It was a difficult year to say the least. But for me personally 2020 was not the worst year. Financially it has been a challenge, frustrating and scary at times. However I had been experiencing extreme burnout and the closures and cancellations forced me to stop working insane hours and take a much needed break. Thanks to my amazing clients I was still able to work enough to pay the bills. But I got to have lunch and dinner breaks or whole afternoons off. The pace was unnerving at first but I have discovered that I really like not working 12 plus hour days. Weird, but true!
In the spirit of recovery and healing I have been fostering a different perspective on this crazy year. And for the month of December I celebrated all the adorable pets I got to meet and spend time with. As a New Year’s treat I created a slideshow of all the good 2020 moments. And I really love how it turned out.
I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. Here is to a fresh start in 20201.
In honour of my current holiday break and Staycation, I am sharing some more details about a topic that I have touched on with our Pet Care Tips on Social Media.
What is enrichment?
Enrichment is a practice used by pet professionals that I first learned about while volunteering at the Greater Vancouver Zoo. The zoo keepers use different techniques to keep the animals happy and healthy by encouraging natural behaviours and introducing new and interesting items into their space. The majority of enrichment activities involve food in some way. This can be as simple as spreading the animal’s regular food in different parts of their enclosure so they have to hunt or forage as they would in the wild. It can also be added to homemade ‘food puzzles’ the animal has to open or play with to get the food out. A paper mache pinata was a very popular item for the volunteers to make for this purpose.
Scent is also an important aspect of enrichment practices. For some of the big cats in particular, staff or volunteers would add nice stinky manure into the pinatas which the cats would then carry around and tear apart. Sometimes different spices or perfumes may also be used. Other items include ‘boomer balls’, lures, cardboard boxes, sparkly disco balls, pools, brushes, barrels, and so on. Many zoos will also have seasonal items such as pumpkins in the Fall and used Christmas trees after the Christmas holiday is over.
One of my personal favourites is what the Oregon Zoo does for their Beavers Maple and Filbert. If you want to experience the ultimate joy in life I think you should check out their videos on YouTube. The zoo keepers take the Beavers on little field trips around the zoo so they can collect braches and bring them back to their house. It is brilliant.
One way to apply this practice for your own pets is to add some pizzazz to their regular routine. You can add items like pet grass, food puzzles, and interactive toys.
Pet grass is a particularly useful enrichment item because it lets the pet self regulate any digestive upset and they can do it as needed. Some pets do nibble a bit too much and may throw up so if you really care about your carpets you could supervise and limit the amount your pet ingests by only putting the grass out for a short period of time. You could also use scotch guard or something like that to protect the carpet. Either way, if you can find a way to make it work your pet will appreciate it. I also have a catnip plant which Bean really loves to chew up.
Food Puzzles and the Kibble Toss Game
Ziggy is my food puzzle champion. He is obsessed with food and due to some health issues I have to limit what kind of food he gets. He is also devious, or maybe tenacious is more kind, and will go to great lengths to steal food he should not eat. To keep him engaged, active, away from my other cats, and healthy overall I use a bunch of food puzzles and different spots so that it takes him a while to get all his food. He has 5 treat dispensers that I divide his kibble into and I also put a few kibbles in a bowl up on the hutch and under a shelf for extra exercise. Before bed we also play a treat toss game. I think that may be his favourite part of the day. I throw a small handfull of kibble, one kibble at a time, across the kitchen and he has to catch them, run, sniff them out, and he has a blast. The only caveat is that occasionally a kibble ends up in a tricky spot and I have to help find it for him. But we both really love this activity and it is a fun way to end the day.
I also make Moxie and Ramses ‘hunt’ for kibble twice a day by spreading their kibble portions around the room. This keeps them moving and sniffing around to find them all. Ramses is a little less active than his brother so sometimes gives me what as I interpret as an incredulous look, but he still joins in because he loves food.
