Posts Tagged ‘behavior’

Good Dogs!

Saturday, May 21st, 2011

Guess how much we learned about behavior and training in veterinary school?  The best explanation I have heard for what is taught in vet school is this:  “Four years is much too short to learn EVERYTHING.  Vet school is for learning how to THINK like a vet.”  So true.  Still…

The answer is…NOTHING!  Maybe these days, with all of the great behavior medication and knowledge on how mental and emotional health are linked to physical health, behavior is better covered in vet school.  Everything I know is from trial and error, reading and…you guys.  (Thank you so much!  I don’t need to be a genius, I just surround myself with them!)

So we have always had great dogs, but we have never had very well trained dogs.  Here is what I know for sure:

Positive reinforcement

(reinforcing the desired behavior, ignoring the undesired behavior)

is ALWAYS best.

And, um, that was going to be a list, but really, that is all I know.

The Doorbell Song

This week we have buckled down on the barking-at-the-door training.  When my wonderful Aunt asked me for help with her pup’s barking, I realized that I am a lame barking training resource.  Joy and Noodle are the worst door barkers there ever were.  So I told my Aunt what I knew (but have not practiced well!) and set out to train our barkers.

When the doorbell rings or people walk by or New Mailman delivers the mail (their three biggest barking triggers) I thank them for warning me after the first bark, ask them to come to me and sit  then give them a cat treat.  That is all I have done, and it has worked like a charm!

The real test will be SUMMER, when kids are in and out of the front door constantly.  I will let you know how well my novice training holds up!

Trainers, behaviorists, dog owners who are more successful in training than I, what have you done to teach your dogs not to bark incessantly?  And next up on the Finch dog training…teaching Joy and Noodle not to jump on friends when they come over!  I would love your suggestions!

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Choose Your Own Adventure – Litterbox Edition

Monday, August 16th, 2010

On to our adventure…

Page 1: Your cat has gone outside of the litterbox!  Though it seems intentional, you understand that this is a straightforward conditioned response.  Your cat is either responding to an environmental stimulus or exhibiting a medical symptom.  (Reread the beginning of our adventure until you truly believe it – No malice is involved in pet behavior issues.  Ever.)

As you examine the first two clues more closely, the pee that is where it should not be, and your beloved cat, you notice…The pee is yellow and of a normal amount. Your cat is seemingly well and comfortable.

(Go to page 2.)

The pee is dilute/concentrated/bloody/a huge amount/a small dribble and/or your cat is lethargic/depressed/not eating well lately/drinking too much/not drinking enough.

(Go to page 9.)

Page 2: Next you examine the next clue – the litterbox.  It is right there!  How could…then you remember the beginning of our adventure…this is a straightforward conditioned response.  Your cat is either responding to an environmental stimulus or exhibiting a medical symptom.  No malice is involved in pet behavior issues.  Ever.

You clean the area and check the litterbox.

Go to page 3.

Page 3: The smell of cat pee is SO GROSS that it is tempting to use the strongest cleaner possible.  Be VERY careful if you use bleach to clean. The ammonia in urine (which is what gives it its smell) reacts with the chlorine in bleach to create chlorine gas, which is a very dangerous respiratory irritant that can even be fatal.  If you use bleach, FIRST make sure you have cleaned the area well enough that there is no smell, and then dilute the bleach 1:10 or more with water.  Rinse just as well after cleaning.  You do not want your cat’s first trip to the box to cause a reaction with any residual bleach.  The safest course is to avoid bleach all together, and use an enzyme based pet odor remover for extreme cleaning needs.

If the litterbox could use some attention, go to page 4.

If the litterbox is squeaky clean and has no waste in it, go to page 5.

Page 4: You notice that the box could use some attention.  With all that is going on lately, it has been almost impossible to scoop daily and change the litter completely weekly.  *sigh*  No time like the present!  And what a way to be reminded!  You remove all of the litter.  You rinse the box thoroughly and clean it with water and dish soap or dog/cat shampoo until no odor is present and fill the clean box with new litter.  If the odor persists, it may be time for a new litter box.

If the problem persists, go to page 5.

If your cat just needed a clean restroom, and now is back to his or her perfect self, go to page 10.

Page 5:  Make sure you have a litterbox on every level of the house and at least one more than the number of cats in the house.  Check that there is at least one covered box and at least one uncovered box.  Spy on your pets to check if another pet is bullying the offending cat out of using the box.    Though you are already using a scent-free, low dust litter, for the short term at least, switch the litter to Cat Attract.

Close rooms that have doors.  Clean areas that have been soiled with an enzyme-based pet odor remover.

Go to page 6.

Page 6:  After the area is dry, cover it with aluminum foil to discourage your cat from walking there.  Where possible, close off rooms in which your cat is urinating.

Bringing your house up to “Cat Code” and getting your cat to respond could take a good week or two.  During this time, make sure your cat IS urinating (ESPECIALLY if he is a male – a cat who cannot urinate is a medical emergency – go to page 9 – or better yet, stop reading, call your veterinary team and tell them you are on the way to the hospital!)

Assuming your cat is urinating, just not in the right place yet, watch for signs of discomfort, abnormal urine and excess drinking.  If you notice any of these, go to page 9.

If all of these litterbox changes have not resolved the issue, go to page 7.

If all of these litterbox changes have resolved the issue, have, go to page 10.

Page 7:  You have taken every reasonable step to make your house cat-bathroom accessible.

