To Treat Or Not To Treat?

Foundational Thinking For Creating Good Behavior In Dogs Part 2 : Choose Your Methods of Training Carefully, Especially with Reactive/Fearful Dogs.
By Christine Mallar, Co-owner, Green Dog Pet Supply. Christine has 30 years of positive reinforcement training experience with dogs, cats and captive exotic animals.

There is still a big disconnect in the world of training – there are two camps: some trainers that use positive reinforcement training (“Causing desire of a thing, situation or behavior by using a pleasant or motivating stimulus”), and some that use aversives (“Causing avoidance of a thing, situation, or behavior by using an unpleasant or punishing stimulus”).
Humans and dogs are definitely different species with different perspectives in many ways (check out the book in the photo below). However, both dogs and humans have similar sorts of things that motivate us – things that might make us drag ourselves out of the comfort of our cozy beds to do something that we might not exactly choose to do for pleasure, but that are motivating for other reasons.

Check out Patricia McConnell’s book, “The Other End of the Leash” It’s a really interesting read on the differences between humans and dogs that often cause miscommunications.

1) Love – We might do tasks or favors for people or creatures that we love that then serve to strengthen our bonds and often cause them to show us affection or approval, which feels good.

2) Money – lets call it “currency”. Some of us are lucky enough to have jobs that mean something to us and reinforce our desire to be there, but let’s face it: When it comes to dragging ourselves out of that cozy cave and applying ourselves to tasks we might not choose to work hard on just for the fun of it, we’re all working because we get paid. For dogs, one of the most effective currencies is yummy treats. Learning is challenging for all of us – and for dogs it can be both physically and mentally challenging. It can also be emotionally challenging when we’re working on behaviors that will help them combat the discomfort or outright fears they might have about strangers or dogs or loud noises, etc. Yummy treats can make those difficult things easier, and the fact that they’re sprinkled though the activity fairly regularly and appear when they do the best job can be very motivating indeed to try harder to make that good thing happen. If only our salary could magically appear a dollar or two at a time, right when we do a good job with something or complete a task, or especially when we do something we don’t want to do. We might get more done and have more fun doing it! There’s science to this: Wikipedia says, “In popular culture and media, dopamine is usually seen as the main chemical of pleasure, but the current opinion in pharmacology is that dopamine instead confers motivational salience; in other words, dopamine signals the perceived motivational prominence (i.e., the desirability or aversiveness) of an outcome, which in turn propels the organism’s behavior toward or away from achieving that outcome.

3) Fear – Fear can be a pretty effective motivator for both humans and animals, but as we know, it comes with baggage. Anyone that’s had a relationship with a family member or supervisor that is someone who is overbearing, judgmental, explosive with their emotions or who is quick to punish or belittle you, knows that that kind of motivation can create a lot of anxiety. It can make you feel jumpy or withdrawn when they’re around and can make you desperately seek approval that you don’t generally get, which doesn’t feel good. That person might actually be pretty pleased with this result, not perceiving that it’s tearing you up inside, or that the relationship could be much more satisfying if it was based on mutual trust and admiration.
My opinion is that just because something might occasionally be effective, it doesn’t mean that it’s the best method. In fact, the biggest trouble with using aversives (besides the byproduct of eroding the relationship and the development of mutual trust) is that it’s a method that can have serious consequences when used to address behaviors that are a result of discomfort or especially fear-based behaviors.

A good example of this is the use of choke collar “corrections” and shock collars for reactive dog behavior. Reactivity is a common problem we see in our store, when a dog lunges and barks at the sight of another dog. When a small dog does it, you’ll often hear the owner say that he thinks they’re bigger than they are or that the dog is  always thinking that they’re the “alpha”. When reactive behavior happens with a big dog, they’re worried that they have a “dominant” dog or that their dog is being aggressive. There are of course many reasons dogs might have developed that reactive behavior. That little dog may have been carried for most of its puppyhood by a protective owner. I understand the urge to keep a tiny baby out of the jaws of a big dog that might think it’s something to chase and catch. But when that tiny dog gets to be a bit bigger and its owners then decide it should suddenly have to walk on a leash, that dog may be completely overwhelmed by the new situation, suddenly feeling very vulnerable and scared. A leash also keeps a dog from being able to run away, which means their only remaining tool to protect themselves and to tell the other dog to keep it’s distance is to bark at them. “Stay Back! Stay Back!” Sometimes owners will even push that dog closer to the bigger dog and tell it to “say hi”, which could completely overwhelm it, sending into defense mode and biting. This is not being “too big for his britches”, he’s terrified and may think he’s defending his life. The owners move to another part of the store and the little dog feels like his barking worked to end the situation.

In the case of the bigger dog, perhaps he didn’t meet tons of dogs when he was young and his owners thought the best way to “socialize him” was to bring him to the fenced dog park, where he met another dog with poor social skills, had a very scary scuffle and came out with some small wounds. He starts to bark at other dogs on walks, trying to keep dogs out of his space. It seems to work as the owner gets him out of the situation, but the owner is starting to feel very self conscious about her dog’s behavior. When she sees another dog coming, she says “Uh Oh” and her worry and agitation that it’s about to happen again is conveyed to her dog. She transmits all sorts of warning signals to her dog, gathering his leash tighter, feeling worried, inadvertently signaling to him that other dogs are indeed very bad. The dog starts to sound the alarm, the owner yanks him away and scolds him for his outburst, feeling embarrassed in front of the other owner.
When the other dog is gone, the owner might feel and act relieved, and perhaps pet and comfort the stressed dog, feeling bad for having to punish his bad behavior.  All of which tells the dog “We sure don’t like dogs. It’s so good and we’re so happy when dogs leave!” The other thing that’s happening here is that the sight of other dogs approaching starts to predict to the reactive dog that not only are we going to have to deal with a dog that I don’t feel comfortable around, but dogs make my owner upset too, and I’m likely to catch hell from her when dogs get close. “I MUST keep that dog away!” His discomfort around dogs starts to escalate, making the behavior worse.
Now consider adding pain to the equation. Prong collars and shock collars use a painful stimulus with the premise that the dog will make the association between the barking and the pain and stop barking. The trouble is, the real association for the dog that is made by the presence of the other dog is, “Dog approaches, I feel pain. Dog leaves, pain stops”. This can make a dog’s fear of other dogs spiral upward. This process can make dog reactivity escalate. The owner then has to keep escalating the punishment, which even if it does make the dog lessen his barking, it certainly will also continue to increase a dog’s hatred and fear of other dogs.
As an owner, you have to think, “What do I wish would happen when a dog approaches?” Don’t you wish that your dog would be happy and relaxed or indifferent when he sees another dog, or that he would at least pay attention to you instead of the other dog? A dog that has learned that pain and disapproval and anxiety are the only things that happen when other dogs are near will never be relaxed around other dogs.

