Boredom Busters!

boredom busters

Rainy days and Mondays don’t have to get them down! There is always something that we can do as pet guardians to help our animals when they are bored, frightened, or frustrated.

There is a very popular homemade game that dog guardians have been playing with their dogs for years, and now you get to play along too!

Here is what you need to do: Get a 6 muffin tin and put their favorite treat or food in each cup. Place tennis balls in about half the cups. Once the animal sniffs out the uncovered treats, s/he usually figures out that removing the tennis balls reveals more tasty goodies. This game uses at least two of an animal’s senses – sight and smell – and it’s mentally challenging!

Watch these dogs learn how the game works in the videos below.

 

NOTE: This game was created for dogs of all ages (puppies, adult dogs, and even geriatric dogs!), but it can be modified for ferrets, horses, cats, pigs and parrots!

Once the animal gets the idea and is performing well at the game, you can start hiding treats under only some of the tennis balls, and use a 12 muffin or 24 muffin tin.  Increase the difficulty to keep their brains working!

A bonus to this homemade game is that it’s also great for helping shy animals to increase their confidence. It can also help distract an animal to focus on something exciting and fun when you leave the house, or if they are afraid of storms, or new guests in your home.  It is also a great tool for shelter animals in kennels. This is a great tool to help alleviate boredom. This game also helps them to practicing their hunting or foraging skills, while increasing the bond between you and your animal companion!

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Game Tip: If your pet is shy, confused, or uninterested, be sure to encourage him/her as they approach the tin. Make it a huge success each time they discover the hidden treat! Be their biggest fan when they succeed!

Safety Tip: If your animal starts to toss the tin around, you can try a nonslip mat or attach the muffin tin to a large piece of plywood to anchor it.

Toy Dog Tip: If you have a very small dog, use tiny tennis balls or golf balls.

 

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Kitty Tip: Most cats will play the game for their regular food, and even fresh catnip! Use ping pong balls or golf balls.

Parrot Tip: Use walnuts, pecans, or other assorted nuts that they rarely have access to. They will quickly learn to love this game!

Ferret Tip:  Use their regular diet, or for a special treat use cooked egg whites, cooked yolks, or dried muscle/organ meat.

Smart Cookie Tip: If your pet’s intelligence level is anything like our critters’, this game will be over fairly quickly. One way to extend the game is to ask your pet to “wait” while you hide the tray in another room, then have him/her “Find It!”.


What kind of boredom buster games do you play with your animals at home? Please share with us!

Let The Games Begin!

invitation PPG

Today is the “opening day” of a brand new, fun competition and you are invited!

Event Details

Who:  You! Your friends! Your family! Your colleagues! Your coworkers! And of course, your animal companions (pets)!

What:  The International Day of Celebration for Force Free Training & Pet Care

When:  Friday, January 17, 2014 – Saturday, March 15, 2014

Where:  In your own home, in the backyard, at the beach, in the mountains, in the forest, in the wetlands, in your neighborhood, at the pool, or at the park! Anywhere you can think of! This is an International Virtual Educational Event, so they possibilities are endless!

Why:  The community of force-free pet professionals and animal guardians recognize, value, and celebrate the positive effects and power of force-free animal training and pet care! We want to share that knowledge with the world and teach others that Force-Free is the way to be!

HostThe Pet Professional Guild

All profits from this event go to the Pet Professional Guild Advocacy Fund for PPG’s advocacy goals in 2014:

The Pet Professional Guild, the Association for Force-Free Pet Professionals (The PPG or The Guild), is a nonprofit member organization headquartered in Bonifay FL, USA. The PPG represents over 1600 members around the world.  The mission of PPG World Services is “Global News & Views on Force-Free Pet Care” and will serve as an advocacy forum for force-free dog training and pet care issues. The key advocacy goal of the PPG is to facilitate an ongoing conversation with pet owners, pet care professionals and industry stakeholders aimed at moving the pet industry forward toward better informed practices, training methods, equipment use and pet care philosophies. The Guild’s message will strive to build widespread collaboration and acceptance of force-free methods and philosophies consistent with its guiding principles.

If you are wondering what all of this means, here it is very simply; Force-Free is defined as:

No shock, No pain, No choke, No fear, No physical force, No physical molding, No compulsion based methods are employed to train or care for a pet.

Animals can be trained without fear, force, or intimidation. That includes ALL pets, ALL animals, ALL species, ALL the time!  Training can and should be FUN for everyone!

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Participation in this global event is simple.  All you have to do is participate in any 30 minute Force-Free Fun Activity with your pet!  Take a walk or a jog, swim or hike, bike or skate, train and teach, but the idea is to spend 30 minutes of Force-Free Fun with your animal companion!  This can be anything and anywhere that you decide. Where do they love to go? What do they enjoy doing? What’s your favorite place to be with them?  Do it when and where it’s convenient for you!

Note: If you don’t have time to complete your chosen event all at once, you can split it up over several days.

force free fun training pet tricks

Photo Fun!

Participants are encouraged to submit photos showing what they did for their fun, chosen event. The photos will be judged on these three criteria:

  • Originality
  • Creativity
  • How much force-free fun the human and pet are having together (this one is strongly encouraged!) Fun is the key!

What’s In It For You!

Each participant will receive:

  • A special competitor medal for your companion animal!
  • A certificate to show off that you rocked the contest!
  • Entry to the fun photograph competition!
  • PRIZES!

Get a sneak peak of the awesome prize list here! And remember to check back as more goodies are added to the list!

Register today to help celebrate and educate others about this important event. Through education and celebration, we can help others learn the value and importance of force-free training and animal companion care methods.  Education and inspiration starts with you!  Won’t you join the fun, Force-Free revolution with us?

Note: The registration deadline is March 3rd. So be sure to add your name to the fun, force-free list today!

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  • We welcome and encourage you to check out the pet owner resource section of The Pet Professional Guild website! You will find tons of helpful resources! You can also listen to a few of the PPG’s free podcasts on iTunes here.
  • If you are still wondering why our Pet Professional Guild has proclaimed An International Day of Celebration for Force Free Training and Pet Care, check out this video and our news release here!  
PPG Web Header
Please spread the word to everyone you know!  Download the event poster here and feel free to share it with your networks and community!

If you are interested in sponsoring the event or becoming involved on any level then please contact Niki Tudge at IFCC@PetProfessionalGuild.com


If you missed the event, don’t worry! We will have another event in February of 2015!!!

… Stay tuned and never miss another event by joining us at The Pet Professional Guild!

Will you become Force-Free All the time?
Will you become Force-Free All the time?

Day of the Dragon!

Kadar, our male breeding Komodo dragon at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans.
Kadar, our male breeding Komodo dragon at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans.

Today is International Appreciate A Dragon Day!  Yeah, I know.  It sounds crazy, but if there is an international peanut butter day, then dragons can certainly have their turn in the international spotlight.  As soon as I heard that today was appreciate a dragon day, I was really psyched because one very special dragon came to my mind.  He was amazing in every sense of the word.

Because of this dragon, I learned and felt more than I ever thought possible from a 140 pound lizard.  I cared for him, bred him, trained him, enriched him, and during his last days on earth, I held him between my legs as he breathed his last breaths.

His name was Kadar and he was a Komodo Dragon.


Here There Be Dragons!

I was introduced to Kadar on the first day of a very challenging and amazing career path.  I had the pleasure of working at the Audubon Zoo in the Reptile Section for many years.  I was a reptile and amphibian “keeper” (animal caretaker) and an enrichment specialist.  Kadar was one of the many species of reptiles that opened my mind to the depth of intelligence and perfection that many animals have.  He dispelled many myths about reptiles, and showed us how to be more conscious of caring for reptiles in captivity.  Kadar was a gorgeous specimen, and quite a sight to behold!  He was a favorite among many zoo visitors and staff.

