First published 1/18
There was Superbowl commercial in 2006 where cowboys were herding cats. It's hilarious. (You can check it out at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pk7yqlTMvp8 ). Herding cats seems crazy, and the herding cats myth was actually busted by the Mythbusters on one of their shows, but cats can actually be trained to do many things. They even have agility competitions for cats. One of our clients has taught his cat, Parker, many tricks. He can lie down, roll over, play fetch and jump through a hoop, among other things. You can check out his video on our Facebook page. Our housecats all know how to sit and the young ones (6 and 7) can give hi-fives. I even taught our deaf cat some visual cues for "come," "sit," and "good boy."
Cats are not just small dogs. I love dogs. Dogs are loyal and typically go out of their way to please us. Their pleasure in life is to be a part of our family. But cats are great. They are fascinating. They are results-driven, and unless they see a clear advantage in doing what we are asking, they aren't likely to go out of their way to do what we want. That is not to say that cats are cold and unaffectionate. They can be very affectionate and loving. Our clinic cat waits for me outside the office until I get to work. Our cats at home sleep with me almost every night. But it takes a lot more to earn a cat's trust than most dogs. Cats are a perplexing mix of predator and prey, and this has a big influence on how they view the world.
Cats use their small size and agility to avoid dangerous situations when possible. It is so easy and natural for a cat to hide on top of the refrigerator, or under the bed, or behind the couch if they are uncomfortable with a situation. They just tend to disappear. However, when they feel threatened, they have fearsome weapons: sharp claws, sharp teeth and amazing agility. Yes, dogs can be aggressive when cornered, but not typically to the extent we see in cats. This carries over to training situations. People, dogs, cats all have difficulty learning when stressed.
This is what we see when kids shut down when they have to take a test or when a person has to talk in front of a large group of people. It is the same thing that happens when you can't get your dog to sit when it's at the vet's office. The fight or flight reaction takes over, and adrenaline takes away conscious thought.
Historical training methods have employed positive punishment and negative reinforcement. Positive punishment is something we add to discourage a behavior, like a leash correction when a dog pulls on the leash. Negative reinforcement is stopping or taking away something to encourage a certain behavior, like releasing pressure on a dog's hips when he sits. It's not cruel, and dogs typically respond to these things because they understand us and want to please us. Now, imagine doing that with a cat. This is exactly why it is difficult to imagine training a cat, but IT CAN BE DONE. Not in that way, but in an equally or maybe a more effective way- positive reinforcement and conditioning.
So, what does that mean? Obviously, if your cat does what you ask, you reward him, but how do you get him to do what you want? Initially, you can use a treat or a toy to lure him to perform the behavior. If you have a treat, and hold it down and he comes, give him the treat, once he does this predictably, you can add the word "come." Congratulations! You have trained your cat to come. Hold a treat just over his forehead, and when he sits, give him the treat. Add the word "sit" once he gets it. Presto! You have a cat that sits!
Okay, so you can teach your cat to come and sit. Why would you want to do that? Other than the fact that it is fun for you and your cat, it builds communication and understanding. It helps your cat gain confidence in you so that he is not living under the bed or on top of the refrigerator. It helps you make your pet cat feel less like prey and more like a king. Also, wouldn't you rather have your cat doing tricks for you than scratching up your furniture, peeing in the house or walking all over your counters? Basic training in cats can help with all these behavior problems. So maybe we'll never be able to herd cats, but the things your cat can do will amaze you!
Originally published 12/16
There is something about babies and pets that can turn even the most dignified person to mush. Now, I do not claim to be particularly dignified, but I have several clients who were quite dignified, but they, on occasion, act very silly about their pets. One example of this is the names we give our pets. I'm not talking about official names, though I have seen a few official names that were especially memorable. I am talking about unofficial names. Often, dogs and cats have a surprising number of unofficial names. Some probably aren't even aware of what their official name is or that they have one particular name that is the "right" one.