However, a dog that has an owner that proactively avoids confrontations and creates safe space between her dog and others is a good first step. Then she might start to try and create positive  associations for her dog about the sight of other dogs at a distance. She can start to pretend she feels happy when we see another dog at a distance far enough away that it doesn’t illicit that barking, and rewards that view of another dog with yummy treats. “Look! There’s a dog! Aren’t you lucky!” When the dog is out of view, the bar is closed. “Aw too bad! Dog’s gone. We’ll have to find another one!” She’s always looking out for opportunities to reward each time a dog is sighted (no matter what her dog’s behavior is like), managing his space to make sure he’s not too close, and stopping treats when the other dog is gone.

Why would she still “reward” when her dog isn’t acting perfect when he sees other dogs? Because she’s using “classical conditioning”. Classical conditioning is about creating an association. It’s a learning process that occurs when two stimuli are repeatedly paired – you all remember Pavlov. After he rang that bell, he then brought the food bowls. Very quickly the dogs started to drool when they heard the bell, before they ever saw the bowls coming. Bells would have never made a dog drool before that association was made. If you were to give a little boy a shock every time he saw a white bunny, it wouldn’t take long at all before the sight of a white bunny made him cry. He very likely would have a lifelong aversion  even to a photo of a white bunny, even if as an adult his rational mind could understand that a white bunny probably wouldn’t hurt him.
Classical conditioning is a simple, very powerful method that can be used to change an animal’s (or a person’s) emotional response. This is what reactive behavior is all about: an involuntary emotional response that’s been developed because of the associations the dog has made between the sight of a strange dog and what it predicts will happen due to previous experience. This is how all living creatures learn, and it’s the reason that positive reinforcement training is entirely rooted in science and why it can be so powerfully effective in changing behavior in dogs.
We not only experience classical conditioning every single day, but we have all had experiences that show us that associations can be changed. Example: lets say every time my phone rings it’s terrible news. Someone breaks the news that my friend died. My boss is calling because I forgot I said I’d work today and she’s pissed. My doctor calls to say that lump needs a biopsy. My judgmental relative calls to “say hi” but spends the whole time complaining that I never call, and then criticizes my mother the way she always does. My vet calls and gives me bad news about Otis’ blood work, etc. When that phone rings, my heart sinks. “What is it now?” That heart-sinking feeling is not voluntary. It’s an emotional response to the sound of the ringing phone. Then, what if suddenly each phone call I get is great news? A long lost friend calls me and we reconnect and chat and laugh together. My vet called and said it was a mistake and Otis is actually fine. I get a call that my biopsy is benign. Someone calls saying they’ll buy the thing I posted for sale and I suddenly will have some cash in my pocket. The dream job I interviewed for is mine! Now each time the phone rings, I’ve started to have a little emotional lift in my chest, and a little intake of breath. “Ooh! Who can it be?” says my subconscious. I couldn’t have felt that happy little lift in my heart just because someone told me to. So, creating a positive association, over and over, with something that I used to feel uncomfortable with can truly change the way I feel about that thing. Now I don’t feel I have to swear when the phone rings, which brings us to the barking analogy: “If I feel that the presence of a dog predicts bad things, I will bark at it to keep it away. If I then feel (as a result of lots of repetition) that the sight of a dog at a distance predicts only good things will happen and I feel no threat to my safety, I will not feel the need to bark at it.” This clever owner will also use operant conditioning (rewarding a good choice making it likely I’ll try to make that choice again and again) and reward that quiet dog when he could have barked and didn’t. She might also start to ask for behaviors that help him deal with the situation like “Watch Me” and reward those behaviors frequently. So, creating the simple association between “dog in view” and “cheese” can have powerful effects, and eventually that dog can be asked to be closer to other dogs and still be able to hold it together, gaining confidence around other dogs, becoming more relaxed in their relative presence, and also gaining confidence in his owner to manage his space. It works.

So this is why positive trainers get so upset when they see someone like Cesar Milan or other dominance based trainers “training” a reactive dog: They almost exclusively use punishment with reactive dogs and they see every undesirable dog behavior through the lens of “dominance” or “alpha” behavior. Not only do positive reinforcement trainers know there are other methods that aside from being kinder, can also help to change their dog’s perception of the stimulus, but they realize that punishment can create a greater negative association with the stimulus than they even had before. Remember, someone’s fear of spiders isn’t a voluntary reaction, and no amount of shoving spiders into their face, or slapping them when they see a spider will help at all to make that fear of spiders go away, even if they can learn to suppress their screams to avoid a slap. It will only work to deepen their agitation about a spider’s presence. (And there will always be a distinct possibility that the sudden sight of a spider will make them scream anyway if they’re unprepared).

