Posts tagged exercise

How to Solve Canine “Dis”-Obedience

The ways in which a dog can get into trouble seem limitless. These unwanted behaviors cause enormous frustration to the human members of the family. The only thing there seems to be more of is advice—from neighbors, the pet store clerk, books, and of course, online. Yet simply understanding the way learning and behavior occur will go a long way toward solving just about any behavior problem that comes up.

The most basic principle is why a behavior occurs, and there are really only two possibilities: negative and positive reinforcement. Every organism, from single-celled amoebas on up, will move away from an unpleasant stimulus and toward a pleasurable stimulus. No matter how complex the behavior is, fundamentally the motivation is one of these two desires: avoid pain, or increase pleasure.

Much of the popular wisdom about dog training emphasizes the first principle, negative reinforcement, using its most extreme tool: punishment. But for punishment to be effective, it must meet three criteria. It must be:

  • Immediate (within 2 seconds of the behavior)
  • Consistent (every single time the animal performs the behavior, whether you’re watching or not)
  • Effective (stop the behavior without causing additional problems)

The problem is that these criteria are nearly impossible to achieve. For instance, a popular dog behavior site give this advice: “If you decide that some action requires correction, *always* give a correction when you see that action. For example, if you decide that your dog is not allowed on the sofa, then *always* correct it when you see it on the sofa.” But what if you’re in another room, or sleeping, or at work? If you’re not there, the dog can get on the sofa with no consequences. So what do you think the dog will learn if you correct him every time you see him on the sofa? He will learn not to get on the sofa when you are in the room.

Other techniques follow the “alpha dog” theory: you must be dominant. To demonstrate your position, recommendations include staring the dog down, grabbing her by the scruff or neck and shaking her, tapping under the chin, and most famously the “alpha roll,” in which you force the dog down onto her back with her feet in the air, exposing her belly. The problem with these techniques, which are supposedly based on natural behavior in wolf packs, is that they bear no resemblance to wolf behavior in the wild. You will never see an alpha wolf roll a subordinate; rather, this position is naturally and voluntarily assumed by the subordinate wolf as a sign of submission. That’s a very big difference! These techniques will terrify a submissive dog, but worse, they will make a naturally assertive dog more aggressive. Staring an aggressive dog in the eyes will be interpreted by that dog as a direct challenge. These physical techniques, often demonstrated by “Dog Whisperer” Cesar Millan, have the potential to result in injury to the amateur trainner: you.

“Positive” dog training, which is gaining in popularity, operates from a completely different point of view. This technique recognizes that the reason the dog is doing a behavior is because it gets some kind of reward for it. For example, a dog that gets into the garbage gets a powerful and immediate reward in the form of food. The dog who sleeps on the sofa does so because it’s comfortable. The dog who jumps up on every visitor is getting attention—lots of attention—for doing so.

The best way to correct a behavior is to remove the original reward and replace it with something else that is equally or more desirable to the dog, but also acceptable to the guardian. This philosophy respects and works with, not against, the dog’s needs and nature. Distraction, using a toy or treat, will often successfully interrupt the behavior. Cable TV behaviorist Victoria Stillwell exemplifies this philosophy.

Attention-seeking behavior such as jumping up, barking, play-biting, and incessant nuzzling, generally accomplish their goals. That is, the dog gets attention for it: you’re looking at him, vocalizing (talking or yelling), and perhaps even handling him (pushing, tapping, nudging). As unpleasant as we might think they are, these are actually all strong rewards. To change the behavior, we have to change the reward system. There are two basic steps:

Negative Reinforcer: Withdrawal of Attention. Don’t look at your dog, talk to him, or give him the slightest indication you know he exists. If the dog is jumping up on you (or a visitor), turn away. Most dogs will follow your movement and keep jumping. Keep turning away. Fold your arms, close your eyes, and don’t speak. Do not give him any attention whatsoever. It may take a minute or two, but when the dog fails to get the attention-reward he’s seeking, he’ll lose interest and stop jumping, perhaps to pace or even sit. That’s your cue for the next step…

Positive Reinforcer: Proper Reward. Timing is everything. As soon as the dog stops the unwanted behavior, and is quiet, reward him. Enthusiastic, yet low-key, verbal praise should accompany any reward, such as treats, petting, or a favorite toy, but may suffice on its own. This tells the the dog that the best way to get your attention is to sit or stand quietly.

Judicious use of training treats can do wonders, even for entrenched behaviors. All-meat treats are the healthiest for your dog, but any treat your dog loves will work. If it’s a large treat (jerky slice, for instance), break or tear it in to small pieces for the purpose. Treats contain calories, and may put on the pounds if used excessively. At first, give a treat for every successful behavior. After the dog is behaving reliably, give a treat every other time, and gradually extend and vary the interval. Variable reinforcement is the principle behind slot machines; and can create serious addiction. But in this case, you want your dog to be addicted to good behavior!

Recently, a noted behaviorist commented that “good dogs” are, in a way, losers. They are quiet and obedient, and for that, they are largely ignored. So let’s not forget to tell our dogs how wonderful they are when they are just being dogs…sitting, snoozing, walking on a leash without pulling…these are the times when we need to give them little rewards, so those nice behaviors are rewarded.

Of course, it is important to respect the dog’s other needs: exercise, social engagement, healthy diet. A dog that sits alone in the house all day may justifiably be rambunctious in the few hours the family is home and awake. Fetching games (use a Chuck-It if you don’t have a hall-of-fame throwing arm!), appropriate walks, doggie day care, or a trip to the dog park, will help work off that accumulated energy, and help keep the dog on a more even keel.

Got questions? Post them in our Community disussion boards!