Interactive Toys and a Playtime Routine
Interactive toys are also a great way to keep your pets interested and engaged. Some toys are set up for the pet to play on their own but I would specifically recommend using ones that you need to do together. You are likely to get your pet moving more if you play with them. I also highly recommend making playtime a part of your daily routine, even if it’s only for a few minutes. And even though older pets may no longer play like they used to you can still spend a bit of time trying to entice them to keep moving. Ziggy and I play in the morning before breakfast. Ideally he plays himself out and does not chase Bean, but this admittedly is not often the case. Bean plays a bit different but whenever she hides in the cat tunnel it is time to play so I have to indulge her. Ramses is not as playful but I can still get him going with a feather wand toy. In his case this means a paw swat. Moxie likes chasing a fleece strip on a stuffed toy. It’s the only toy that really brings out his playful side.
Items like the Furbo are a fun techie way to engage your dog. Wand toys are a fun way to get your cat playing. Lure toys or ‘flirt poles’ for dogs are also a great idea.
Cardboard boxes are a hot commodity for cats. Particularly in this era of Amazon shopping use your large boxes for your cats. You can set them up as is for a cat to jump in. You can flip them on the side so the cat can use it as a mini-cave. Ramses in particular loves this and uses a sideways box as his primary scratcher and hang-out spot. You can also cut out cat-sized holes and set them up around the house as an escape for your cat or even a mini obstacle course game. The Fraser Valley Animal Hospital has a great video about this on their YouTube channel (“The Power of a Cardboard Box”).
DIY Agility and Food Sniffing Course
You can also set up some DIY agility courses for your dog (or cat). One cool and easy way is to set up different containers (muffin tins or different pans), food puzzles, treat dispensers, lick mats, stools, chairs, boxes, tunnels, blankets, and so on around the living room or a playroom. Then put a portion of their kibble or some treats that they really love in all different spots so they have to sniff around and hunt for the food. This was an idea I discovered watching a presentation by Sarah Fisher, a Tellington Touch instructor and dog trainer, who has developed a way to assess a dog’s mobility and overall health by watching the dog go through this elaborate food finding course. I may do a separate post about this eventually because I found it intriguing and want to do more research about it. But, to summarize, this type of easy food/scent driven obstacle course allows her to see how a dog moves, if a limb or their neck is a bit stiff for example, if they favour a particular side (left or right), if they have trouble with sniffing stuff at a higher elevation or on the ground, spinal issues, and much much more. To watch a video about Sarah and her work check this out on YouTube: https://youtu.be/10C4qdizEtw
Rotate and Enhance Old Toys
Another good tip is to rotate the toys your pet uses so that old toys can become new again. One thing I used to do for Hal in particular was to put his toys in a container with catnip so they would be even more enticing once we pulled them out to play with later. You could try this with some clean toys and place them in with your dog’s kibble or treats so that they kind of smell interesting when you pull them out again. If you can sew try restuffing your dog’s toys so they can tear them apart all over again.
Catnip and Silvervine
Of course catnip is a good tool, though not all cats care about it. Another thing you can try is silvervine. It is getting used more here in Canada in certain cat toys but you can also order it as a powder that you can use at home.
Other Must Have Items
Cat scratchers, particularly large ones that have a nice sturdy base, are also an important item. A lot of the typical ones sold in stores are often for kittens so if your cat ends up tipping over their post it is time to find them a bigger one, so they do not use the couch.
Find some comfy beds and blankets and put them in different spots around your house. Some dogs may like a specific spot but if you are not sure try out a few places they tend to hang out and give them the option to choose. Cats definitely like to move around and so I make sure to have a lot of different comfy spots that they can use depending on their mood. Sometimes pets need some downtime to themselves so it’s nice if they can have that option when needed.