Cesar Milan and the skateboard
My favorite illustration of how his method is faulty: I watched a show of his where an English Bulldog was very reactive when he saw a skateboard, barking and lunging and biting at it. He put on a choke chain and had a kid roll by on a skateboard while his owners looked on. When the dog started to bark, he kicked the bulldog. He said he wasn’t kicking him, he was just distracting him using his foot. It was enough force to move an English bulldog sideways which makes me feel like you’d call it kicking, but maybe that’s just me. Anyway, he continued to “distract him with his foot” and then give a hard yank on the choke chain each time the kid rolled by. His timing was excellent, so the bulldog quickly learned that barking predicted kicking and choking, and he suppressed his barking, even when Cesar made the kid roll very closely by. The bulldog still looked distressed, and if a bark slipped out, he got a harsh correction. The owners were so impressed and praised Cesar’s amazing skills – the skateboard was right there and he wasn’t barking, in just a few minutes time! Then the owners had a try, and predictably their corrections weren’t as strong, and the dog barked. He was predictably flipping out at the skateboard’s presence. Cesar chastised them and said they had to show more dominance.

Every person and dog has a threshold at which they can contain themselves in the face of something horrible, but there will always be a level at which you cannot keep it together.  A dog that is staying quiet because they’ve learned there’s a risk of punishment and pain is doing the equivalent of pressing his hands over his mouth, keeping himself from barking, but his opinions have certainly not changed about skateboards. The trouble is, the level of punishment has to escalate to regain the silence if the animal’s threshold is crossed. His feelings when he sees a skateboard have likely spiked into even greater levels of bad. The most important thing to point out is that this is a dog who will never ever be reliable in the

What if he learned to love skateboards like Tillman?

face of a skateboard that zooms by in real life. When that family’s 4 year old insists on holding the leash (as they do) and a skateboarding teenager appears from nowhere, that strong dog will likely react and inadvertently drag that child causing injury. No attempt has been made to make that dog feel comfortable around skateboards. If that family bought a skateboard and slowly associated it with all good things, teaching the dog that not only are skateboards safe to be near, but they actually predict that awesome things happen for bulldogs, that dog could become safe and reliable around skateboards, and that 4 year old could be holding the leash when he sees one. Positive reinforcement wins in this scenario. It may not create a sudden appearance of fixing a problem in 5 minutes like on the TV show, but it is far more likely to truly fix that skateboard problem for a lifetime, no matter who’s holding the leash.
Dominance and wolves
Trainers that use punishment often insist that just about every undesirable dog behavior can be attributed to their yearning for status, and that dominance is the underlying motivator for their actions. They have been led to believe that because they descended from wolves, that they must be in constant competition with members of their pack. The big trouble with this is that wild wolves don’t behave this way. There was a study in the 1930s that was reproduced a number of times by others that put unrelated adult wolves together in an artificial captive situation and discovered that they did indeed fight violently. Wild wolves are found in smaller family groups consisting of mated pairs and their offspring who stay in the group for several years. Sometimes families that know each other will come together for a time when resources are plentiful, and perhaps split up again when prey is scarce. When adolescents mature, they’ll leave the family to make their own. The only constant members of the group are the mated pair. It’s very unnatural to confine adult, unrelated strangers in a small captive setting, and this is a recipe for constant fighting and competition for resources.

As David Mech stated in the introduction to his study of wild wolves (Mech, 2000), “Attempting to apply information about the behavior of assemblages of unrelated captive wolves to the familial structure of natural packs has resulted in considerable confusion. Such an approach is analogous to trying to draw inferences about human family dynamics by studying humans in refugee camps. The concept of the alpha wolf as a ‘top dog’ ruling a group of similar-aged compatriots (Schenkel 1947; Rabb et al. 1967; Fox 1971a; Zimen 1975, 1982; Lockwood 1979; van Hooff et al. 1987) is particularly misleading.”

As a zookeeper and conservation worker I’ve worked with and observed many species in captivity and in the wild who live in what you might call dominance hierarchies, and I can assure you that outside of the military, dominance doesn’t take the form that many trainers envision, with small infractions constantly punished aggressively, and lower ranking individuals constantly picking fights to rise in rank. Dominance theory is so poorly misunderstood by humans (who are all too often not skilled in reading dog communication). They might completely misinterpret things like appeasement behaviors (like jumping up to lick) as being an example of a dog misbehaving because it hasn’t been shown who’s boss. What is almost certainly happening is that they have no idea that anything else is being asked of them but to greet enthusiastically, and they’re actually showing deference (defined as humble submission and respect) by trying to lick your face. They just haven’t been taught that you’d rather they sit to greet, and that doing the new behavior can be very rewarding and result in the affection they crave.

I love this passage from Jean Donaldson’s book, Culture Clash, “My favorite myth is going through doorways first. What silly person came up with the notion that a dog would understand, let alone exert dominance, by preceding his owner out the front door? When dogs are rushing through doors, mustn’t we first rule out that they are trying to close distance between themselves and whatever is out there, as quickly as possible, because they are excited, because they are dogs, and because they have never been presented with a reason not to?”


In my next installment, I’ll address the concern that some people have that if you use treats that you’ll always have to use treats, every day, for every behavior. I assure you, though treats can still come in handy in some instances, there are many ways to control a dog’s valuable resources, making him earn what he wants in life by doing what you ask, right away.


One of the best little books ever about how to work with dogs who are reactive on leash is called “Feisty Fido” by Patricia McConnell PhD and Karen London, PhD. It’s a silly name but a fantastic book that walks you through the process and gives you good “What if” scenarios. It’s a very short read, but thorough enough to really help you. We have it at the store or you can find it here:

Locally, we’re lucky to have one of the best trainers around (and the first Certified Behavior Consultant (CBCC-KA) in Oregon) right near the store. Call on Doug Duncan  at Doggy Business – you’ll see a link for Private Training for Aggression on the front page at



This article is part of a series of articles designed to help you train your new dog:

Congratulations On Your New Puppy! (or adult dog)
What a fun time you’ll have! We very much want your new baby to live a long, healthy, happy life, so we thought we’d compile some of the nitty-gritty dos-and-don’ts of puppy care. Socialization, nutrition, our favorite chews, tips on potty training, etc!

