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Touch: The Simple Command That Makes Life with your Dog a Lot Easier

TRAINING YOUR DOG | By Shoshi Parks

Touch: The Simple Command That Makes Life with your Dog a Lot Easier

As a professional trainer, I teach many different cues (trainers prefer “cue” to “command”) to dogs of all shapes and sizes. But of all the cues in all the world, only one is so versatile that it can make a big difference in the life of any dog, whether fearful or exuberant, puppy or senior.

That cue (drumroll please…) is “touch.”

What is ‘touch’ in dog training?

Touch is really just the name many dog trainers assign to a behavior called hand targeting. Hand targeting is the simple act of a dog voluntarily touching their nose to your hand.

Teaching a dog to hand target is like implanting a permanent magnet in your dog’s schnozz. They’ll be automatically drawn to the palm of your hand when outstretched. A little bump and that’s it. The touch is complete.

How can such a simple action be so useful? Well, hold onto your hats, because hand targeting can:

  • Give an overexcited dog an alternative behavior to jumping.

The higher you hold your hand, the more energy your dog has to burn to bounce up and touch their nose. Do several of these in a row and your dog is now playing a fun, productive game.

  • Offer a reactive dog an alternative to unwanted barking or lunging.

Starting a dog on a series of several touches in a row when you see one of your dog’s triggers coming down the street gives them an activity that, with practice, prevents a reaction.

  • Burn energy and make walks less boring.

Asking your dog to “Touch!” several times in a row equals a happy, bouncing dog. Asking them to “Touch!” with your hand above a bench or on the other side of the tree gets them engaging with their environment in more stimulating ways.

  • Provide a fearful dog with a “safe” option for saying hello to unfamiliar people.

In this case, instead of naming your hand target “Touch!,” you might call it “Say Hi!” When someone wants to greet your dog, ask them to put out the palm of their hand and tell your dog “Say hi!” This gives your dog a safe way to interact with the unfamiliar person, a better alternative to being reached for by a stranger.

  • Clarify what you want from your dog.

For instance, when you need them to get into the car, get off the couch, or move out of your way in a small space.

  • Work like a mini-recall.

If your “magnet” is strong, saying ‘touch’ gets your dog to come to you across a room or small outdoor space.

All this from one cue? Yes! All this and more. Ready to jump on the hand targeting train?

Teach your dog to “touch”

  1. Start by placing your outstretched palm within a few inches of your dog’s nose. Your dog’s natural curiosity should entice them to nudge your palm. As soon as you feel the nudge, mark the action with “YES!” or a clicker and reward your dog with your other hand.
  2. Repeat 5 times.
  3. Add the verbal cue “Touch!” (or “Say Hi!”). Say the cue, then immediately put out your palm. “YES!” or click when you feel your dog’s nose and reward.
  4. Repeat 5 times.
  5. Move your hand a bit farther away from your dog, so that they have to take a step towards you to touch. Say the cue, put out your hand, and mark and reward the touch.
  6. Repeat 5 times.
  7. Try two touches in a row, removing your hand completely between the two cues and rewarding only at the end. For example: “Touch” → Put hand out → Feel nose → YES! → Remove hand → “Touch” → Put hand out → Feel nose → YES! → Reward

From this point, choose your own adventure by moving farther away, raising your hand a little or adding an additional touch.

Troubleshooting ‘touch’ or hand targeting

Here are three solutions to common problem areas in touch training.

Your dog simply stares at your hand.

Solution: Hit the reset button by completely removing your hand. Wait a couple of seconds then put it out again. If that doesn’t work, try it again, this time taking a few steps away and returning to a different position in front of your dog.

Your dog doesn’t follow the command at a longer distance.

Solution: Some dogs have trouble transitioning to longer distance touches, higher touches, or multiple touches in a row. Increase these parameters gradually A good rule of thumb is to get 5 successful touches at any one location before raising the bar.

Your dog already associates a specific cue with an outstretched palm (like “shake,” for instance).

Solution: Modify your touch to a fist bump. Instead of stretching out your palm, make your hand into a fist and offer that to your dog. Mark and reward when they nudge your fist.

Best of luck! Touch training is a game-changer for most dogs and their humans. I can’t recommend it enough.SHARETWEETPIN IT

Shoshi Parks

Shoshi Parks, Ph.D. is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-ka) and Certified Separation Anxiety Trainer (CSAT). She owns Modern Hound Dog Training in San Francisco and teaches dog training classes at the San Francisco SPCA.

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8 Ways Cats Can Make You Healthier

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FOR CAT PEOPLE | By Rebecca Bridge

In my life, I’ve loved and cared for many pets. From gerbils, hamsters, rats and guinea pigs to ferrets, chickens, cats, dogs, and horses, I’ve experienced the special connection that develops between us humans and our pets. And you know what I think? Cats have gotten a bum rap.

Cats have a reputation for being aloof, a bit standoffish, and very, very finicky, and it’s a stereotype that carries more than a bit of truth with it. They can’t help themselves. They’re biologically wired to be solo hunters in the jungle. But just because cats don’t “need” people as outwardly and unabashedly as a typical dog, it doesn’t mean that they’re not affectionate, loving, and loyal in their own beautifully feline way. Any true cat lover can tell you as much.

While cats might not “need” their human companions as much as other pets might, it turns out that there are a lot of ways that we actually need them, at least as far as being healthier human beings goes. That’s right—owning a cat can actually make you healthier. Let’s take a look at how and why owning cats can benefit our health.

1. Reduce stress

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Have you ever wondered why there are so many programs that bring pets into hospitals or onto college campuses during exam times? If you’re a cat owner, you probably already know the answer. Turns out, petting a cat (or a dog) can actually help lower stress.

How? Researches think that the de-stressing effect of petting a cat can lower your cortisol levels. Cortisol is a hormone that’s often released during high-stress periods that helps regulate a lot of important functions in the body.