Here is a really in-depth article about enrichment activities for dogs:
I have been avoiding blogging about my loss of Hal in June. I am naturally very linear so prefer a chronological documentation of events. But I think I placed too much pressure on myself to publicly tackle such an emotional and heart-breaking experience. I would still very much like to write something about it but clearly I need more time. If you would like to see my post about Hal’s passing here is the link:
In September I started a new content idea on social media, sharing petcare tips that I think are really important or helpful. My first choice was about cleaning water dishes. It is one of the first things I tackle when petsitting because I want to make sure the pet is happy and healthy while I am responsible for their well-being. There is a yucky film that can develop and I have learned over the years that it can be a health problem. Clients have requested that I wash the water bowls daily due to previous health concerns, particularly acne which formed on the pet’s chin. I have also noticed that pets, especially cats, will not drink enough water and this can be because their water dish has the yucky film on it which affects the taste. I became a bit obsessed with this particular task as a pet sitter and would do what I call the ‘paper towel test’ on the water dish after I rinse it out. If there is brown or pink gunk then I scrub it thoroughly. This film also seems to come back quickly so I would be careful to wash it more often than a bowl that passed my crude test.
When I Googled it to get some more insight I was pretty grossed out by my findings. The main article was from 2018 by Stanley Coren, a well known dog expert I use to watch on TV, titled ‘What is Lurking in Your Dog’s Water Bowl?”. It discusses many problems and research related to water bowl cleanliness, material types, and possible consequences. One of the issues is plastic, which can be problematic depending on the type/quality of plastic used as well as if it is scratched up. What struck me was that while ceramic is a safer material it can be as bad or worse because of cracks that can form in the glaze which can be a breeding ground for bacteria. Stainless steel seemed to perform better, though in my experience it can still fail my ‘paper towel test’ and needs regular cleaning.
The article also named Serratia Marcescens as the bacteria that we see as that pink film at the bottom of the bowl. When I Googled that so many medical concerns popped up. I am sure it is more dangerous when it forms in a hospital care situation, particularly on equipment that should be sterile, but nevertherless it is still scary.
On top of that, what we cannot see with the naked eye can be just as bad. Both Salmonella and E. coli were found to be present on water dishes in the research Dr. Coren is discussing.
Recently I watched an online presentation by Dr. Jean Gauvin, a veterinary dental specialist, and he mentioned a link between the bacteria in a water dish to dental health. He said that when plaque forms on the tooth it can form on top of this bad bacteria causing more serious dental problems. This is another reason to keep your pet’s water bowl clean, as well as clean your pet’s teeth. But, I will tackle the topic of dental health more thoroughly at a later date.
So to sum up…
It is critical that you clean your pet’s water dishes regularly! Rinsing out with hot water is not sufficient.
Wash with warm soapy water or run through the dishwasher. If you use plastic make sure to wash frequently, and if you notice scratches it may be time to get a new bowl – preferably stainless steel if at all possible.
If you have a pet that is sensitive to chemicals like a bird, amphibian or reptile just be careful how you sanitize your bowls. You may need need to use elbow grease rather than soap, and change bowls more often. If you have any concerns about a specific species please ask your veterinarian or local specialized animal rescue to find out what they use and can recommend. When I volunteered at the local Zoo we used a special type of cleaning product for the Vivarium that was safe for reptiles, but it required special protocols to ensure everything was thoroughly cleaned and ready to go back into the enclosure.
Some species, like hermit crabs, may be sensitive to metals so you cannot use stainless steel in those cases. Again, just do some research and reach out to your veterinarian, specialty pet store, or other experts to find out what is the safest option for your particular pet.
Here is a link to Stanley Coren’s article if you would like to read more: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/canine-corner/201809/what-is-lurking-in-your-dogs-water-bowl?amp
See you next time and follow @furryornot on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter for more helpful tips and photos.
The past month has been a challenge, emotionally and mentally as much as anything. I suspect like most people I did not really see this coming. Using the word ‘pandemic’ seems like something out of a movie, something to fear but something that will probably not happen here (meaning wherever I am). I had seen news about the Coronavirus but generally avoid following major news feeds, questionable Facebook posts, and general fear mongering. So at first I thought nothing would happen here. Then as the cases in BC in were announced and suddenly toilet paper was flying off the shelf to be stockpiled by worried people I finally started to pay attention. Though I assumed after a few weeks the panic would die down and things would go back to normal. Within a very short time my business was drastically affected as people started cancelling their vacation plans, and eventually most people had to start working from home. I am prone to worrying, so it was really quite alarming how quickly things changed and how the future seemed very uncertain. I think the scariness of it really hit me the first time I went to Save On to buy groceries after the self-isolating began. It was very alarming to see people so terrified of each other, people in masks and gloves, and completely empty shelves.
