Saturday, 10 March 2018

Top Tips For Keeping Old Dogs Mentally Fit

Just like humans, as dogs age, they benefit from being mentally stimulated.  In a recent study, researchers in Vienna taught elderly dogs to play computer games and found that they can help slow down mental deterioration. The scientists used touch-screen tasks on a computer, combined with rewards, to motivate them to perform.

The study compared computer games for elderly dogs to elderly people doing Sudoku puzzles and proposed that this could also be an alternative to more physically demanding activities.

Physical limitations often mean that elderly dogs do not get walked and many spend a great deal of their time sleeping. Inactivity can make joints cease up and the resulting pain and general lack of stimulation can lead to a general sense of apathy.

The researchers are hoping that the computer-game study might kick-start the production of a living-room friendly alternative.

But until then, try some of these simple alternatives:

1. Re-visit some basic commands – Use a puppy training manual and teach some simple commands. Target training is another great way of engaging them too.
2. The prospect of getting a reward helps release feel-good hormones. So make sure you use their favourite treat to motivate them to perform
3. Engage all their senses to stimulate different areas of the brain – For example snuffle mats encourage them to use their sense of smell and touch to find hidden food
4. Ditch the food bowl. Present some of their daily food ration in a Kong or Treat Ball so they have to work at finding it
5. Hydrotherapy can be mentally and physically stimulating for dogs that love water. The buoyancy of the water prevents concussion on the joints and helps build muscle. Make sure you find a pool with qualified hydro-therapists. Also check with your vet beforehand as there are some conditions for which swimming is not appropriate.

Applying these simple activities into an elderly dog's routine will help create positive emotions, slow down mental deterioration and improve quality of life.

Caroline Clark is a consultant in animal behaviour counselling and you can find more information at

Friday, 2 March 2018

Why Does My Cat…….?

All cats are individuals and have their own personality types. However there are a number of common behaviours that most cats exhibit. Knowing what some of these are and what they mean helps us understand and appreciate them just that bit more.

As a feline behaviour counsellor, here are some of the most common questions I get asked:

Why does my cat lift his tail upright, in the shape of a question mark when he meets me?
This is a greeting and is usually shown to members of cat that belong to the same social group. It’s their way of saying hello to you!

Why does my cat prefer to drink from the bird bath than his water bowl?
Cats have particular preferences to the way water is presented. However most prefer the bowl to be made out of ceramic or glass rather than plastic as that material taints the water. Wide openings to prevent their whiskers from being crushed seem to be favoured too. They also prefer to drink away from their food so dual bowls are not a good idea. Some like running water so using water fountains can help encourage drinking. Because cats are prone to kidney problems as they age, it makes sense to give them water in the most acceptable source possible.

Why does my cat knead me when I am stroking him/her?
This is a sign of security and shows that they feel safe with you. It has associations with being with their mother. When kittens suckle, they pad alternately on either side of the teats to help express milk. Certain textures can trigger this pleasant memory too which explains why some cats exhibit the behaviour when they are on a fluffy material. Some cats will even salivate excessively when being cuddled and this is thought to be linked to the emotion of anticipating the milk feed.

Why does my cat rub around my legs?
Scent profile is very important to cats. They have numerous scent glands around the face, body and tail that distribute pheromones. These pheromones are unique to each cat. Sharing this scent between other cats shows that they are part of the same social group and is only done if they are affiliated. So you should feel quite honoured that your cat is anointing you with their scent!
Cats will also rub on objects in the home. This is because being able to smell themselves gives them a sense of security. That explains why some cats can show signs of distress when there have been renovations or new decorations in the house.

Why does my cat like to scratch with his/her claws?
Cats are highly driven to scratch and this innate behaviour is believed to serve the following purposes:

• Visual territorial marking – this informs other cats about their presence in a given area
 Claw conditioning and exercising the fore limbs (important for predation).
 Marking – glands in between the toes help to distribute their scent.

Why does my cat like catnip?
Cat nip is a plant (Nepeta cataria). The active chemical in the plant is called nepetalactone which is harmless and has been likened to LSD without any of the side-effects.
Around 80% of cats seem to be attracted to its scent and act in an excited manner when they smell it. This includes rolling around on top of it and vocalising. Catnip toys can be used as environmental enrichment or to mentally stimulate in-door cats.

Why does my cat always go towards visitors who are non-cat people?

For most cats - Less is more! They tend to feel threatened by the stranger that makes a direct move towards them, puts out their hands or stares at them. The person who is non-catty therefore is more likely to attract them!

Caroline Clark is a consultant in animal behaviour counselling and you can find more information at

Sunday, 25 February 2018

Are Dogs Like Us?

Working as a canine behaviour counsellor means that I often have to help people understand why their dogs react or behave in a particular way.

