Are you giving your pet too many treats? WEBMD for pets, By Lisa Fields, Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM on June 14, 2020
Many pet owners give these little extras as rewards -- or to show their love for their dogs or cats -- without thinking about the number of calories that are in each handout. Snacks like these may be one reason why more than half of pets in the U.S. weigh too much.
If you want to be smart about giving your dog or cat treats, follow some guidelines to avoid adding too many calories to their diet.
Just like cookies don’t have enough nutrients to be the bulk of your diet, pet treats aren’t healthy enough for dogs or cats to be a large part of what they eat. That’s because these products aren’t made with the same balanced nutrition that goes into the type of pet food that you serve them at mealtime.
Pets shouldn’t get more than 10% of their daily calories from treats. This includes table scraps or food you might use to give your pet medicine, since these things aren’t designed for a healthy dog or cat’s diet.
Your vet can tell you the total number of calories your pet needs each day, and you can figure out what 10% of that amount is. To see how many calories are in treats, look on the package. (If there are no calories listed, don’t buy that treat.)
How Often to Give Treats
Some people give treats to train a pet or reward good behavior. Others use them to show their love or to strengthen their bond with the animal.
There’s no rule about how often you can dole them out, as long as you limit treats to 10% of their daily calories. Some owners choose to give one large biscuit each day. Others give a handful of kibble (perhaps 20 or 30 pieces) over the course of the day, one or two pieces at a time.
Giving no treats is fine, too. Remember that cats and dogs do well with other rewards and signs of affection, like extra playtime with you or words of praise.
You may like to treat your pets to a few bites from the dinner table. If you forget to count those calories in your pet’s diet, they can gain too much weight. Keep bites from the table as small as your pinky fingernail so the food doesn’t have too many calories per mouthful.
Sometimes, feeding your pet table scraps can lead to begging, because they know that food can be a reward. If a pet begs and you give them food, they’ll think that it’s a reward for what they did, so they’ll beg again.
If you have trouble saying no to those big eyes or whines and meows, put your pet in a different room when you eat. Or try serving them their meal at the same time that you eat yours, so they don’t feel left out.
As long as you keep the portions in check, it’s fine to offer some human food to your pet. But dogs and cats should never eat:
What Is 'Normal' for a Cat?
1, Sleeping all day, chasing shadows all night, getting high on mysterious herbs -- that may be delinquent behavior for a teenager, but it's run of the mill for a cat. Learn more about the peculiarities of feline protocol so you can sort harmless kitty quirks from cat behaviors that could spell trouble.
2. A cat rubbing their face on you is a sign of affection. Cats have glands on their cheeks and the corners of their mouths. When they rub up against your leg or other body part, they leave some of their scent on you. According to feline etiquette, that's a compliment.
3. Bringing You 'Gifts
You've politely told your little predator, "No, thanks." But your cat insists on showering you with gifts of dead mice, birds, or lizards. Bringing you dead animals is normal, but it's best to keep your cat inside. Prowling cats can have a devastating impact on ground-nesting birds and hunting can also be a source of parasites and bacterial disease. Instead, give your cat toys they can hunt for inside. It will give them an outlet for their predator behavior -- and keep wildlife safe.
4. Drinking From Toilets
You've watched your cat's painstaking grooming ritual. Why would they go to all that trouble keeping themselves clean and then drink out of the toilet? No one is sure why cats do this. Toilet water may taste fresher than stagnant water because it's changed with each flush. Don't worry about it unless you keep chemical cleaners in the tank. And if it really bothers you, keep the lid down.
5. Eating Plants
Eating small amounts of grass can be nutritious for cats. In larger quantities, it can have a laxative effect or cause vomiting. If your cat is drawn to eating greenery, take inventory of your houseplants. Many species are toxic to felines, such as aloe and philodendron, and Easter lilies, which are deadly. You can easily find whether a plant is toxic to your cat by checking online.