Raising a Puppy (Or Any New Dog) During Covid 19
All of us feel frightened and unsure of how long we’ll be living in this strange, suspended, frightening reality. A new dog is not just a delightful distraction from boredom- that little soul can really be a life raft for your psyche. But, this new-puppy-during-quarantine situation does come with a few unique challenges. How to work on socialization and help to prevent separation anxiety once you go back to work.

What Do They Want? How Should They Get It? (Foundational Thinking For Creating Good Behavior in puppies and kittens! Part One) Often we hapless humans try our best to tell our puppies (and kittens) what we want them to do or especially not do, yet the bad behaviors increase and we struggle to get them to be what we wish they would be, especially when it comes to attention-getting behaviors. I’m here to offer a few rules of thumb for most any behavior you don’t like.

Do I Always Have To Use Treats? (Foundational Thinking For Creating Good Behavior In Dogs Part Three) A lot of people worry about training with treats.
* Do I have to keep giving them treats for everything for the rest of their  lives?
* Aren’t I bribing them?
* I want them to do things because they want to please me.
* I want them to do things right away and I don’t want to have to show them a treat to get them to listen.
 These are all good questions. Here’s how to help your dog be able to do what you ask of them the first time you ask, while continuing to build a good relationship.

Drop It!
We’re continuing our puppy series with discussions of common training challenges. It’s so easy to accidentally create a dog that runs away from you when they get a hold of something they shouldn’t have. Wouldn’t you rather they spit something out of their mouth when you approach? You can do it!

The “Come!” command is one of the very most important things we can teach our dog. A reliable recall is imperative to get them quickly to safety, to recover them if they happen to get out the door, and to proactively remove them from a situation at the dog park that might evolve into trouble. It’s also a wonderful luxury when you are in a safe quiet place to be able to have your dog off leash and know you can get him right back when you want to. Like the command “Drop It!”, it’s easy to accidentally make mistakes when training this behavior that can undermine your success. Here’s how to succeed in training a reliable recall.




What do they Want? How should they get it?

Foundational Thinking For Creating Good Behavior in puppies (and kittens!) Part One
Often we hapless humans try our best to tell our puppies (and kittens) what we want them to do or especially not do, yet the bad behaviors increase and we struggle to get them to be what we wish they would be, especially when it comes to attention-getting behaviors. I’m here to offer a few rules of thumb for most any behavior you don’t like. First, I’ll say that punishment doesn’t need to be part of the picture. Punishing him for wanting your attention can erode your relationship. It’s sweet that he wants your attention, but he’s asking for it in the wrong way.

A universal truth: Animals do what works for them.

Here’s a little attention getting scenario: You’re talking on the phone, and the puppy starts to whimper and bark at you. You ignore it for a time, and he gets louder. You tell your friend to hang on, and you turn and shout at the puppy, “Stop it! I’m on the phone!”. You go back to your conversation and he goes back to his barking. The trick is to think (in any similar situation) “What does he want?” In this example, he wants you to break away from what you’re doing, look at him, and pay attention to him. Have you just done all of these things? Hmm, he in fact got exactly what he wanted, and he thinks “Oh good. That’s how I get her attention”. You can’t really fault him for trying that again. You have unwittingly rewarded his bad behavior, and it will probably increase. Hurrying and getting a dog’s dinner to him faster just to shut him up really teaches him something you’re not going to enjoy.
Strategy #1: Ignoring behaviors you don’t like can be a useful tactic, though you really really have to be a rock. If he barks and barks and barks and you eventually break and tell him to cut it out, you have taught him endurance. “Bark long enough and they finally listen” is what you’ve taught him. We are no different: when we push the elevator button and the lights don’t light up, we jab at it again, and again, and maybe bang on it a few times before we give up and take the stairs. If we ignore the dog at first and then respond when the behavior escalates, we’ve only taught him, “If barking and whining’s not working, bark louder!” They’re not being turds on purpose, they’re doing what we’ve taught them works. If that elevator button never ever brings the elevator, you’d quickly learn to go straight to the stairs. If they’ve had a lot of practice barking to get attention, count on it getting a little worse before it gets better. Remember how you might have jabbed at that stupid broken elevator button in exasperation before you gave up? That’s called an extinction burst – they try and try and then really try, saying “Why isn’t this working???” Rewarding him when he finally gives up and becomes quiet for a few moments is useful in this moment. Being a rock in the future may help to extinguish this behavior but it can be easier combined with other strategies (read on).


July 4th Tips!!

By Green Dog Pet Supply

Photo Copyright Green Dog Pet Supply

The 4th of July is a bad time for many pets around the country, but in places like Portland where people seem to be very big fans of the larger illegal fireworks that are so easy to get, it’s often a complete nightmare for people whose pets are terrified of the noise. Some people choose to go camping in remote areas with their dogs, and one customer routinely gets in the car with her dog on the 4th and just drives and drives for hours, around and around the city’s highways to avoid the stress of the night. Here are a few tips that we hope can help if you’re staying at home this 4th of July.


Congratulations On Your New Kitty!

Whether you’ve gotten a kitten or an adult cat, we hope that these tips will come in handy for you:

Nothing’s more fun than a new kitten, and we know you’ll have a blast. However, there are some things that we feel are sometimes not well communicated to new cat owners about the long term care of cats that could help you make your kitty’s life as long and healthy as it could be, as well as helping you to avoid behavioral issues in the future.
We might be called Green Dog, but the owners and staff of Green Dog are actually made up of some pretty serious cat people. We know there’s a lot of info in here, especially in the diet section, but after serving the cat community of Portland since 2004, our hearts are often heavy from the overwhelming numbers of cats with chronic illness, much of which we feel could have been prevented with better nutrition. Also, a greater understanding of the behavioral needs of cats could help to prevent or resolve behavioral issues that are very difficult for the humans in the household to live with and often result in cats being given up to shelters.


