May 2, 2011 Issue #1 Published by Sue Skiff

A Note From Sue

Body oHi all! Here I am, again. It’s my third attempt at starting a newsletter. This time, I’m determined to make this a regular practice. In fact, I intend to make it a weekly one. I do love to write, and I have figured out that this needs to be a quality, not quantity, thing, so that should help me keep it simpler.

I am struggling, though, with how to do this. I know that I have a lot to say that is going to be mostly of interest to dog owners. However, the majority of my pet sitting clients do not have dogs. I want to make sure that this e-zine speaks to them. My hope is to have a little something to say about dog training and behavior with each issue, and a little to say about pets, in general, as well. Eventually, I’ll probably have to split it into two e-zines, I suppose. So, anyway, here goes with my latest attempt…

Three Ways to Convince Your Dog to Enjoy Coming When Called

One of the most common things that dog owners tell me is that their dogs don’t come when they call them. This is a scary thing to me. It’s just downright dangerous to allow a dog to be off-leash anywhere, if you do not have any confidence that your dog is going to return to you when you call it. So, I am going to give you some fun ways to teach your dog to come.

Tip one: Start by calling your dog when it is already coming to you. When you first want to teach your dog to come, take advantage of those times your dog comes to you, anyway. There are many of those times: when you are about to feed it, when you are getting ready to go on a walk, when your dog seeks you out after it’s been in another part of the house, at playtime, etc. The secret here is to get your dog to associate two things with the act of coming to you. The first is to associate your call with coming to you. This is accomplished by you calling your dog when you first realize that it is coming to you. This may sound silly, but it insures that your dog will most likely have 100% success at obeying the command, which is a really good thing. The second thing is to have your dog get something that it really likes for coming to you. So, when your dog gets to you, reward it big. Give it a special treat or dinner, give it lots of attention, take it on a walk, play with it. If you always pair all the things that your dog loves with it hearing you call it, you are well on your way to teaching your dog to come when called.

As you probably know the above is not necessarily enough to convince your dog to come when it is outside having fun. You need to do more than just call your dog when it is going to come, anyway. So, here’s tip two: Play hide and seek with your dog. Put your dog on a stay (note: Only do this, if your dog really knows how to stay). Hide. Call your dog. Tell your dog how wonderful it is when it finds you. Repeat. I have rarely met a dog that didn’t enjoy a good game of hide and seek. It’s good exercise for your dog, too.

Tip three: Duck away from your dog when it’s not paying attention. This is done when you are wandering around your house or yard, and your dog is accompanying you. Pay attention to when your dog gets ahead, or distracted by something. When that happens, quickly move off away from your dog, and, if possible, hide. When you become aware that your dog is searching for you, call it. When it gets to you, make a big fuss. You can even cause your dog to be distracted by throwing a treat or toy, then running off when it goes to get it. Bonus tip four: Grab a human partner, or two, and call your dog from one person to the other. The trick to this is for each person to call the dog while it is getting attention from someone else. It is critical that the person giving the attention immediately stops giving attention as soon as s/he hears another person call the dog. This is more fun if the people involved are not within sight of each other, and is the most fun if the people can change their locations when the dog is not with them.

Now, you have three, excuse me four, ways to make teaching your dog to come fun. Make sure that you teach your dog to come before you ever let it off-leash when you are not in your home or fenced yard. Once your dog knows that coming to you means that it gets good things, you are well on your way to knowing that your dog will come when called.

Keeping My Cats Indoors Part 1

Most people think of me as a dog person. In fact, that’s what I think of myself, as well. Still, I only have one dog, and I have three cats; Thunder, Storm, and Ahwahnee; aged 10, 11, and 15, respectively. It was always my intention before I got cats that, if I ever had a cat, it would live indoors. This mainly stemmed from my love of wildlife. I do not want my cats killing birds, or lizards, or frogs. This thought was strengthened when I began volunteering at Lindsay Wildlife Museum in 1993. I learned that cats in the U.S. kill 3-4 million birds every day, a statistic that totally shocked and saddened me. I saw mutilated birds brought into the Museum’s wildlife hospital, after run-ins with cats, and it broke my heart.

Then, one day in late 1998, Ahwahnee, an adult female tabby, decided to adopt me. She had been hanging around the property, that I lived on at the time, for a while. And, one day I found her under my bathroom sink. She walked out into the house, and stayed. I had no problem convincing her to use a litter box; and it being December when she moved in, she seemed quite content to stay in the house…. until spring. When spring hit, Ahwahnee decided that she didn’t want to be in the house, anymore. Every morning, before I got up, Ahwahnee would do a circle around my room, while meowing loudly, and indicating the front door. When she got near me, she’d jump on my chest. I managed to put a stop to that last action by sitting up quickly as she came down towards me, thus sending her flying across the room. However, she did not give up on her attempts to get out of the house.

I have never quite convinced Ahwahnee to stay indoors all of the time. In fact, during the 8 years we lived in Pleasant Hill, Ahwahnee probably got out more days than she stayed in all day. Her particular strength was in her ability to position herself at the front door when I got home from being out. I assume that she would hear the car pull into the driveway, then run over to get by the front door. If Ahwahnee had been a dog, I simply would have trained her to sit and stay at the door while it was being opened, as I do with all of my dogs. And, actually, Ahwahnee does enjoy clicker training quite a bit, but she’s still a cat. I would generally be carrying something in my arms when I got to the door, making my entrance a little uncoordinated and distracted. And, of course, the door opened in, so I was pushing the door away from me as I opened it. Despite trying to use my feet to block the door, I had little luck in keeping Ahwahnee from running out. Eventually, I just became resigned to the fact that she was going to get out. Generally, she did not stay out more than a few hours, and I never saw her with a bird in her mouth, which made me feel better.

At present, my pets and I are sharing a house in Concord with three other people, another dog, and a bunch of other cats. My cats stay mostly in my room. I have my own door to the backyard, which is great for Emma, my dog. The strange thing is, Ahwahnee never tries to run out that door. I don’t get it. Next week: Thunder convinces me that keeping my cats indoors is a good idea.