6. Eating Wool
In rare cases, cats are compelled to eat the inedible. For unknown reasons, wool is particularly appealing. Some suck on it. Some actually eat it. Some cats may even eat big holes out of sweaters. This behavior is considered compulsive and is most common in indoor-only cats. Talk to your vet about behavior modification. It may help to provide tasty alternatives, like catnip, grass, lettuce, or rawhide.
7. Sleeping All Day
It may seem lazy, but sleeping or lounging around the whole day is a survival trait if you're a cat. As they evolved in the wild, felines developed a pattern for conserving energy. They hunt for a short period and spend the rest of the day sleeping. In house cats, the pattern is similar. A kitten will eat and play in brief bursts, but spend most of their time at rest.
8. Motor Mouth
Just like people, some cats are more "talkative" than others. They may meow and whine throughout the day. Asian breeds, particularly Siamese cats, are prone to vocalizing. As long as your cat doesn't seem anxious or in pain, being a chatterbox is no cause for alarm. However, a quiet cat that suddenly begins vocalizing should be examined. The change in behavior could signal a medical condition, such as hyperthyroidism.
Your new slacks may suffer a few snags, but your cat means well. When Tiger jumps on your lap to knead your legs, it means they are feeling relaxed, comfortable and secure. Kneading is learned very early in a cat's life. It's something most kittens do while nursing.
10. Finger Licking
If your cat makes a habit of licking your fingers, there are several possible reasons. The first is that your cat simply likes the taste of your sweat or hand lotion. In some cases, licking can be a comforting behavior; it may be linked to nursing. If your cat licks you excessively and shows other signs of anxiety, check with your vet.
11. Getting High
If a pinch of catnip sends Fluffy into a state of bliss, you might wonder if your innocent fur-ball is getting high. The answer is yes. Chemicals in catnip produce a response similar to intoxication. Because there's a genetic basis for it, some cats show an extreme attraction. Others show no reaction at all. In some cats, this naughty herb may even cause hallucinations. Catnip is not toxic to cats. However, eating large amounts can lead to vomiting or diarrhea. Catnip shouldn't be given to pregnant cats.
Like people, cats are vulnerable to allergies, sinus irritation, and upper respiratory infections. Symptoms may include sneezing and a runny nose. Sneezing in cats is most often caused by a viral infection picked up from being around other infected cats. Other causes of sneezing may include inhaled allergens, blades of grass, or even tumors. If sneezing continues for more than a few days, check with your vet.
13. Playing All Night
Cats naturally tend to be active at night, when their superior vision lets them sneak up on prey. Most domesticated cats adjust their schedule to be active when people are awake, but this doesn't always happen. If your darling is a night owl, try providing an intense play session and a meal right before bedtime. The burst of activity should wear Dracula out, so you can both get a good night's sleep. But if your older cat suddenly stays awake all night, check with your vet: It might be a sign of hyperthyroidism.
14. Glow-in-the-Dark Eyes
Many cultures, such as the ancient Egyptians, have admired cats as divine beings. The fact that their eyes glow in the dark only adds to the mystique. As it turns out, there's a fairly mundane explanation for this phenomenon. Feline eyes have a layer of tissue called the tapetum lucidum, which reflects light back through the retina. It helps facilitate their exceptional night vision.
How You Handle Pet Food Could Be Making Your Dog—And You—Sick / By Amanda Loudin, April 12, 2022, Fetch by WebMD
– Patrick McIntyre loves his two labs, ages 5 and 6. So much so that he and his wife make their own dog food to provide them with the best nutrition possible for long and healthy lives. Part of that approach involves handling food safely, just as the couple would handle their own food.
“We clean up after making and serving them food, don’t leave food out after they’ve eaten it, and wash their dishes after every meal,” says McIntyre. “I wouldn’t want to leave my bowls sitting out on the floor, so why would I leave my dogs’ bowls there?”
While the McIntyres’ approach might seem time-consuming and over the top, it turns out they’re onto something. According to a new analysis published in the journal PLOS One, in-home pet food handling and food dish hygiene practices can have bad health effects for both humans and pets.
Despite the concern for contamination, the study found that few guidelines exist for pet dish hygiene and safe food handling.
