Now wash your paws!

When my niece first told me about her new cat toilet training kit I wasn’t sure whether she was being serious or not so, when I saw that her cat, Henry, had initially decided just to sleep on it, I was kind of on his side!
cat toilet training kit sleep
However, curiosity aroused, I also felt it was time for a little research. Guess what? There really is a tool designed to help you to teach your cat to use your loo instead of a litter tray. The Cat Toilet Training Kit consists of a series of trays filled with litter and inserted underneath the toilet seat and over the mouth of the toilet bowl. The first tray is solid, but the follow-up trays have holes of increasing size in the centre of them, which means the tray and the litter gradually disappear over time. Does it work? Well, some seem to say yes and others say no. My niece tells me the jury is still out so far as her cats are concerned.

One obvious question is how does the cat feel about not being able to dig around or to cover up after he’s been? Another one is, how do the rest of the family feel about going to use the loo themselves and finding the cat’s been first and forgotten to flush?

Please let us know what you think and also, if you have actually bought one for your cat, what does he/she think?

Why are so many dogs ‘reactive’ – survey results

Many thanks to all of you who took part in our recent poll about reactive dogs, the results of which were very interesting. The majority of those who voted felt that owners just allowing their dogs to run up to other dogs was the biggest contributor to an increase in reactive dogs. I think this result is great news because the more this message gets around, the more quickly we may be able to put a stop to what is undoubtedly one of the biggest causes of fights between dogs and even their humans. A simple code of conduct where owners automatically called their dogs back and put them on leads when first meeting other owners and dogs would, in my opinion, make a huge difference for the better for everyone.

Many of you also felt that nervous owners create nervous, reactive dogs, and that incorrect socialisation as puppies, a lack of proper regular exercise and even chemical additives in food and environment were major contributors too. I would totally agree with you on all these points and, as someone who knows only too well how harmful man-made chemicals can be for humans, I was very pleased that people are beginning to think about this with regards to their pets too.

I was also very pleased to see many of you selecting incorrect socialisation, because I am convinced that getting it wrong can actually sometimes do more harm than not doing it at all. Everyone now seems have got the message that early socialisation is essential, but so many seem to think this just means taking your puppy to the nearest park and leaving him to ‘play’ with any other dogs that might be around, while the owners stand around chatting.

Unfortunately, this can so easily end up with your pup learning all the wrong lessons, like just running straight up to any or all other dogs, regardless of how the other dog is responding. It also increases the chances of your pup being bullied and may even contribute to him becoming a bully himself as he gets bigger. If you pup was bred responsibly, his Mum will have already taught him the basics in dog/dog interaction. The last thing we want is to undo all her good work by encouraging him to behave badly in the local dog park!

Why are so many dogs ‘reactive’ to other dogs?

I saw a tweet recently from someone claiming that the number of dogs whose owners describe them as ‘dog-reactive’ or even dog aggressive now seem to be almost the same as the number who get on fine with most other dogs they meet. I’m not sure if this is true or not but I do know that we seem to have more problems than ever before.

We’ve come up with a list of all the reasons/excuses we’ve seen given for why some dogs are ‘reactive’ and we’d really love to know what you think. Please select all that seem relevant to you:

Why do you think dogs may be more 'reactive'?

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Getting a dog

getting a dogGetting a dog can be such a wonderful and exciting experience but it’s also a huge responsibility too, and the pressures on us to get it right have never been greater.

The sad results of getting it wrong can be found up and down the country in our dog pounds and rescue centres, which is why Dogs Trust recently launched their campaign to ask everyone to really stop and think before committing to the lifelong care of a dog: Press Paws for Dogs Trust

No wonder. There is an awful lot to think about, for example:

  • Should you get a puppy or an older dog?
  • Should you go to a breeder or save a dog in a rescue centre?
  • If you want to get a puppy from a breeder, how do you choose a breeder who is trustworthy?
  • What size, breed and energy of dog is right for you and your family?
  • What should you feed your dog? Is raw better than proprietary dog foods?
  • How do you properly socialise your puppy/dog?
  • Do you need a crate and, if so, what size is right and how do you crate train your dog?
  • What else will you need in the way of equipment?
  • What’s the best way to house train your puppy?
  • How long can your dog/puppy be left alone?
  • How much exercise does your dog need?
  • When should you start training and what does your dog need to learn?
  • Do you need insurance? How do you choose what’s best for you?
  • What will happen when you go on holiday?
  • How do you know when your dog is sick?
  • What are your legal obligations?
  • What is it all going to cost and what will happen if your circumstances change?

Not only does the list seems endless but the advice does to. Everyone, it seems, has their opinion about what you should and should not do, sometimes making it even harder to know where to start.

I’ve had dogs pretty much all my life and when I got Kodi as a pup 7 years ago, I was pretty sure I knew everything I needed to know. However, even with all my past experience, with hindsight I now know I still made a few mistakes along the way. Little wonder first time dog owners so often get themselves in a mess!