Setting Your Cat Up For Litter Box Success

Both wild and feral domestic cats prefer to eliminate in different areas outdoors every time, covering the scent of their waste in the soil. Luckily, indoor cats are pretty amenable to using a litter box as long as conditions seem acceptable to them. Just know that if they ever start to eliminate outside the box, they’re telling you that something is wrong. Though it may seem to humans that this behavior conveys “spite” this is not the case. Realize that what you’ve asked them to do is against their true nature, so be patient and aware that they need your help to modify the situation.

The general rule is to have one box for every cat in the house, plus one. Don’t force cats to use the same box, and perhaps put some space between them if possible. A bigger box with higher sides keeps mess contained. Hoods can make things  even tidier for a big digger, but not all cats feel safe losing that visibility. If you want to use a hood, get them used to a new box without the hood first, and then pay attention to their reaction. Sometimes a really deep open topped Rubbermaid storage container is the solution for cats that kick their litter everywhere. Put all boxes in quiet, low traffic areas if possible.

Find a litter you both like. Most cats prefer a softer texture such as a scoopable clumping litter. The downside is that all scoopable litters track. Use a good litter mat or a fluffy bath mat to capture the mess. The upside is that when you find a litter that clumps quickly and firmly, removing those clumps leaves very clean litter behind keeping your box nearly odor free. If your clumping litter breaks apart as you shake your scoop, get a new litter and your box will smell fresher. Litter that comes in pellets reduces tracking significantly, but not all cats like the texture. Starting kittens on pellets will likely increase your success. The downside of pellets is that they don’t clump, and urine dissolves them into wet sawdust that is harder to remove entirely. Keep the level of litter shallower than a scoopable litter (just a few inches vs. 3-4” of scoopable) so not as much litter is ruined at a time. Perhaps use a solid spoon or spatula to lift urine spots when scooping pellets. We recommend unscented plant based litters (made from grass, corn, wheat, etc) over clay. These litters are more sustainable than clay, as all clay is strip-mined, it uses more fossil fuels to ship as it’s heavier, and it doesn’t degrade. Plant based litters are lighter to carry and to scoop, they generally clump quickly wasting less litter, they handle odor well, many brands aren’t as dusty as clay (and clay dust is dangerous to breathe), and the bags last longer than clay, saving you money.

Keep your boxes clean. Scoop once a day. Having that extra box mentioned above allows them to find a clean spot if you’ve forgotten to scoop. Cats prefer as little odor from their boxes as possible (as do you). Empty and clean your box regularly. You can spray with an enzymatic cleaner and wipe clean and dry and refill with clean litter, or take it outside and hose and scrub.

Pro Tip: Cats fed dry food generally have more concentrated and smelly urine. Switching to a moisture rich diet helps the urine smell and their health. Even better, a raw-fed cat’s box generally doesn’t smell! Their poops are smaller and firmer and not as stinky, and their urine doesn’t really smell either. If you walk into your house and you can smell your well maintained boxes, look to their diets to solve the problem.

When switching litters, a sudden switch might be upsetting. Use your extra box to introduce a new litter, and if they jump right in and use it, you’re done! If they never use it, try adding a layer of their old litter to the top of the new litter, or put a urine clump from their old box into the new litter. If you happen to only have one box, try to replace clumps you’ve removed during cleaning with the same amount of fresh litter. Eventually your box will be mostly new litter, and the next time you empty your box you can fill it entirely with the new litter. If they boycott their box during the process of switching, go back to the old litter and try a different one in the future.

If your cat suddenly stops using their box, the very first thing to do is bring them to the vet to eliminate medical causes such as urinary infections or crystals. When in pain, cats often hide their symptoms. They often associate pain with the litter box and try to find a place to go where it might not hurt as much. Other symptoms can be howling in the box, excessive licking of the genital area, blood in the urine, and frequent attempts to urinate.

If your cat ever visits the box repeatedly, strains to urinate but voids little to no urine, it’s vitally important to rush them to the vet or to emergency care if it’s after hours. Urinary blockages can be a life threatening emergency, especially in male cats.

**Once an infection is cleared, cats often still blame the box for the pain they felt. Dr. Elsey’s Cat Attract litter may help. They also make an herbal attractant that you can add to other litters of your choice. It can be really helpful.

Once medical reasons have been eliminated, one must consider sources of stress. These may include:
– A new member of the household, person or animal.
– A new outdoor cat in the neighborhood who might be  marking under open windows, in a crawl space under the house, on the outside of an entry door, etc.
– Another cat in the household intimidating them in ways you may or may not have noticed.  Their intimidation tactics might seem very subtle to us.
– Humans having frequent disagreements.
– Living with an adult that doesn’t like them.
– Children chasing or harassing them.
– Lack of environmental enrichment/stimulation/exercise.
– The cat finds something about his litter or box that is stressful, such as a change in litter (especially one with a strong scent, relocation of box, change in the room the box is in, etc.

Expelling urine outside the box for many of the reasons listed above would be qualified as “marking”, which is not an elimination behavior, but a sign of territorial stress.

As Dr. Karen Becker, DVM says, “Under no circumstances should you ever punish a cat for improper elimination. Imagine if you were forced to relieve yourself in a dirty, cramped or unnatural spot, with activity swirling around you. Then imagine being punished for finding a more suitable location for yourself. The reason for their behavior may not make sense to you, but it does to your cat, and now is a good time to remember he is, after all, a different species! Your pet needs your help to find the cause of his behavior and fix the problem.Work with your cat, not against him, to help him be comfortable with his potty area”.