“In my clinical experience, I don’t think many people consider safe food handling with their pets,” says Stephanie Sheen, a doctor of veterinary medicine (DVM) at Fuzzy Pet Health, an online pet health service.
And while some tenets of safe food handling carry over from the human side of the equation, some do not, says Sheen.
“There are many food safety issues that apply to pets and not humans,” she says. “For starters, dogs eat directly from their bowls, and their mouths have high bacteria levels.”
It’s the contamination that can happen in pet food bowls that puts them at highest risk for bad effects from poor practices. This applies to both the bowls and the food that goes into them. When it comes to food safety and your pets, there’s a lot to learn.
The reality is, pet owners are pretty lax about cleaning their pet’s bowls, and here’s why that matters: “Studies have shown that pet food bowls are on the top-10 list of most contaminated and dirty items in a household,” says Lindsay Butzer, DVM, from PetMeds, a pharmacy for pets. “One small chore that many pet owners neglect now that they’re heading back to the office or simply getting out of the house more is cleaning their pet’s food bowls.”
When bowls are left uncleaned, residue from food and your dog’s saliva is left behind, providing a breeding ground for potentially dangerous bacteria. “Common bacteria that can easily grow on day-old dog food includes salmonella and E. coli,” says Butzer, which can upset your dog’s stomach if eaten daily.
According to the PLOS One analysis, an earlier study performed cultures on household objects and found staph bacteria in 15% of pet food bowls. Antibiotic-resistant staph bacteria – or MRSA – was present in 3% of samples.
While the food bowls are most at risk for contamination, don’t neglect changing out and washing your pet’s water bowls as well, says Sheen. “Your dog’s saliva builds up over time in the bowls they use, which can create a film over bacteria, allowing it space to breed,” she says.
This is particularly true with plastic or ceramic bowls. “The concerns here are scratches or chips in the surfaces, which provide a harbor for bacteria,” says Sheen. “You can’t get into these spots for a good washing. If you do use these types of bowls, it’s best to replace them once they get damaged.”
Consider using stainless steel bowls, which are more resistant to damage and which you can easily throw in the dishwasher after a feeding. “You should also disinfect them once a week with two tablespoons of bleach in a gallon of water,” Sheen says.
Better Food Handling
According to Sheen, most people feed their pets one of three types of diets: raw, fresh-cooked, or commercial. Of the three, a raw-food diet is most likely to result in contamination.
“There can be really bad strains of bacteria in a raw diet, even antibiotic-resistant bacteria,” she says. “It’s very important to clean these bowls after each meal, as the residue is more likely to stick to the bowls and attract bacteria. Make sure you wash your hands well with soap and water after handling raw food, too.”
With dry food, your risk is lower, but it still requires safe handling practices. Wash the bowls out once a day, and avoid scooping up the dry food with the bowl your pet will eat from, as this can transfer any contamination from the bowl to the bag.
With wet, canned food, anything your dog doesn’t eat should be removed after 2 hours and thrown out, before it can become a bacteria breeding ground. Leftovers should go into the refrigerator, where they can safely stay for about 2 to 3 days.
Finally, with fresh-cooked foods, “think of them as you would your own meats, keeping them for about 3 days before discarding,” says Sheen.
The PLOS One survey found that most pet owners fail in this area, storing pet food against FDA and most manufacturers’ recommendations.
The good news is that for most healthy, young dogs older than 6 months, the risks of poor food handling are generally low.
The most common signs of contaminated food bowls are diarrhea, loss of appetite, and vomiting, says Butzer. “Death is extremely rare unless the bacteria have built up over several weeks and your dog eats a very large amount.”
The concerns for safe food handling go beyond your pet’s health. Because of your close, daily interactions with them, your pet can easily share their bacteria with you.
While it’s not pleasant to think about, some dogs love eating feces on walks; they then return to your house and lick your face, potentially spreading contamination. The same holds true if they pick up bad bacteria from poor food handling and then again share their sloppy kisses with you.