However, at higher levels, cortisol can disrupt essential body functions like immune suppression and blood sugar regulation. So call your cat up on your lap and start giving her lots of pets—it’s good for you!

2. Help lower blood pressure, risk of heart disease, and stroke

Did you realize that owning a cat is good for your heart? Sure, pets teach us how to love unconditionally, but I mean good for your physical heart. And brain. And circulatory system.

In study after study, cat ownership has shown a direct correlation with a lowered risk for stroke, by up to a third, as well as myocardial infarction and overall instances of cardiovascular diseases. You don’t even have to currently own a cat to benefit, as one study showed that even former cat owners were 40% less likely to suffer from heart attacks, which surpassed the effectiveness of heart medications. Why? Researchers aren’t sure, but some think it could be the overall destressing impact of owning a cat.

3. Help get better sleep

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Many of us are aware of one indisputable fact: a cat that sleeps in your bed will take up nine times as much space as you’d think their tiny body is capable of. But guess what? A pet sleeping in your bed might actually help their owner get a better, less disrupted night of sleep than someone who sleeps alone.

That’s because many cat owners feel a sense of ease when their pet is around which can help their bodies settle into deeper, more restful sleep cycles. Try to remember that the next time you wake in the middle of the night with your favorite cat purring lovingly as she sleeps on your head.

4. Their purr may help heal bones and tissue

I’ve talked about the benefits of a cat’s purr on this blog before. One of the main reasons researchers believe that cats purr is that its resonance is at a level that can help heal bones and soft tissues in their body. But purring might not just be restorative for the cat, but also for the people around him as well.

A cat’s purr resonates in the 18-35 Hz spectrum, a frequency that scientists have discovered can help humans heal after trauma and injury. When your cat cuddles up on your lap and purrs their content little heart out, it might just be helping your body heal in ways you don’t even realize.

5. Lower the incident of allergies

It used to be that new parents were warned to keep possible allergens away from babies and young children just to be safe. These days, however, parents are learning that having a cat or dog around the house might actually be the key to keeping childhood allergies at bay.

Studies sponsored by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences have found that kids who live in households with two or more cats or dogs during early childhood are statistically much less likely to develop allergies than their peers who don’t.

It’s not just pet allergies that early pet exposure helps protect against either, but other common allergens such as ragweed, dust mites, and grasses. Though they’re not yet sure why there’s a correlation between allergy protection and cat ownership, many doctors are now much less wary of early pet exposure.

6. Keep children breathing easier

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Having a cat as a housemate doesn’t just help protect young children from allergies, it can also help mitigate the risk for childhood lung diseases such as asthma, pneumonia, and bronchitis in children who are genetically predisposed to be at risk for breathing disorders.

Again, researchers aren’t entirely clear on why there’s a correlation between living with a cat and disease alleviation. Some speculate that cat dander may play a role in helping the body’s immune system learn how to deal with environmental irritants early on in childhood.

7.

Reduce loneliness and depression

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, owning and caring for a cat can be the perfect antidote to alleviate loneliness and help prevent or moderate depression. The secret to this mood-lifting superpower? Hormones.

In a study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, researchers found that when subjects spent time with a pet, their levels of oxytocin shot up. Oxytocin is a hormone that helps humans feel more at ease with a stronger sense of security and happiness. Additionally, playing with or petting a cat can help increase levels of dopamine and serotonin, two of the happiness chemicals that help regulate our moods and keep depression at bay.

Additionally, being responsible for taking care of your cat can help be a motivator on the days you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed. No matter how much you might feel like staying curled up in bed, there will always be a furry little purrer nosing at you and urging you to get up, give him some scratches and, for the love of everything, fill his food bowl up already. You’ve gotta love those cats.

8. Increase exercise

While owning a cat doesn’t usually require as much physical exertion as owning a dog can (thank goodness!), there’s no reason that being a cat person doesn’t mean you aren’t getting a workout. I mean, think how much time you already spend doing squats to pick up all of the stuff your cat oh-so-lovingly bats onto the floor over and over and over again. It’s its own kind of CAT-isthenics (groan, sorry).

Seriously, though, with a little effort, being a cat owner can help you get in some extra daily exercise if you get creative. The trick to getting extra exercise is to play with your cat. Pull out your cat’s favorite toy and get on the floor and play with him for a bit. Not only might your heart benefit from moderate exercise, but your cat will stay in better shape, too.

Further reading:

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Rebecca Bridge

Rebecca Bridge is an author, screenwriter, professor, metalsmith, painter, and mom who lives in the Pacific Northwest. She’s also a best friend to two of the best dog pals, Space, a moody Shiba Inu, and Mops, a tiny rescue affenpinscher-mix who has never met a lap he doesn’t love.

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7 Surprising Ways that Dogs Show Affection

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BONDING WITH YOUR DOG | By Rover Staff

It’s easy for humans to show affection for their dogs. A belly rub, treat, or snuggle session on the couch says “I love you” to our pets. But do you ever wonder how your dog shows you they care?

Thankfully, dogs do communicate clearly, as long as you know what to look for. From nose to tail, dogs use their bodies to convey how they feel. Read on to learn the ways that dogs show affection.

Nosing

Does your dog ever come up and nudge you with their nose? This can be a sign of affection, a way for your dog to say “Hey, I like you!” Of course, nose-nudging is also a way for dogs to seek attention, or to let you know you’re in their way. You’ll know your dog is expressing affection if the nose-nudge is accompanied by a soulful stare, or leads to more full-body contact.

Eye Contact

Eye contact is an intimate act. For many dogs, it’s a display of trust and affection. If your dog maintains eye contact with you on the reg, they’re showing a high degree of attachment. When your dog looks at you, their brain releases oxytocin, which is the same hormone that helps new mothers bond with their babies. Your brain does the same thing.

Note: affectionate eye contact is different from threatening eye contact. We don’t recommend having a stare-down with an unknown or nervous dog. Instead, look for opportunities to make and hold eye contact with your dog throughout the day. Think of it as building trust over time.