Here are some ideas for managing your cat’s environment and lowering his stress to help to resolve the problem: Of course reevaluate your box situation and all of its variables.

If it might be a new person or someone that the cat is uncomfortable around, try to enlist their help and sympathy (as they’d probably like the marking to stop too!) Have them try to stay calm and speak softly near the cat. Have that person gently toss a treat the cat likes in front of him and retreat without approaching too directly. Have them put the food bowl down at mealtimes. They might be willing to play a little with a wand toy or string, etc. No rough or overstimulating touching, like roughing up the fur – let the cat approach them and they don’t approach the cat.

With other cats, children, or new animal in the home:
– Try Feliway Multicat diffusers in the home when the issue might be another cat, and original Feliway in the case of children or a dog.
– Increase the number of scratching areas available.
– Can the space be managed to give them their own areas for a while?
– Look at your common areas and see if you can increase the amount of vertical space for the cat. What if you could put a high-backed chair in between the couch and the mantel to make it accessible to a cat? Cat trees are useful of course, but inexpensive shelves made with scraps of wood and L-brackets can be used to create high spaces for cats to retreat and feel secure (especially useful when there are children or new puppies in the home). If there is another cat, make sure there are no dead ends to the escape routes.
– Ask yourself if the cats would be happier in separate homes.
– Don’t allow puppies or children to chase the cat. Puppies can drag a leash when supervised, and reward the puppy (and praise children) for calmness when a cat is in the room.

If the problem is an outdoor cat, try to block access (to a crawlspace etc). Use Feliway spray on the outside and inside of the doors. Make outdoor areas the cat is spending time in less comfortable – perhaps put down pointy rocks under windows. There are even motion activated sprinklers available (search “Scarecrow sprinkler”)

CBDs are very safe and effective for calming anxiety. We carry a tincture that is completely tasteless for mixing into food, and a few that are in treat form.

Interactive playtime and enrichment is very important every day for all cats, but especially for a stressed or bored cat. Is your cat a jerk? He might just be really bored. A happier cat is often a nicer cat. Look for novel materials that you can leave on the floor for them to investigate for a day and then recycle them when boring. Put down a big wad of tissue paper or other kind of crumpled packing papers that they can investigate. Pull out a wand toy and make it act like prey hiding in the paper. The next day put a big cardboard box that you cut a few big and small holes in. Let them investigate for a while, and then play with a wand toy through the holes. The next day open some paper shopping bags and leave them open on the floor. Be creative – shredded paper is different than tissue paper – how many different things can you find? We also carry paper and fabric tunnels and “Ripple Rugs”, etc that you can put down for a few days and put away, rotating them to reduce boredom. Playing with them is important. Neat resource for ideas

Lastly, cats (especially those with excellent nutrition and care throughout their lives) can live into their 20s. But when cats reach a certain age  can often become confused or stressed, especially at night. They might seem to be forgetting elemental things, like where their box is. You may need to add additional boxes in the home in places that they seem to be spending more time (as opposed to hidden in the back of the basement). Perhaps add a nightlight near their litter box, use litter attractants, or if the cat seems restless at night or howling excessively, try an unflavored  CBD tincture in a bit of canned food before bedtime, or a Feliway plug-in.


Talk to us – we’re here to help brainstorm.

When Vets Tell You To Switch from Grain Free Kibble to Grains

You may have heard something online or from your vet about the issue of dogs eating grain free foods sometimes showing low levels of taurine in their bloodwork. Since then, we’ve had a number of customers that come saying their vet told them to switch to a food containing grains. One local vet in our area just sent out an email about Heart Disease and grain free foods, and also advocating for the use of  “Meat By-Products” in pet foods, and we’d like to address both of these topics to help you learn more and make educated decisions.

Grain Free vs. Grain Friendly Diets:

The truth is, all processed dry pet food diets are compromised nutritionally due to high-heat, high-pressure extrusion and the need for starchy carbs to bind them and make those little crunchy nuggets. Critical amino acids like taurine that are found in muscle meats and organs are fragile and very heat sensitive, and so become damaged by processing. It’s true that another variable that might exacerbate these diet related heart problems could very well be the overuse of legumes in dog foods. Some brands use a lot of them because they contain plant proteins that are less expensive than meat proteins, but plant proteins don’t contain those vital amino acids. Large quantities of peas may very well be blocking absorption of those important amino acids found in meat that do vital jobs in your dog’s body like support his heart function.
Please read more in this important article – we’ve tried hard to distill the facts and offer suggestions for how to avoid trouble.

One thing that frustrates us is that many traditional vets work closely with brands like Purina and Hills, who are companies eager to use this opportunity to switch nervous consumers back to their formulas that contain corn, wheat, and soy. Some of these well-intentioned vets are simply advising customers to switch to any food containing grains. Please note that foods made with grains also are using plant proteins to save the company money by taking the place of more species appropriate proteins from meat, and these plant proteins also do not contain those valuable amino acids like taurine, just like in grain free foods.

Both corn and wheat are high carb and high glycemic ingredients and can also cause food sensitivities/allergic reactions in dogs. We often see dogs with new troubles come to us after having been on a diet like this, and we are able to reverse these new issues when we remove the foods that contain corn, wheat, and soy and switch to kibbles that have higher quality sources of meat proteins.

