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Canine Communication

Posted on: March 13th, 2006 by

Posted by Pets Best on 3/13/2006 in Training Tips Articles

If it’s true that 80% of communication is non-verbal, it stands to reason that we could learn quite a bit from our canine friends. Since the beginning of the man-dog relationship, dogs and wolves have proven to be expert communicators through their use of body language, facial expressions and vocalizations. Turid Rugaas, a Norwegian dog trainer with over fifteen years experience studying wolves, has discovered over thirty calming signals that can easily be recognized and used by humans to directly communicate with our canine companions.

In her book On Talking Terms with Dogs, Rugaas shares her insights on the fascinating world of communication between dogs, as well as between dogs and their owners. “We need to learn to understand the language of dogs so that we can understand what our dogs are telling us,” Rugaas says. “That is the secret of having a good life together.”

One signal that is commonly misunderstood in the human-canine connection is the dog’s use of the yawn. Rather than signifying that he is tired or bored, the yawn is a coping mechanism used when the dog feels threatened. When a threat is received, according to Rugaas, the dog will always respond with a calming signal such as yawning, licking his nose or turning away, among others.

Unfortunately, she says, a large majority of dog owners ignore these signals, creating stress, anxiety and even aggression in their pets. Rather than help the situation, correction and punishment only further complicate the human-canine relationship, so understanding is key.

“The dog may yawn when someone bends over him, when you sound angry, when there’s yelling and quarreling in the family, when the dog is at the vet’s office, when someone is walking directly at the dog, when you ask the dog to do something he doesn’t feel like doing, when your training sessions are too long and the dog gets tired, and in many other situations,” Rugaas says. What he’s really telling us is, “Please understand me.”

“These signals are international and universal. Dogs all over the world have the same language. A dog from Japan would be understood by an Elkhound who lives in an isolated valley in Norway. They will have no communication problems!”

The trouble then is not so much dog to dog, but dog to human. With our sweeping gestures and loud voices, too often we send our dogs into a state of panic where they struggle to communicate with us through calming signals. Even young puppies will display the use of calming signals in the hopes of communicating uncertainty or fear. And we thought that all that sniffing at the vet’s office was just out of curiosity!

Strengthening the animal-human relationship is not easy, but it is most certainly possible, especially with a little patience and a better understanding of what our four-legged friends are trying to say.

Source: HSUS.org; healthypet.com; geocities.com; newsday.com; cavolark.com; canis.no/rugaas/index; clickertraining.com

Veterinary Conferences

Posted on: March 3rd, 2006 by

By: Dr. Jack Stephens
3/3/2006

Veterinarians and veterinary technicians like all professionals continue their education (CE) after they graduate to keep up with all the many changes, discoveries and to learn about new technology. Gaining a degree is only the first step in what should be a lifelong journey of learning. In veterinary medicine there is a plethora of CE opportunities locally, regionally and nationally. The abundance of courses teaching new knowledge astounds me. Frankly it is intimidating for busy veterinary practitioners to maintain the pace of being informed on new techniques for surgery or diagnostics to uncover a disease. You should know that attendance by your veterinarian is at an all time high with an increasing number of CE opportunities. For instance, one that struck me was a new DNA test that eliminates the guessing of a dogs breed. According to the Western Veterinary Conference, which I attended last week one company was introducing a Breed Identification Test that will allow your veterinarian to unlock the mystery of the primary breeds involved in a mixed breed dog.

You might ask, “Why is that important?” Most of us are quite happy with our mixed breed dogs. In fact, mixed breed dogs are known to be healthier and have less hereditary or congenital defects. Yet, even with mixed breed dogs, they do posses and will at times manifest severe genetic defects that need to be treated. The premise is that early detection may allow prevention. Also, as more gene therapy techniques become available, better treatment option for some genetic conditions will be possible.

Knowing the parentage of a mixed breed pet may someday soon allow your veterinarian to prevent the onset of certain diseases, giving your dog more years of good health, according to a spokesperson for Progressive PetCare, the DNA test provider.