Sighing

Does your dog ever stretch out next to you and let out a long, happy sigh? Soft vocalizations like sighs and low groans are signs of contentment in dogs.

If your dog snuggles up and sighs, it means they feel safe and comfortable by your side.

Licking

Kissing is a universal sign of affection, even among dogs! Big, sloppy dog tongues can be a little gross depending on the situation. But by licking you, your dog is saying “I like you sooo much!”

Licking can also be a way to signal lower social status. When your dog licks you, she may be letting you know that she respects your authority (and that she loves you, of course).

Jumping

Now, here’s a sign of affection you may not want to encourage. For many people, jumping is an undesirable dog habit. But it may help to reframe it as a loving act of enthusiasm. If your dog gets extra-bouncy around you, they’re showing you how much they care.

Dogs are drawn to human faces, and jumping can be a way to get closer. Think of it this way: by jumping up, your dog can get a closer look at your eyes, or reach you for a welcoming lick. Jumping can be a frustrating habit, but the next time your dog jumps up, remember that they’re just trying to show you they care.

Leaning

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This is my personal favorite sign of affection from my dogs: the lean. When your dog comes up to you and leans their full weight against your legs, they’re showing you they trust you implicitly. For many dogs, the lean is like a full-body hug.

Of course, some leans also signify anxiety or control. The affectionate lean is relaxed and calm. Your dog may show other signs of relaxation, like a slightly open mouth, soft eyes, and a gently wagging tail.

Rolling

Nothing says “I like you” like a dog rolling onto their back and asking for belly rubs. Much like the lean, the roll-over shows a high degree of trust and relaxation. When your dog flops over and wags their tail, they’re telling you they like you—and trust you—a lot.

Curious to learn more about how dogs demonstrate their feelings? Here are some helpful links:

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20 Cat Beds in Every Shape and Size that Your Cat Will Adore

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FOR CAT PEOPLE | By Erin Dotson-Kelly

  •  This post contains affiliate links. Read more here.

Having a comfortable place to sleep and lounge is a must-have for everyone, and that includes your cats. They want a place where they can feel safe, warm, get a good night’s rest, and be alone when they desire.

Finding the right bed, though, can be challenging! There are so many choices when it comes to cat beds: flat pillows to small boxes to large towers and perches, and even ones with activities to keep your cat active. The choices can be overwhelming! But we’ve found the best of the best, the favorites of many cat owners online, and know that you can find the bed of your cat’s dreams below.

1. Kitty City Large Stackable Cat Bed

This simple cat bed box can be folded flat if needed. You can also add a second box and stack for more jumping and climbing for your cat.Buy Now on AMAZON for $30.99

2. Meowfia Felt Cat Cave

This cozy cave is made from 100% Merino wool and is perfect for your cat to curl up in.Buy Now on Amazon for $42.99

3. Trixie Foldable Cat Tower

This tower has it all! A napping hammock, enclosed sleep space on the bottom, hanging toys to swat, and it even folds up for quick storage.Buy Now on AMAZON for $37.53

4. Amazon Basics Scratching Post and Hammock

Comes in your choice of two neutrals: tan and black. Your cat will enjoy two scratching posts and a relaxing hammock.Buy Now on Amazon for $24.99

5. Miss Meow Convertible Cat Bed

This cat bed converts from this cave to a flat bed. It’s made from fleece and has a non-slip bottom to keep it in place while your cat gets cozy.Buy Now on AMAZON for $26.99

6. Kitty City Sleeper

This sleeper space is great for multiple cats to lounge and sleep. With its modular design, you can buy additional pieces to expand into a larger playscape.Buy Now on Amazon for $21.99

7. Bewishome Cat Condo and Tree

This large cat tree gives your cat their pick from multiple sleeping places and places to scratch and play in your choice of three colors.Buy Now on Amazon for $79.90

8. Petgrow Banana Bed

This giant banana bed is just the piece of comfortable sleep space for your cat and unique and kitschy decor for your home. The top peels back to give your cat an open bed and closes when they’d like a bit more privacy.Buy Now on Amazon for $35.99

9. Pet Magasin Cave Bed

This bed works like a sleeping bag, but can also convert into three other sleeping formations. Its faux fur lining ensures warmth and comfort.Buy Now on Amazon for $26.99

10. PetPawJoy Window Perch

This space-saving window perch gives your cat a sunny place to snooze. For even more comfort, add a small pillow and your cat will never want to get up.Buy Now on Amazon for $17.89

11. Persuper Hammock

For something that can blend into the decor of your home, try this modern, elevated cat hammock.Buy Now on Amazon for $39.99

12. CO-Z Cat Condo

This cat condo has it all. Two places to rest and sleep, a scratching ramp, and even some hanging toys to swat for your cats to enjoy.Buy Now on Amazon for $35.99

13. Pawhut Natural Cat Condo

Give yourself something gorgeous for your home while staying functional for your cat. It’s made of banana leaf and has a cozy cave-like place for your cat to sleep.Buy Now on Amazon for $55.99

14. Hollypet Novelty Cat Bed

Let your cat know what it’s like to sleep inside a shark! This bed can also be folded down to be a flat sleeping space.Buy Now on Amazon for $18.99

15. Amazon Basics Cat Condo Ottoman

Here’s a great piece of multifunctional furniture. Now your cat can have a cozy place to sleep while you have a place to rest your feet.Buy Now on Amazon for $34.99

16. Trixie Cat Castle

A bed fit for a princess! Your cat will get the royal treatment with their choice of perch, cat rooms, and a scratching post and swatting toys.Buy Now on Amazon for $89.99

17. Pet Pals Natural Perch

This elegant cat bed is great for multiple cats and can easily blend into your home.Buy Now on Amazon for $89.98

18. Go Pet Club Cat Tree

Multiple places to perch and sleep. Ladder for climbing. Multiple scratching posts. Comes in multiple colors.Buy Now on Amazon for $66.65

19. Best Pet Tall Cat Tower

If you’re looking for the ultimate cat bed and playground, look no further! Your cat has no less than five places to rest and perch while also staying active with the many activities on this seven-foot tall structure!Buy Now on Amazon for $64.99

20. Lazy Buddy Modern Cat Tree

This beautiful wood design tree comes in three heights and gives your cat endless places to perch. It’s easy to clean, and the pillows are all washable.Buy Now on Amazon for $119.99

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Erin Dotson-Kelly

Erin Dotson-Kelly

Erin Dotson-Kelly is a writer, editor, and educator who lives in Southern California. She spends her days writing, raising her toddlers, and rubbing the bellies of her Chihuahuas, Millie and Riker.