On a personal level having more time at home, a kind of ‘forced sabbatical’, is much needed. As my business has grown over the past few years, and particularly in 2019, I have been working very long hours and experiencing extreme burnout. I do love my job, but working 7 days a week and often 12 plus hour days was taking a toll. So, while I was scared about finances and the future I was relieved to have some extended down time. I have luckily still been able to work a little bit and have some savings to fall back on so my situation was not as dire as it was for a lot of people. The biggest hardship is simply that my future plans are postponed, I have to crack down on unnecessary spending, and I will have to wait to buy some wishlist items in the distant but more stable future. I have been living as a crazy cat lady hermit anyways so all this social distancing is not a stretch at all. I have work, I have a roof over my head, I have entertainment, I have food, and I have 5 (yes 5!) cats to keep me company when I am home with all this extra time.
One of the positives (and negatives) of this extra home time is attempting to integrate my cats with foster cats Moxie & Ramses. As many of you know, my client Jim passed away in the Fall and I took in his cats rather than let the family take them to the SPCA or another rescue. I did this partly because I was already taking care of them while Jim was in the hospital which was for almost 2 months. I had also known them for 7 years at that point and was bonded particularly with Moxie. See my previous post for more about that story. But, I had hoped I could find them a home together as that was literally Jim’s last wish. I placed an ad on Social Media for a while and did receive one offer by a cat rescuer but I held out hoping to find them a home of their own where they would be loved like they had been their whole life. Christmas holidays came and went and I advertised again at the Pet Lover Show in February with absolutely no interest shown. It was really discouraging and I had to seriously consider that this may be a foster fail situation.
Then we have a pandemic where rescues are scrambling for foster families and resources and less pets are getting adopted out while more pets are coming in. I am happy to have the boys with me, I love them. But do I really want 5 cats? 3 senior cats, and a cat with urinary issues and pancreatitis? The answer is no, and maybe yes…?? I admit I have envisioned a future with a ridiculous amount of animals, maybe a small acreage with a donkey, chickens, a llama, lots of cats, and dogs, and so on. I think it is really important to give back and help where I can. But I also had to spend a couple months worth of rent on my sick cats in February between 3 vet visits, medication, and special food. Things happen and those things cost money. I have some resources so it is not impossible for me to care for all these cats. If they all get really sick at once, well I can hopefully manage it. It would of course still be ideal to find them a home where they can live out their days cuddling in someone’s lap and peacefully enjoying food, treats, and sunshine, but realistically that may not happen. So, I had to start the process of integration and I finally had the time to do it.
The main reason this integration is happening now though is that Moxie was no longer content having half of my home. There were breakouts, system repairs, flaws discovered, and then more breakouts, and repeat. So, I mustered up my courage and released the hounds, so to speak. As I anticipated the issues are mostly between Ziggy and Moxie, and then poor Bean gets chased by Moxie too. Ziggy and Moxie have very similar personalities and Ziggy was a handful so I figured they would clash. And, clash they have. They have had two all-out brawls apparently trying to eat each other’s faces. Mostly it has been what I have started calling a serious ‘tiff’, meaning not an all out howling biting rolling around frenzy but posturing and smacking of a paw, then a retreat. Luckily bloodshed has been minimal. There was a scary eye injury that took a day to heal (Moxie), some minor scratches (both), and a paw was bleeding but healed quickly (Moxie? but not sure as no injury was visible). The eye injury was the most upsetting of course but luckily was very minor and nothing was seriously damaged. I have experienced lots of guilt and anxiety and stress for putting these cats through this. These less violent tiffs are still frequent but these seem less dangerous and more just vying for their spot or area of choice. Moxie is still really territorial about his half of our home but Ziggy is determined to check it all out and spend time there which is generally when these tiffs occur. If only I had a second hallway or the ability to catify my place completely. But, as I have only the one hallway and can’t start drilling holes in walls here I am working on easier techniques to create a peaceful household.