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Kadar gently chasing his mate, Kali around their exhibit

Leaping, Learning Lizards!

Force-free training was just barely beginning to be embraced by the zoo community when I was working there.  Thankfully, in 1999 we learned that “even lizards” can be taught to do almost anything because they are incredibly intelligent!  Each day at the zoo, there were scheduled public feedings.  Zoo visitors loved to come and watch us as we climbed to the top of Kadar’s exhibit, and then toss him a deceased rabbit, mackerel, or beef heart into his enclosure.  Kadar would come running over and gobble the gory goodies down within seconds!  The gory (but fascinating) scene was quite a sight to see!

Then a female reptile colleague and I taught Kadar to station where we wanted him to in his exhibit, using a laser pointer.  We also taught him to recall on command so we could shift him in and out of his night den without force.  He learned to target, and to trust people again.  We also learned how to safely work with him without using fear or force.

With training and enrichment we encouraged his natural hunting and stalking abilities by encouraging him to “hunt” for scents all around his enclosure, to mimic conditions that he would have experienced in the wild, on Komodo Island.  Through force-free, choice based training we gained Kadar’s trust, we eliminated fear on both ends of the stick!


Lessons Learned 

One day we needed to perform a medical procedure on Kadar (to remove a few rocks in his belly that he had ingested) and in the process, a vertebrae and some nerves in his neck were severely damaged.  Kadar soon lost his strong, regal gait and was not responding to his training cues.  He was becoming severely challenged while eating and moving around his enclosure.  We did everything we could to help him.  Our hospital staff worked around the clock during those last days to monitor his vital signs and keep him alive.  We took shifts at night breathing for him.

I will never forget the honor and respect I felt, holding him between my legs as I gently pushed air into his lungs, hoping that it would keep his organs and brain functioning.  We even took him to the Children’s Hospital next door to the zoo to perform a CAT Scan and MRI to see how extensive the damage was, but it was too late.  Kadar’s heart was still beating but he was no longer there.  He had passed in the night while in my arms.  We mourned his passing, but we never forgot what he taught us about reptile intelligence, and what he brought to the zoo community.  We all learned something from Kadar.

 


Not All Was Lost.

After Kadar passed, we were all heartbroken, but were able to honor his legacy by continuing the force-free reptile training movement with Kali, his very clever Komodo mate.  We taught Kali to station on a scale, allow nail trims, and to be crated.  Our team created a special crate designed to facilitate safe, force-free annual exams without anesthesia.  In the latter years, Kadar and Kali had to be anesthetized for these important annual exams.  This really cool create enabled the hospital staff to come out to our area for medical procedures such as weighing her, blood draws, radiographs (x-rays), colloquial swabs, and checking for eggs.

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Trained Komodo Dragons!

komodo dragon training reptile force free training and enrichement
Images from The Zoological Society of London

When we trained Kadar, there were hardly any force-free reptile training programs in existence at the time.  Thankfully, now zoos all around the world are utilizing more force-free training with the species that they breed and care for in captivity.  They use everything from laser pointers to target sticks and clicker training!   Below are just a few of the safe and enriching management tools that zoo staff around the world are using with Komodo Dragons to maintain their health and well-being:


One of the enrichment devices that has been developed at ZSL London Zoo’s Herpetology Department, in conjunction with Aussiedog© is a ‘Tug-Toy’.  This ‘Komodo Tug-Toy’ is the first of its kind and it comes complete with a strong elasticised bungee, two removable tug grips and several different bites.  The device was developed after lengthy email correspondence with specialists at Aussiedog©. We discussed every possible component and variable from anatomy, force and bite radius to enclosure size to what colour to use/not use (as Raja, our male dragon, is trained to a white target for example) and we carefully considered what texture and material would be preferable for the detachable bites.  The device can also be hung from a tree or retaining wall, and meat joints can replace the bites to encourage the natural pulling and tearing motions the dragon uses to consume carcasses.

Raja enjoying a game of Tug with keepers. This was a specially made "Tug Toy" safe for the handler and Komodo
Raja enjoying a game of Tug with keepers at the London Zoo’s Reptile House.  This “Tug Toy”  was designed to be safe for the handler and Komodo

Raja even has his own facebook page!

These training and enrichment techniques allow zoo keepers and medical staff to work safely with, and in close proximity to, Komodo dragons in captivity. These force-free techniques facilitate the animals’ well-being through mental and physical stimulation.


Lethal Lizards?

Many people are terrified of Komodos and see them as monsters.  This is not true.  Most komodos in captivity have strong bonds with their keepers. However, safety is always the utmost priority because they do have quite a bite when they are in prey drive!   Any number of their prey would attest to this (if they could). They are not slobbery monsters that will attack you at a moment’s notice.  They are usually calm, clean, and calculating.

Dirty Dragon?

New research from the University of Queensland published in the Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine has found that the mouths of Komodo dragons are surprisingly ordinary for a venomous species.

Venomous Varanus!

In 2009, scientists concluded that komodo dragons (and all monitor lizards and iguanas) produce venom.  Venom is a toxin that’s secreted by glands and injected into an animal by a bite or sting (versus how poison is delivered).  There is a common myth that highly toxic bacteria in a Komodo’s mouth is what’s responsible for ultimately killing the dragons’ prey.  Zoo and reptile management and researchers have long thought that the Komodo dragon kills its prey via blood poisoning from the 50 strains of bacteria in the dragon’s saliva.  Well, it turns out that the bacteria tale has been a “scientific fairy tale”.  They found that the levels and types of bacteria do not differ from any other carnivore; it’s the venom at work:

The dragon’s venom rapidly decreases blood pressure, expedites blood loss, and sends a victim into shock, rendering it too weak to fight.  In the venom, some compounds that reduce blood pressure are as potent as those found in the world’s most venomous snake, western Australia’s inland Taipan.

Fry used a medical MRI scanner to analyse the preserved head of a dead Komodo dragon and found that it has two long venom glands, running down the length of its jaw. They are the most structurally complex venom glands of any reptile. Each consists of six compartments, with ducts leading from each one to openings between the teeth.
Professor Fry used a medical MRI scanner to analyze the preserved head of a Komodo dragon. He found that it has two long venom glands, running down the length of its jaw. They are the most structurally complex venom glands of any reptile!  Each consists of six compartments, with ducts leading from each one to openings between the teeth.

Other venomous lizards, like the Gila monster, channel venom down grooves that run the length of their teeth but the Komodo dragon doesn’t have these – it just drips venom straight into the wounds that it inflicts. The venom itself consists of over 600 toxins, a chemical arsenal that rivals those of many snakes. Many of these poisons are familiar and they greatly exacerbate the blood loss caused by the dragon’s bite. They cause internal haemorrhaging from leaky blood vessels, prevent blood from clotting and cause muscle contractions and paralysis. Fry calculated that a typical adult dragon would need only 4mg of venom proteins to send a 40kg deer into toxic shock from collapsing blood pressure. A full venom gland packs at least eight times this amount.

After the CHOMP,  a Komodo waits patiently, following its bitten prey for miles in a leisurely fashion. He or she then locates the dead animal by its smell.  Like most lizards, Komodo dragons have an exquisite sense of smell.  But it’s not the kind of smell most of us are familiar with.  Like a snake, a Komodo “tastes” by collecting air with its forked tongue, then deposits the collected scent particles on receptors on the roof of its mouth.  Using this method, it can detect a dead animal up to five miles (eight kilometers) away!

The Komodo's sense of smell is its primary food detector. They detect odors much like a snake does. It uses its long, forked tongue to sample the air, which the two tongue tips retreat to the roof of the mouth, where they make contact with the Jacobson's organs. Here the air is deciphered carefully.
The Komodo’s sense of smell is its primary food detector. They detect odors much like a snake does. It uses its long, forked tongue to sample the air, which the two tongue tips retreat to the roof of the mouth, where they make contact with the Jacobson’s organs. Here the air is deciphered carefully.