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My Dog Is Afraid of Other Dogs! What Should I Do?

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TRAINING YOUR DOG | By Shoshi Parks

Not one of us—human, dog, cat, hedgehog, elephant or otherwise—is completely free from fear. Biologically, we are hardwired for it. Fear is our brain’s way of keeping us safe by making us hyper-alert and preparing us to fight potential threats or escape from them.

But what if your dog’s biggest fear is other dogs? Dogs are everywhere! Outside of the home, it’s virtually impossible to prevent your dog from at least seeing, if not occasionally interacting with, the thing they fear most.

It seems daunting, I know, but it’s possible to help your dog feel more confident and less fearful around other dogs. As a professional dog trainer, here’s how I suggest helping a dog who’s afraid of dogs.

How do I know if my dog fears other dogs?

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Sometimes it can be hard to identify fear, especially if your dog reacts to the presence of other pups by barking and lunging. Behaviors that look “aggressive” are often rooted in the fight-or-flight response. When your dog is on leash, for example, they can’t run away from an approaching dog. When “flight” is not an option, the next course of action is to “fight.” 

These behaviors may mean that your pupper is afraid of other dogs. 

  • Your dog barks, lunges and/or snaps at other dogs
  • Your dog yawns or licks their lips in an exaggerated way when other dogs approach
  • Your dog attempts to move away from approaching dogs
  • Your dog hides when another dog is present
  • Your dog shivers or whines around other dogs 
  • Your dog refuses to take treats or play around other dogs

What should I avoid if my dog is afraid of other dogs?

If you suspect your dog is frightened of other dogs, the first step is to prevent them from having negative experiences that may build upon the fear they already have. Remember that dogs are animals—even the best-trained pup in the world has unpredictable moments. In order to avoid any nasty surprises, stick to these rules in the beginning.

  1. Don’t take your dog to a dog park or crowded off-leash space.
  2. Give your dog a safe buffer zone on walks. Cross the street, wait at the top of a driveway while another dog passes, or put a parked car between your pup and the approaching dog by stepping (carefully!) into the street.
  3. Never yell at your pup or force them to interact with other dogs. Comfort your dog instead.
  4. Be an advocate for your dog’s needs. If someone asks if their dog can say hi, politely tell them no and move on.

Does comforting my dog reinforce their fearful behavior?

PIXABAY

Short answer: no. Reassuring your dog with kind words and affection doesn’t reinforce fear the way that praise or rewards reinforce other behaviors like coming when called. Fear is not a response born of logic. Rewarding a behavior only reinforces it if the dog is consciously acting, not if their bodies are responding to a threat.

Think about it in human terms. Is it logical that some of us are afraid of spiders when most spiders are perfectly harmless? Or, that some of us are afraid of flying when it is far safer than driving? No. Fear comes from deep-seated emotion, not logic.

If your fearful friend is next to you on a flight, which is more likely to make them feel better: yelling at them and telling them they’re being ridiculous or reassuring them with funny stories and plenty of chocolate and wine? If you go the route of kindness and understanding, chances are that on the next flight they’ll remember the positive experience they had with you. Keep this up and, over time, your friend’s fear of flying is more likely to decrease than increase. 

The same principle applies to comforting a fearful dog.

How do I help my pup overcome their fear of other dogs?

Because fear is such a deep-seated, emotional response, helping your dog overcome it can be tricky. There’s no clear, easy path to becoming fear-free and every dog will move at a different pace. 

Desensitization and counterconditioning are the best options we have for helping a dog through their fear. In a nutshell, here’s how it works:

  1. Identify your dog’s threshold. How close can your dog get to an unfamiliar pup before they begin displaying outward signs of fear (see the list above)? That distance may be 100 feet or it may be 5 feet. Whatever it is, do your best to never allow your dog to get any closer than that at the start of your training.
  2. Change your pup’s opinion about other dogs. Right now, other dogs trigger a negative emotional response in your pup. We want to change that to a positive one. Do this by making your dog think that the appearance of another dog at a safe distance predicts that something wonderful will happen. If a dog appears, you become a Pez dispenser with your treats. Give them rapidly one-at-a-time until the dog is out of your pup’s line of sight.
  3. Use the highest value rewards you can. Boring old kibble or packaged treats aren’t going to get you very far in this kind of training. Pick some extra special foods that your dog goes crazy for and allow them to have it only when you are working on desensitization-counterconditioning. Stinky things tend to work best (hot dogs, liver, etc.) and meat-flavored baby food is always a hit.
  4. Practice, practice, practice. Use every opportunity you can to practice your desensitization-counterconditioning. As long as you have the right treats with you, you can work on this while walking (make sure you’re staying behind your threshold distance), sitting in a park, or even while hanging out on your stoop or in your front yard.
  5. Decrease the distance between your dog and other dogs. Once your dog is able to calmly watch another dog pass by at their beginning threshold, decrease the buffer zone. If you started at a distance of 100 feet, try for 75 or 50 feet. If you started at five feet, try three feet. From your new distance, work on changing your dog’s opinion with your rapid Pez-dispenser-like treating when another pup is present. Continue to decrease the threshold distance over time, letting your dog tell you when they’re ready to progress. If they can calmly watch a dog pass without showing signs of fear, they are probably ready to move a little closer.