“For people over 65, children under 5, or those who are immune-compromised, this can be risky,” says Sheen. “This especially holds true with dogs who eat raw-food diets – dog therapy groups don’t allow these dogs, for that reason.”
At the end of the day, a little effort goes a long way to protect both your pet and your family.
For the McIntyre family, where Patrick’s wife has a severe gluten allergy, food safety is second nature, and it pays off for everyone involved. “We’re responsible for our dogs’ health as well as ours,” he says. “We’ve got a set of food safety rules for everyone involved.”
The 4th of July can mean fun, food, friends and fireworks for people, but for our pets, it can feel more like a scary alien invasion! In fact, July 5th is the busiest day of the year for animal shelters, which fill up quickly with animals who panic and flee the bright lights and loud noises of holiday celebrations. Make July 4th a pet-riotic holiday by following these steps for a stress free day for both you and your fur-kids.
Domesticated dogs today are much better today than 10,000 years ago at behaving the way humans wish for them to behave. Even so, there are many canine behaviors that are instinctive to them and may become an issue for pet owners, whether it's an inconvenience or even dangerous. Each week we will be addressing 25 most common dog behavior problems often experience by owners and how to fix them.
1. Hyperactivity and Unruliness
More often than not, the reason your dog is too energetic, unruly and hyperactive is because they're lacking stimulation, exercise and playtime, or find themselves bored. Depending on the breed, size, age and upbringing, dogs will have different levels of activity, and some active breeds always feel the need to release all the extra energy or fight boredom regardless of location or situation.
Because every dog is different, in order to fix this fairly common dog behavior problem, pet owners must address it in several ways to find the best solution:
Catnip, catmint, catwort, field balm -- it doesn't matter what you call it. Lions, tigers, panthers, and your common domestic tabby just can't seem to get enough of this fragrant herb.
Originally from Europe and Asia, minty, lemony, potent catnip -- Nepeta cataria -- has long been associated with cats. Even its Latin-derived cataria means "of a cat." And research shows that cats big and small adore this weedy, invasive member of the mint family. But why do they like catnip so much? Is it safe? And what does it mean if your cat doesn't like it?
It's genetics that determines whether your feline friend falls for this cousin to basil and oregano. About one cat in two inherits a sensitivity to the herb. But you won't know if your kitten is one of them until sometime between ages 3 and 6 months.
Catnip's allure is in its volatile oil, specifically one chemical in that oil -- nepetalactone. Found in catnip's leaves, stems, and seeds, it only takes one or two sniffs of that wondrous oil before susceptible felines are licking, chewing, and rolling head-over-tail in kitty bliss.
Though intense, that bliss is usually short-lived, lasting about 10 minutes for most cats. For some, the euphoria translates into aggressive playfulness. At the same time, it makes others mellow and calm. But no matter what reaction your cat has, once the pleasure passes it'll be about two hours before kitty responds to catnip again.
Catnip: Toys and Training
Because cats do respond to catnip again and again, the herb can be a powerful training aid.
Want to keep kitty from clawing furniture?
Rub a scratching post with catnip to make it more appealing. Bought a new cat bed? Sprinkle a little of the herb on kitty's cushion to make it more attractive to your feline friend.
You can also provide enrichment for an indoor kitty by creating catnip toys. Sprinkle a bit of the herb into an old sock, then knot the top. Or put a big pinch of catnip in a small paper bag and crush the bag into a tight ball.
The intensity of kitty's response to toys and training will be affected by the type of catnip you use. While most cats enjoy the herb dried or fresh, they're usually less interested in catnip sprays, which generally don't contain enough nepetalactone to appeal to most felines.
Fortunately for kitty, catnip -- which is non-addictive and safe to eat -- is easy to grow in a sunny window. You can even go so far as to create your own kitty garden with one pot of catnip and one of wheat, oat, rye, or barley grass. Not only will kitty enjoy both, but having its own house plants may keep kitty out of yours. If you plant catnip directly in the garden, remember that, like most mints, it's a vigorous, sometimes invasive, grower.
