Nobody told me there'd be days like these...Strange days indeed. – John Lennon
If someone had told me a month ago that I would not be allowed to go to a person’s home at their request and help them work through their pet’s behavioral problems, I couldn’t have imagined it. If I had been told that my small group classes would be cancelled because 10 human beings and their dogs wouldn’t be allowed in one large room at the same time, I would have questioned their logic.
Pet behavior consulting and training are “non-essential” services. So those of us who serve as educators, trainers, resources, support systems, trusted advisors, and a myriad of other roles for new or struggling pet owners are sitting on the sidelines. We are concerned about the behavior problems that are not being addressed and those that will develop as a result of owners being home 24/7 and routines being disrupted. We worry for the puppies growing up in this strange time when it is difficult, if not impossible, to socialize them properly to new dogs, new people, new spaces and new experiences. These are not our pets, but it is in our nature to wonder and to be concerned. We are problem-solvers by nature. We don’t like to feel helpless when it comes to the welfare of animals.
Many of my colleagues have re-focused their pet behavior problem solving skills on the logistics of how to get help to pet owners who need it. Virtual consultations and training sessions are bubbling to the top of the solutions-list. Blogs, resource lists, recorded educational content, webinars, and eye-catching graphics are just a few of the other creative ways I have seen behavior consultants and trainers try to stay connected with their clients and communities.
I am also choosing to offer virtual consultations and training. I am most comfortable working with people one-on-one. I value the two-way communication, the opportunity to analyze the details of a situation and the ability to adjust as we gather more data. I want to see the pet's environment and pick up details that owners may not realize are important. I like to (hopefully) interact with the animal, get to know him/her. It helps to see, firsthand, how owners and their families interact with their animals. I want to see how they respond to problem behaviors, their body language with their pet, how children's behavior may impact the pet, and more. I work best when I can observe and analyze because an owner is not an objective source of information, and they may (or may not) tell me about a detail is important because they do not realize it is important.
While in-person consultations are ideal, we aren’t living in ideal circumstances. I heard an interview with the head of the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers; he was talking about the Corp’s response and building field hospitals. He made a statement (paraphrased) that he did not want “ideal” from his engineers. They didn’t have time for that. He needed “good enough” so that they could get these hospitals up and running quickly but safely. We are in times of “good enough” when it comes to behavioral help for pets. For now, virtual consultations are safe, and they are “good enough” – certainly better than doing nothing.
This crisis will come to an end. I can’t help but wonder and worry about the animals – particularly the pets – affected by the pandemic. Some will become homeless or be rehomed. Others will go through critical developmental stages under very unusual conditions. Still others may develop problem behaviors as a result of their routines (and those of their owners) being disrupted for an extended period. When the dust settles, I will be ready to be by their sides and the sides of the owners – literally – to start the process of recovery and rehabilitation. In the meantime, I will be there figuratively and that will be “good enough”.
"Reactive" is a term that is used a lot in dog behavior and training circles, and not without good reason (that’s another post). But what is a "reactive dog"? If you have one, you probably know. If you do not have one, you may be at a loss when you encounter one.
Applied Animal Behaviorist, Dr. Karen Overall defines reactive dogs as those who "respond either more quickly or more intensely to a given stimulus than other dogs" to the point that it is very difficult to impossible to interrupt their reaction. These are the dogs who bark and lunge at the end of a leash when a person or a dog or some other trigger passes by. They are the dogs who bark uncontrollably from inside of a house when they hear a mysterious sound or the mail delivery person comes to the door. They enter a zone when they (quickly) cross their tolerance threshold; no matter how many times their person calls their name or tries to pull them away, they just can’t stop.
Working through reactivity with a dog is a commitment. It is often frustrating, exhausting and can be embarrassing. People working with their reactive dogs make lifestyle changes. It is also hard for the dog to feel stressed out by things that they encounter every day.
If you do not have a reactive dog, it may be hard to fathom that taking your dog for a walk or having a friend over to your house could be a challenge. As the friend, neighbor, or passerby-in-public of someone with reactive dog, you can help! Here are a few tips you can employ the next time you encounter a crazily barking dog on one end of the leash and an exasperated person on the other.
Hopefully someone out there "got" my title. Now that I satisfied my rare need to be cheesy...
I’ve had a handful of cases these past few months involving aggression between cats who previously lived together peacefully. Aggression between feline housemates can be triggered by a number of different things – a trip to the vet by one of the cats, wildlife or an outdoor cat lurking around the house, the addition of a new member of the household (human or non-human), or re-directed aggression in response to a frightening event (startling noise, for example). Whatever the cause (and sometimes we don’t know the cause), sudden fighting between household kitty siblings is unsettling for all family members.
If you find yourself with bickering cats, the first thing you should do is separate them – and I don’t just mean in the moment. I mean set them up to live in secure, separate rooms temporarily. The second thing you should do is take a deep breath and let everyone decompress for a couple of days (yourself and the cats). After that, call a qualified feline behavior consultant (like me!) to talk through your options. These might include some simple tips over the phone, an in-home behavior consultation and re-integration plan, and/or a referral to a veterinary behaviorist.
As always, prevention is the best “medicine”. If you have more than one cat in your home, here are some things you can do to decrease the likelihood of fights between them:
If you are doing all of these things and your cats are still having issues, set them up in secure separate rooms, and get some help from a qualified feline behavior consultant. You and your cats deserve to live in a peaceful home.