Attributing human emotions can be unhelpful
Often misunderstandings arise because owners ascribe human emotions to their dogs and this can be unhelpful. The term for this is anthropomorphism.

As an example, the dog that destroys things when left alone can be described by the owner as being: annoyed at being left or wanting revenge for being made to stay at home. It’s easy to see that these sorts of attributes can have serious welfare implications, particularly if the dog is punished. It’s much more likely that the dog has some separation related issues. The common motivation for this is anxiety and fear.

Another very common statement that I hear is “They knew they had done wrong because they looked guilty when I came home”. The likelihood is that when the owner returns home to find destruction, the dog is repeatedly punished. The dog now begins to anticipate this and shows body language that is misinterpreted as guilt. Turid Rugaas, an international dog trainer, has observed dogs for a number of years and describes many of these displays of body language as calming signals. So rather than feeling guilty, your dog is actually trying to calm and defuse the situation.

Examples of calming signals:
  • Yawning
  • Turing the head or body away
  • Slow movement
  • Sniffing the ground
  • Lying down
  • Shaking (as if wet)
  • Licking lips or nose licking
  • Blinking
But we do share some common emotions, don’t we?

Anthropodenial is the opposite of anthropomorphism: Not being able to see any human-like characteristics in other animals. This too can be dangerous

As most dog owners know, we do share some feelings and are motivated by similar things. For instance, it is clear that dogs feel fear and anxiety. Take the dog that trembles and shakes when it is taken to the vets – that’s a bit like the human who has a fear of the hospital or the dentist.  And try telling me that my dog isn't able to feel joy and happiness when she's chasing her ball in the park!

Being open to our similarities can help an owner understand their dog's behaviour problem. Client education is crucial when getting some one on board with a behaviour modification plan. In my experience compliance is much greater when the owner can sympathise with their dog. It also helps with training if they can see how reward and praise has the same motivating effect on them as it does with us.

So having a balance is important. Being able to appreciate and compare a dog’s feelings with our own is a good starting point. But being mindful of our differences prevents misunderstandings and makes for a more harmonious relationship.  And that’s something we should all want - isn't it?

Caroline Clark is a recognised expert in canine behaviour and more information can be found at

Thursday, 15 February 2018

More Reasons To Pick Up Your Dog's Waste

Pretty much every dog owner will be aware that dog waste is a bit of a 'hot topic' these days and a high percentage of both owners and non-owners share a resentment toward  those that refuse to 'scoop the poop'.

Aside from the ever increasing raft of legislation aimed at offenders that refuse to pick up after their dogs, there are a multitude of clever memes across social media highlighting the topic and aimed at making the 'non-scooping' fraternity feel a sense of guilt at their actions.

I thought I would weigh in with a few dog waste facts that may help  'non-scoopers' understand the consequences of their habit and hopefully encourage a few people to appreciate why, apart from the more obvious anti-social aspects, it is a serious health issue.

Dog Waste Kills Fish! 
Around water sources a dog's waste actually creates nutrients for weeds and the algae that commonly covers these water sources. Algae can limit the light that penetrates the water's surface and essentially starve the fish of oxygen.

Don't Compare Your Dog To Undomesticated Animals When It Comes To Waste.
Wild animals such as Coyotes, Foxes, Wolves etc. eat a diet that contain no preservatives, chemicals or grains and their waste decomposes within days. Insects such as flies and beetles make easy work of breaking down wild animals natural waste and even the bacteria in soil help this waste decompose.

Domestic dog waste is another matter and dependant on diet (the cheapest are the worst) a dog's waste can take up to a year to decompose and in some instances not decompose at all. This not very environmentally friendly waste also has the added negative of retaining it's smell and consistency for a long time even if it does eventually break down.

Dog Waste Contains These Harmful Horrors!
Aside from parasitic worms such as Heartworms. Hookworms, Roundworms,Tapeworms and Whipworms, dog waste may also contain Parvovirus, Salmonella, E.Coli amongst other horrors.

As you can see above, non-disposal of a dog's waste can have far reaching implications on both the environment and the health of animals and people that come into contact with it.

The privilege of owning a dog comes with a pretty low price tag when you consider what dogs bring to our lives. It would be respectful if we could all honour that privilege and pay the small price of cleaning up after our dogs.

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Thursday, 8 February 2018

Cat Owner? Important Information To Protect Your Privacy! Please Share

Most cat owners enjoy taking pictures of their feline friends but did you know that you could be compromising your privacy by doing so?

I recently came across a site that I wanted to share with you that indexes cat pictures by location provided by the geotagging facility on a sharers phone.

Owen Mundy, a professor at Florida State University created the site with pictures shared on social networks with the hashtag #cat and with the aid of a supercomputer and satellite imagery has compiled the geographical data of around a million cats!