The chemical analyzers “smell” prey by recognizing airborne molecules.  If the concentration present on the left tongue tip is higher than that sampled from the right, it tells the Komodo that the prey is approaching from the left. This system, along with an undulatory walk in which the head swings from side to side, helps the dragon sense the existence and direction of odoriferous carrion from as far away as 2.5 miles (4 km), when the wind is right.


Varanus komodoensis Komodo
Open Wide! A captive Komodo showing off his clean mouth during an afternoon yawn in the sun

 


Komodo dragons are actually very clean animals.  After they are done feeding, they will spend 10 to 15 minutes lip-licking and rubbing their head in the leaves to clean their mouth. The inside of their mouth is also kept extremely clean by the tongue. ~Professor Bryan Fry, Associate professor from The University of Queensland


The Komodo dragon isn't a filthy, bacteria laden creature, as people believe. They are clean animals that are highly intelligent.
The Komodo dragon isn’t a filthy, bacteria-laden creature. They are clean animals that are highly intelligent.

Komodo Dragon

Scientific Name: Varanus komodoensis

Fast Facts:  

  • Thekomodo dragon is the world’s largest lizard.

    Komodos have a rough, durable skin reinforced with osteoderms (bony plates) protecting them from injuries from scratches and bites.
    Komodos have a rough, durable skin reinforced with osteoderms (bony plates) protecting them from injuries from scratches and bites.
  • They are classified as Vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), But with only 3,000 to 5,000 left in the wild the latest data suggests they are endangered.
  • Komodos are native to a few volcanic Indonesian islands of the Lesser Sunda group including Komodo, Rintja, Padar, and Flores. The largest island is only 22 miles (35 km) long.
  • Komodos are called the ora, or “land crocodile” by locals
  • For centuries, a local tradition required feeding the dragons. Hunters would leave deer parts behind after a hunt, or sacrifice goats. In the past, the practice maintained a friendly relationship with the animals. Ancient customsstrictlyforbidharmingthekomodos, which is why they survived on their native islands and became extinct elsewhere.

    Kadar and Kali, our breeding pair, mating on exhibit at the Audubon Zoo
    Kadar and Kali, our breeding pair, mating on exhibit at the Audubon Zoo
  • Female Komodo dragons have been known to give birth without ever mating with a male dragon. Some call these “virgin births” but it’s actually parthenogenesis.
  • They are one of the most intelligent reptiles! They can distinguish between their different keepers in a zoo, by voices and different clothing worn by their keepers. Locals on the islands also say that the dragons know who’s who!
  • Their vision and sense of smell are highly sophisticated.
  • The largest verified specimen reached a length of 10.3 feet (3.13 m) and weighed 366 pounds (166 kg)
  • Komodos have about 60 teeth. Teeth grow back quickly if when they lose any.
  • They use their teeth to cut their prey into sections, and then swallow without chewing.

    When raised in captivity alongside humans, Komodos have been known to be quite docile and curious lizards
    When raised in captivity alongside humans, Komodos have been known to be quite docile and curious lizards
  • They rarely drink water. They prefer to get their fluids from the food they eat.
  • They can consume up to 80 percent of their body weight in one sitting.
  • They will a variety of prey including snakes, other lizards, young komodos, fish, eggs, carrion, deer, pigs, goats, dogs, horses and water buffalo.
  • They prefer to hunt as an ambush predator; they lay in wait, then surprise their prey. Chomp!
  • When hunting large prey, he/she attacks the feet first, knocking the animal off balance. When hunting smaller prey, h/she usually lunges straight for the neck.
  • They are extremely fast for a lizard of their size. In short bursts, they can reach speeds of 12 miles per hour.
  • JuvenileKomodos are very agile climbers. They live a more terrestrial life (in trees)untiltheyarefully-grown and able to protectthemselvesfromotheradultKomodos on the ground.

     Komodo dragons hatched in AZA zoos  are giving a small boost to their endangered population.
    Komodo dragons hatched in AZA zoos are giving a small boost to their endangered population.
  • Komodos can throw up the contents of their stomachs when threatened to reduce their weight in order to flee.
  • Large mammal carnivores (lions, tigers, etc.) tend to leave 25 to 30 percent of their kill unconsumed, (leaving the intestines, hide, skeleton, and hooves). Komodos eat much more efficiently; they only leave 12 percent of their prey. They eat bones, hooves, and the hide. They also eat intestines, but only after swinging them vigorously to scatter the feces from the meal.
  • Because large Komodos cannibalize young ones, the young komodos will roll in fecal matter which seems to be a scent that the larger dragons avoid.
  • Young dragons also have rituals of appeasement; the smallerlizardspacingaroundakomodo feeding circle in a ritualized walk.Theirtailis stuck straight out and they throw their body from side to side with exaggerated convulsions. This helps them to stay near the feeding circle without being attacked.
    Photo by National Geographic An adult Komodo dragon enjoys the view near Indonesia's Komodo village.
    Photo by National Geographic
    An adult Komodo dragon enjoys the view near Indonesia’s Komodo village.

  • Dragons may live up to 30 – 50 years in the wild, but scientists are still studying this.
  • Female Komodo Dragons live half as long as males on average, due to their physically demanding ‘housework’ (building huge nests and guarding eggs for up to six months).
  • Scientists have been searching for antibodies in Komodo blood in order to help save human lives.
  • Poaching, human encroachment, and natural disasters are its greatest threats.
The Denver, Phoenix and Memphis Zoo all successfully hatched Komodo dragons last year. Even the famous Betty White was excited!
The Denver, Phoenix and Memphis Zoo all successfully hatched Komodo dragons last year. Even the famous Betty White was excited! These hatchlings represent a joint conservation effort between zoos: the hatchlings will all go to different zoos for education and breeding purposes.

Recommended Reading for Lizard Lovers!

This book has the latest information on Komodo dragon biology, ecology, population distribution, and behavior.  It also includes a step-by-step management and conservation techniques, both for wild and captive dragons.  This model is a useful template for the conservation of other endangered species.
This book has the latest information on Komodo dragon biology, ecology, population distribution, and behavior. It also includes a step-by-step management and conservation techniques, both for wild and captive dragons. This model is a useful template for the conservation of other endangered species.

This blog is dedicated to you, Kadar.  Thank you for teaching me what reptiles are capable of, what exquisite and perfect creatures you are, and for teaching me more than I could have ever imagined.  You were loved and adored by so many.

dragon


Resources:

“Komodo Dragons, Biology and Conservation” by James B. Murphy, Claudio ciofi, Colomba de La Panouse, Trooper Walsh

http://www.uq.edu.au/news/article/2013/06/fear-of-komodo-dragon-bacteria-wrapped-myth

http://scienceblogs.com/notrocketscience/2009/05/18/venomous-komodo-dragons-kill-prey-with-wound-and-poison-tact/

http://nationalzoo.si.edu/animals/reptilesamphibians/facts/factsheets/komododragon.cfm


 

Animal Ages, Birthdays and Hatchdays!

Zola the pygmy hippo calf  turned 1 and enjoyed her birthday "cake" at the Lowry park Zoo this past  weekend.
Zola the pygmy hippo calf turned  1 and enjoyed her birthday “cake” at the Lowry Park Zoo this past weekend.  (Photo Credit: Lowry Park Zoo)

Recently we celebrated two of our animals’ birthdays.  One turned two years of age and the other turned somewhere between 14 and 16 years of age.  I wish I knew his exact age, but he was a rescue from the streets.  All we can do is guess.

It’s pretty common to not know the exact birthday of an animal, unless someone that you are in contact with saw the birth (or hatch) of that particular animal.  As with most animal guardians who adopt their furry, feathered or scaly family member, it’s usually an educated guess to estimate their exact age.