More importantly, ingredients such as corn, wheat and soy are likely to contain contaminates that don’t cook out.
GMO crops are sprayed with large quantities of RoundUp (glyphosate), and corn is especially problematic as it almost certainly contains dangerous aflatoxins. These are dangerous grain molds, toxic to humans and animals, even in very small amounts. Our most recent stats  from 2017  show that 88% of all corn tested nationally was contaminated with aflatoxins, and in some previous years (2012) it has been 100%. A testing agency stated:”With more than ten-years of experience monitoring the occurrence of mycotoxins in livestock feeds, BIOMIN has shown that co-occurrence of mycotoxins (the presence of more than one mycotoxin) is the rule and not the exception” The FDA allows mycotoxins to be at 20 ppb (parts per billion) in pet foods, however science shows that even small amounts of mycotoxins can be dangerous to pets. From the International Journal of Food Microbiology, Drs. Herman J. Boermans and Maxwell C.K. Leung published the report “Mycotoxins and the pet food industry: Toxicological evidence and risk assessment” in 2007. One of the biggest issues of concern discussed is that existing studies of mycotoxin contamination in pet food overlook the day to day consumption of small amounts of mycotoxins; resulting in “chronic diseases such as liver and kidney fibrosis, infections resulting from immunosuppression and cancer.” In 2005 a Diamond Foods aflatoxin recall resulted in 100 dog deaths.

Dr Karen Becker DVM says this about soy:

  • “Most soy grown in the U.S is genetically modified, so in addition to potentially toxic levels of glyphosate, the plants also contain naturally high levels of anti-nutrients and phytoestrogens
  • Raw, mature soybeans contain phytates that prevent mineral absorption and substances that block the enzymes needed to digest protein
  • In dogs and cats, soy has been linked to gas and bloat, bladder stones, blood sugar fluctuations, thyroid damage, and seizures
  • All in all, the potential risks associated with feeding soy to furry family members are unacceptably high”

We don’t have a problem with some grains in foods, and we carry a few lines that have ingredients like oats and barley and rice. All of the kibbles we carry generally have a high percentage of their protein content derived from muscle meats and organs and not plant proteins (even the ones that use some peas). However, you don’t have to run to a food containing grains. The amino acids in all extruded kibbles suffer damage from heat processing. If you shop with us, ask us what percentage of your food’s guaranteed analysis of protein is derived from meat proteins (as opposed to plant proteins). If not, you can
1)call the company and ask this question. If they won’t tell you, perhaps switch brands.
2) Look for a baked kibble (as opposed to extruded) as more of the amino acids survive baking intact. Stella and Chewy’s is one baked kibble we carry.
3) No matter what, consider adding some fresh taurine rich foods to your pet’s dry food. It’s easy, can be inexpensive, and your pet will love it! See here for suggestions

Re: Meat By-Products:
One thing they said that we do take issue with is the statement that “Meat By-products” get a bad rap and are actually just contain good organ meats. Organ meats are desirable ingredients, and are far more expensive than “Meat By-products”. Good organ meats would be listed on the label as their own named ingredient, ie: “beef liver” or “beef hearts”, etc. and would be USDA inspected and passed for human consumption.  When you look closely at FDA laws concerning pet food ingredients, “Meat By-products” are defined as rendered product that is legally allowed to be a mix of any species of animal, including animals that “died otherwise than by slaughter”. These include animals that died from disease, euthanized animals, condemned/spoiled meats, and roadkill. Rendering facilities are waste management facilities, with separate standards for handling and storing ingredients meant to be rendered. FDA states clearly that these ingredients listed above are acceptable in pet foods. When looking at your ingredient list, it’s important that you see the species of animal mentioned with the proteins and the fat. ie: avoid “Animal Fat” and choose “Chicken Fat”.
We love human quality organ meats for pets, and strongly advocate for their use to help supplement naturally occurring amino acids like taurine, cystein and methionine that support heart function, but we avoid By-products in pet foods, as even named ingredients such as “Chicken By-products” are not handled with the same safety or quality standards as USDA inspected and passed meats and organs.


Study Finds No Link Between Grain-Free Diets and DCM in Dogs
Read More Here

Products We Love: Silver Vine for Cats

Many people know that catnip can create a euphoric and playful feelings in many cats, but other cats don’t seem to be affected. There are actually several other plants that could create this same effect, especially one called silver vine, which is in the kiwi family. Interestingly, a recent study shows that more cats reacted to silver vine than to catnip, and moreover, almost 75 percent of the catnip non-responders responded to silver vine.

If your cat hasn’t enjoyed catnip, or even if he loves catnip, you should really give silver vine a try. Our cat Otis likes catnip OK, and mostly wants to lick it, but Silver vine really holds his interest, and even stimulates him to play with soft toys on his own when it’s applied to them (which is unusual for him, as he prefers interactive play). He also loves rubbing his face on the ends of the sticks when we hold them for him, and many cats like to chew on them, perhaps adding a dental health benefit.  The effects for Otis seem strongest when he doesn’t smell it every day. Every few days we pull out the sticks or a silver vine sprinkled toy and it’s all new again. 
We’ve brought in products from From The Field including a locally made silver vine/catnip blend in small “dime bags” to try, and in 1oz containers for those that want more.

We also have a multi-pack of sticks from the same Washington company, nested in dried silver vine leaf, and a also cloud shaped soft toy that comes with a little tin of finely ground silver vine from Dezi Roo that you can sprinkle onto it and other toys. Happy playtime, kitties! They also have a good article about Why Silver Vine Is Better Than Catnip.

Offering cats novel objects and smells are key to keeping them happy and behaviorally healthy. Experiment with Silver Vine to see if it can add some spice to their lives!


Kongs Are So Useful For Holidays!

We know you know about Kongs (don’t you wish you’d invented them?) but we’d like to remind you that when your house is full of busy activities, and you have an irregular schedule and visitors, it can cause anxiety for the pets in the home. For dogs, one great calming activity can be working on extracting delicious foods from a Kong, and it has the added benefit of keeping them busy and therefore not underfoot. Chewing is also work, so Kongs can help on days when you just don’t have time to really run the dogs around as much as you’d like.