Catnip's potency doesn't last forever; the essential oils quickly dissipate. So if you buy dried catnip for your
feline friend, store what you don't use in the freezer.
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service: "Nepetacataria L. Catnip."
Purdue University, Horticulture & Landscape Architecture: "Catnip."
Union County College: "Catnip."
Big Cat Rescue: "AdvoCat News 2010 08."
American Chemical Society: "Natural Insect Repellents: Activity against Mosquitoes and Cockroaches."
American Chemical Society: "Catnip."
The Humane Society of the United States: "Cat Toys."
Cats International: "Catnip -- Fun or Dangerous."
Dog Food for Thought
Feeding your dog is a ritual that usually brings together a loving owner and a grateful, hungry pet. But when Fido doesn’t eat with much gusto, it can raise a red flag. It’s a good idea to know when it might be a sign of trouble and what you can do if it is.
It’s Not a Big Deal to Skip a Meal
It isn’t necessarily a problem if your dog doesn’t eat every time you put food down. What’s most important is their weight. If that’s steady and their ribs or spine aren’t showing, your friend is probably getting the food they need.
They Are Not That Into It
Not every dog is food-driven, especially the smaller breeds. For some, it just isn’t all that important. They don’t see food as the ultimate reward. They may want your attention or praise, and food is secondary. Pay attention to what motivates your dog. If it’s not treats or mealtime, don’t force it.
It Brings Up Bad Memories
If you have a meal that leaves you with an upset stomach or worse, you probably tend to stay away from what you ate for a while. Your dog might do the same if they link a problem with a certain food. A new type of sustenance may make a difference.
Anxiety Can Cause Problems
Being nervous can zap your dog’s appetite. Just like people, dogs don’t eat as much if they’re anxious. This can happen thanks to things like loneliness, boredom, storms, fireworks, or separation anxiety (being home alone during the work day, for example). If you think anxiety may be why your dog isn't eating, it can help to spend more time with them.
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Age or Health Can Be an Issue
If your dog’s lack of appetite is sudden or goes on for a while, especially if your friend is older, ask your vet if you can bring them in for an exam. It can be a good idea to keep an eye on that from month to month. If there are any changes, make an appointment.
You Need a New Recipe for Success
It may be as simple as your dog doesn't like the taste of their food. Still, if you're thinking about changing it up, be cautious. The new food could cause gut problems for your friend, which may keep them off food even longer. If you feel like you must change, do it slowly, mixing a little in at a time in their current food. Better yet, talk with your vet about it.
Treats Are More Than Treats
It’s fine to reward your dog for good behavior, but too many treats can spoil their appetite at mealtime. And if you keep offering them to try to get them to eat, that can send the wrong message. You’re telling your dog they can hold out for something better.
While treats in place of regular food isn’t a good idea, treats with dinner might be. Some dogs who don’t want to eat their meals are really interested in treats. If that’s the case with yours, mix some treats into their food or add canned food, or even just warm water. Some companies make a sauce you can add.
You Share Too Much
Sharing food with your dog may seem generous, but it can do more harm than good. The scraps can add up and make them full by mealtime. It’s hard to know how much you’re giving them under the table. You might think it’s a tiny bite when it’s actually a lot of food for a small dog.
Your Friend Likes a Schedule
Like people, dogs can be creatures of habit. Offer a meal at the same time each day, and give your pet a certain amount of time to eat it, say 15 or 20 minutes. If they don’t eat within that time, take the food away and try it at the next meal. The idea is to set a routine where they know that if they skip this meal, they can eat in a few hours.
You May Need to Set the Table
Getting your pet to eat might be as simple as giving them the comfort of their own dedicated place to eat. Choose an out-of-the-way spot, like a bathroom, where they can eat undisturbed. A safe place where they can take their time to eat might just do the trick.
You May Need a Vet's Help
If your dog’s at a healthy weight but nothing seems to boost their appetite, a veterinarian can offer some guidance. They'll run some diagnostic tests. If those don't uncover anything, they may suggest some trial and error to see what’s going on.