The recent Western Veterinary Conference also announced that canine influenza, a highly contagious respiratory disease infecting dogs across the United States is an emerging problem for dog owners. A two hour symposium was provided that discussed the outbreaks, clinical signs, new diagnostic testing, treatments and control measures. The disease has been identified in 18 states and is similar to kennel cough in its symptoms. Like kennel cough, a secondary bacterial infection can develop and lead to pneumonia. Treatments require hospitalization, isolation to prevent further spread, antibiotics for secondary infections and supportive therapies, according to the symposium. There is no vaccine for canine influenza at this time. Another of many reasons, to have pet health insurance for your pet.

Pets Best Exhibits at CE Conferences
Like most other companies that provide products, equipment or services to veterinary professionals, Pets Best insurance was at the two largest conferences recently, North American Veterinary Conference and Western Veterinary Conference. This was our unveiling of Pets Best to veterinarians and their staff. After 25 years in the business, I must admit I was still somewhat apprehensive of how our new pet health insurance would be received by my colleagues. After all, they had only known me to be at one company for all these years. I am happy to report that the response was overwhelmingly positive and even jubilant by many of my colleagues that I was back in the industry. Not only was I back, but I had improved pet insurance greatly. I knew I had made many innovative changes and improvements, but still you wonder if those most critical will notice. AND THEY DID! Your veterinarian is very sensitive to only providing their clients with good services and products, because after all their integrity is on the line every time they recommend any service, product or company.

For companies offering services or products exhibiting at CE conferences is a good method to inform and to receive feedback on how you are doing as a company with veterinarians. At Pets Best veterinarians are our first customer and pet owners are our ultimate customer. At Pets Best we recognize that we must satisfy both to be successful; our policyholders and their veterinarians.

At the Western Veterinary Conference I was able to take four of our dogs, Skeeter of course, Torrey, Obie, our Scottish Deerhound and Cricket, a Brussels Griffon. They were our official ambassadors and provided petting opportunities to all the many attendees who missed their dogs. It was also special, because Skeeter had his 14th birthday party at the conference, where he is an honorary Board member. Skeeter attends many veterinary conferences, but at the Western Veterinary Conference he has had 13 straight annual appearances and is loved by all for his stoic good nature. Crowds do not phase him. He remains calm and relaxed in front of large groups and audiences, something he has done many times. Skeeter is one of a kind.

“We give dogs time we can spare, space we can spare and love we can spare. And in return, dogs give us their all. It’s the best deal man has ever made.”
M. Acklam

Feel Like Talking or Not?

Posted on: February 24th, 2006 by

By: Dr. Jack Stephens
2/24/2006

Feel like talking or not? If not, tell people you sell insurance! Several years back, while traveling extensively to promote pet health insurance, I noticed something interesting. Everyone that travels has had the experience of going on a flight and after you are seated you or the person next to you ask where you are going? Are you going home, traveling on vacation or on business? Then they will invariably ask you what your occupation is.

For many years at parties or social gathering, I was reluctant to offer my occupation, not because I was ashamed, but because I would be overwhelmed with stories about pets or asked for medical advice on pets. Flying was the same. If I told my fellow passenger that I was a veterinarian, then a litany of pet stories would ensue and sure enough, I would be provided some pet symptoms and asked for my medical opinion. I found I could not read, contemplate or get any work done.

Quickly I discovered that if I wanted to read or work or simply did not feel like talking due to some major issue that I was pondering, I would tell my fellow passenger that I sold insurance. That ended the conversation! I must have given that answer to over 100 people over a 20 year period. And, you know, not ONE person asked what kind of insurance I sold. I guess they were afraid I would try to sell them an insurance policy.

In fact, I never really liked insurance or the thought of insurance ever since I was a senior at Veterinary School and was bombarded by all the University ex jocks who sold life insurance. They descended upon soon to be graduates like a lynch mob in the Old West. But here I was, a veterinarian who sold insurance. I always distill things down to the basics and it was true, like so much in life we never know where life will take us. Yet, I slowly and deliberately chosen my new career path and was not about to change. I was helping many hundreds of thousands of more pets than I ever could have done in my pet practice and was providing a service that protected family bonds and pet health. But my method sure stops people from chatting if you are ever on a plane and not in the mood to talk!