Kongs are one of the safest chews to give a dog, as they are made from natural rubber, are too large to swallow and are a good size to hold onto with their paws. Most people only think of smearing a bit of peanut butter inside, but you can be creative with other whole food Kong fillings to make them last longer and be even more appealing. (We don’t love the ingredients in the commercial fillings). Moist foods like plain yogurt, cooked sweet potato, a little cultured cottage cheese, banana, unsweetened applesauce, canned dog food, Green Juju or other finely minced greens/veggies, part of her regular serving of kibble  can be stuffed into the Kong and frozen to make them last much longer ((you can  soften it first in either water, fermented raw goat’s milk, or bone broth).

Pro Tips:

– Pick out a Kong that’s big enough for your dog’s tongue to reach inside and lick out the fillings.

– If you have a puppy, pick out a bigger one knowing they will grow into it but don’t load it all the way up with a full big Kong’s worth of food. It might be too much food. Remember that food can stimulate the need to poop for your puppy, so if you feed with a Kong in a crate, check on them before too long to take them out for a potty.

– For hard-chewing dogs, the black colored Kongs are even stronger than the red color.

Have You Heard Of A Catio?

By Christine Mallar

The Feral Cat catio tour in Portland has sold out again this year! What’s a catio? It’s an enclosed outdoor space for kitties that keeps them safe from harm’s way and protects much of the wildlife that is harmed by outdoor cats every year. Between 2-4 billion birds a and 7 -20 billion small mammals are killed by cats in the U.S. alone. The introduction of cats has caused the extinction of at least 33 endemic species on islands throughout the world.

We of course adore our cats here in the U.S. and want them to be happy. I personally deeply respect their natural behaviors, and Mike and I try to meet Otis’ needs for interactive prey/predator simulation via interactive play every day. When we first adopted him at 10 years old, we were dedicated to turning him from an outdoor cat to an indoor cat – he had already been hit by a car in his lifetime, disappearing for a few days before showing up on the lawn and needing $5,000 in emergency surgery. He’s a fancy looking Himalayan with a laid back social nature, so he was stolen twice from his previous owner, and luckily recovered (one time by a friendly uniformed officer that was willing to mediate).When we met him he lived right near Green Dog, and started coming in our back door during the daytime and spending time socializing with all of us and our customers. Unfortunately, when he was outside, he was showing us how little he had learned about car safety by laying down for a bath right in the crosswalk on our busy street, or sprawling in the middle of a parking space along the side of the building. When he’d spot someone he wanted to visit, he’d just trot right through traffic to get to them. We felt like we had to save him from inevitable trouble with cars and luckily his owner was worried too and thrilled we wanted to take him.

We committed ourselves to daily environmental enrichment for him (regular introduction of piles of paper to play in, boxes with holes of different sizes, bags, etc rotated through his play area). Being food motivated, he also enjoyed learning tricks for treats (he learned about 16 of them over time). The most important part of the puzzle was daily interactive play. Using toys to simulate the movement of prey animals that he could chase and hunt was key to keeping him satisfied as an indoor cat. The best interactive toy remains the “Da Bird” toy with its various attachments (sparkle, mouse and of course the spinning flying feathers). For really energetic catches, we’d give him a treat. For his very best most spectacular catch of the evening, we ran upstairs and gave him a 3/4″ piece of bony meaty raw chicken neck, which allowed him to “hunt”, “catch” and “eat a bird” in a a fairly awesome simulated way. It was truly satisfying to him. It also supercharged our play sessions, making him ultra-motivated to play every night and to run harder and faster. He knew that there was something in it for him! What we haven’t done for him yet but we aspire to is to build him some sort of catio.

A catio is a structure (Cat Patio) that allows cats to be outdoors yet remain enclosed. It can be the simple modification of an existing porch by adding screening or mesh, it can be a structure built off of a window, or a tunnel system that they can travel through above the ground. It gives them the sights, sounds and smells of the outdoors, minus the risk. Even a small enclosure attached to a window can bring an indoor cat a lot of pleasure.

Can you imagine letting your dog out the door and into the city in the morning and saying “Have a good day! See you tonight! Hope you don’t get into trouble out there”? I can’t tell you how many stories we hear regularly in the store about losing their cats to coyotes, cars, infections due to fights, etc. Check out different catio designs online – you might be inspired!









Check out:
Cats Safe At Home

Google Image Search

Catio Spaces

Jackson Galaxy Cat Daddy Tips


#catio #feralcatcoalitionoforegon

Beware of Foxtails


In spring and summer, especially on the West Coast (and most especially in California), be on the lookout for foxtails and be aware of their tremendous potential to seriously harm your pet. Dogs do encounter them in Oregon, and the problem will likely increase as weather patterns are shifting. Foxtails are a kind of grass seed – many grass seeds have a similar look, but not all are as harmful as some. Dogs seem to be particularly at risk for complications from interacting with foxtails. The reason that some species are so dangerous is that they can quickly make their way into your dog’s body through literally any orifice, including the nose, eyes, ears and mouth, and they can also puncture the skin. Between the toes is a very common place for a foxtail to embed itself. The trouble is, the way the foxtail is designed, When it matures the foxtail head breaks apart into individual little barbs that are designed to both catch onto an animal’s coat and hitch a ride to a new location, and then allows it to burrow itself into the soil. If  you touch any grass seed, it will be easy to stroke it from bottom to top, but from top to bottom you’ll feel a rough resistance. It manages to travel, and can only travel forward, not backwards. Once inside your dog’s body, foxtails can move relentlessly forward through the tissue and through the body. They can create abscesses, damage tissue, and cause an infection known as grass awn disease. They can migrate from inside your dog’s nose to its brain. They can dig through skin or be inhaled into — and then perforate — a lung. They can even slip into the crevices of a penis or vulva. They’re serious business.
Things to watch for if your dog has been running through dry grasses: