“Fine” is a Four-Letter Word

“Fine” is a Four-Letter Word

Have you ever looked at your dog and thought that she looks “fine”? Have you described your own or another person’s pet as “fine” when you describe them to your friends? Beware, the word “fine” is often not so fine! What is “fine”? One of the most common statements that I hear when I am counseling clients is that their pet is “fine”.  Here are some examples in which a client may describe their pet as “fine” (names are changed to protect the innocent!): “Our dog Fluff is fine when our baby snuggles with him on the dog bed.” “Our cat Puffy is fine when she’s being petted.” “Spot’s fine when she’s on a walk.” Unfortunately, the word “fine” is not very informative when addressing current or potential problem behaviors. It provides an interpretation of a pet’s behavior, which may not be actually be accurate. With a little more digging,  the word “fine” can be replaced with some specific behaviors for the above scenarios: Fluff doesn’t growl at the baby when the baby snuggles with him on the dog bed. Puffy doesn’t his or growl when she’s being petted. Spot walks past people and dogs without barking at them. On first glance, so far so good! Notice, though, that when the pet is described as “fine” in the above examples, it is associated with a current lack of threatening or aggressive behavior. This is typical of what I hear in real life as well. I am often then told something like “Fluffy has always been fine with the baby, so we were shocked when he growled at her.” What’s...
A Note from Dr. Valli – Synergy Snapshot

A Note from Dr. Valli – Synergy Snapshot

Happy New Year everyone! As customary this time of the year, new resolutions are made. As such, we have made a resolution to kick off the new year with a renewed vigor by writing new articles about animal behavior, and behavior-related topics, for all of you to read and enjoy. A lot has changed with our practice since our last blog article. Previously, we were doing house call consultations only, and running classes out of dog daycares and boutique pet stores. While we enjoyed doing that, we really wanted a place that we could call “home”. After almost a year and a half of searching, we found a location in NW Portland that worked very well for us, and we named it the Synergy Behavior Center. While we still do house call consults, most of our consultations, classes, and other events are now at the facility. Now we have a great variety of services that we can offer to the Portland-area pets and their people. We have been in our Behavior Center for just over a year, and we and our clients are loving it! Several people have asked us to write about how the different parts of our practice fit together, so here’s a quick description. All of Synergy Behavior Solutions’ team members have the goal of providing compassionate and experienced behavioral care for clients and their pets. All of us have also had personal experience living with a pet who is not behaving the way that we would like. Through working through how to help them, we can relate to what clients are going through. We also...
Say What?  Bunting

Say What? Bunting

Bunting, head-butting or face-rubbing, is something anyone who has been around cats will recognize. Cats will rub against inanimate objects, as well as people or other animals that they feel comfortable with.  The term “allorubbing” is also used when bunting is done in a social context. Cats have scent glands along the sides of their mouth, chin, forehead, and their ears. They also have them between their pads and hind end. When a cat rubs on a surface, some of their sent is left behind. Cats appear to be very sensitive to the smell of other cats that do and do not belong in their social group. It is believed that a primary function of rubbing is to help establish a “colony scent” to more easily identify non-colony members, as well as indicate areas of usage. When done on a person, another cat, or other animal, it appears to be part of a greeting behavior pattern. Often, bunting starts with a little bit of sniffing on the area or individual in question, then the cat rubs the side of the nose, mouth and cheek against the target. Sometimes this evolves into a full-body rub, sometimes the cat rubs one side of the face a couple of times, or one side of the face then the other.  Cats may show different patterns of rubbing based on the height of the target site, or possibly the social relevance of the individual being rubbed. The function of the different patterns of rubbing has not yet been determined. How does your cat greet you when you come...
Why does my pet do that?

Why does my pet do that?

Have you ever wondered how your dog or cat figures out how to do what? It is because of two types of learning that they are especially good at: associative learning, and learning by consequence. When working with companion animals, regardless of whether you are teaching obedience cues, working on tricks, or addressing complex behavior problems, understanding the way they learn will make the process easier and more successful. Associative Learning This type of learning is also called classical conditioning. In classical conditioning, the animal makes an association between a trigger and an event. The trigger becomes predictive of the event. This relationship does not depend on what the animal does, since the trigger will always predict the event. A great example of this is your dog running to the door when the doorbell rings. The doorbell (trigger) is predictive of a visitor coming to the house (event). One very interesting thing about classical conditioning is that emotional and physical responses can be conditioned.  For example, many people associate the smell of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies or apple pie with positive memories. So when they smell these smells, they feel good. That’s why realtors often have a plate of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies during an open house, in the hopes of linking the house with positive memories and emotions for prospective buyers. Another example: If you get a static shock every time that you try to touch a doorknob, you may become nervous about touching the doorknob. You have associated the doorknob with a zap. Animal Examples The original example: Researcher Ivan Pavlov conditioned his dogs to...

Happy Howl-o-Ween! Halloween Pet Safety

When I was young, Halloween was one of my favorite celebrations. Not so much because of the candy (although it was definitely a bonus) but because of the chance to be someone (or something) completely different from my usual everyday self.  It’s a great time to play with costume make-up, wear funky clothing, and put on things that rattle and clink. Try to imagine this from your dog or cat’s perspective though. All of a sudden their family members all look, sound, and smell different! So do all the visitors coming to the door!  You can imagine that Halloween, while fun for us humans, may be somewhat stressful for our pets. Some things that can make your dog or cat stressed out on Halloween: Lots of kids.  Kids can be stress-provoking for many pets because they may not have had a lot of experience with kids.  Also, children move fast and often in unpredictable ways, which can make dogs and cats scared of being around them. Lots of costumes. Even if your pets are comfortable with children, they may be very concerned about the different ghouls and goblins coming to the door.  If your pets are not highly socialized and comfortable with people in costumes, this will make them afraid. Lots of people coming to the door.  If your dog is like many others, the doorbell is a signal for great excitement. Now imagine that excitement repeated 20 or 30 (or more!) times in one night!  Other pets see the doorbell as a signal for great anxiety.  It’s important to remember that this much excitement or anxiety can lead...