Behavior Bytes | Sept 2012
by Dr Stefanie Schwartz, Board Certified Veterinary Behaviorist
09:55 AM, Monday, September 17
Dr. Schwartz’s Top Five Dos and Don’ts for Dog Owners

1. Do get a pet when you are ready to accept the emotional, logistic and financial responsibility that is part of loving and caring for another living creature who has emotional and physical needs very much like our own.

Don’t give anyone a pet just because it’s related to a holiday (chicks or bunnies at Easter) or because they once had a pet. Statistics show that pets given as gifts are not as special to their new owners and are more likely to end up in shelters or not cared for as well.

2. Do begin basic obedience from the moment you add a new dog into your life. Even young puppies can learn to ‘sit’ and ‘come,’ and older dogs definitely can learn new skills.

Don’t wait until your young dog has had all its vaccines before taking it for walks or starting puppy obedience class. Your puppy only needs 2 of the distemper series and any other vaccines your primary care veterinarian recommends; don’t wait until your dog is 6 months old to begin training. That’s kind of like waiting until your child is ten years old before starting kindergarten!

3. Do take your dog for walks at least twice a day for its lifetime. The morning walk is particularly important to start the day off right! Daily walks on a consistent schedule will help to prevent many behavior problems!

Don’t skip walks for toy or miniature breeds. They are real dogs, too! Little guys need to get out and see the world, spend time with you, get exercise and maintain housetraining.

4. Do use reward based training! Give your dog praise, occasional tasty treats, and every opportunity to show you that there is not much you won’t do for each other!   Praise your pet’s desirable behaviors even if they weren’t your idea!

Don’t just say ‘No!’ or ‘Stop that!’ Tell your dog immediately what else you want him to do and reward the alternative behavior: sit/stay and/or down/stay are always good options to replace something you don’t like. And remember please, no shock collars.

5. Do remember that your dog can only see the world from a dog’s perspective. They are not people (that’s not really a bad thing) and although we have lots in common, dog culture and human culture do sometimes clash. Any dog can and will bite if the situation is right.

Don’t treat all your dogs the same. There is no democracy in dogs and they each have to have a clear rank in your pack based on each individual’s physical and social advantages. High-ranking dogs deserve the first of everything to maintain stability and keep the peace!

Dr. Schwartz’s Top Five Do’s and Don’ts for Cat Owners

1. Do get a pet when you are ready to accept the emotional, logistic and financial responsibility that is part of loving and caring for another living creature who has emotional and physical needs very much like our own.

Don’t give anyone a cat just because they seem lonely or they once had a pet. Statistics show that pets given as gifts are not as special to their new owners and are more likely to end up in shelters or not cared for as well.

2. Do keep your cat indoors! Cats are not native to North America and wildlife is being dessimated, some species nearing extinction, because of domestic cats. Indoor cats live longer, healthier lives.

Don’t think keeping your cat indoors is cruel. Indoor cats are protected from fatal diseases including some like rabies and parasites that they can bring home to share with you and your family!

3. Do place scratching posts in every room of your home and especially near your cat’s favorite resting places. This will help prevent destructive scratching and encourage them to mark their territory in a positive way.

Don’t declaw your cat unnecessarily or let your cat out if it has already been declawed. However, if your cat is very destructive or scratches (even unintentionally) a family member who is immunosuppressed, I would rather see your cat declawed than deceased.

4. Do keep litter boxes clean and dry. They should be appropriate for the size and agility of your cat.

Don’t use heavy chemicals or highly perfumed products in or around the box. You might like the scent (remember some of these products can be harmful to people over time) but it might repel your cat!

5. Do get 2 compatible cats instead of just one. Cats are social animals and benefit from the company of their own kind. Besides, you’ll be saving double the lives!

Don’t introduce cats abruptly in your living room! Seclude the newcomer out of sight in her own safe room (with daily visits from you and time to explore with your other cat tucked away) for at least 4 weeks before allowing them to meet face to face.

Finally, DO call Dr. Schwartz if you have any kind of problem with your pet’s behavior and DON’T wait until you have fallen out of love with your pet to get the help you need.

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