The holiday season is a busy time in every household. Friends and relatives come and go, the kids are home from school and college and often there are parties to plan too. Whether you embrace the festivities, or run screaming from an army of relatives who invade your peaceful home, remember that the holidays pose special risks to your pets.
By paying attention to a few basic safety precautions, you can keep your canine and feline companions out of harm’s way and have a safe and happy holiday season.
Decorating for the Howlidays
When it comes to putting up Christmas tree lights and other lighting decorations, always look for the shortest route to the plug point and avoid leaving excess wiring lying on the floor. Chewing cords can be life threatening to both dogs and cats. There are special cord covers infused with bitter aloe that will further prevent them from chewing.
Also it's a great idea to sprinkle pepper on the lower branches of the tree. This will end any ideas your cat may have of trying to climb it! Further, if you have an inquisitive dog, put glass ornaments and tinsel at a height level she can’t reach when standing.
Candles always add a fabulous festive touch but are a huge fire hazard as they can easily be knocked over with a wagging tail or pulled from a table if your cat gets hold of the tablecloth. Err on the side of caution and invest in flameless candles. Luckily, there is a huge array to choose from.
Holiday Plants From Mistletoe to Poinsettias
Nothing is more festive than decking the halls, but remember that both holly and mistletoe are toxic to pets and can cause acute stomach and intestinal irritation, cardiovascular collapse, and death. Despite the myths, the ever-popular Christmas poinsettias are considered safe for pets. Even so, try to keep them away from both pets and children because the milky sap can cause skin allergies and has a terrible bitter taste.
Party Time and Festive Feasts
The holiday season is synonymous with family feasts—huge stuffed turkeys, corn on the cob and tempting desserts. Never feed you're your pets turkey bones (or any other bones from the table). Bones are a choking hazard and so are corncobs. So when you clear the table deal with anything left on plates immediately by tossing in the trash.
Also, when putting away the leftovers, be careful your dog doesn’t get a hold of anything wrapped in aluminum foil. If eaten, foil can cut a dog's intestines, causing internal bleeding, and, in some cases, even death. Plastic wrap is equally dangerous and can cause choking or intestinal obstructions.
The moniker “drink responsibly” also applies to taking care of your dog. Alcoholic beverages can be poisonous to pets, so never leave drinks unattended. If your pooch consumes them, she could become very intoxicated and weak, depressed, or even go into a coma. In severe cases, death from respiratory failure can also occur.
If you are planning a huge party that involves caterers and furniture being delivered, be sure to secure your pets in one area of your home during set-up. This is one time doors will be left open and there is too much activity to monitor them carefully.
And on the day of the event, remember not all pets enjoy raucous laughter, loud music and hectic activity. Be sure to bring out your ThunderShirts for both your dogs and cats and put them on even if you are going to secure them in another part of the house.
Finally, if you plan to travel during the season and are unable to take your pals with you, don’t leave them alone at home with a stocked-up food bowl. Make arrangements with a pet sitter or check him into a pet hotel. Once again, make sure ID tag information is current.
It's all too common to see a pet parent being drug down the road while attached to their dog, looking similar to a musher minus the sled. The dog is so enthralled with all the distractions, smells and sights, they forget their person is attached to the other end of the leash. As an animal trainer, pulling on leash is one of the most common behavior problems I work with.
Pulling into pressure is a natural response for dogs. When their collar is pulled, many dogs innately move against that pressure. This means when the leash becomes taut, the dog is more likely to move against the pressure and pull rather than give into the pressure and let up pulling. Canines also learn through experience that pulling on leash works to get where they want to go faster.
A dog that pulls on the leash makes the walk very uncomfortable for the person and risks injury to their sensitive neck area. When a dog pulls on leash, the person has less control and may subsequently let the leash slip from their hands or be less able to avoid hazards, like traffic. Tighter leashes add to a dog’s stress level and increase unwanted behaviors like barking and lunging on the leash.
It's essential to teach dogs to walk on a looser leash, both to make walks more relaxed and safer for person and dog. Preventing pulling and teaching loose leash walking can be done using a few training tactics and the right type of equipment. I want to share with you my top tips for teaching a dog to walk nicely on leash:
Putting the right equipment on a dog immediately hinders pulling, even without training. It’s important to choose equipment for your canine that will offer control without being physically harmful. There are numerous walking tools on the market, many of which inflict pain on the dog or restrict airflow. These are not ideal walking solutions, because they are physically damaging and rarely stop the problem pulling. They also cause negative associations with their handler and different stimulus’ in the environment, like other dogs or people.
One of the top tools in my training belt is the ThunderLeash. It's a leash with a built-in mechanism to be turned into a gentle anti-pull device. The system works with pressure, as it tightens to add pressure when the dog pulls, making it more comfortable to walk on a loose leash. The ThunderLeash does not cause pain, but uses the reward of slack as the dog walks nicely on the leash.
The system is also adjustable so that the harness never becomes too tight, but also stays tight enough to not slip off. The ThunderLeash is an ideal tool for pet parents in my puppy classes, as the system grows with the dog avoiding the need to otherwise buy multiple sizes as the dog gets bigger. The ThunderLeash also transitions to a standard leash, making it easy to switch from anti-pull harness to regular leash as the situation warrants.
It’s essential all family members walking the dog are consistent with training. If only one person does the training and others allow the dog to sled dog pull, training is less effective. Consistency is key for lasting change. If for any reason training cannot be done by that individual, the dog should be walked on a gentle anti-pull device, like the ThunderLeash, to prevent reinforcement of the pulling habit.