Veterinarians however, have been trained to recognize the physical signs of age in various species.  They do a physical examination and look at the condition of the animal’s teeth, bones, joints, muscles, and internal organs.  Depending on the experience and knowledge of the vet, the accuracy of their results can vary.  I have taken every single one of my many pets to various veterinarians over the years, and each veterinarian has had a different opinion on the age of every one of the rats, cats, guinea pigs, dogs, turtles, rabbits, birds, etc., so I did a bit of research.  Soon I was able to determine the age of each animal in a way that made sense to me, and in a fun format where I could relate to the results.

After doing the research I learned that much of what I had been told over the years was incorrect.  For example, we have all heard the formula that a year in “dog age” is equal to seven human years of age, but that’s not entirely correct.  This formula is actually an oversimplification of the reality of how dogs age.  This blog should shed some light on how old your pets actually are.


 

Dog Aging Facts:

  • Dogs mature more quickly than children in the first couple of years.
  • The first year of a dog’s life is equal to about 15 human years, not seven.
  • Size and breed directly influence the rate at which a dog ages.
  • Female dogs tend to live a little longer.
  • Large breed dogs mature more slowly at first, but are considered elderly at age five.
  • Small and “toy” breeds become seniors around age 10.

Most dog experts seem to follow this age formula:

  • A 1 year old dog is equal to a 12 year old human.
  • A 2 year old dog is equal to a 24 year old human.
  • Add four years for every calendar year after that.
The director of veterinary services at Boston’s Animal Rescue League believes this calculation of age is more accurate.
The director of veterinary services at Boston’s Animal Rescue League believes this calculation of age is more accurate.

Check out the Dog Age Calculator Website to find out how your canine companion is aging. You can use the chart below as well. 

dog_age in human years

The maximum life span for humans is considered to be around the age of 110.  Dogs are thought to be able to live no longer than 29 years and cats can reach a maximum age in their mid 30s.  So taking the differences in maximum life span for humans compared to cats or dogs, the dog’s age after age 14 is calculated at two and a half human years compared to two years for cats.  So that’s why a 20 year old cat is chronologically younger than a 20 year old dog.  The cat has a longer maximum life span.


 

Converting Cat Age 

In the feline world, it’s widely accepted that one can convert a cat’s age to an equivalent human age by adding 15 years for the first year of a cat’s life, then you add ten years for the second year of life.  After that, add four years for every year.  So by year two, a cat has matured to about the same as a 25 year old human.

If you are anything like me, just reading that made my brain hurt.  The Cat Years Calculator graphic (from The Cat Owner’s Manual) below explains more concisely.

Image

A popular misconception is that cats age seven years (in human years) for each calendar year.  In fact, feline aging is much more rapid during the first two years of life.

Feline Age Facts:

  • A cat reaches a human’s age of 15 during his/her first year.
  • A cat is about 24 years old at age 2.
  • Each year after year 2, a cat ages approximately four “cat years” for every calendar year.
  • A 5 year young feline is about 36 in “cat years”.
  • A cat who lives outdoors ages far more quickly than indoor cats; some believe even twice as fast.

 

This handy dandy Cat Year Calculator converts your cat’s age to human age, so you can better understand how he/she is aging.

 

Not all cat enthusiasts agree on the conversion formula in that link above, so if you want to check out a slightly different calculation the Cat Bible by Tracie Hotchner, provides the following list:

  • 1 month old kitten = 6 month young human
  • 3 month old kitten = 4 year old child
  • 6 month old kitten = 10 year old kid
  • 8 month old kitten = 15 year old teen
  • At 1 calendar year a cat has reached his/her adulthood. (This is equivalent to 18 human years)

Here it is in reverse:

  • 2 human years = 24 cat years
  • 6 human years = 42 cat years
  • 10 human years = 60 cat years
  • 14 human years = 80 cat years

 

Bird Bodies

Most of the larger species of companion parrots don’t age any faster or slower than human do.  In fact, the rate at which their bodies age is remarkably similar to that of the average person.  Many of these larger species of parrots will live for over 80 years!

Some smaller species of birds (Cockatiels or Lovebirds) don’t have a lifespan as long as the larger parrot species.  Most of these smaller bird species have an average life expectancy of 20 years, but that’s only if they are provided with optimal living conditions in captivity.

Working at the Audubon Zoo, enjoying some down time with the Moluccan cockatoos Chopin and Zazous after our parrot educational program
At the Audubon Zoo, enjoying some down time with the very feisty and loving Moluccan cockatoos, Chopin and Zazous, after our educational program.    Zazous (left) is age six.  Chopin (right) is eight.  They are both fed the highest quality foods, given the best medical care, and are provided with an endless supply of mental and physical enrichment daily.  I have no doubt that these factors will directly contribute to both of them living well past their maximum life expectancy of  70 years.

FYI: There is another age calculator that compares ages of many different species like horses, ducks, chickens and rabbits.

 

Awesome Animal Ages:

Tish, the oldest living captive pet goldfish lived for 43 years!
  • The world’s oldest captive goldfish lived for 43 years!
  • The longest living cat was 34 years old.
  • On average, the Siamese and Manx breeds are the longest living cats.
  • Keeping your cat indoors can double his/her lifespan!
  • Methuselah, a caged dove, was born in 1975 and lived with his person in Germany for over 32 years.

    Charlie, a blue and yellow macaw, is spending his twilight years (at 104 years old!) in a garden centre in Surreye. He used to live with Sir Winston Churchill in his birdie heyday.
    Charlie, a blue and yellow macaw, is spending his twilight years (at 104 years old!) in a garden centre in Surreye. He used to live with Sir Winston Churchill in his birdie heyday.  (Photo Credit: AP)
  • The oldest non venomous snake on record was a boa constrictor named “Popeye”. He was over 40 years old when he passed at the Philadelphia Zoo in 1977.  In the wild, the oldest natural longevity record is held by a black ratsnake (Elaphe obsoleta). She was 30 years old.
  • The oldest venomous snake on record was a coral snake that I had the honor of caring for at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans.  She was over 28 years old when I last saw her.
  • The oldest living chicken is Muffy, a Red Quill Muffed American Game. She was was born on Jan 1, 1989. That would make her over 24 yeras old today!
  • Snowball was the oldest guinea pig on record. He lived 14 years and 10.5 months. (Most guinea pigs’ lifespan is only 7 years.)

    Gregoire, the oldest living chimpanzee spent
    Gregoire, the oldest living chimpanzee spent his last 11 years in peace at Jane Goodall’s sanctuary for orphaned chimpanzees before he passed in 2008.  (Photo Credit: The Goodall Foundation)
  • After surviving more than 40 years in a barren cage, Africa’s Oldest Chimpanzee,Gregoire, lived to be 66 years of age.
  • A horse’s typical lifespan is 20-25 years, but “Old Billy” lived to be 62! Billy was born in 1760 in the English village of Woolston in Lancashire Country.
  • The longest known living animal was a clam that was over 400 years old! It was found in Icelandic water.
  • Charles Darwin “tortoise-napped”atortoisefromtheGalapagos Islands during his famous voyage. He brought her back to England and named her Harriet.  Shewasestimatedtohave been hatched in 1830 and passed on in 2005. Harriet was 179 years old when her body gave out. The Guinness Book of Records sites Harriet as the oldest tortoise on record.

    "RAWR!!"  This is an African spurred tortoise (Geochelone sulcata) hatching.  It's hard to believe that a hatchling the size of a golf ball will grow to be  over 150 pounds and 150 years of age!
    “RAWR!!” This is an African spurred tortoise (Geochelone sulcata) hatching.  They are very popular companion animals.  It’s hard to believe that a hatchling the size of a golf ball will grow to be over 150 pounds and 150 years of age if provided with the right environment!
Willie P!  The zoo's beloved Monk (Quaker) Parakeet out on educational programming. Willie is still thriving at nearly 40 years of age!  I believe that Willie's longevity is related to the mental and physical stimulation and love he has received from people of all ages and backgrounds over the years.
Meet Willie P!  He is the Audubon Zoo’s beloved Monk (Quaker) Parakeet out on educational programming.  Willie was rescued many years ago and he is still thriving at nearly 40 years of age!  I believe that Willie’s longevity is related to the mental and physical stimulation, love and attention he has received from people of all ages and backgrounds over the years.