Instead of sweating, dogs eliminate heat by panting. They do have some sweat glands in the footpads, which help with heat dissipation, but only minimally. When panting isn’t enough, a dog’s body temperature rises. This can be fatal if not corrected quickly.
Physical Symptoms of Heatstroke in Dogs
Excessive panting and signs of discomfort indicate overheating in dogs. A dog overheating may also be unable or unwilling to move around.
Other signs of heatstroke in dogs include drooling, reddened gums, vomiting, diarrhea, mental dullness or loss of consciousness, uncoordinated movement, and collapse.
Primary Cause of Heatstroke in Dogs
Any hot environment can cause heatstroke in dogs, but the most common cause is a careless action by a pet owner, such as leaving a dog in a car or forgetting to provide water and shade to pets that are outdoors.
Some dogs are more prone to developing heat exhaustion, especially dogs who are older, overweight or brachycephalic (Pugs, Bulldogs and other flat-faced breeds). It is important to be aware of the ambient temperature and take appropriate preventative measures.
Dogs with thick fur, short noses or those suffering from medical conditions such as laryngeal paralysis and obesity are predisposed to heatstroke. Even dogs who enjoy constant exercise and playtime—like working dogs such as Labrador Retrievers and German Shepherds—should be closely monitored for symptoms of heatstroke in dogs, especially on hot days.
Immediate CareIt is essential to remove the dog from the hot environment immediately. Do not give the dog aspirin to lower its temperature; this can lead to other problems. If the dog is unconscious, make sure no water enters the nose or mouth as you follow these steps.
Preventing Heatstroke in DogsHeatstroke in dogs can be prevented by taking caution not to expose a dog to hot and humid conditions. This is especially applicable for dogs with airway diseases and breeds with shortened faces.
While traveling in cars, make sure that dogs are kept in dog crates that offer good ventilation, or use a dog seat belt, and never leave your dog in a car with the windows closed, even if the car is parked in the shade. When outdoors, always make sure your dog is in a well-ventilated area with access to plenty of water and shady spots.
Deciding to adopt a rescue pet or shelter dog is an important decision. It can be tough to take into account everything you’ll need to be prepared for (both expected and unexpected), but the rewards of adopting a four-legged friend outweigh most concerns and fears many people have concerning adoption. Still not convinced?
See our top 10 reasons to adopt:
1. You’re Saving More Than One Life
It goes without saying that when you adopt a rescue pet, you’re saving a life—but you’re actually saving more than one. By adopting, you’re helping make space for another animal in need and helping to give them the opportunity to become beloved pets.
2. Unconditional Love! What Could Be Better?
Many people worry about connecting with a rescued dog, but shelter dogs have so much love to give—and they won’t ever stop giving it to you once you let them into your heart!
3. You’re Giving a Second Chance to a Deserving Animal
Beyond just helping an animal in need, you’re giving a rescue an opportunity to find their voice; to be themselves and get a second chance to become a dog beyond the walls of shelter or rescue. You truly give them the keys to start anew in a life where second chances can often be hard to come by.
4. You Get a Chance to Stay Active
Maybe you’re trying to live a more active lifestyle, or maybe you’re just looking for a new adventure. Either way, a new four-legged friend gives you a reason to get outdoors more and stretch your legs!
5. You Have Someone New to Shop For
It’s always fun to spoil your pets and bringing home a new furry family member gives you a reason to do just that. You can enjoy all the retail therapy you want while making sure your new rescue dog is living in the lap of luxury.
6. You’re Fighting Back Against Cruel Breeding
Puppies purchased at pet stores almost always come from cruel breeding facilities where dogs are confined to small, filthy spaces and receive little to no veterinary care. By adopting from your local shelter or rescue, you are giving back to your community instead of helping cruel breeders profit.
7. Destress and Unwind with Someone Who Will Never Judge You
Life is full of stresses, but your rescue dog is always there to listen. They won’t ever judge you or let you down. Taking some time to destress with your furry friends can help you unwind and keep you at peace.