I Sell Pet Insurance
Telling people I am a veterinarian has one path of continued dialog, telling them I sell insurance ceases all dialog; but tell them that I sell Pet Insurance and watch out. At first, they just sit or stand there, with their mouth partly open; pondering the dichotomy of a vet, who is generally held in high regard or even revered by some and combined with selling insurance which is similar to being a used car salesman, although with more education. Then, after a few seconds of silence, their whole face brightens up and they say, “That is a wonderful idea. Did you think of that?” Their first impression, which they do not share, is “that is the dumbest thing I ever heard.” But during that silent pause to be courteous, they realize that pet insurance is a good idea. Why? I think because everyone in America and throughout the more urban societies is starting to recognize the REAL VALUE of pets. As we leave more rural areas and agricultural societies to dwell in urban societies we lose the ties of family and small close knit groups who help one another. We also lose the interaction with animals that has been rooted in our biology over many thousands of years. We have more time from labor intensive activities; we have more complex relationships that create stress and emotional upheaval which causes us to seek solace and non critical companionship. It is easy to understand why pets with their unconditional acceptance of us play a vital role in our health and well being.

Not sure? Animals, especially pets have a biological relationship with us that has developed over the eons of time. This longstanding relationship has created positive biochemical and hormonal reactions within us that helped us survive and cope. We have known for some time that pets can lower our blood pressure. In fact studies have shown that simply sitting in front of a fish tank will lower our blood pressure.

Petting even a strange pet will increase good hormones, chemicals and neurotransmitters and decrease stress hormones in our bodies. It also results in an increase in serotonin levels in the brain, which is a natural antidepressant. Pets are so good for us, that innately we want to provide for them. Often my wife will tell me that she wishes I would respond to her greeting as enthusiastically as I do to our pets greeting. She is right and it is a good reminder of my deficiencies as a husband. But our pets display the same overwhelming exuberance when I am gone from the house for a few minutes as they do when I return from a long trip. They are simply glad to see me and they have to outdo one another in their greeting. Whenever my wife or I return form a brief trip to the store or from a long trip we receive the same “pack welcome”, which makes us feel good. Think how many times you are anxious to go home and see your pet, because of their greeting. Just the thought of your pet greeting you at the door is enough to make you smile. Watch pet owners who talk about their pet, they are smiling. Stop and think of your pet now or describe some episode with your pet and you will smile. Each of us has our own special memories or daily activities with our pets that make us happy.

Happy Hormone
Oxytocin is a natural human and animal hormone. We think of it as only being a hormone for women that increases with pregnancy and is responsible for helping mothers give birth. In fact, oxytocin is given to animals to stimulate birthing. But men also have very small amounts of oxytocin, which is one reason why men and women are different. Oxytocin also is thought to be primarily responsible for the feeling of “warmth and comfort,” in men and women. Oxytocin has much higher levels in women and is thought to be the reason why women are more responsive to children.

Petting your pet increases the oxytocin levels in our bodies, even men! It gives you that feeling of well being and warmth. Don’t worry men; your level will not increase enough to cause you to want to give birth. But it will give you a glimpse into the feelings that women have for children.

“If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.”
Will Rogers

History of Cats

Posted on: February 23rd, 2006 by

Posted by Pets Best on 2/23/2006 in Scratching Post Articles

Did you know that our domestic feline friends are believed to be direct descendents of the African wild cat and that cats were domesticated about 5000 years ago! During this time period mankind had began to settle down in villages and abandon the nomadic lifestyle, when vermin were began to become a nuisance with mountains of stored grain, fruits and vegetables. Canines were already mans companion but were no help in protecting stored food since they would devour the food, a carnivore was needed and the domestication of the cat began.

This life changing event took place in what was the upper region of Egypt and the Pharaoh, considered a king god, named all the cats demi- gods, half mortal and half god. This created cats being ranked higher up in society then humans. If a house was on fire cats were saved first, if a human killed a cat it was punishable by death. Once a cat passed away a priest had to determine if it was a natural death, and the towns people would endure a ritualistic mourning process, going so far as to even shave their eyebrows and beat on their chest. Of course the cat was mummified and today more cat mummies have been discovered then human mummies. Furthermore cats were able to spread all over the world by sailors smuggling cats out of Egypt and were even traded as highly valued treasures due to their ability to control vermin.