One of our pets that had a greater than average number of names was Bug. We got Bug from a breeder when she was about two. They had never actually named her, but they called her Stink Bug because she had some issues with potent flattulence. The kids did not feel that was a name she should be saddled with her entire life, so they decided her name would be Little Lady Lovebug. That name never really caught on, especially after she ate Gevevieve's boots. After that, I don't think Genevieve called her anything at all. However, Joshua was quite taken with her. So Bug was called all sorts of derivations of Bug: Buggles, Buglet, Hug a Bug, Buggle-Squggle, etc. Now Bug not only had very stinky farts, but she also had a particularly disgusting habit of eating poop: dog poop, cat poop, horse poop, you name it. She also didn't have a particularly good bite, so the evidence of her dietary adventures tended to linger. This earned her the nickname: Poop-A Boog-a-Latte, and since I like Starbuck's, this evolved into Grande Poop-A Boog-a-Latte. Fortunately, Bug did not speak English, so she never knew that we were constantly teasing her, and she was always happy to come to whatever name someone was calling on any particular day.
Another notable example of a pet with an excess of names is our barn cat Teddy Roosevelt. Teddy was also a rescue, and when we got him he actually DID have a name, but I think they just called him Teddy. Now, as you know the original Teddy Roosevelt was a larger than life and go-getter with a "Take no prisoners" attitude. Our Teddy is not quite so bombastic, but he does have some pretty interesting nicknames: Theodore, Teddy, Ted, TR, Fred, Freddie, Freddy Krueger, Fred Flintstone, T-adorable kitty. Sometimes, we even call him Teddy Roosevelt.
Finally, there is our cat Angus Young. He is one of the most affectionate cats, I have ever owned and our official greeter when we have new people over. Perhaps it is his personality or maybe the fact that he is always available for attention, but he has accumulated quite the
list of names as well. Angus was originally named for AC/DC's Angus Young because of the way he would roll around on his back when he was a kitten. Now, we mostly call him Angus because it is just shorter. However, he is also know as Gus, Gus Mus, Angoose, Angoose Gus Mus, Goose, Goose Moose, Goo Moo, Goo Moo Poo, and when he is particularly snuggly, Big Pile of Goo.
So, I suppose the old saying is true that dogs (and apparently cats) don't care what you call them as long as you don't call them late for dinner. (Or maybe they do, I have't tried that particular nickname yet). And, as Shakespeare so eloquently put it: "What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." We love our pets, and one way we have of expressing this is by coming up with all sorts of ridiculous names for them. I wonder what they would call us if they could talk?
Originally published 11/16
When I think about this, I envision two pictures, both of a cute donkey attached to a cart with a child sitting in the cart.
In the first picture, the donkey and child appear very happy, and the child is dangling a carrot in front of the donkey's nose. The donkey is stretching out his nose to get the carrot. In the second picture neither one looks particularly happy, in fact, they both have very stubborn looks on their faces. In that picture, the child is using a stick to hit the donkey and make it pull the cart. Now we all know that most people do not get horses or donkeys to pull carts by dangling carrots in front of their noses, and initially, the image is kind of silly, but it illustrates a very good point: Which is the better way to get things done: reward or punishment?
Those of you who are total geeks like me or if you have a background in psychology will point out that I have already made a mistake. The stick actually represents negative reinforcement, NOT postive punishment. Actually, it depends on how you use the stick, but we will get into that later.
Those of you who are normal and don't have a psychology background are probably saying to yourselves, "who cares." So, I will get back on topic.
The carrot or the stick? Reward or punishment? Naturally, if you were on the receiving end, you would vote for reward. Most people also prefer giving a reward versus doling out punishment, at least in theory. However, we are programmed as a species to focus on things we don't like, and calmly accept things we like. We don't tend to mark good behavior, and we tend to get angry about bad behavior.
Punishment is a direct result of this. Your dog gets excited and jumps on you when you come home. Do you punish him or reward him? Of course you shouldn’t reward your dog for jumping on you unless this is a behavior you want to encourage. So you focus on reacting to the behavior. Many nuisance behaviors present a similar dilemma. This is also one reason it is difficult to get a child to quit sucking his thumb or why dieting is such a challenge, and why it is so difficult to quit smoking. In all these examples, we are trying to teach a negative. What do we naturally think of when someone tells us not to think of pink elephants? Not blue rhinos, PINK ELEPHANTS. So when you try to teach your dog not to jump on you, he is constantly fighting the urge NOT to jump.
When you punish a child for sucking his thumb, he thinks about it even more. If you go around saying "I will not smoke," you are torturing yourself because you are even more focused on the fact that you shouldn't have a cigarette. The second reason that breaking bad habits is difficult is that, by definition, the reaction to an unwanted behavior is punishment.
There are four elements of learning theory: Positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, negative punishment, and positive punishment. For a moment don't think about positive as good and negative as bad. Think of positive as adding something and negative as taking something away. Reinforcement means you want to encourage the behavior. Punishment is what you do to stop or decrease the frequency of the behavior. Therefore, if your dog jumps on you, and this is a behavior you are trying to discourage, punishment must be the response. Yes, that's what I said, punishment must be the
response. Why? Because if you do anything to stop or decrease the frequency of a behavior, that is punishment, by definition. Fortunately for your dog and your relationship with your dog, there are two types of punishment: negative and positive. Positive punishment is jamming your knee into his chest when he jumps up or yelling at him or whatever unpleasant thing people do in response to a dog jumping. Negative punishment means taking something away to decrease the frequency of a behavior. In this example, your dog is jumping on you because he loves you (hopefully) and is excited to see you. Ignoring him is negative punishment. In a dog's mind, ignoring him is often much worse than beating him. Be aware, if you turn your back, but are saying," sit, sit, sit," the whole time or if you are waving your arms or moving around, your dog might think this is a fun new game, and you may be reinforcing your dog's jumping.
It is much easier for us and dogs to learn a positive behavior. A positive behavior being something your dog can do, not something you want him to STOP doing. Puppies can easily learn to sit in 5 minutes at 6 weeks old. This is very rewarding because sitting is considered good manners in the dog world, and it fun to reward our puppy for sitting. You can show his new trick off to your friends, and even people who don't like dogs like them better when they are sitting. Another wonderful thing about sitting is that is physically impossible for your new puppy to jump on you while he is sitting. Interesting... Let me summarize: 1) It is more fun to reward that punish, 2) It is much easier for a dog to learn a positive behavior than a negative behavior, 3) A dog can't jump when he is sitting. So, teach your dog to sit- frequently, in all sorts of situations. Make it so your dog sits without thinking about it. Make it so if your dog is unsure about how to react, he sits. Then, when you come home, and he's excited to see you, and he jumps on you, utilize negative punishment: turn your back on him, ignore him. When he sits, reward him then. Make sure you reward him. That's how you teach a dog not to jump on you.
Maybe there are situations where you need to use the stick, but I prefer to use the carrot whenever possible.
Originally published 10/16
Ever have a morning when you think maybe you just shouldn't have gotten out of bed? I had one the other day. At first, everything seemed fine.
Joshua was sick, and I got up around 4 to check his temperature and get him some medicine, but hey, no big deal, right? I would have liked to have slept longer when the alarm woke us up at 5:30, but Greg had a surgery and I had to get Genevieve up for school. Not really anything out of the ordinary. Things didn't really start getting interesting until we let the dogs in.
We currently have three dogs, Hypnos and Sterling are brothers-140 pound English mastiffs, and Meggie is an Australian cattle dog. The boys are actually very sensitive, and on that day, Hypnos had a particularly sad look on his face. I immediately went to comfort him with a hug and realized my mistake just a little too late. His head was slightly wet, and there was a pungent oily odor emanating from him, and unfortunately now me.
He had gotten skunked!
I grabbed a towel and started rubbing his head vigorously to get what oil I could off. Then, since Sterling had been out with him, I started rubbing him down as well. Sadly, Sterling had not actually been sprayed, but now he smelled a bit like skunk as well. I decided that Greg would have to take Hypnos to work with him to get a bath. As I'm sure you could imagine, Greg was thrilled with the idea of riding to work with a dog that had just been skunked, as well as having the ENTIRE hospital smell like skunk for days, but I figured that was better than me and the house smelling like skunk.
So, grumbling loudly, he walked out with the stinky dog, and tried to start our old car. Of course, it wouldn't start. He tried several times, even tried to jump start it, but no dice. By this time he was late, and opted to take the truck, sans smelly dog, and head to work. I took Genevieve down to the bus stop and sent her off to school, contemplating a strategy to deal with said dog.
As I said before, Hypnos weighs 140 pounds. He is a very good dog, but that's a lot of dog to bathe. Also, it was just above freezing outside. I briefly considered the bath tub and quickly dispensed with that idea: 1) don't want him upstairs, 2) Don't want the bathroom to smell like skunk for the next two weeks, 3) Don't want to clog up the drain with hair, especially particularly smelly hair. I tried the car myself thinking I could take him to the pet wash at the car wash next to work, but of course, it didn't start. The only option left was the yard and the hose. I donned my oldest, shabbiest warm clothing, gloves and my rubber boots and prepared for battle.