So what’s the take-home message here?  Simply put: An animal’s age is directly related to its overall health, happiness, enrichment, and its genetics.  Much like us, companion animals need a variety of factors to live a long, healthy life.  Proper nutrition, adequate exercise, a specie’s genetics, and social, mental, and physical stimulation all play a vital role in an animal’s health and life expectancy.
Knowing your animal companion’s age in human years gives you an idea of where they are chronologically, but this is just a starting point.  Sure the age calculator is fun and it helps us to know how to better provide for them as they age, but that’s not enough.  We must be devoted, well-educated and responsible animal guardians to enable them to thrive in our homes.  This is what being a conscious companion is all about .
We can be a devoted, responsible animal guardian by making sure that our animal companion has:
  • access to high quality food and proper nutritional supplements  
  • adequate exercise daily
  • regular grooming
  • tons of mental and physical stimulation
  • vet care throughout their life – this includes holistic options as well!
  • fun and games with you!
  • an endless supply of unconditional love

These seven factors will help you to provide a lifetime of health and happiness for your companion animal.  By providing these things, we can often allow them to meet, or even exceed their “average life expectancy”.  Their quality of life is in our hands.

 

This is Obsidian and Feldspar, our former breeding pair of threatened Aldabra tortoises at the Audubon Zoo.   During breeding season you could hear Feldspar's mating sounds from the other side of the zoo.  Obsidian unfortunately died at a very early age of 30 due to over calcification, but Feldspar remains happy and healthy at the ripe age of 80 years young.  If he could talk, he would give thanks to the endless supply of nutritious foods and supplements, appropriate medical care and husbandry, human affection, and an obsession of female Aldabra tortoises.
Mental and physical stimulation rank pretty high on the “giant tortoise needs” scale.  This is Obsidian and Feldspar, our breeding pair of  Aldabra tortoises at the Audubon Zoo.  During the long breeding season you could hear Feldspar’s mating sounds from the other side of the zoo.  It was quite amusing to visitors of all ages.  Obsidian unfortunately died at a very early age of 30 years young due to over calcification, but Feldspar remains happy and healthy at the ripe age of 85.  If Feldspar and Magma, his 100 year old tortoise buddy, could talk, they would give credit their health to the endless supply of nutritious foods and supplements, appropriate husbandry, the very best medical care, human affection, and a very healthy obsession with female tortoises.  With a life like this, Feldspar and Magma are expected to live well past their life expectancy of 100 to even 200 hundred years old!!

 

REFERENCES:

http://pets.webmd.com/dogs/how-to-calculate-your-dogs-age

http://www.calculatorcat.com/cats/cat-years.phtml

http://www.calctool.org/CALC/other/fun/animal_years http://www.pedigree.com/All-Things-Dog/dog-age-calculator/Default.aspx

How to Calculate A Cat’s Age in Cat Years

http://birds.about.com/od/birdhealth/f/Your-Birds-Age.htm

http://www.readersdigest.ca/pets/fun-facts/worlds-oldest-pets?id=1

http://www.canidae.com/blog/2010/05/how-to-calculate-your-pets-age-in-human-years.html

How Do You Calculate Dog Years and Cat Years?

http://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records

A Porcupine and His True Love: A Pumpkin

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Have you ever seen a tiger bat at a boomer ball, an octopus play with a water toy, an otter hunt down live fish, or a sun bear play eat a real honey comb?  If you were to visit a reputable zoo or aquarium you might see these fun and entertaining behaviors in action!

The reason animals in captivity are given things like this to play with or eat, is not for our entertainment.  Behavioral enrichment is a necessary part of life in captivity.  It’s defined as “the environmental enhancement of the lives of animals in a managed setting by providing them with mental and physical stimulation to increase natural and healthy behavior.”  Or more simply put; we add a little creativity, fun and stimulation to animals’ lives!

photo499

Sand, mud, rotting logs, and leaf litter might not seem very exciting to us, but for some animals that is the perfect playground!  Providing the right environment for animals in captivity is crucial.  Animals need opportunities to run, jump, pounce, climb, burrow, dive, hunt for food, and explore — to do all of the things that come naturally.  Enrichment provides stimulating and challenging environments, objects, and activities for animals. It’s designed to stimulate them mentally and physically!  Read more about why animal enrichment is a vital part of Animal Husbandry and Welfare.


Environmental enrichment is just as critical to Zoo animal welfare as nutrition and veterinary medicine.

enrichment-day-045


In this video below, Teddy Bear, the “talking” porcupine, demonstrates one of his most favorite enrichment items!  Click on the image so you can hear what Teddy Bear has to say about one of his favorite Fall treats!

CLICK ON THE IMAGE TO WATCH TEDDY BEAR IN ACTION!

You can follow Teddy Bear the Porcupine here:

Zooniversity is a wildlife education company and exotic animal rescue located in Dallas, Texas, USA.

Lions! Tigers! Leopards and Boxes! Oh My!

Want to provide your feline companion with easy and inexpensive enrichment? Find a box!  Boxes provide hours of exciting and stimulating entertainment for house cats and even big cats of the wild!   The best part about boxes is that they are FREE, and you’re recycling in the coolest way!!  The next time you are about to throw out that box, offer it to your kitty instead!

To find out more about Big Cat Rescue visit their website.

Heading Back to School or Work and Leaving Our Feline Companions Behind

Only the lonely 
Know the way I feel tonight 
Only the lonely 
Know this feeling ain't right

There goes my baby
There goes my heart
They're gone forever
So far apart

But only the lonely
Know why
I cry
Only the lonely 

- Only The Lonely Know The Way I Feel ~ Roy Orbison 


I hope my humans come home soon.

 

Last week’s post discussed the effect that our sudden and prolonged absence has on our canine companions.  But dogs are not the only ones that feel the effects of our changing and sometimes hectic schedules.

Our feline family members can feel the strain and stress of our busy lifestyles. There are steps that we can take to help our feline companions cope with our absence. This post is here to help you with that!


 




Unless you have a techno laser light club like that set up at your house while you are gone for long hours, you are going to need to provide some entertainment and fun for your feline family members. We have to remember that many animals, especially cats, do not display their feelings as outwardly as dogs do.  It is naïve to think that feline companion cannot experience loneliness or boredom.  Their anxiety and depression flies under the radar; too often their humans don’t notice. Professor Dodman, director of the small animal behavior clinic at Tufts’ Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, states that a countless number of cats will display signs of separation anxiety or exhibit increased levels of anxiety if they are already prone to it.  This separation anxiety can come in  numerous forms.  It is important to understand and appreciate that cats can experience anxiety and boredom. 


 

Separation Anxiety in Cats

Cat separation anxiety syndrome (SAS) was described in felines for the first time by Dr. Stefanie Schwartz, a board certified veterinary behaviorist, in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association in 2003. According to Dr. Schwartz, separation anxiety syndrome is an emotional response that triggers misbehavior when separated from an attachment figure.  Of course, its’ not misbehaving according to the cat, but cats experiencing SAS will engage in normal cat behaviors, just at very  inappropriate times or locations by our human rules or standards.  When our feline family members “misbehave” they are not being spiteful, vengeful or vindictive.  When we label them as such, we are projecting our human traits onto them.  