8. Increase Your Social Interactions
Getting out there with your pet can also help you make new human friends, too! You can befriend other pet parents, or even meet someone special when you’re making the rounds at your local dog park or dog-friendly café.
9. You’ll Have a Lifelong BFF
What could be better than having a lifelong friend? In your time with your rescue dog, you’ll have a confidante, a pal and ultimately—a beloved family member. You’ll never feel lonely, and in return neither will your shelter dog.
10. Life Will Never Be Boring Again
One thing that’s for certain, is that life with a rescue dog brings big changes—in the best way! Say goodbye to predictable nights and your boring routine and say hello to a new lease on life. Your new pet will keep life exciting, fresh and full of love.
controlling Pulling on walks Author: By Monique Feyrecilde, BA, LVT, VTS (Behavior); Debra Horwitz, DVM, Diplomate ACVB & Gary Landsberg, DVM, Diplomate ACVB
WHY DO DOGS PULL ON A LEASH?
Dogs pull to get where they are going. Dogs want to engage with the environment, and humans, to a dog, can be slow. Wearing a leash and being tethered to a human is not a “natural” behavior for dogs.
Many dogs will naturally “lean in” when they feel pressure on their collars and strain forward. Loose leash walking is a complex skill and it requires patience, planning, and persistence.
How do I get started?
All dogs need plenty of social, mental, and physical stimulation every day. Regular leash walks may help with mental and social stimulation, but they rarely truly satisfy a dog’s need for physical exercise. Before teaching a dog loose leash walking, you should start by making sure the dog’s daily needs are being met.
Unstructured exploration and low-stress walks in a quiet location are an important part of wellness for most dogs. Here are a couple of items to consider before getting started:
What equipment does my dog need? Leashes
Choose a leash that is 6-10’ in length and feels good in your hands. It should be wide enough that even if the dog pulls, you will not have a friction burn on your hands, but narrow enough that it is comfortably light weight for the dog to wear. You will also want a long line – a leash that is 15 -50’ in length to use for unstructured safe exploration. Avoid the use of retractable leashes; these can result in serious friction burns to both people and animals.
If you choose a collar, use a plain, flat collar that is fitted so you can put 2-4 fingers between the collar and the dog’s neck. The collar should be snug enough that it can’t be slipped over the dog’s head. If your dog pulls very hard, pulls until they cough or have noisy breathing, or can physically unbalance or overpower you when they pull, a collar is not the right choice for this dog.
What about training collars?
Training collars, such as slip, choke, prong, or electronic collars, all rely on causing pain to stop a dog from pulling. When the leash is tight, the collar causes pain around the dog’s neck. When the leash is loose, the pain is stopped. If the collar is effective, the dog learns to keep the leash loose to avoid pain.
There are a few difficulties with these collars:
A well-fitted H-Style or Y-style harness can be a wonderful tool for many dogs. Harnesses should only be worn when the dog is on a leash. What to look for in a harness:
Head collars fit around the nose and ears of a dog, like a halter. Head collars can give added control, especially when a strong, powerful dog has a smaller or infirm handler. A head collar needs to be carefully selected and introduced. Dogs are not accustomed to wearing things on their faces! It takes time to positively condition a dog to accept a head collar, and they are not right for every dog. When using a head collar, a second leash should be connected to a harness or neck collar as a safety backup. The safety leash is helpful because if a dog lunges quickly and hits the end of the leash wearing only a head collar, the leash can pull the dog’s head sharply to the side placing unnecessary strain on the dog’s neck.
How do I get started and how do dogs learn?Dogs, like any animal, do what “works.” They will repeat behaviors which have a favorable or meaningful result. When we are working to change or improve a dog’s behavior, we need to consider what the behavior accomplishes from the dog’s point of view – and how we can modify that event so the dog’s behavior will change for the better.
Using the 'A-B-C' method to consider why the dog is walking a certain way is often helpful.
A = Antecedent. What happens immediately before the pulling?
B = Behavior. Pulling is the behavior in question, but it is probably accompanied by other behaviors, too!