Will my dog ever be able to play with unfamiliar pups?

We humans seem to feel very strongly that dogs should play with other dogs. But really, what your dog probably wants more than anything in life is to be close to you and your family. For a lot of dogs, playing with others of their kind is not all that interesting.

Even dogs who overcome their fear of other pups aren’t likely to want to go to the dog park or doggy daycare and that’s okay. You shouldn’t feel like a dog who doesn’t want to interact with other dogs is living an unsatisfying life. That’s not to say your dog may never have friends of his own kind but, chances are, they’ll continue to be selective about who they want to interact with.

Humans are choosy about who we spend our time with, too. Your goal should be for your pup to move through the world confidently and free of fear, not to be a social butterfly.SHARETWEETPIN IT

Shoshi Parks

Shoshi Parks, Ph.D. is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-ka) and Certified Separation Anxiety Trainer (CSAT). She owns Modern Hound Dog Training in San Francisco and teaches dog training classes at the San Francisco SPCA.

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How to Deal With Destructive Cat Scratching

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FOR CAT PEOPLE | By Liz Coleman

  •  Not a substitute for professional veterinary help.

Clawing is one of those cat behaviors we’re not particularly fond of, but the fact remains: it’s a natural behavior that we can’t eliminate entirely (nor should we). That said, there are several approaches that cat owners can take to curb undesirable scratching.

Is your cat’s destructive scratching sending you to the brink of a breakdown? Here’s what you should know about why cats scratch, and what to do when they’re scratching the wrong spots in your home.

Why cats scratch

Believe it or not, cats don’t claw up your furniture out of spite. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons behind your cat’s clawing habits.

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1. It’s all about claw maintenance

Cats scratch to remove the dead outer layer of their nails. According to the ASPCA, cats scratch to slough off the dull layer of their claws, exposing new nails underneath.

This explains why your cat prefers to scratch certain surfaces. In order to effectively remove their nails’ outer layer, cats need a rough surface that they can really dig their nails into. Carpeted scratching posts are a dime a dozen in pet stores, but they’re not actually ideal for this purpose. Skip the carpeted products, and look for something rough and durable, like sisal rope.

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2. They’re marking their territory

Did you know cats have scent glands on their paws? When they scratch things, they’re leaving both a visual and scented indication that this surface “belongs to them.”

3. It’s a workout

Clawing allows cats to get in some satisfying exercise. They scratch to flex their feet and stretch out their limbs.

4. It’s a form of play

Cats scratch to play and burn off excess energy. The Humane Society of the United States points out, “A kitten’s life is all about play, and play is all about prey.” They may be scratching you as a way to playfully hunt. That’s why it’s imperative to teach young kittens that rough play is simply unacceptable. (More on that later.)

What to do when your cat scratches destructively

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The goal here is not to eliminate your cat’s scratching completely, but rather to direct it to a more appropriate object. Remember: scratching is natural. It’s just your cat being a cat.

First things first: when it comes to behavior modification, consistency is key. Make sure everyone in your household is on the same page.

Prevention for kittens

If you have a kitten, prevention is the best route. You can redirect this behavior while they’re still young so they’ll maintain these good habits into adulthood.

The Santa Barbara Humane Society suggests engaging in a minimum of 15 minutes of active playtime and exercise per day to burn off extra energy. And you should never let your kitten bite or scratch your skin—you don’t want to teach him that your hands and feet are playthings! Instead, use a fishing pole toy or toss toys to him to keep distance between your kitten’s claws and your skin.

No-scratch options for adult cats

If you have an adult cat, there are still ways to deal with destructive scratching. Here are a few effective options.

1. This may seem like a no-brainer, but you need to clip your cats’ nails regularly. A weekly trimming is ideal to minimize the damage they can do.

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2. If your cat scratches during play, stop playtime immediately and leave the room. Don’t give him any attention, otherwise, he’ll think you’re rewarding his behavior.

3. Since a cat’s urge to scratch is largely dependent on texture, covering objects with unpleasant materials is a surefire way to discourage destructive clawing. Cover furniture and drapes with sticky double-sided tape. Sandpaper, aluminum foil, and plastic are also good choices.

4. Use your cat’s senses of taste and smell to discourage scratching. Most cats dislike the smell of citrus and menthol, so covering inappropriate surfaces with these scents can deter scratching. The Humane Society also recommends attaching cotton balls soaked in undesirable scents to surfaces you’d rather not see ripped to shreds.

5. Scratching posts are a must! Remember, scratching is a natural cat behavior—one that you can’t stop completely. Redirecting this biological urge to claw towards an appropriate surface is the best way to go.

Don’t shop for scratching posts based on aesthetic preferences alone. Your cat needs something sturdy and rough to satisfy his scratching drive. Keep in mind that all cats are different, and they have individual preferences when it comes to scratching. Try a variety of materials—wood, cardboard, rope—to learn what he likes. It may take a bit of trial and error, but it’s worth the effort.

We know scratching posts aren’t the most aesthetically pleasing pieces of furniture, but try to resist the urge to hide them in an underused corner of your home. Instead, place posts next to the undesirable surface your cat is drawn to.

You can even try scratching the pole yourself to show him how much fun it is!

6. Use catnip and toys to encourage scratching on desirable surfaces. Rub catnip all over his scratching post to make it more appealing, or dangle a toy mouse to attract your cat’s attention.

7. Try using nail caps to protect your furniture. Designed to minimize the damage inflicted by sharp claws, nail caps are tiny plastic covers that you glue over your cat’s nails. They’re inexpensive, you can apply them at home, and they last between four to six weeks.

8. Reward good behavior with treats. When he uses his scratching post, show your cat your approval with their favorite snack—they deserve it!