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Stress and the Immune System

We’re all familiar with the fight-or-flight reflex, in which acute stress causes the release of the hormone adrenaline, which triggers that response. However, our pets are more likely to experience chronic stress, which has many effects, especially on the immune system.

Both psychological and physical stress are scientifically proven to have a negative impact on the immune system. Now, looking at our pets sleeping contentedly on the sofa, we might think that they don’t have such stressful lives. But even the most pampered couch potato may be subjected to many physical stressors every day:

  • indoor and outdoor air pollution
  • electromagnetic fields, household chemicals
  • hundreds of other large and small assaults, particularly on their keen senses of hearing and smell
  • vaccination
  • medication
  • synthetic additives in food or treats

Psychological stresses also abound:

  • canine and feline hierarchies and social rules
  • behavioral modifications necessary for living with humans—such as not climbing the drapes, tipping the trashcan, or marking all corners of the territory.

Not all of these apply to every pet, but the bottom line is that if a pet thinks it’s stressed, it is stressed, whether or not we can even perceive the cause. Reducing stress, keeping the immune system healthy, and preventing cellular and DNA damage from free radicals and other toxic compounds, are the keys to disease prevention and overall well-being.

To minimize the effects of physical and environmental stress, opt for non-toxic, pet-friendly household and personal care products. Don’t forget that lotions, perfumes, after-shaves, and even topical medications you use on yourself can rub off on your pets, and be ingested when they groom themselves–or lick you!

Many commercial pet foods, especially dry foods and treats, are often made with poor quality ingredients with multiple synethetic additives and preservatives—which is why Only Natural Pet doesn’t sell most of them! Instead, feed one of our natural pet foods, organic pet foods,  or  raw diets. To support the immune system, as well as to prevent chronic inflammation and the degenerative diseases it causes, supplement with Omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants.

We can alleviate psychological stress by using flower essences, massage, music, and other stress-relieving methods such as play therapy, exercise, indoor entertainment, and interactive games.

For Dogs:

Interactive Throw Toys

Secure Exercise

Indoor Entertainment

For Cats:

Interactive Toys

Indoor Entertainment

We should also remember that our pets often pick up on and reflect our own stresses. Here’s a unique method to help relieve stress in ourselves and our pets: Pet Healing and Meditation CDs.

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Exercise for Dogs and Cats

Here at Only Natural we tend to emphasize nutrition, and rightly so because it truly is the foundation of good health. However, one of the other great cornerstones of vibrant health and long life is exercise. Moderate, regular exercise will help keep your pet at a healthy weight and keep the joints flexible. It also provides mental stimulation, which is important for all pets, but especially those who spend most of their time indoors.

Big dogs make great hiking companions, especially here in rugged Colorado, where we’ve joked for years about the Labrador Retriever being the “state dog.” Most medium-sized and large dogs seem able to handle all kinds of weather. But it’s easy to let a smaller dog become a couch potato, going out only to answer the call of nature and hurrying right back in. They’re not built for long treks, and they can disappear completely in a foot or two of snow!

The first step with any dog is to make sure you have the right collar or harness. Studies have shown that excessive pressure from a neck collar can damage a dog’s trachea (windpipe), so a head collar or walking harness may be a better choice for dogs that pull. Small dogs do exceptionally well with supportive harnesses such as the 3-in-1 Vest Harness that also doubles as a secure seatbelt for car travels.

Of course, a good leash that’s sturdy and easy to handle is always a good investment! An Earthdog Hemp Leash, Bags On Board Retractable Leash, Planet Dog Zip Lead Retractable Leash, or a Freeleash Hands-Free Dog Leash are all good options to get out and get moving with your dog.

With the short days of winter upon us, don’t forget to prepare for walking in the dark. The Rufflective Safety Vest, Ruff Wear Beacon Safety Light, and the PupLight Dog Collar Safety Light are designed to increase your dog’s visibility to cars to increase the safety of night time walks.

If it’s icy outside, or if your dog has furry paws that snow can pack into, consider canine footwear to protect those tender toes. Pawz Biodegradable Natural Dog Boots are an easy choice for everyday outings and Ruff Wear Bark’n Boots GripTrex are a highly durable long-lasting boot for more rigorous outdoor adventures.

When you can’t get out for a walk, there are many fun, interactive toys that will keep your dog entertained and moving, like the West Paw Design Zogoflex Huck, the Babble Ball Interactive Toy, and IncrediBubbles.

Cats need exercise too, and while it’s possible to train a cat to walk with a cat harness and leash, at-home interactive play is the best way to keep your cat’s mind and body engaged and resilient. A 15-minutes session once or twice a day is ideal.

To help your cat get the most from these interactive toys, the key is to “BE the prey.” Use your imagination, and have fun! If you’re a mouse, run, jump and hide; if you’re a bird, flutter and dive. Always let your cat catch the prey in the end, and follow up with a high-protein treat such as canned food. This not only exercises your cat’s physical side, but also satisfies the mental/emotional “hunter” part—an important consideration in multi-cat homes to prevent aggressive behavior. It’s also a terrific way to help chubby kitties lose weight, as well as to prevent
boredom and the unwanted behaviors that sometimes go with it!

When you start an exercise program for your pet, use the same common-sense precautions you would with any other new activity. Don’t go hog wild all at once; your pet can get sore muscles and even cause damage to joints, because they don’t know when to stop and will usually keep going as long as you can. Build up your pet’s endurance gradually, and watch for signs that he’s had enough – wanting to lie or sit down, or showing any degree of labored breathing.

You’ll notice that all of these suggestions have one thing in common – you! Sure, you can leave toys out for your pets to play with, but their greatest joy is to play with you, so even though the holidays can be hectic, please make room for that quality time with your best buddy.

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