If you notice any abnormalities in your cat or his or her pee, go to page 9.

If your cat is still urinating normally and acting well, time to pull out all the stops and get kind of crazy.  Remember that this is short-term, and remember that it is worth it to get to the end of our adventure!  Place a shallow litter box filled with Cat Attract litter EVERYWHERE your cat is urinating-on the bed!  On the couch!  On the pile of laundry!  Place litterboxes around those boxes AND around the ones you want your cat to use!  Sometimes it takes up to a dozen litterboxes to pull off this stunt.

After a few days, remove any litterboxes your cat is not using.  Place them in any areas that you may have missed in the first round of “You’re going to use our house as a giant litterbox?  Well, I will make it one!”

We are trying to make using a box so much easier than not, that your cat starts using the box every time again.  Every few days, remove the boxes that have not been used, and place new boxes where your cat prefers to go.

After one or two weeks, you should be able to reduce the number of litterboxes back to a sane amount, and have your cat using the litter appropriately again.  Take note of the type of box your cat seems to prefer (covered or uncovered, deep or shallow) and use that kind of box.  Also note where your cat prefers to go, and have a litterbox as close to that area as possible.

If all is now well, go to page 10.

If accidents are still occurring, go to page 8.

Page 8: You have done everything possible to address your cat’s behavior.  Either your cat is dealing with an underlying medical issue, or this is a more serious behavior issue than it first appeared!  Go to page 9.

Page 9: Make an appointment to have your cat seen by your veterinary team as soon as possible.  Your veterinarian will most likely want to start with a complete history and physical exam.  The price of the exam can be obtained by phone when making the appointment, if that takes any of the scariness out of the picture.

Of course, what is done from there may vary*, but once your cat has been examined, the veterinary team will be able to present you with a treatment plan (including prices) which I think makes a big scary unknown problem at least manageable.  The next step may include bloodwork, urine tests, radiographs (x-rays) and sometimes ultrasound.  You now have a list of differentials (possible things that could be wrong) and the price to find out what is going on.

Remember-finding all normal results on physical exam and laboratory work is a GOOD outcome!  If you know that a problem is strictly behavioral, it can be safely treated as such without the fear that something more serious is going on.

If the problem is medical, make sure you understand all instructions completely.  Give any medication for the full course for which it is prescribed.  (“Of course!” you say.  “Does not always happen!” I say.)  Follow all dietary recommendations and follow up with all recheck exams and lab tests that are recommended.  Go to page 10!

*Yet another “Disclaimer or Warning or Whatever” Not every veterinary team will approach every problem identically.   Even the same team will treat different cats with different histories and issues as individuals!  As long as you know your team is trustworthy, do not worry if they approach your pet’s case in a different manner than what is presented here!

Page 10:  Everyone lived happily ever after.

~The End~

Choose Your Own Adventure – Litterbox Edition – Introduction

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

Behavior problems are the number one reason for pet relinquishment, and inappropriate elimination tops the list for cat behavior problems resulting in relinquishment.  Even if you have not had to go so far as to rehome your own pet, I would guess that you have dealt with this issue.  It is a common, frustrating, many-faceted topic.  It is sometimes completely rooted in behavior issues and sometimes complicated by medical issues.

I hope this post gives you some tools to begin to solve the issue, and allows you to feel as though the solution is at least partially in your hands.  Having your mood and your home completely in the paws of your cat can be frustrating, infuriating, even bond-breaking.  Having urinary issues completely in the hands of your (albethem awesome) veterinary team can be frightening and unempowering, especially when the wellbeing of your cat and unknown financial issues are involved.  Bringing your cat, your family and your veterinary team together with you at the decision making seat could very well be the winning combination that allows your cat’s issues (be they behavior, health or a combination of the two) to be resolved and your home to be once again peaceful and to smell like…well…nothing.

I know I always say that it is best to bring your veterinary team in on any pet related issue as soon as possible.  “Start with a thorough physical exam and find out what if any laboratory tests need to be done.”  However, I also realize that many, many cats are relinquished before a veterinarian is consulted at all, and probably even more families just live with behavior issues without seeking veterinary help.

Part of the issue is financial-How much is this going to cost to explore?  Who knows?  It depends…on what we find at the first step, and the next, and the next.  Part of the issue is wondering whether the problem is medical at all-Why consult doctors when the cat is “being naughty*?”

I hope to address each of these issues here, but in case you hesitate to rush a cat right in for peeing outside his box, I hope to empower you to do what can be safely done at home to resolve the issue, and draw a clear line between when it is safe to try conservative home-based courses of action, and when your pet needs to be seen by a doctor sooner rather than later.

Disclaimer or Warning or Whatever: You are all awesome, and I know you would not do this.  But in case you have just wandered here and happen to be un-awesome, please DO NOT try to skip through these steps when going to see your pet’s veterinary team.  If you need professional help with your cat’s issues, trust the professional team.  Do not say anything like “Dr. Finch said my cat only needs a urinalysis-I don’t want to pay for an exam.”  Or “I checked the internet.  I know what is wrong.  Just prescribe me <wonder drug>.”  You laugh.  It happens.

*On “being naughty…”   Though misbehavior of our pets often seems intentional, please understand that every behavior issue of our pets is a conditioned response.  In the case of inappropriate elimination, your cat is either responding to an environmental stimulus or exhibiting a medical symptom.  No malice is involved in pet behavior issues.  Ever.