What not to do if your cat is scratching

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  • According the The Humane Society, negative punishment is never the answer. It’s important to never physically punish your cat. This will only teach him to fear you, damaging your relationship in the process.
  • Don’t use physical force. The ASPCA maintains that forcing your cat to drag his claws on his post will only frighten him and teach him to avoid the post entirely.
  • The ASPCA also warns pet owners not to discard worn-out scratching posts. Even if they’ve become unsightly, the used posts will still be effective because of their familiarity.
  • Finally, declawing is not the answer. The ASPCA stands strongly against declawing cats. There are more humane and equally effective alternatives.

As cat lovers, we don’t need to live with damaged furniture or battered skin. With consistency, patience, and a good scratching post, you can successfully modify your cat’s clawing behavior.

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Liz Coleman

Liz is a freelance writer specializing in the pet industry. She’s also an enthusiastic Rover sitter, so when she’s not writing, you can find her smooshing her face into fur. She lives with her daughter and massive kitty, Floyd, in a very cold city. Check her out at LizWritesForYou.com.

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Dog Calming Treats: Do They Really Work? A Complete Guide

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CARING FOR YOUR DOG | By Chelsea Alvarez

  •  This post contains affiliate links. Read more here.

Just like people, our pets can develop anxiety, too (and some are naturally more disposed to the condition than others). But dealing with your dog’s anxiety is another issue, and understanding the factors contributing to your pet’s anxiety can help you determine the best approach to helping her.

A range of treatments are available—from prescription medication to just spending more time with your dog—but this post takes a closer look at the popular, over-the-counter option of calming treats. Are they effective? How do they work? What dogs might benefit from them? Read on for more information about dog anxiety, calming treats, and our list of recommended calming treat brands.

What Is Anxiety in Dogs?

Dog anxiety is a natural fear response gone slightly haywire. The fight/flight/freeze reaction is a healthy and necessary survival tool that is activated in response to a real threat, but anxiety occurs when this reaction takes place in anticipation of something that can’t do actual harm (such as thunder, fireworks, sudden loud noises, a new environment, or even visual stimuli like hats and umbrellas). Pets can develop anxiety for a number of reasons, “from puppy socialization issues and age-related health conditions like dementia to traumatic experiences or genetics,” according to PetMD.

Other sources of anxiety in dogs include aging, and one of the most common forms of stress in dogs, separation anxiety. The American Kennel Club writes that age-related anxiety is “similar to the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease in humans…[when] memory, learning, perception, and awareness start to decline.” Separation anxiety has been anecdotally linked to dogs who have spent time in shelters, have been rehomed, or have a history of abandonment; it can be triggered by a change in routine, family members joining or leaving the household, and/or simply being left alone, for any amount of time.

Dog Anxiety Symptoms

Your dog can’t use words to tell you when or why she’s feeling anxious, but her behavior will offer clues. The AKC provides this list of key indicators that your dog may be struggling with anxiety:

  • Aggression
  • Urinating or defecating in the house
  • Drooling
  • Panting
  • Destructive behavior
  • Depression
  • Excessive barking
  • Pacing
  • Restlessness
  • Repetitive or compulsive behaviors

There are instances where you may be able to easily find and treat the cause of your dog’s anxiety (when you might consider approaches such as situation avoidance, regular exercise and stimulation, and/or behavioral or obedience training), but in some cases, your dog’s anxiety may be totally out of your control (cue the 4th of July fireworks). In those times, you may want to seek out an alternative remedy—which brings us to calming treats.

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What Are Calming Treats?

Using herbs and vitamins as their active ingredients, calming treats are a non-medicinal anxiety-treating remedy you can offer your dog to help soothe her symptoms. Also called calming chews or calming bites, they fall under the category of nutraceuticals, and are similar to nutritional supplements for humans (and are loosely regulated in the same manner). Dr. Erin Perotti-Orcutt, DVM at Four Paws Veterinary Center in Seattle, Washington, says using a common-sense filter and reading the fine print is a good strategy when considering one.

“There are certainly some good ones, but there isn’t much regulation around nutraceutical products so [manufacturers] can make a lot of unfounded claims,” she says.

For example, even though a calming treat may contain chamomile, “a dog would not eat chamomile in the wild,” Dr. Perotti-Orcutt explains. Dogs are carnivores by nature and while there’s no indication that these herbs are harmful to pets, calming treats that contain them generally lack evidence that supports the idea that animals will react to them the same way humans do. The same goes for other herbal ingredients in calming treats such as lavender or ginger, which have long been recognized as relaxing for humans, but which haven’t been extensively tested for animal use.

More active ingredients commonly found in calming treats such as tryptophan or melatonin have more documented calming effects. Other ingredients such as the amino acid L-Theanine (also known as Suntheanine), is thought to work by increasing your dog’s serotonin and dopamine levels, and probiotics, which are thought to promote digestive health in addition to supporting a positive mental state and help with dogs who tend to get diarrhea when stressed.

So, should you try calming treats? Dr. Perotti-Orcutt says it’s something that should be “definitely in the toolbox,” adding a multimodal approach that includes pheromones, Thundershirts, and puzzle toys is the optimal way to go for non-medicinal home remedies.

Best Calming Treats for Dogs

Vet’s Best Comfort Calming Soft Chews

Jeanette, a dog owner in Seattle, told me that she observed great results after giving her two rescue dogs these treats to help “ease morning walks, for general anxiety, aggression, and to help focus.”