I have participated in several cat behaviour webinars over the years via Pet Sitters International education resources, online conferences, etc. The latest of course stuck with me more because I was able to immediately see a way to apply it to my situation at home. It featured Marci Koski (https://www.felinebehaviorsolutions.com/) a feline behavior and training consultant. And one of the things she mentioned was allogrooming which is something a mom or another cat in a group will do to create a group scent. So she suggested that the pet parent can do this themselves by using the same soft bristled brush on all the cats. I also watched a Jackson Galaxy video (https://youtu.be/wcIUHjfzTvA) where he discussed the cat’s safe space and transferring their stuff from that space to the rest of the house as part of the integration process (he calls it ‘exploding basecamp’). Both of these are easy to do, and I latched onto hope. Space is limited but I used a few blankets and toys and spread them around. The grooming is a bit trickier because Hal is not keen on brushes of any kind so I can only get in a few swipes. Bean and Ziggy are tolerant for a brief brief brushing. Ramses likes to be brushed up to a point. Moxie on the other hand loves being groomed and I am not sure how helpful that will be (other than keeping him busy for a few minutes). I also put up two of the special Feliway plug-ins for multiple cat households. Every little thing can help.
One of the other tips is to use feeding time or treats to get the cats to associate each other with happy things. That is a tricky business with my gang because Ziggy is restricted to urinary care food and no treats at all. He will also eat everyone else’s food given a chance. Hal is a finicky eater and likes to graze so needs to be cajoled and supervised so Ziggy doesn’t get any of it. Bean likes to eat in different spots and can be a bit tricky too. Ramses will steal and eat any food he can find and Moxie eats in elevated spots so that Ramses can’t eat his portion. It took me a while to figure out how to sort out everyone’s needs and keep it positive. The current system seems to be working. When it is dinner time everyone gathers, Moxie & Ramses hang out with me in the kitchen while my gang waits in their usual dinner spots. Then once everyone’s food is prepared the boys eat back in their room and I close off the hallway so Ziggy can do his thing safely and Ramses doesn’t eat all of Hal’s food. So it is a modified version but at least it’s something.
I am struggling a bit with frustration and impatience. Ziggy & Moxie may always be problematic or they may eventually accept each other. I am trying to enjoy the hours of peaceful coexistence we do have, minimize the fighting, preventing injury, and distracting with playtime and cuddles. I wish I could just sit back and relax and have 5 best friends cuddling on the couch with me, but I will settle for a few hours with no fighting, chasing, or hissing.
I am still separating them at night which I think is part of the possessiveness over their room. However, my sleep is critical so I am still debating on what is worse and whether I should attempt to leave them all out all night or not. I lean towards not yet, particularly for Bean to have a peaceful period to do her own thing. But, I hope to get to a point where I feel they are more respectful of each other and perhaps can integrate for the whole day.
During these peaceful periods, or when I have given up and separated them again, I have managed to make use of this extra time and clean up my place a bit, take care of some paperwork, and so on. The cats have been a huge distraction at times so I am not getting as much done as I had hoped but I am chipping away.
I will keep you posted on our progress! Wish us luck!
Moxie and Ramses were one of my very first cat clients way back when I started my business. Moxie and I had an instant bond. Ramses took a bit more time to warm up to me (food and treats helped a lot!). Every time I got to take care of them again it was like seeing old friends. They were always happy to see me, and get fed too of course.
In the Fall of 2019 their Dad had a heart attack on what was only supposed to be a week trip. He spent many weeks in the hospital waiting for tests and then finally surgery. I took care of the boys that whole time. I spoke with my human client just before his surgery and his biggest worry was about his boys. They are biological brothers and grew up together and the idea that they may have to go to the SPCA and be split up was very upsetting to him. I tried to reassure him that it would not happen. To stay positive that all will go well and he will be back home as planned. However I found out he passed away the weekend he should have been coming home.