Over the years cats and humans have had a love for each other as well as hatred. The dislike for the cat is partially responsible for the widespread outbreak of the bubonic plague during the 14th century. The plague is a bacterial disease of rodents spread by fleas. Signs include swollen lymph nodes, painful lumps, fever, headache, chills, and extreme tiredness. The disease is still present today but the invention of the antibiotic has drastically lowered the mortality rate. During this time period cats were disliked and a great majority were killed leading to an overpopulation of rodents. As the disease spread even more cats were destroyed since they were believed to be associated with Satan and were partially blamed for the massive amount of deaths. As more cats were killed the number of rodents grew creating a massive epidemic. Once the cause of the disease was discovered cats were again held in high regard and loved by humans.

The cat was again persecuted and associated with Satan during the middle ages. Cats typically were companions of elderly single woman who could be considered witches. Older woman during this time were considered useless since their bodies prohibited hard physical labor and childbearing. If the year was bad for crops it was believed a witch was the culprit and a witch hunt would take place. In many cases the older woman and her cat were tortured and killed together, some would be drowned, hung or even burnt to death. It was even believed at this time that sealing live cats into the walls of buildings would bring good luck.

Cats are complex solitary mammals that are motivated by their survival needs. They are quite talented at becoming close with humans and part of the household as well as reverting back to their wild nature when humans decide they no longer adore felines. Cats generally avoid encounters with strangers but if an encounter arises they will convey messages with the use of body language and some vocalizations. Slight changes in body position can send broad messages to another feline. An aggressive cat will spit, hiss, growl, swat, arch the back, swing tail, and even flatten the ears. If the feline is feeling confident and aggressive most likely the cat will hold the tail straight up, narrow the pupils, perk the ears up and may even prance sideways to appear larger, and might try to pounce the other animal. If the cat is feeling fearful it will generally flee the scene, if it isn’t too afraid it may freeze in place, and may even lose control over the bladder. A happy cat typically purrs, blinks slowly, and partially closes the eyes. The feline is known to be one of the most sensual of all mammals, with terrific eyesight, hearing, smell and with a great many taste and touch receptors. Whiskers can actually be a great tool to tell a cat what the environment is like. They are used to aid in navigation as well as sensation; it is thought they can even pick up on air currents. Whiskers are also used to convey messages, if the whiskers are held flat against the face the feline is most likely defensive or aggressive, if the whiskers are forward the feline is most likely friendly and inquisitive. Compared with humans felines are a quite species, but if you watch them closely you can probably catch a cat communicating with the use of the body.

The domestic cat has come a long ways over the years evolving into quite a unique creature. The cat has been a member of our household as well as persecuted by man. Cats have become a social creature that still have many wild traits allowing them to enjoy the comforts of a home and still be able to survive as a feral cat.

Sources: animalplanent.com, wikipedia.org, HSUS.org, cdc.gov, wikipedia.com; about.com

How to find a new pet

Posted on: February 16th, 2006 by

Posted by Pets Best on 2/16/2006 in General Articles

Before adopting or purchasing a new pet, make sure you and your families are prepared. Pets take a lot of time and work, they need daily exercise, routine feedings, create clean up duties and most require professional training. In addition a new pet is probably a ten to twenty year commitment, making this a big decision. Once you have thoroughly thought about and decided on a new pet, evaluate your lifestyle and try to pick breeds that would suit your lifestyle, always take into account your home environment; apartments are generally not suitable for large dogs and the majority of dogs need a roomy fully fenced yard. Keep in mind a certain breed is not a guarantee of behavior, all animals have unique personalities.

The best place to begin a search for that new companion is at your local animal shelter. One in four animals dropped off at the animal shelter are purebreds, and puppies can even be found. Adoption fees at the local animal shelter are generally quite reasonable and the majority of pets at the shelter are there for no fault of their own. If the local shelter does not have what you are looking for keep in mind pets enter on a daily basis, so it never hurts to keep checking in.

