Welcome to Petplan’s blog, a space where you can read up on the latest pet-news, find out interesting facts and tips about keeping your pets happy and healthy, and share your views on hot topics.
It sounds idyllic - a long, relaxing walk on open ground, your dog at your heel. But what if the reality is far from this? Getting out into the countryside may seem the perfect time to let your dog off the lead, but if he's going to dash off or chase other animals, it can end up being a stressful experience for everyone. It's better to strike a balance between keeping him on the lead and letting him have some freedom at appropriate times. 'Time off the lead is essential to a dog's health and wellbeing,' says Sean Wensley, PDSA senior veterinary surgeon. 'And effective training and keeping him on a lead near potential hazards will help ensure he exercises safely.'
1. Start early
To avoid problems when he is older, it's important to put in the groundwork when he's a puppy. Make sure you teach your dog how to respond to essential commands, such as 'stay' and 'come', in a safe enclosure to pre-empt issues when out walking in the open. As Janet Ardley, a professional dog trainer and qualified behaviourist, says: 'If you don't have your dog's respect at home, you're not going to have it out on walks. Ideally, you need to start training him from an early age.'
2. Dog meets dog
Dogs can react aggressively when they meet other canines, creating a stressful situation for both dogs and owners. The key, according to dog walker Anne Lamb from Herefordshire, is to keep calm. 'You can usually spot possible conflict a mile away by your dog's body language - tail up, head up, ears pricked up. That is the time to get your dog back. Call him instantly - don't wait to meet trouble halfway,' she says.
3. Thrill of the chase
Many dogs can't resist the urge to chase anything small and furry, and once theyve caught the trail of another animal it can be impossible to regain their attention. If your dog does chase wildlife, it's vital to keep him under control. William Wake from the National Trust says: 'Keep your distance from wild animals and avoid getting between them and their young.' Dog owner Nikki Goldup, from Cambridgeshire, advises taking toys out on walks or distracting your dog with treats. 'Little cheese cubes or chopped sausage work well to keep your dog's attention,' she says.
4. Back to heel
If your dog has been enjoying some freedom off the lead, it can be hard to get him back under control. But it's vital you establish a heel routine, in case you have to cross a road, or walk past pedestrians or horse riders. 'Dogs need leadership,' says Anne Lamb. 'When it's time to go back on the lead, they must come back instantly. It takes time to establish this behaviour and get their respect, but start off with a pack-leader mentality and you can't go wrong.'
5. Lead the way
Extending leads can be really useful for dogs that need some freedom but can't be trusted to go off lead, while harnesses are good for dogs that pull. Joanna Way from pet accessories company Dogs & Co also recommends using a police training lead. 'It consists of a long piece of leather with a clip at each end. Along its length is a series of rings that allow you to shorten or lengthen the lead when you need to give your dog the maximum freedom in open country,' she says.
6. Fun on the farm
If your dog chases sheep or cows, it could end in disaster. A dog that worries, attacks or chases livestock could be contravening the Dogs Act of 1953. This is punishable by a hefty fine, compensation and possibly a destruction order - and a farmer can lawfully shoot a dog caught worrying his livestock. Janet Ardley runs courses in Cumbria, training dogs not to chase sheep. 'I have permission from a local farmer to use his flock of sheep. The dogs spend an hour with me walking on a long line among the sheep. I use a firm voice to say 'leave', and if that doesn't work, a sudden noise such as a clicker can be effective,' she explains. Conversely, if a farm animal chases you, it's best to let your dog off the lead so you can both make a safe getaway.
7. Water works
Some dogs absolutely love water and like nothing better than going for a swim. But Mark Bossley, chief vet at the Blue Cross animal charity, advises caution. 'Don't let them near ponds where algae is growing as some types of algae can be toxic to dogs - even deadly. Not all dogs are strong swimmers, so it's safer to only let these dogs near shallow water and keep a close eye on them. Finally, during the winter, never let your dog run onto ponds or expanses of water that have frozen over,' he says.
Q: We have owned our goldfish for nearly 11 years now and he has always been healthy. But he's started swimming upside down. What's wrong with him?
A: Your goldfish may be suffering with swim bladder disease. This is basically where he has too much air in this specialised fish organ, causing him to be more buoyant than he should be and float to the surface. Swim bladder disease is usually caused by a bacterial or viral infection. Some vets may prescribe antibiotics or even try to relieve the swim bladder with a needle, but the stress of such a procedure can have dire consequences, and the problem can reoccur. Others suggest feeding a fish a few frozen peas, which act as a laxative in case of an intestinal blockage or bloat. Sadly, if a fish continues to swim awkwardly for 10 days, even with these simple treatments, he may be on his way to the great goldfish bowl in the sky.
Scott Miller, vet
Q: My 14-year-old Siamese-cross cat Max has started to spray everywhere, especially if he cannot get his own way. What can I do?
A: Spraying is the most common behaviour problem I see in cats. As Max has not sprayed before, I'd get him checked by the vet to ensure there is no underlying medical cause for his sudden change in behaviour. Has anything changed recently in his environment that may have caused him anxiety? It's important to pinpoint the exact cause of the behaviour so it can be dealt with. Don't tell him off because this may escalate the problem. Obtaining a Feliway® spray from your vet may help too.
Inga MacKellar, animal behaviourist
You may have heard that dogs see the world differently. We had too. But when author Jennifer Arnold called and gave us her insights into just how differently dogs see the world, we were blown away. So we've asked Jennifer to give us her 'top five' dog-sense facts. Prepare to be amazed!
1. Dogs actually understand very few words. Instead they rely on our tone and body language to glean the meaning in our voices. They can detect less then a tenth of a millimetre of movement, allowing them to pick up the smallest change in our posture and demeanour.
2. Since dogs don't have language, they remember things by taking 'snapshots' or small clips of smells, sounds and sights. They can recall those clips when placing their current circumstances in context.
3. Your dog would fail his drivers' examination without glasses. Dogs are quite near-sighted. What humans can see from 80 feet away, a dog cannot make out until he is 20 feet away. They do, however, have better vision in low light for motion than do people.
4. Your dog sees detail poorly, much as you would if you looked through a lens smeared with cooking oil.
5. Dogs do see colours but not the wide and vivid spectrum that most people see. Dogs can see blues, yellows and many shades of grey, but not green or red.
Finally, while our dogs may not always see well, their sense of smell boggles the mind! Dogs can smell parts per trillion compared to our ability to smell only parts per hundred. This means that a dog could detect a single drop of vanilla in an Olympic-size, chlorinated swimming pool.
For more insights on a dog's-eye view of the world, see Through a dog's eyes: understanding our dogs by understanding how they see the world by Jennifer Arnold (published by Souvenir Press, £18.99).
For a £3 discount off the RRP, with free P&P, call 01235 827702.
Finally, if you have any stories about YOUR dog's amazing senses, just get in touch by commenting below.
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