Naturally, being a veterinarian and living out in the country, I know the best, easiest and most effective treatment for getting rid of skunk odor. Sorry to disappoint you, but I don't. In my career, I have often found the more remedies for a particular problem, the less effective any of them are. Have you seen how many remedies there are for skunk odor? Of course, the old standby is tomato juice. This just doesn't work, and I don't typically keep 5 or so gallons of tomato juice on hand. My old boss found a remedy in an old text book that recommended using dilute bleach. It works, but I just can't feel good about bleaching a dog, no matter how stinky the dog or how dilute the bleach. My son found a remedy using baking soda, hydrogen peroxide and dish soap. I had actually run across this remedy on a pet insurance website, and one person freaked out about using hydrogen peroxide on a dog. (I wonder what she would have said about the bleach remedy). Other comments followed saying how bad it was for a veterinarian to recommend such a harmful treatment. (This is why I hate Dr. Google). Yes, it is true, getting hydrogen peroxide in your dog's eyes is really bad, but people GARGLE with it. It is in toothpaste for Heaven's sake. I think it is okay to put on your dog's skin. Anyway, I am a skeptic, and I don't have gallons of hydrogen peroxide and pounds of baking soda sitting around waiting for one of my dogs to get skunked. I opted for warm water and dish detergent. Did it help? Some. Did Hypnos still smell like skunk? Yes. So I blocked him in the kitchen and prepared to go take care of the horses, about an hour later than normal.
Then, the phone rang. It was the school nurse. My first thought was that she was calling to say Genevieve had contracted strep from Joshua, and had to go home. Naturally, that was not the case. She called because Genevieve smelled bad and was disrupting class because of the odor.
Genevieve had not touched Hypnos, had not been in the same room with him, and had not touched me. However, she apparently smelled so bad that her first period class had to change class rooms, her teacher said it smelled like something had died, and eventually, she was sent to the school nurse, so I could pick her up, and "clean her up a little." That was a first for me, but I guess it is routine because Genevieve told me that two other kids had been sent home that week for the same reason. At this point, I'm thinking the military might consider looking into skunk spray as a potential for a biological weapon. I'm sure someone has already thought of that, but they probably couldn't find anyone willing to put up with the smell.
I finally get home and am appreciating having help to feed our poor, starving horses. I take the dogs, as usual, hoping that the skunks have had enough for one day. The dogs wandered off, so I called them back to us, and they run back enthusiastically. I am petting our Australian cattle dog and Sterling comes barreling up, and rams me right in the nose with the top of his head. It took me a few minutes to get my bearings. and all I can think is "why did I even bother getting out of bed."
So, if you see me this week, and I have a couple black eyes or a swollen nose, it's not that Greg is beating me. I just have a couple of rambunctious Mastiffs.
This blog was originally created and published for our previous website in Sept. 2016
When we updated our website, there was a tab for "blog." Hmm, I thought. I should probably do a blog. Of course, I didn't really know what a blog is... So, of course, I looked it up on-line. According to Oxford dictionaries, a blog is "a regularly updated website or webpage, typically one run by an individual or small group that is written in an informal or conversational style."
Now, I just need to figure out how to get it on our website. I don't really consider myself old, but sometimes technology kills me. I mean we didn't even have internet until after I graduated from vet school. My first mobile phone was a bag phone, you know, the ones that were the size of a laptop with the big antenna you stuck on the top of your car. It was a good thing I never needed to use it because I never did figure out how to dial out with it. Then we got this big, bulky rectangular thing. I don't think kids these days would even know what it was. Well, I have the phone thing down now. I can even text, though, don't ask me about Face Time, and I have never "tweeted" in my life. I did do Skype, once... Anyway, I have a Facebook account, and I can email with the best of them. I do still write in complete sentences most of the time and often use proper capitalization so I guess I'm not all that hip.
Anyway, I'm going to give this blog thing a try. Hopefully, it will be fun and informative. I figured I'd start on Facebook until I hear back from someone about how to get it on our website. I am open to suggestions, questions, whatever. If you are curious about something or have an
opinion, speak up!
Until next time...