious individuals, organizations and corporations to the cause.

To encourage those still wavering between a pet store and a pet shelter, most shelters are offering potential dog adopters reduced adoption fees this month. Many are offering free lectures, workshops and dog training sessions. Others are hosting special social events, gift giveaways and beauty contests. Numerous restaurant chains are donating a percentage of the sales of certain items on their menu to their local shelters.

The ASPCA and the AHA are urging everyone this month to visit their local shelter and adopt an available dog and to encourage other potential dog owners to make adoption THEIR only option. And for those unable to adopt, there are numerous other ways to get involved and make a difference. 

* Donate to a shelter, rescue group or the Petfinder.com Foundation in honor of Adopt-A-Shelter-Dog Month.

* Ask a local shelter or rescue group if they have donation wish lists or flyers you could post.

* If a shelter or rescue group is holding a special event for Adopt-A-Shelter-Dog Month, volunteer to help at it or promote it.

* Collect gently used blankets, towels and toys and donate them to a shelter or rescue group.

* Sign online petitions to shut down puppy mills across the country.

* Spread the “adoption” message to your followers on Facebook.

* Add a Petfinder widget or banner to your website or blog.

* Write an op-ed article for your local paper about the importance of animal adoption.

* Volunteer at your local shelter.

* Become a foster parent for a dog from a shelter or rescue group.

But remember, although Adopt-A-Shelter-Dog Month may end with October, the need to adopt a dog will continue. Month after month after month.

Article author: Nomi Berger


Consider the Pet Sitter

Esther 2013Are you hesitant about planning a vacation because of your dog? Are you stopped by images of your cherished family companion in a boarding kennel run by well-meaning strangers?

Consider another possibility: your dog, safe and snug at home, cared for by someone who’s qualified and experienced.

Consider a pet sitter.

Pet sitters are paid professionals who come to your home and spend quality time with your pet. The best ones are those who not only feed and play with them, but hold certificates in First Aid and CPR.

Consider the benefits. 

Your dog remains at home, with the same diet and daily routine, and receives both attention and exercise while you’re away.

You can feel more secure knowing that, not only is your dog safe, but your home is too. Pet sitters can take in your newspapers and mail, water your plants and provide your place with that lived-in look.

To begin, ask your vet, trainer or groomer for recommendations. Ask your friends and neighbors for the names of their own pet sitters.

Interview each candidate over the phone, then in person, and ask the following questions: Can they provide written proof that they’re bonded and carry commercial liability insurance? What formal training have they received? Are contingency plans in place if an accident or emergency prevents them from fulfilling their duties? Will they provide extra services like grooming, dog walking or playtime with other dogs? If they provide live-in services, what are the specific times they agree to be with your dog? Will they give you a written contract listing their services and fees? Will they provide you with the phone numbers of clients who have agreed to be references?

If you’re satisfied with the person’s answers and if the references have checked out, it’s imperative that your dog first meet and interact with prospective sitter. Monitor them closely. Does your dog seem comfortable with the person? Are they a good fit? Are there any issues that need addressing?

Once your decision has been made and you, yourself, are comfortable, you can begin to plan that long-delayed vacation: whether for a weekend, a week or longer. Then, before your date of departure: Walk the sitter through your home, pointing out all the essentials needed to make the agreed-upon routine run smoothly and well. Prepare a comprehensive list of emergency contact information, including how to reach you and your vet. Store all of your dog’s food and other supplies in one place, along with extras in case you’re away longer than originally planned. Give a trustworthy neighbor copies of your keys and have that neighbor and the pet sitter exchange phone numbers. Show the pet sitter any important safety features, such as fuse boxes, circuit breakers and security systems.

With everything firmly in place, all you have to do now is leave. Secure in the knowledge that your precious dog is in good hands and is, after all, a mere phone call away.

Author: Nomi Berger


Forever Home: Now What?

Roscoe and the OvercashsBe an informed adopter and make your new dog’s entry into your world as pleasurable and stress-free as possible.

Establish yourself with a vet if you are a first time dog owner before bringing your new dog home, or register your new dog with your established vet. Then apply for all of the appropriate licenses, etc., required in your area.

Remember that a dog’s true personality may not reveal itself until he/she has been with you for several weeks.

Therefore, these first few weeks require an atmosphere of calm and patience, not of anger or punishment.

Knowing your new dog’s established schedules for meals, pottying, walking and exercise beforehand are essential to maintaining his/her sense of continuity.

Once you arrive home, bring your new dog to his/her designated pottying place.

Spend time allowing your new dog to get accustomed to the place, and if he/she potties, reward him/her with warm praise and a treat or two.

Repeat this as an exercise (whether your dog potties or not) to reinforce it, but be prepared for accidents. Even a housebroken dog will be nervous in, and curious about, new surroundings.

Your new dog may also pant or pace excessively, suffer from stomach upsets or have no appetite at all due to the sudden changes in his/her life.