Signs that your cat could be experiencing Cat Separation Anxiety (SAS):

  • Excessive meowing

 

  • Scratching furniture

 

 

  • Urinating or defecating outside the litter box (specifically on your personal items)

 

 

  • Knocking items off shelves, counters, or dressers

 

 

  • Stops greeting people

 

 

  • Sleeping more than usual

 

 

  • Grooming excessively

 

 

  • Reduced appetite or a complete loss of appetite

 

 

If your feline family member starts to display any of these behaviors, there are three simple (yet very effective) tools that you can implement to help them adjust to your changing schedule and prolonged absence: companionship, exercise, and enrichment.




 

“Happy owner, happy cat. Indifferent owner, reclusive cat.” –Chinese Proverb

 

Companions Wanted

We share our home with both young and geriatric cats.  They are not unlike most domestic cats; they sleep roughly 13 to 16 hours per day, and although they enjoy sleeping as much as they can, on the days when I am not working/home from work, they will follow me around the house.  They want to be near me whenever they can.  Regardless of what most humans think, cats do enjoy and seek out human company! In their former, more adventuresome and riskier lives, my felines had access to outdoors.  When I came home from work every day, they could hear my truck rumbling down the street.  Each of them would come running from different directions in the neighborhood to greet me in the driveway. They never missed an opportunity to greet their human mother. It always brightened my day. Some people would see them running down the sidewalk and assume it was their dinner time signal, but they had access to food around the clock.  People couldn’t believe that cats were running to greet me, merely because I was home.  Yes, cats do love to be around their humans.  Despite the many stereotypes of felines, most cats are not solitary, stoic loners.


 

Run Cat, Run!

If you have an indoor-only cat that is young, or older and still full of energy, they will need ways to express that energy, or they will find creative ways to do just that.  If your feline companion has more of an aloof or elusive demeanor, don’t let them fool you.  Cats of every temperament need plenty of activity to stimulate their mind and body.  Cats benefit from at least 30-40 minutes of exercise each day.  An indoor cat left home alone all day, with no one to play with and nothing to do, may become either listless or destructive.

Enrichment

Exercise is only one piece of the Content Cat Puzzle.  Enriching your feline companion’s environment is a must.  Toys are a necessity for any kitty stuck inside for several hours. A constantly rotating selection of interesting and interactive toys is helpful for not only entertaining them while you are gone, but this will also provide exercise and healthy playtime while they are alone.  If they are busy with enough things to play with, hunt, pounce and attack, they will hardly notice your prolonged absences. There are countless toys, games, and activities available for your feline companion.  There are interactive toys that scurry, fly, and jump to entice them to run, pounce, and leap away all of his or her stored-up energy.  Enrichment toys are tremendously rewarding for cats that are home alone all day. Keep their hunting skills sharp with Undercover Mouse.  Twist ‘n Treat Teaser   and Doorway Dangli are creative ways to give them treats while you are away, but they really have to work for them! TIP:  Take fifteen to twenty minutes before you leave for school or work to play with your feline companion.  Be sure to gradually decrease the fun and games to ease them into a calmer state in preparation for your departure. Ending a play session abruptly leaves your cat wanting more and this is bound to end badly, usually for the human. Make sure the toys that you offer them while you are away are safe or they could end up like this.


 

Think Outside the Cardboard Box

Toys are an easy additive to your cat’s Adventuredome, but there are other types of at home enrichment.  Do you know if your cat enjoys television or movies?  “Mewvie the Motion Picture for Your Cat – Backyard Buffet”  could be your cat’s favorite genre! Another easy form of entertainment that can reduce boredom is setting up a bird feeder by a window so your feline companion can watch wildlife while you are away.  This can provide hours of entertainment for a cat stuck inside all day.


 

Alternatives to Home Alone

Another option to consider is hiring a pet sitter to stop by your home once a day.  If you cannot afford a sitter, ask a neighbor to stop by once or twice a day.  If you are not comfortable asking your neighbors to come over, ask them to listen for any unusual meowing.  Be sure that this person is comfortable being around your cat and that your cat approves of this person.  The last thing you want is a human coming over and freaking out the felines.

Holistic Options

If the toys and enrichment are not helping your feline friend cope with your absence, there are non-prescription or holistic remedies that may help reduce anxiety.  Rescue RemedyFeliway, and Spirit Essences can help cats to relax, and feel confident and secure in their home environment.  Aromatherapy oils can be used around our animal companions to help with calming.  Discuss any holistic options with your veterinarian.

Consider All Possible Causes

It is important to consider that a medical issue could be the cause of these new or destructive behaviors.  If you or anyone in your family notices a sudden change in your cat’s behavior, it is important to investigate.  Don’t assume that he or she is merely acting out or “misbehaving” because of your absence.  A visit to your veterinarian may be in order.  Remember to explore all of your options before coming to any conclusion.  Be open to all possibilities.

Is Your Stress Stressing Them?

Our animal companions are quite adept at picking up our human emotions, even if we don’t wear them on our sleeves.  Cats are very sensitive and emphatic; they can sense human emotions.  So if you or someone else in the household are showing signs of stress, they will pick up on it and that will alter their behavior accordingly.


 

Strengthen Your Bond

 

“Time spent with a cat is never wasted.” ― Colette

 

Maintaining a strong bond between you and your feline companion will help them adjust to your hectic or demanding schedule that keeps you away from home.  Exercising and grooming your feline friend is an excellent time for bonding.  Time spent doing these activities will strengthen the human-feline bond.   Set aside a minimum of 15 minutes a day to devote to your feline. This will reassure them that you are still there for them and that you haven’t forgotten about them.  Remember that they enjoy affection as much as you do.  Give them your time and undivided attention. No matter how stressful your day has been, I promise that you will feel worlds better after taking a few moments out of your day to be with your feline friend.




Going back to work and school doesn’t have to result in our feline companions being left behind in a lonely, dull home.  Boredom and anxiety can be prevented if we plan ahead and give them enough exercise, enrichment, and quality time.  Cats are just as sensitive to changes in their environment as humans are.  Take the time to discover what makes your feline companion anxious and what makes them purr.  You are the one that can change their world.

What can you do to make their world a stress-free and happy home?

This is part two of a three part series.  Part three will discuss our bird buddies.  Stay tuned!

Heading Back to School and Leaving Your Canine Companion Behind

Where did my people go?

Back-to-school season has arrived!  Students of all ages are heading back to elementary, middle school or college, and teachers are going back to work.  This is a huge transition for the entire family, as parents and kids learn to adjust to an entirely new routine.  As the excitement and stress of getting the kids back to school mounts, it is also a difficult time for our animal companions.

Animals are sensitive to any change in their schedules, and they thrive on predictability.  They love routine. It makes them feel secure.  They like knowing that certain things happen at about the same time each day, and they know where they want to be when those things happen.  You have probably experienced how displeased your animal becomes when their dinner or breakfast is late, but that’s a minor disruption in their routine compared to an entire season of change.

When we head back to school or work, the play, excitement, attention, and adventures that our animal companions have known all summer long suddenly come to and end.  Suddenly they have nothing to do.  There is no one around to entertain them, so now they are forced to find entertainment for themselves often to the dismay of their human.

Think about it from their perspective: For months they have grown accustomed to being showered with attention during the summer vacation.  Someone has been around every day showering them with attention, love, and affection, and then suddenly you’re gone all day, for days!  There were family trips and adventures to parks and beaches!  Then the freedom and attention they received abruptly ends without any notice.  All of the coming and going, playing, exercising, and freedom becomes limited and human companionship lessens. Their human playmates of summer suddenly have new interests and new friends.  This disruption in their daily routine is a huge stressor for our animal companions.  It adds uncertainty and fear and can cause a myriad of behavior problems.

This is especially true for animals that thrive on human attention and interaction.  Many become psychologically unglued. -Especially if their best friend in the household happens to be one of the kids that suddenly ‘disappears’ and goes off to college.  It definitely leaves a void in their lives. If everyone is suddenly gone all day, both parents included, your animal companions are going to be upset, not to mention very bored.  Extremely sociable animal members will most likely begin to show undesirable behaviors as a result of boredom and anxiety.