The family was unable to take the cats and were planning on taking them to the SPCA. I asked for some time to try to find them a home and tried advertising on social media but did not get any serious offers. There were a lot of helpful people but I was looking for a home where they would be loved and pampered like they were used to. So when they had to leave their apartment I took them home. At least that way they knew me and I was hoping that would help with the tough transition. It would also buy me more time to find them the perfect home together.
They have now been with me for several months and are doing fine. I have a pretty crazy work schedule and 3 cats of my own so they do not get all the cuddles and attention they would like but I try my best.
Moxie had a urinary inflammation around the time his Dad went on the trip so I have slowly transitioned them to the same food I feed Ziggy (he had bladder crystals when I first brought him home). Ramses has a bit of arthritis so I have also added a supplement to his diet for that. They are seniors and will need regular check ups too. But, they are both wonderful loving cats. Moxie is especially a cuddly pants, loves attention and hugs, as well as playtime. Ramses likes some cuddling but mostly just wants to hang out and be next to me, or his brother, as well as dinner time.
If you know of anyone who may be looking for some cuddly companions please mention Moxie & Ramses. Particularly if they like spending time at home on a comfy couch that will also fit two big cats. #findmoxieandramsesahome
I am getting ready for some time off and Hal is helping motivate me with his go-getter attitude. I actually made it through a good chunk of my to-do list though for me that just means that I still have a dozen things I should do but will settle for accomplishing the most timely tasks. Preparing for vacation is kind of exhausting but I am definitely looking forward to some non-pet related human social time, sleeping in (or trying to at least), and lazy days. I often end up doing something pet or animal related on my vacations anyway. I cannot go cold turkey. I am also cheating this weekend so I can participate in the Prosperous Pet Business Online Conference. It is free but each daily video is only available for 24 hours so I need to make the time. It was super helpful last year so I know it will be worth it.
Back to my dear fur(or not) friends Tuesday! Have a good weekend everyone.
One of Hal’s quirks is that he is really cuddly compared to other cats I know. And if he feels I am not attentive enough he will push between me and my book so that I am forced to pet him. Smart and sometimes annoying kitty.
One of the things I really enjoy about my job is being outside walking dogs for a good part of my work day. One of the things I dislike about my job is often also being outside walking dogs or a good part of my work day.
The good: I get lots of fresh air, enjoy nature including occasionally seeing a pileated woodpecker (which is the epitome of bird watching for a bird nut like me). I am also slightly more fit with all the walking (junk food and fast food cause the ‘slightly’ part).
The bad: I get completely drenched and chilled to the bone when it rains all day during our mild west coast winter putting ‘water proof’ labelling to the test (and it fails usually!). In the summer I am constantly pink from the sun despite the amount of suncreen I use. I also sweat profusely and smell which the dogs find interesting but is awkward when interacting with humans. For the most part, dog walking is rain or shine whether I feel up to it or not and I am not about to let the dogs down even if I would rather be inside.
It has been so hot here lately that I actually began fantasizing about rain. Once it starts raining again I will change my mind, but until then it seems like it will be such a relief. Some dogs are what I call ‘fairweather dogs’ and do not like the rain at all. Chevy, one of my first dog walking clients, gets very moody when it rains a lot and it can be quite a chore trying to get him to stay outside long enough to do his business. I can often convince him to at least pee, but if the rain is really going strong it can be really challenging to get even that accomplished. Other dogs are total troopers in the rain and only the worst storms will stop them from enjoying their walk.