If you already own a dog, you know how he/she behaves around other dogs. What you DON’T know is how is how he/she will react to your new dog. Some may adapt easily to sharing their space, while others may not.

It’s important then to introduce them on neutral grounds – outside your home. Both dogs should be leashed and allowed to sniff each other. If one of them urinates, let the other dog sniff the puddle, as urine tells dogs a great deal about one another.

If any tension (growling or bared teeth) develops between the dogs, separate them immediately and wait for them to calm down. If you own more than one dog, introduce the friendliest one first so as not to overwhelm your new dog. 

With your new dog garnering most of the attention, it’s important to spend extra quality time with your existing dog(s) to keep them from feeling excluded.

Give your new dog the same food that he/she ate before.

After 30 minutes, remove the food whether it’s been eaten or not. Do not allow your new dog to “graze.”

(If you want to switch brands, wait a week. Begin by adding one part new food to three parts of the old for several days. Then add half new to half old for several more days, followed by one part old to three parts new until it’s all new food and the transition is complete).

Learn the commands your new dog already knows and don’t attempt to teach him/her any new ones for awhile.

Walk your new dog slowly through your home allowing him/her plenty of time to sniff around and become familiar with all of its sights and smells. 

If needed, teach your new dog proper house manners from the start — calmly and patiently. Reward good behavior with praise and treats for positive reinforcement.

Introduce your new dog to the other members of your household one by one. Unless you know that the dog enjoys approaching new people, instruct everyone to sit, silent and still, on a couch or chair and ignore him/her.

Allow your new dog to approach them, sniffing, whether it takes several seconds or several minutes. Only when he/she is relaxed should they begin to pet him/her lightly and gently.

Children in particular should be closely supervised to ensure that they follow these same guidelines.

Show your new dog his/her place to sleep and place a few treats around the area as added incentives.

Give your new dog some quiet, alone time to get used to his/her space while you remain in the room for reassurance.

For the first few days, remain calm and quiet around your new dog, allowing him/her to settle in comfortably while you become familiar with his/her likes and dislikes, quirks and habits.

If you want to change your new dog’s name, begin by saying his/her new name and giving him/her an especially good treat (chicken works well) or a belly rub. This will teach your new dog to love the sound the name and respond to it. Repeating this numerous times a day will speed up the process. (Most dogs learn a new name within a few weeks, some after only a few sessions).

Limit your new dog’s activities to your home, potty and exercise areas, keeping away from neighbors and other dogs, public places and dog parks.

Invite a relative, friend or neighbor over, one at a time, and introduce your new dog to them. Hand them treats and tell them to be calm and gentle in their approach and touch – unless, of course, your new dog happily but calmly approaches them first.

Before answering the door, however, know where your new dog is and ensure that he/she cannot bolt once the door opens. If your new dog isn’t already trained to “sit” and “stay”, put on his/her lead before opening the door. And if he/she becomes overly excited around visitors, warn them ahead of time to ignore the dog (no eye contact, talk or touch) until he/she settles down.

Begin the routine you want to establish (according to your own lifestyle) for your new dog’s pottying, eating, walking, playing and alone times, and maintain it — calmly but firmly.

Initial resistance is to be expected, but remain firm – without impatience or anger – while your new dog gradually becomes accustomed to his/her new schedule.

To make the process as pleasant and reassuring as possible, spend quality time with your new dog, stroking him/her or brushing his/her coat, while talking gently and soothingly to strengthen the bond and trust between you.

Gradually accustom your new dog to being alone by leaving your home briefly then returning, repeating this several times over a period of a day or two and gradually increasing the alone time from a few minutes to a half hour to an hour. This way he/she won’t feel abandoned. When you return, walk in calmly and don’t fuss over your dog until he/she has settled down.

If your new dog whines or cries, don’t cuddle or console him/her. It only reinforces this behavior. Instead give him/her attention and praise for good behavior, such as resting quietly or chewing on a toy instead. And treats always work wonders.

Slowly begin introducing your new dog to your neighbors and other dogs, closely monitoring his/her reactions, especially towards the dogs.

Allow your neighbors to familiarize themselves with your new dog so that they can easily recognize him/her in the event that he/she ever gets loose or goes missing.

Bring your new dog to the vet, to introduce them to each other, to address any health or behavioral concerns you may have, and to get a new rabies certificate.

Take your new dog with you in the car to as many places as possible. This will help both with his/her socialization and in NOT associating car rides with possibly traumatic visits to the vet or groomer.

For any behavioral issues you can’t resolve on your own, ask your vet for the name of a professional to help you.

Most importantly, remember that making your new dog the newest member of your family is a process, with frustrating steps back and fulfilling steps forward.

Remember too that patience, although sometimes difficult, is vital, and that consistency is the key.

Your reward? A long, loving and happy life with your new dog, and the satisfaction of knowing that you have saved his/her life.

Author: Nomi Berger