Amazon reviewers generally indicate this product helps promote calmness and soothe over-reactivity.Buy Now on Amazon for $9.20

maxxicalm Natural Calming Aid for Dogs 

Praised by reviewers for soothing dogs with storm sensitivity and for helping calm rescue dogs transitioning to their forever home, maxxicalm is a B vitamin and L-Theanine supplement, bolstered with chamomile.Buy Now on Amazon for $31.47

VetriScience Calming Treats for Dog Anxiety Relief

This sedative-free, L-theanine supplement has an appealing chicken flavor and claims to help keep dogs calm for up to four hours.Buy Now on Amazon for $14

NaturVet Calming Treats for Dogs

Specially formulated with Thiamin, L-Tryptophan, Melatonin, and ginger, these soft chews taste like a treat and are said to help promote normal nervous system function and facilitate a calm, restful state.Buy Now on Amazon for $12.99

Calming Treat Alternatives

For dogs who might reject the taste or texture of a calming chew, are too nervous to eat, or are not treat-driven, consider one of these alternatives to calming treats.

Pheromones

Mimicking the chemicals released by nursing pet mothers, pheromones are a home remedy used for occasional pet anxiety and stress. Available as plug-in room diffusers, a spray (for bedding, near food bowls, etc.), or a collar, pheromones emit a strong, soothing scent easily detected by pets (and barely detectable to humans).

ThunderEase Dog Calming Pheromone Diffuser Kit

Popular pet brands Adaptil and Thunderworks teamed up on this plug-in, 30-day pheromone diffuser, said to cover rooms up to 700 square feet, for situations when your dog might be more anxious, such as when unfamiliar guests come to visit, or you are introducing new pets into your home.Buy Now on Amazon for $21.95

Sentry Calming Collar for Dogs

Those calming pheromones are now with your dog wherever she goes, helping to alleviate stress and anxiety and comfort her in all situations.Buy Now on Amazon for $27.50

ThunderShirts

The ThunderShirt is a pressure wrap for anxious dogs that was designed to have a calming effect by approximating the feeling of a hug. They’re a  popular, drug-free option for addressing a dog’s anxiety, especially when calming treats don’t seem to work.

ThunderShirt Classic Dog Anxiety Jacket

The original ThunderShirt comes in a charcoal gray color and fits dogs of all sizes and shapes. See here for a sizing chart.Buy Now on Amazon for $39.95

Distraction and Puzzle Toys

When your dog’s anxiety is due to a loud event (such as a thunderstorm or fireworks), you can try to create a space in your home that offers a distraction. Using a white noise machine in a quiet room with the blinds drawn—perhaps even a crate with a blanket laid over it—might help. Adding a puzzle toy to mentally engage your dog and help divert her attention from the distressing noise could also help.

Smart Dog Puzzle Toys for Beginners

Reduce boredom and stress with this colorful, interactive toy designed to capture your dog’s attention and stimulate her problem-solving skills.Buy Now on Amazon for $16.70

Further Reading

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Chelsea Alvarez

Chelsea Alvarez

Chelsea Alvarez is a professional writer, content lead, and pet-loving, garden-growing creative manager in Seattle.

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Can Cats Eat Apples?

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FOR CAT PEOPLE | By Sarah Miller

Can Cats Eat Apples?

  •  Not a substitute for professional veterinary help.

Whether you’re baking an apple pie or enjoying a crisp apple slice with peanut butter, apples are quite the diverse and satisfying fruit. Packed with vitamins and fiber, apples have long been a late-summer, early fall staple of our diets. But can your cat, the apple of your eye, enjoy this hearty fruit?

Apples may be filled with health benefits for us, but our feline friends have different digestive systems that process “human foods” quite differently. Some foods may be non-toxic or even beneficial to a cat’s diet, while other foods can cause issues and have long-term, lasting effects.

Here’s what you need to know about whether cats can eat apples.

Health Benefits of Apples

Does an apple a day, in fact, keep the doctor away? It certainly can help! Apples have a huge amount of vitamins and minerals. With vitamin C, A, E, B1, B2, and B6, along with copper and manganese, for humans, you can’t go wrong with this amazing super fruit.

Apples, especially their whole fruit form, are often recommended by nutritionists as a way to curb hunger cravings. In fact, one study concluded that participants who ate fruits in their complete form (not juiced or pureed) felt fuller and more satisfied.

Apples are also rich in polyphenols. This micronutrient is linked to helping combat digestive issues, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and more.

Can Cats Eat Apples?

The truth of the matter is, fruits are not part of a cat’s natural diet. Cats are carnivorous and having too much sugar (yes, even natural sugar found in fruit!) in a cat’s diet can cause digestive or diabetic issues over time. It’s ultimately recommended to not feed cats apples in large quantities, especially as a meal replacement.

The good news is, you most likely won’t have to fight them off from apples. Due to their carnivorous appetites, cats lack taste receptors for sweetness, as Scientific American explains, so they won’t be too excited by a sweet treat of any type, including apples.

If you do feed your cat a part of your apple, however, be sure they don’t eat the seeds. The apple itself is non-toxic for cats, but the seeds contain cyanide and are poisonous for cats.

Can Cats Eat Applesauce?

Applesauce may seem harmless, but prepackaged applesauce may be filled with chemicals and preservatives that a whole apple wouldn’t have. On the other hand, if you’re fixing homemade applesauce and your cat takes a lick or two, it won’t have any harmful effects, as pureed foods are easier to digest for cats.

How Much Is Too Much?

If your cat takes a little crunch of your apple, don’t worry, as apples are not toxic to cats. However, if apples were introduced to your cat’s diet regularly, they could lead to obesity and diabetes symptoms. Even though apples are a great help to humans with diabetes, cats digest fruit sugar very differently. Raising a cat’s blood sugar level on a frequent basis can create many long-term health issues.

Feline diabetes is one such concern. According to Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, symptoms of feline diabetes include:

  • Excessive thirst
  • Constant urination
  • Lack of appetite
  • Inability to jump
  • Vomiting

Even if you’re not feeding your cat sweets, contact your veterinarian as soon as you notice these symptoms as it may be the beginning signs of diabetes.

If you’re worried about your cat’s sugar intake in general, consider checking the packages of food items you buy. Some cat treats may have excess amounts of sugar and carbohydrates.

Can Cats Eat Fruit?