Reduced pulling from the use of proper walking equipment makes the training of walking properly on a leash much simpler. To train a dog to walk nicely on leash, the canine should be taught an alternative behavior to pulling. I like to teach a dog to heel. A heel is where the dog walks calmly on a loose leash at their person’s side.
Train your dog to heel by marking the behavior with a clicker or a verbal “good” whenever their shoulder is in-line with your leg. Deliver treats to the dog right next to your leg. Start in a low distraction environment where the dog is unlikely to pull. If the dog is in front of you, turn so they will be behind you and end up moving next to your leg as you walk forward. As their shoulder aligns with your leg, mark the behavior and reward. Continue to reward the dog on an intermittent basis for staying by your side. For toy crazy dogs, reward heeling with the toss of a ball or other desirable play item.
Add in turns, changes in speed and stopping. The more interesting you are, the more likely your dog will pay attention. Once your dog is reliably in the heel position, add a word to the behavior by saying “heel” as the dog moves next to you. Vary the amount of steps taken before you treat, both extending the steps taken before the dog receives a reward and keeping short durations thrown in to keep it exciting. Once your dog heels like a pro in a low distraction area, move into more distracting areas, like the driveway.
Vary the rewards for heeling. Treats or toys should be given during training to keep the behavior strong, but other rewards like getting to sniff a bush or greeting a friendly dog are other environmental rewards for heeling.
Once a dog learns to heel, you can train them to walk on a loose leash as well. Dogs enjoy having space to explore and sniff, and always being directly at your side is not ideal. The ThunderLeash will prevent pulling while you practice. To teach loose leash walking, if the leash becomes tight, stop and reverse directions by gently turning in the other direction. Only allow forward motion as there is slack. Stay consistent in not allowing forward movement when the leash is tight, and soon your dog will soon learn pulling no longer works, but a loose leash does.
Training a dog to walk on a loose leash takes work, but is well worth the effort. The more enjoyable walks are for you, the more likely they will happen. The more walks your pet gets, the more satisfied and better able to settle in the home your dog will be. Start the training today! Your dog will thank you for it.
Mikkel Becker is a well-known and respected pet behavior and training expert, and Vetstreet.com contributor.
I have always been “blessed” with cats that sing in the car. But Ziggy out sings every cat I’ve ever known.
When we took him home from the animal shelter, I put his vocals down to nerves.
Not long after, we had to take him to the vet for his kitty shots. The moment we placed him in his carrier, the singing began.
It started off with a tentative operatic dolcissimo (very sweet) “mew”. Followed by a second and then a third. As we turned the corner he started scratching on the side of the carrier and the mew got more espressivo (insistent). Then he tried a new tactic and the mews got doloroso (sad and mournful). From his perspective, he probably thought I wasn’t listening so he began to get more insistenta (insistent) until his vocals turned fortissimo (very loud).
On the way home, it was a repeat performance. He wasn’t being naughty; he was really just stressed and anxious. Who knows what experiences he had an in a car before we adopted him.
A few weeks later we were off to the vet again for follow-up shots. And soon Ziggy was singing the same aria. The next week, when it was time for his rabies shot courtesy of the animal shelter, we were back in the car and Ziggy was singing again.
What was so interesting was the fact that it sounded like the same song.
Cats in fact have quite a large vocabulary. Author and naturalist Jean Craighead George who writes about the language cats have in her award-winning book The Cats of Roxville Station and has studied cats in nature, says that the different ways in which a cat meows has a special idiosyncratic meaning. She has categorized some feline vocalizations as follows. They are written phonetically to emphasize the different sound and tones:
- Mew (high pitched and thin) - a polite plea for help
- MEW! (loud and frantic) - an urgent plea for help
- Mew - plea for attention
- Meow - emphatic plea for attention
- MEOW! - a command!
- Mee-o-ow (with falling cadence) - protest or whine
- MEE-o-ow (shrill whine) - stronger protest
- MYUP! (short, sharp, single note) - righteous indignation
- MEOW! Meow! (repeated) - panicky call for help
- Mier-r-r-ow (chirrup with lilting cadence) - friendly greeting
Soon I worked out that Ziggy had composed a feline “song”:
Here are his lyrics:
Second verse same as the first.
So I decided to translate. It goes something like this:
Hello… Helloow …
What’s happening here?
This isn’t fair
You scooped me out of my favorite chair
I was a sleep
What did you think --I wouldn’t make a peep?
What’s happening now?
The vet!! Oh No!
I don’t want to go
I’m prodded and given a shot
It calls for a total boycott
Take me home….
Finally I couldn’t take it anymore. There are always going to be vet visits for one reason or another. So I decided he was the perfect candidate for a feline ThunderShirt.
I decided the best way to test the shirt was the take him one way to the vet without it and put it on for the journey home.
I chose a fairly innocuous vet visit, namely, he was simply going for a Mani-Pedi. No needles or prodding involved. I even took Fudge along in the hope that seeing how she behaved would perhaps help him remain calm.
No such luck. The outward-bound trip was typical – very vocal with Fudge simply staring at him in disbelief that a cat could make so much noise. So just before we popped him back in his carrier, I put him in a ThunderShirt. I reckoned he wasn’t going to have to walk around wearing it so he didn’t need to get used to it from that standpoint.
On with the shirt, into the carrier and off we went home. It’s a 15-minute drive. And I must say Fudge and I enjoyed it immensely -- in total silence! I don’t say he enjoyed the ride, but he didn’t seem stressed and anxious to get out of the carrier, as was his typical modus operandi.
I was amazed how it worked instantly. But apart from keeping him calm, it helped me to drive home fully concentrating on the road and not worrying about my feline passenger.
When we got home, I took off the shirt and placed in his carrier, ready to go for next time.
Sandy Robins is an award-winning author and pet lifestyle expert.
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