Which is why we think the idea of going to classes to learn all about getting the right dog for you, as well as discovering just what is going to be involved in taking care of him/her BEFORE you commit yourself is such a good idea: Dog Trouble Consultations – Getting A Dog

If you or someone you know is thinking about getting a dog soon, please, please make sure you/they have considered what is involved very carefully and that you take the trouble to learn everything you can first – no dog deserves to become someone’s ‘mistake’.

What is animal cruelty?

Strange question? On the face of it, all us animal lovers have a very clear idea in our minds about animal cruelty, and what we’d like to see done to those who commit it! We read terrible stories every day about pets that have been beaten, starved, abandoned, or deliberately tortured and we feel physically sick. How can our fellow human beings even contemplate such horrendous acts?

The definition of animal cruelty is normally given as something like; ‘the crime of causing or inflicting death or unjustifiable physical pain or suffering to any animal by an act, an omission, or wilful neglect.’ Unfortunately, this definition is broad enough to be open to wide interpretation and/or misinterpretation.

Some of the most heated debates that go on are not about how to prevent horrendous acts such as leaving a dog chained up in filthy conditions to starve, but on whether or not it is fair to keep a cat permanently indoors, or if it is OK to ‘tell your dog off’ if he does something wrong.

A good case in point is the recent row over a little racoon called Melanie who performed at the recent Pet Expo held at the Bluewater Shopping Centre the other weekend. According to critics, the racoon was being both abused and degraded, and many onlookers were shocked and angry that it was allowed at an event promoting animal welfare. The RSPCA condemned what they referred to as a “circus-style stunt” and many seemed to feel the act was not only demeaning but also implied that animals are here just for our amusement. According to her mystified owner, however, Melanie the racoon is a much-loved family pet who adores ‘performing’ her tricks, in much the same way as many dogs, like Pudsey for example, seem to enjoy dancing with their owners.

Not having actually witnessed the event, I’ve no idea who is right, but the incident does go to show how difficult it is sometimes to determine when something ceases to be a personal choice and actually becomes animal cruelty or abuse. If asking a racoon to wear a bow tie and ride a bike is wrong, isn’t it equally demeaning to use creative grooming techniques to make dogs look like pandas or to dress them up in fancy human costumes? Some would say yes, while others would disagree and insist it’s just a bit of harmless fun.

So, my question remains – what is animal cruelty? When does something cease to be a personal choice for you and your pet and actually become cruelty or abuse?

As always, we’d love to know your thoughts and hear your comments

A question of balance?

PRPositive reinforcement is a good thing and all punishment is wrong, right? Eh, well no, positive punishment is out, but negative punishment is OK. In fact, negative punishment goes hand in hand with positive reinforcement, but not with negative reinforcement. Confused? Who isn’t?

Many years ago when I trained as a teacher I remember being taught that all these terms are part of what is known as operant conditioning, which is a method of learning that occurs through rewards and punishments and is nothing new. In fact operant conditioning was first described in the 1950′s by a psychologist called B.F. Skinner.

So what is all the hype about? Well, in simple terms, positive means to add something and negative means to take something away. So, for example:

  • Giving a dog praise, food, or even a game, for doing something we want is positive reinforcement.
  • Using a deterrent such as a leash pop or a verbal command eg ‘no’ when a dog does something we don’t want is positive punishment.
  • Turning our back and ignoring a dog that is jumping up is negative punishment because we are taking away our attention/affection until he stops the unwanted behaviour.
  • Removing something the dog doesn’t like once he complies with your request is negative reinforcement. For example, using physical manipulation to make a dog sit by putting pressure on his rear end, which is removed as soon as he does so.

Actually, I think it’s a pity these expressions have become so commonplace in the dog training world because, apart from totally confusing some people, they also serve to fuel endless debates between opposing camps and methodologies, with one side seen as too soft and bribing their dogs with treats (the so-called PR+ group) and the other seen as over-punitive or even cruel (the so-called pack leader group).

It’s not like we really need to know these terms either is it? After all, before we buy our kids a treat for doing well on a test, or nag them until they tidy their bedrooms, we don’t have to stop and think if we are using positive reinforcement or negative reinforcement, do we? In theory, we’d probably all say we prefer rewards to punishments but, in practice, most of us have probably used all these techniques at one time or another, depending on the circumstances.

Of course, so far as our dogs are concerned, any action on our part – positive or negative – also needs to be immediate. A child might understand he’s getting an ice cream because he scored 10 out of 10 on a spelling test last week, but a dog will not associate a new toy with the fact he came back when he was called in the park yesterday or that he’s been shut out in the garden as a punishment for chewing up your best shoe while you were shopping!

Currently, schools tend to focus almost exclusively on positive reinforcement so, if a child is misbehaving, the other children will be rewarded with praise, gold stars etc in the hope the ‘naughty’ child will want to receive those positive things too and therefore ‘fall into line’. I know some teachers who worry that this just encourages a ‘what’s in it for me?’ attitude and who would prefer a more balanced approach. All in all, I find I have to agree with them. Too much of anything is usually a mistake and a balanced, well-adjusted child, or dog, is more likely to result from a calm and balanced approach. At times, we all have to do things that we don’t want to, just because ‘those are the rules’. Why should this be any different for our kids, or our dogs?