Professor Dodman, director of the small animal behavior clinic at Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, states that at least one in six dogs, along with a countless number of cats, will exhibit symptoms of separation anxiety or display increased levels if they are already prone to the condition when these sorts of lifestyle changes occur.   One study suggests that dogs left alone at home feel just as much isolation as children abandoned by their parents.


Signs of Stress

IMG_4039
You were gone for so long. I missed you, and I was bored. P.S. The cat told me I could do it.

Separation anxiety can come in a myriad of forms. These are behaviors that your canine companion could exhibit if he or she is not adjusting well to the new Home Alone Schedule:

  • Goes crazy when he or she sees you or the kids getting ready to leave for school or work
  • Barking or howling more often
  • Defecating or urinating in the house
  • Pacing
  • Digging
  • Trying to break out of the yard

    You left them out. They smelled like you, and I didn’t have anything else to chew on when I was stressed.
  • Chewing “unauthorized” items (shoes, clothing, etc)
  • Eating strange objects (gravel, dirt, plants, toys)
  • Raiding the garbage
  • General destructive behavior
  • Becomes frightened by loud noises or thunderstorms
  • Reduced appetite or a complete loss of appetite

If any of these behaviors suddenly occur after a big schedule change, they could be signs that your animal companion is having a difficult time adjusting to the new family schedule.  This can be very frustrating and annoying to us humans, but it is important to realize that our animal companions are just as frustrated.

Whether we want to admit it or not, animals can suffer from depression. This can lead to a depressed immune system, leading to increased susceptibility to serious health issues.

NOTE:  Some cases of separation anxiety are severe; we must recognize if a dog is suffering from true anxiety, rather than just being bored, and trying to entertain themselves during our absence.

So what can you do?  There are simple measures that we can take to help these important members of our family.


Prevention Is Key 

The best strategy is to prepare ahead of time and avoid an abrupt change in your schedule.  Make changes and adjustments slowly, over a period of time.

Before heading back to work or school, gradually introduce your animal companions to short periods of separation.  You can do this in several ways. Slowly reduce interaction (play, attention, treats) with your animal companion during the times when you will be at work or when the kids will be at school.  Increase interaction and exercise activities during the times when they will be home.  Mealtimes, exercise times, potty time – the timing and amount of attention can all be gradually shifted from the summer to the fall routine, over the course of a few weeks.  Although it may seem counter-intuitive to make your animal companion feel better by spending less time with him, it will help shift in routine to flow more smoothly.

Desensitize!

Start getting out the lunchboxes, backpacks, briefcases, purses, etc now. Bring out anything that your animal companion could associate with you leaving in the morning.  The idea is to desensitize them to any anxiety-producing cues prior to the schedule changing.  By doing this several times a day you can prevent nervousness and anxiety.

Set out anything that your canine companion associates with you leaving

If your family has decided to kennel your canine companion when the new routine begins, start kenneling slowly for shorter periods of time before your job or school schedule changes.  When used properly, a crate is not a punishment device; it is a safe haven or a den.  The purpose of utilizing a kennel at home is to prevent your dog from getting into trouble or injuring himself while you are away from home.  Also, the security of having one’s own space is comforting to dogs. Be sure to leave fresh water, a blanket or bed, and a favorite toy.  The ideal crate size should be just big enough for them to comfortably stand up, turn around and stretch out.

Rotate the toys you leave with him in the kennel.  Use fun or yummy toys that you can stuff with treats to keep them engaged while you’re away.


Practice “Home Alone” Time

If you are, (and even if you are not) using a kennel, you should still be practicing “home alone” time.  This is fairly straightforward: Leave your pup home alone for short periods.  Depending on the anxiety that your animal displays, you may need to start slowly.  You can walk to the mailbox or to the next door neighbor’s house then come back inside.  Act like your coming and going is no big deal.   Then eventually extend your “away time” by going to the store, then out to dinner, and so forth.  Ideally, you will want to practice “away time” early in the morning to simulate school time or work time.  The idea is to get them accustomed to the fact that long, fun (or lazy) summer mornings are coming to an end.

You can also can give your pup something fun to focus on as you head out the door!  It reduces their stress and helps them to associate you leaving with “Good Things”!



Addressing Destructive or Anxious Behaviors

If an abrupt schedule change is unavoidable or already in full motion you may already be experiencing signs of separation anxiety.  If your animal companion is displaying any of the behaviors listed above, you can still address them now. Unless you have a hidden camera at home, many of these behaviors will not be discovered until you come home and find the canine crime scene.  Knowing if your animal companion is stressed or anxious can be difficult because it usually happens when you are not home to see the behavior, but there are a few signs that you can be on the look out for.  (These are mentioned below at the end of this article.)

What to Avoid

Please realize that scolding or punishing your animal companion’s unwanted behavior will make the situation worse, so be patient.

Scolding or punishing the animal will make the situation worse.
Scolding or punishing the animal will make the situation worse.

Remember, our animal companions get nervous, upset, anxious and lonely just like we do, except they don’t have the benefit of knowing that you’ll be back when you leave.  It’s up to you and your kids to make your pets feel secure in ways they understand. Would you scream or punish your child if he or she acted out because they thought you had abandoned them?   Then why treat your animal companion differently?



 WHAT YOU CAN DO!


Alternatives to Home Alone

Dog daycare facilities provide socialization and exercise for your canine companion

When we head back to school or work, our canine companion’s excitement and adventures don’t have to end.  Doggy day care is a very important option to consider, even if it’s only once or twice a week.  Not only does it encourage socialization, but it provides adequate exercise and stimulation.  Even a half day of playcare will exhaust them enough to spend the rest of the day relaxed at home alone.  Doggie day care also gives them something to look forward to each week.  I guarantee they will learn the days of the week once they are on a regular doggie playcare schedule.  Just ask any dog that goes to playcare on a regular basis.  If you skip a day, they will be sure to remind their human what day it is.

If you have a geriatric dog, or one with medical conditions, doggie day care might not be the best option.  Pet sitters are a calmer, safer alternative.  You can hire a pet sitter to stop by the house once a day.  Ask your friends or veterinarian to see if anyone has any recommendations in your area.  If you cannot afford either of those options, ask a neighbor to stop by once or twice a day.  Ask the neighbor come over ahead of time to get to know your animal companion first.  The last thing you want is a strange human coming over unannounced and freaking out your animals.

If you are not comfortable asking any of your neighbors to come over, then ask them to listen for any unusual howling or barking.  Remember that your canine companion may exhibit these behaviors while you are gone, so having others keep an ear and eye out for you will help tremendously.


Soothing Sounds and Scents

Leave soothing music playing low whenever your canine companion is left alone.  The sound of human voices and nature sounds can calm them.  Music to Calm Your Canine Companion has been shown to reduce stress levels considerably in dogs of all ages.

There are also non-prescription or holistic remedies that may help reduce anxiety.  Rescue Remedy, valerian, melatonin, SAM-e, fish oil, dog-appeasing pheromone (DAP) a calming synthetic pheromone spray, can help animals to relax in their home environment.  Other natural products such as Bach Flower Remedies may help some dogs.  Aromatherapy can also be useful.  Discuss holistic options with your veterinarian about how to reduce your animal companion’s anxiety.

If you are seeing signs of severe separation anxiety, you will need to seek help from a qualified professional who specializes in dog separation anxiety.


Wear That Pup Out!

Exercise is a required daily routine for healthy canine companions

Exercise is an absolute necessity.  One of the reasons that animals exhibit destructive behavior while you gone is simply because they have the energy to do so (which makes the anxiety even worse).  Make sure your dog has enough daily exercise!   At a minimum, most dogs should be receiving an hour a day of cardio vascular activity such as chasing, running, exploring, etc. (if the weather allows for it).  This can be broken up into two half hour sessions, or four 15 minute sessions, depending on the dog and what he/she can handle. Please remember to make sure they are not becoming overheated, just for the sake of “exercise”.