Personally, I didn't find the site that user-friendly and failed to home in on feline friends that I know have had pictures shared on social media and tagged. There are however random pictures of people's cats in their local area at street level. On the site itself Mundy has written:

"This project explores two uses of the Internet: the sociable and humorous appreciation of domesticated felines and the status quo of personal data usage by startups and international megacorps who are riding the wave of decreased privacy for all."

Although no exact addresses are revealed, I felt that cat owners may be interested in knowing how their data can be used on social media if tagged.

I'm no technical wizard but I am fairly reliably informed that if you disable the geotagging facility on your device this will protect your privacy. Cat lovers with an iPhone can disable their location by going to 'settings' then 'privacy' then 'location services' and turning that off on the camera and various apps.

Visit the site here and take a look yourself
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Friday, 2 February 2018

This Could Improve Your Dog's Memory After A Training Session

For those of us that enjoy training our dogs a small tip can mean a lot and help our canine friends get the most out of a session.

I always advise owners to let their dog exercise before a training session begins and 'do its business' to both burn off excess energy and avoid distractions. This and keeping training sessions short usually form the framework of my pre-training advice.

I came across some information recently regarding a study that involved dogs after a training session that I thought was pretty interesting and would like to share it with you.

The study carried out in 2016 at University of Lincoln in the UK found that dogs that engaged in a play session straight after a training session, as opposed to resting, needed far fewer sessions to complete previously learned tasks the next day compared to dogs that had rested.

It is thought that the hormones produced during the play/exercise component after a training session helped the dogs to improve their memory after learning tasks.

So the next time you're out teaching your canine friend a new command it may be wise to allow for a session of 'fetch' afterwards!

To read more about the study please click here

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Saturday, 27 January 2018

Feline Aggression – Identifying The Causes And Dealing With Problems

Aggression is a broad term ranging from hissing and growling right up to a full blown attack. However this description doesn’t tell us anything about what is motivating the cat to show aggression. In most cases cats prefer to avoid conflict but if aroused sufficiently, things can escalate and they can cause some very nasty injuries.

Causes of Aggression

1.Fear - This is the most common motivator in all species. This is a natural defensive behaviour, directed at a real or perceived threat. 
2.Territorial aggression – Because cats are solitary species they do not tolerate sharing their territory with cats outside their social group. This can include cats that share the same home especially those that they have not grown up with.
3.Re-directed aggression – This type of aggression can be directed to owners. It occurs when a cat cannot reach the target of its aggression and instead turns on to the closest, most accessible target. A good example is if a resident cat sees an unfamiliar cat in its garden and begins to feel angry, it may turn on its housemate. These types of attack can be very unsettling for well bonded cats.
4.Play aggression – This can be more common in poorly socialised cats, particularly if they have not interacted with litter mates. These cats use lots of predatory behaviours and pounce on moving targets – usually owners’ legs!
5.Low threshold for petting – Many cats dislike too much petting especially in sensitive areas such as the belly. Some individuals seem to have a low threshold for physical attention so a hands off approach is best. Most cats prefer petting to be of a short duration and focused around the head.
6.Predatory aggression – This is similar to play aggression – the predatory drive is high in these individuals.
7.Maternal aggression – This natural behaviour is motivated by a queen protecting her off-spring.

What are the Signs of Aggression?

Body stiffening
Dilated pupils (a wide staring pupil)
Vocalisation – hissing, spitting and growling
Tail twitching/swishing
Changes to the positon of the ears

What Should I do if my Cat is Showing Aggression?                                                                                                                                                  Do not handle your cat - No matter what the cause of aggression, it is important not to handle your cat whilst it is showing signs of feeling angry or stress
Never try and physically break up a cat fight – you run the risk of getting some very nasty injuries
Know what the signs of aggression are to avoid injuries and prevent escalation
Do not use punishment – This is counter-productive. Cats will only get more emotionally aroused and bonds can be broken                                                                                                                                                  If safe to do so, use mild distraction techniques. For example rolling a ball with a bell across the room can divert a cat from pouncing on your legs before you move
Identify the underlying motivation for the aggression 
Avoid triggers for aggression – e.g. separate squabbling cats, use blinds and curtains to block your cat seeing intruders
Avoid using hands for any physical play
Provide ample environmental enrichment as this has been shown to help reduce stress and re-directs certain types of aggression
Be sympathetic and try to understand what is causing the behaviour – cats really don’t like conflict
Seek the help of a suitably qualified feline behaviour counsellor

If you would like to learn more about feline behaviour I run feline behaviour seminars throughout the year. For more information look at my programme of events
I have a special interest in feline behaviour and can offer counselling services in your home or through skype consultations