The heat of the summer is another matter. Dogs will often want to keep going even if it is very hot out. Panting is how the dog regulates their body temperature and is a natural response when walking. They cannot sweat like people do (though they do have sweat glands in their paw pads) and need to pant when they exercise. However, when it gets really hot out panting may not be enough and this is when heat exhaustion and heat stroke can occur. This is a concern for me when dog walking. I only walk dogs individually (or in family groups) around their neighbourhood so I do not have to worry about driving dogs and hot cars. I do still have to be careful though. I try to keep the walks a bit shorter if they are during the hottest part of the day. For longer exercise walks I try to schedule them in the morning or after dinner, and in the most extreme heat have even cancelled if possible. My one pair, Kuba a Doberman and Marley a Boston Terrier, are a good example. Marley has a flat face and these ‘snub nosed’ dog breeds have an even tougher time than other dogs. We take a lot of what I call ‘shade breaks’ on the walk at this time of year where she tries to catch her breath. Even in the morning a 45 minute walk is pushing her limit. Kuba on the other hand would walk until he keeled over so luckily we have Marley to keep him in check. Once it gets around 30 ° (80 – 100 ° F) the owner often cancels because it is just too hot out for them.
Another interesting thing I wanted to share is about fluffy pets. Animals will shed seasonally but thicker or longer fur can also work as a protection against the heat, as well as the cold. So if you do have your pet shaved they may have a harder time keeping cool in the summer heat.
As the summer heatwave continues keep an eye on your pets, learn the signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke, and leave them at home if you are doing errands or if you will be out in the sun all day. Your pet sitter can come and let them out while you are out if needed!
It is National Bite Prevention Week so I thought I should write about my experiences and how I think people should approach dogs.
I have been bitten a few times, though never severely. Usually it has been more a case of being in the way of something the dog is trying to bite, either a treat or another dog. One of the things I learned from Custom Canine’s Working with Dogs course, www.customcanine.com, is to wave a stick or leash, whatever is available, back and forth in front of you, from side to side. You could even use your hand if there is nothing else, but this does put your hand at-risk! It distracts the dog approaching and forces some distance between you, which will usually result in them backing off. This has been a life saver for me dealing with off-leash dogs charging at me and the dog I am walking. This could work with unwanted people too, because they might think you are too weird to approach – just an idea, though I may test it some day!
Another important aspect to bite prevention is to pay attention to your surroundings and the dog you are with. I can definitely ‘zone out’ when I am walking, especially if I am busy and have a lot on my mind. But, I do try to keep an eye and ear out for people or other dogs. I also need to figure out if the dog I am walking needs more space so I can adjust our course to avoid the stranger or just pull the leash in to avoid lunging. This may involve crossing the street, turning down a side road, or even hiding behind a parked car (one of my favourites). I am very thankful for dog owners who are aware of their surroundings and call in their dog when they see me walking. It is really frustrating when you see someone standing around talking or texting on their phone while their dog is obviously considering or even starting to charge at you.
I also greatly appreciate when people ask before they approach us, especially children. Except for a couple of dogs that I am 110% sure of, I say ‘no’ just to be safe, and also because the dogs get annoyed if we have to stop for humans, or anything in some cases (at least that is how I interpret their look). There has been a few times when someone has reached out to pet a dog and I had to pull them away to avoid a bite and/or say ‘Please don’t do that…’ so it is definitely better if people ask first and respect a ‘no’.
One dog, Daisy, absolutely loves all people especially little kids, but does not really like other dogs. Some dogs are the opposite. Some dogs are scared of anything new and will try to run away and others will lunge and bark. By the way, this is hard if you are walking 2 or 3 dogs and they all have different reactions! A wagging tail does not necessarily mean ‘friendly’, it depends on the dog and how they are wagging it. It is also important not to stare a dog down, this puts the situation at a higher risk. Dogs will turn away, lick their lips, and avoid direct eye contact with other dogs to avoid confrontation so it is important to be aware of these ‘calming signals’ and not treat meeting dogs like meeting new people who expect a firm hand shake and direct eye contact. Often a reactive dog is just very fearful of unknown people, animals, and especially weirdly shaped piles of garbage. It is my job to make our walk as fun as possible, but safety is even more important. It can take time to learn the dog’s signals, sometimes it’s obvious and there are definite commonalities, but some dogs are very subtle or can change their mind quickly!