Exercise is also necessary for a dog’s mental enrichment.  Studies have shown that increasing aerobic activity to as little as 30 minutes a day reduces the signs of separation anxiety in dogs.  Make some effort and get up a bit earlier to take your canine companion for a short walk.   It’s the least you can do before you leave them home alone for eight or nine hours.  Tired muscles plus a full belly equals a relaxed, sleepy pup.  A relaxed, tuckered dog is less likely to be bothered about being left alone, since he is going to want to nap.

Remember that you and your kids may have had a very busy day, but your canine companion has done virtually nothing all day, unless there is evidence to the contrary – as in a shredded or chewed up sofa.  By providing your dog with healthy play each day after work or school, this will help them burn up their pent-up energy.  This is also a great time to bond with your companion.  Invest the energy and time.  They deserve it, and it will pay off.


Create a Home Environment Full of Toys and Fun

Enriching the environment with a constantly rotating selection of interesting and interactive toys is incredibly helpful in making your animal companion feel relaxed at home when he or she is alone.  Keep them busy with things to do, appropriate things to chew, and things to smell!  One clever human designed an interactive toy to keep his canine companion occupied for hours!

Even if you aren’t a crafty mechanical engineer, you can still provide hours of entertainment through a number of fun options.

Set up a bird feeder outside a window that will attract both birds and squirrels.

Hiding treats in boxes is great enrichment

If your canine enjoys watching TV, there are dog movies and Dog TV designed to keep them entertained.  Enrichment like this offers both audio and visual entertainment.  Remember to not leave it too loud though.  You want it just loud enough for your dog to hear it, but not too loud as to over excite him or her.

There are so many things to choose from today.  You can find anything from high tech laser toys,  puzzle toys and Hide a Squirrel.  Stuffing a Kong with food provides stimulation as well.  You can even make your own homemade puzzles by hiding toys, balls, or treats into a closed cardboard box.  Leave the box and let them discover how to get the treats out on their own. The possibilities are endless!

Whether your dog is contained in his/her kennel, or running about the house all day, you need to provide toys and enrichment to help occupy their time alone.



 Potty Time!

If you are going to be gone for more than four hours, you should have someone come over to let him out to potty and stretch, play, or walk.  Keeping them confined for hours on end is not ideal, especially for younger dogs that require more activity.  Just because a dog is capable of holding their urine and feces all day long doesn’t mean that they should. Dr. Marcela Salas, of Animal Kind Veterinary Hospital, explains that holding urine for long periods can lead to urinary tract infections. And the highly concentrated urine a dog produces during a long wait can increase the likelihood of crystal formation and cystitis.  Why make them hold it all day when you can put forth a little effort to help your canine companion.


Make Time for Quality Time

Quality time is essential.  Be sure to make the most of the time you have with your animal companions when you are not at school or work.  You can do this through grooming, long walks or runs, playing together, lounging around on the couch, or whatever it takes to re-connect at the end of a busy week. If your child has a set time to do homework or read, that’s an excellent time for your dog to curl up next to your child and “help” with studying.  Ask your children to think of other ways to include their animal companion in their routines.  Get them actively involved in creating solutions!  This will help everyone make a much smoother “back to school” transition.   Remember that even though your animal companion wasn’t at work or school all day, he or she still needs time to unwind.  Find time to enjoy the unique relationship that you have. Although you can’t replace human companionship and human attention completely, you can find alternatives to help your animal companion with boredom, loneliness and frustration.  By enriching the home environment, providing adequate exercise and stimulation for their minds, you are helping them to transition to a lifestyle that contrasts to what has been happening all summer long.




It’s a Family Affair

Hocus Pocus and Jenny

It is important to recognize that this is a family matter.  If you have kids, this is a great opportunity for your children to take more responsibility for the care of your family’s companions.  Sit down together and discuss the fact that their animal companions are going to miss them when they’re gone all day.  Discuss what they can do to help them.  Create a plan together.  Be a responsible human.  Help your kids to succeed with their animal companions.  There are steps that you and your family can create and implement to set your animal companions up for success.

 



Sit Down with Your Family and Ask Important Questions.

Ask:  Has anyone noticed new or odd behaviors?

Your child may have noticed something that you have overlooked. You may have noticed something that your partner has not.

Ask:  Has your canine companion become very clingy when he or she had not been before? Are they showing an excessive attachment to you, one of your kids, or to your partner?

These are signs that he or she may be experiencing separation anxiety.

Ask:  Have you come home to find things disturbed or moved, or any signs of destruction?

If so, your canine companion could be venting. New behaviors such as overly exuberant greetings or a dejected look in the morning are also signals that they are not happy with this new schedule and need a bit of encouragement.

Ask:  How do you all leave the house each day? Are you making it a dramatic goodbye?

Your kids may feel sorry for their animal buddy and do a long goodbye.  This only reinforces your pet’s fears and builds up their anxiety.  It’s better to make the goodbye upbeat and brief.  All you need to do is a quick, “See ya later!” and head out the door.  The brief but happy goodbye should happen before your canine companion gets upset.  If she is stressing out, absolutely do not reward her with anything.  Get her to calm and settle down.  A simple “sit” command will work for this.  Then reward with attention and telling her she’s ok, only once she is calm.

It is important to not make a big deal about your leaving.  If you get emotional about leaving your friend behind, she will pick up on it and become anxious, too.  If your canine is used to lots of lovin’ in the morning, give it to her when you first wake up, then taper off the attention leading up to your departure.  Give them a very exciting, highly rewarding treat every time you leave the house.  This will help them develop positive feelings about being alone.  You leaving means that it’s Treat Time!

Ask:  Are there times when your canine companion becomes more anxious?

If he becomes upset just by seeing the backpacks, purses, or car keys being picked up, then pick those items up and walk around the house with them several times a day, but don’t leave. This will help him to learn to not associate those items with the impending “doom” of you leaving.

Another tool you can use is “The Fake Out”. Every so often, pretend you are leaving, but don’t.  Pick up your bag, go out the door, and then come back and sit down.  She will never know when you’re really leaving and will learn to relax when you are getting ready to leave.

Leave out purses, briefcases, and backpacks at various times – not just when you are about to leave.
Leave out purses, briefcases, and backpacks at various times – not just when you are about to leave.

Ask:  How do you treat your canine companion when you come home from work or school? Do you make it a huge celebration?

The key is to not to get them excited upon your return. Remember that you coming home is no big deal. Change clothes or do something else until they settle down. Then, after they are calm, take a few minutes to interact with them. Give them your undivided attention. Do this before you read the mail, start dinner, watch TV, or get into your evening routine. Spend a few minutes focused only on them. This will do wonders for their stress levels. But remember to do this when they are calm. Calm behavior gets rewarded with their favorite reward-YOU!

Ask:  Could there be a medical issue causing these new or destructive behaviors?

It is important to mention that medical issues may cause behavior problems in our animal companions.  If you or anyone in your family notices a sudden change in your animal companion’s behavior or a behavior that you can’t seem to explain, it is important to investigate.  Don’t assume that your animal companion is just acting out or “misbehaving” because of your absence.  A visit to your veterinarian may be in order.  Remember to explore all of your options before coming to any conclusion.   Be open to any possibilities for new or unexplained behaviors.



– What do you do to keep your animal companions entertained while you are away at work or school?

– What kind of destruction have you come home to find?  How did you address it?

– What kind of preventative and creative measures is your family using to help your pup to transition smoothly?

This is part one of a three part series.  Part two will discuss our feline friends.  

Part three will discuss our bird buddies.  

Stay tuned!