Good quality breeders are also an option for finding a new pet. A breeder with quality puppies typically does not make a profit off the puppies and cares very much for the dogs well being. A good breeder will not sell to just anyone with money and many times will require a home inspection. Furthermore a quality breeder has few puppies available and the majority of the litter is already spoken for. Many times a prospective buyer will need to get on a waiting list and at times it can even take a year to acquire that puppy, but it is well worth the wait. To find a breeder ask your local veterinarian, dog trainers, breed clubs or check with the American Kennel Club Association. Once you have found a breeder check out the puppy’s environment and meet the parents. Be cautious of the local pet store and newspaper ads, many times these pets were born in puppy mills, which can affect health and temperament. It is always best to obtain a pet from a professional; it can heartbreaking if the pet has serious defects.

When searching for the right pet be extremely cautious not to purchase from a puppy mill. Puppy mills are a business of substandard commercial breeding of dogs and selling the puppies for a profit. Unfortunately this is rarely done in a compassionate fashion and the dogs end up suffering. The goal of a puppy mill is to breed and sell as many purebred dogs as possible therefore very little affection or expense is given to the dogs. Many times puppy mill pets are available in the local pet store, off the internet and in the local newspaper. A mill will not label itself a puppy mill but if there is a large amount of animals being breed outside the home, and the parents or facilities are unavailable to meet or inspect then be suspicious that the breeder may actually be a puppy mill.

The condition of the typical puppy mill can be very concerning. Overcrowding, over breeding, inbreeding, lack of veterinary care, poor quality of food, insufficient shelters, lack of temperature controls, killing of unwanted dogs, and lack of socialization are all common problems. The quality of life for the breeder dogs is quite poor, they spend their entire life in a small cage, constantly are being breed until they can’t reproduce anymore and then are disposed of. The typical mill generally has sixty five to seventy five dogs, but some have thousands of dogs. The states known for having puppy mills are Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania. Most puppies that have been born in a mill are sold to a broker who then sells the puppies direct or to a pet store. Puppies are usually pulled from their mother at a very young age and shipped long distances in mediocre conditions to their destination for sale. Most have had to become accustom to sitting and sleeping in urine and feces making these pets extremely hard to potty train. It is common for puppy mill pets to be unhealthy, possess serious genetic defects, and major behavior issues. By purchasing a puppy mill victim a good home and quality of life may be provided for that pet but the money used to purchase that pet contributes to the ongoing crisis and opens up a slot for another puppy to fill.

There are organizations and government acts in place to help alleviate the massive problem, but the number of inspectors and enforcers is just too small to combat the large scale problem. Also, if a mill does get shut down it puts a lot of stress on the humane society in that area to provide care to all those animals. The best way the public can end this upsetting problem is to avoid purchasing puppy mill dogs, lowering the demand and thereby decreasing the amount of breeding.

Puppy auctions are another concern when searching for the perfect pet. Auctions generally take place close to puppy mills and are a way for mill owners to buy and sell breeding animals as well quickly rid the mill of any unwanted puppies. Intact adult breeders are typically unhealthy, have been over bred and the puppies found at these auctions are known for having serious defects making them undesirable for the general public. In addition when you purchase from an auction you are contributing to the overall problem allowing mill owners to continue and profit from the business.

Backyard breeders should also be avoided. A backyard breeder typically lacks the proper knowledge to breed healthy dogs with good temperaments. Many times these dogs have serious behavioral and medical problems that can wreck havoc on your home, heart and pocket book. The motive for most backyard breeders is profit, and the majority of puppies born will miss important early life experiences that a quality breeder can provide. Additionally, many backyard bred puppies have been mishandled by children at a very early age.

When beginning that search for the perfect companion take your time and do your research. There are experts around every corner that are more then happy to help an eager owner find the right pet for the right household. By purchasing a quality purebred or rescuing an animal in need can eliminate expensive veterinary bills, and save your heart from being broke by a young loving pet with genetic disorders. Once you have obtained the new companion remember to make regular visits to your local veterinarian and contact a professional trainer to get the pet off to the right start.

Sources: HSUS.org, ASPCA.org; prisonersofgreed.org; msnbc.com; gglrc.org; veterinarypartner.com