In general, “Fruits are not problematic for cats although most won’t really eat fruit in any quantity,” Gary Richter, DVM, owner and medical director of Montclair Veterinary Hospital in Oakland, California and Holistic Veterinary Care, tells Rover. “Since they are not going to eat large amounts of fruit anyway, the sugar content is not a major concern.”

Though apples are non-toxic, there are certain fruits that cats should steer clear of:

  • Citrus (all citrus contains some level of citric acid, which can cause central nervous system issues in large enough doses; it causes stomach upset in smaller amounts, according to the ASPCA)
  • Grapes/Raisins/Currants (toxic to cats, according to the ASPCA)
  • Coconut or coconut oil (technically a seed, but we’ll include it here—coconut can cause an upset stomach in cats, per the ASPCA)

Alternative Healthy Snacks

If you’d like to experiment with some alternative human foods, instead of fruit, consider vegetables. “Pet owners can always try to give vegetables to cats in food or treats. Not all will eat them,” Dr. Richter says. “There certainly are good nutrients in vegetables when part of a balanced meal.”

These veggies are not toxic to cats, according to the ASPCA:

  • Zucchini
  • Celery (they love the crunch!)
  • Carrots
  • Green bell peppers
  • Spinach (Filled with vitamins A, C, and K!)
  • Peas (Often found in many prepackaged foods for cats and dogs as a vitamin-filled addition)
  • Pumpkin (Pumpkin is used often as a way to get fiber in your cat’s diet)
  • Broccoli

At the end of the day. remember that your cat is still a carnivore, so use these alternative foods sparingly. If full meals are replaced with veggies they’ll miss out on vital nutrients of properly formulated cat food. “The large majority of what cats eat should be a balanced diet,” Dr. Richter says. “In general, treats are not balanced and should not make up a significant portion of their daily intake.”

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Why Do Dogs Follow You into the Bathroom?

BONDING WITH YOUR DOG | By Elisabeth Geier

Do you often hear the tap-tap of doggy toenails on the tile when you head to the bathroom? Do they wait on the bathmat while you shower, or watch you while you brush your teeth? Some dogs are just unwilling to leave your side even while you, ahem, do your business. 

For dog people, it may seem obvious: dogs love to be around us, so of course they want to join us in the bathroom, too! But it’s not as simple as that. As it turns out, there are some scientific explanations for why dogs follow you into the bathroom. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons your dog keeps following you into the bathroom—and everywhere else.

Socialization

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If your dog was a tiny puppy when they joined your family, they may be particularly accustomed to being with you all the time. In an interview with PetMD, Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist Mary Burch explains that “puppies can imprint on people” in the first few months of their life. Imprinting is when a young animal comes to recognize another animal, person, or thing as a parent figure or object of habitual trust.

If your puppy imprinted on you, it’s no wonder they want to stay close at all times!

But dogs don’t have to be imprinted to be loyal. You can adopt a senior dog, an adolescent, or any age between, and as long as your dog comes to see you as the most trusted figure in their life, they may well follow you around. Dogs are socialized to stick close to the ones they love—even when their loved one is on the toilet.

Companionship

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Dogs are pack animals by nature, and historically traveled and lived together in close-knit groups. Village dogs around the world still do this, in fact. Domestic pet dogs no longer run in packs, but they’re still hardwired to find comfort among others. Plus, during centuries of domestication, dogs have evolved to become more and more bonded with humans. You are your dog’s closet companion, and being close to you means food, safety, and happiness.

On the flip side, being separated from you may mean anxiety or distress. You’re their pack now—and for some dogs, that means not letting anything, not even the pesky bathroom door, come between you.

Breed Traits

Have you ever heard border collies referred to as “Velcro dogs?” Some breeds are more inclined to follow humans than others due to inborn traits. Herding breeds like border collies, shepherds, and cattle dogs may want to keep the whole family rounded up. Loyal working dogs like doberman pinschers and boxers may want to stick close to keep an eye out for danger. And sporting breeds like Labrador retrievers and pointers might just enjoy sticking close to their favorite person.

There’s no official “Bathroom Group” of dogs, but some breeds are more inclined than others to join people in the porcelain palace.

Curiosity

Dogs are naturally curious creatures. When you get up to move from one place to another, your dog wonders what’s going on. Are you off to retrieve a treat for them? Or perhaps you’re headed to a fun activity they’d hate to miss out on.

When your dog follows you into the bathroom, he may be sating his natural curiosity. He wants to know what the heck you’re doing in there, and why that funny chair makes such a loud noise when you’re done!

Reinforcement

What do you do when your dog follows you into the bathroom? Do you pet them and praise them, or redirect them out the door into another room? Either way, you’re giving them attention, and attention reinforces the behavior.

If you don’t mind having your dog in the room while you take care of business, it’s no big deal. On the other hand, if you’d prefer some privacy, you can train your dog to do something else.

No need to scold; you can simply reward a different behavior. For instance, use bathroom time as a training opportunity and have your dog practice their down-stay outside the door. When you come out of the bathroom, praise them and give them a treat for being so good. Over time, as you reinforce different behavior, you can break their habit to watch you on the throne.

Anxiety

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It’s perfectly healthy for your dog to want to be around you most of the time. After all, you’re bonded to each other, and that’s one of the best parts of having a dog! But if your dog cries nonstop when you close a door between you, or engages in destructive behavior when you’re apart, they may be showing signs of separation anxiety. In that case, simply letting them into the bathroom with you may be a quick fix, but it won’t help either one of you in the long run. Speak to your vet or trainer about ways to curb separation anxiety.

As long as they don’t show signs of anxiety, it’s perfectly fine to redirect your dog to another room when you need to use the facilities. But if you don’t mind having an audience, there’s no harm in letting your dog follow you into the bathroom. After all, you watch them poop all the time!Shop Related Products

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Elisabeth Geier

Elisabeth Geier is a writer, teacher, and animal advocate with extensive animal handling experience and a soft spot for bully breeds and big orange tabbies.

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