C = Consequence. What happens during or immediately after the pulling? This is the “result” from the dog’s point of view.
Creating a training plan means identifying A, B, and C – and considering how A and C can be changed so B will change. Each training plan will be unique to the dog and the family, but most pulling can be prevented or reversed using a positive reinforcement based training approach.
Example: Pulling toward another dog.
Remember, your dog can only see the world through his own eyes. He is being held back, but can see something he wants. Straining in the direction of travel might be productive from the dog’s point of view. Let’s look at the A-B-C’s for pulling toward another dog.
A = Your dog sees another dog appear.
B = Your dog pulls on the leash.
C = You and the dog are moved closer to the other dog.
In this example from the dog’s perspective, pulling is an effective way to get closer to something he wants. Barking is one way dogs will ask for space, or try to move another person or animal away from their space.
Prevention: Foundation Skills
Start with a well-prepared dog and in a non-distracting environment such as inside the home or your yard. Have plenty of small delicious treats with you, and if your dog likes toys, bring your dog’s favorite toy along as well.
The A-B-C’s: Loose Leash
Clip on your dog’s leash and stand quietly. Wait for even the smallest second of slack in the leash. Tell your dog “Yes!” when the leash is slack and quickly deliver one or two wonderful treats either putting them in his mouth or dropping them on the ground near your foot. Encourage him to eat them with a happy excited voice as you point them out. Take 1-2 steps forward and repeat this process.
A = The dog is on-leash, you are present with treats.
B = The dog stays close enough to you that the leash is loose.
C = Wonderful treats and happy praise.
In the beginning, it can be helpful to use luring. Luring means encouraging the dog to follow a treat so they perform a certain skill. Hold several treats in a closed hand next to your leg at your dog’s nose level. Once your dog’s nose is attached to the treats like they are a magnet, deliver one treat every 2-3 seconds. Begin walking, just a few steps at a time, consistently delivering tiny treats as long as the dog stays near you and the leash remains loose.
A = Leash is on and a handful of treats is within easy following reach.
B = Following the treat hand with a loose leash.
C = Receiving a small treat!
Putting it On Cue
Have a word or phrase that means “Walk with me!” Common choices are “Let’s Go!” or “Let’s Walk” or “With Me!” said in a cheerful happy voice. Once you’re able to repeat the sequence of starting a nice loose leash walk for a few steps at a time, say the cue in a happy voice. The cue means rewards are available for the loose leash walking.
A = “Let’s Go” cue is heard, leash is on
B = Dog walks on a loose leash for a few steps (or further, as the dog’s skills become more advanced)
C = Forward progress in the environment with frequent delicious treats for staying near the owner.
What should I do if my dog pulls?A = Something interests the dog.
B = Leash gets tight
C = You stand still or take a few steps away from the thing that is interesting – then wait for any sign of loose leash and quickly reward as above.
If your dog can’t disengage from the distraction, move further away and try again.
If it goes well, it looks like:
A = Something interests the dog.
B = You both walk toward the point of interest; the leash stays loose.
C = Progress is made toward the point of interest, and small delicious treats are intermittently delivered as well!
Group classes for leash walking and life skills are a wonderful place to refine leash walking techniques. Attending a group class in a controlled environment allows a professional training coach to help you develop excellent timing and to modulate the number and type of distractions your dog learns to walk around while keeping the leash loose. It takes most dogs several months of regular practice to learn to walk on a loose leash. There are entire books, online courses, and 8-week or more in-person courses devoted just to learning leash walking!
How do I handle lunging and barking? For dogs who lunge to the end of their leash, bark and frantically try to chase or approach other animals, people, moving cars, bicycles, etc., additional help is needed. Talk to your veterinarian for a referral for a professional behavior consultant and trainer for individualized coaching.
Some dogs lunge or bark because they are afraid. Others are too excited and have trouble controlling themselves. Still others may have the urge to hunt or chase. Depending upon the severity of the behavior and the underlying motivation, the individual training plan needs to be tailored to the specific dog.