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How smart is your dog?

You might think your beagle is the smartest canine on the block, but he’s got the dubious honor of being among the least trainable of dog breeds. The snarling Doberman next door? He’s a quick study.

Dog intelligence, like human intelligence, comes in various forms. And although the best in any breed can be nurtured by owners willing to put in the time and effort, there are fixed realities when it comes to your animal’s inherent qualities.

If it’s bred to hunt, herd, or retrieve, the dog is more likely to be quick on its feet, eager to work, to move, and to please you. It will learn faster. If it’s bred to be a livestock guard dog or a scent hound, it may seem distracted and just a bit dense.

Yet, even if some breeds are more nimble, trainers say any dog can learn the basics like sitting and staying. It just might take them longer to catch on.

The key is knowing what your pooch is built for and how to motivate him. But keep in mind that the smartest dogs often don’t make the best pets. Your job is to find a breed that suits your lifestyle and to focus on bringing out the best in your dog.

Top Dogs

In his bestselling book, The Intelligence of Dogs, neuropsychologist Stanley Coren, PhD, focuses on trainability as a marker of intelligence.

The University of British Columbia psychology professor relied on the assessments of 110 breeds by more than 200 professional dog obedience judges who scored breeds based on working/obedience tests.

The top dogs absorbed commands in less than five repetitions and obeyed them 95% of the time or better. Here’s the list along with a breed description by the American Kennel Club:

1. Border Collie: A workaholic, this breed is the world’s premier sheep herder, prized for its intelligence, extraordinary instinct, and working ability.

2. Poodle: Exceptionally smart and active. Bred to retrieve things from the water. The miniature variety may have been used for truffle hunting.

3. German Shepherd: The world’s leading police, guard, and military dog — and a loving family companion and herder.

4. Golden Retriever: Intelligent and eager to please. Bred as a hunting companion; ideal as a guide and as assistance with search-and-rescue operations.

5. Doberman Pinscher: Known for its stamina and speed. Bred to be a guardian and in demand as a police and war dog.

6. Shetland Sheepdog: The “Sheltie” is essentially a miniature working Collie. A rough-coated, longhaired working breed that is keenly intelligent. Excels in herding.

7. Labrador Retriever: An ideal sporting and family dog. Gentle and intelligent.

8. Papillon: A happy, alert breed that isn’t shy or aggressive. Known as Dwarf Spaniels in the 16th and 17th centuries, they reach 8-11 inches high.

9. Rottweiler: Robust and powerful, the breed is happiest with a job. Suitable as a police dog, herder, service dog, therapy dog, obedience competitor, and devoted companion.

10. Australian Cattle Dog: Happiest doing a job like herding, obedience, or agility. Energetic and intelligent.

Enjoy the time with your dog and remember to always make training FUN!

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Cat body language

It might be hard to believe, but cat ears contain over two dozen muscles, enabling them to do an Exorcist-like 180-degree swivel forward, backward, up and down. Although they pan around like radar dishes scanning for sounds, they’re not just for hearing.

A cat’s ears and tail (as we’ll discuss later) are a vital part of cat body language, and proper interpretation can help you better understand Fluffy’s moods and in some cases, keep you safe from injury.

The Relaxed Cat – Normally, a relaxed cat’s ears will point slightly to the side and slightly forward as shown in Figure 1 (below). This indicates contentment and sense of well-being. She’s neither fearful nor aggressive.

The Alert and Interested Cat – When your cat is alert and something has captured her interest, her ears will assume a straight-up orientation, and a forward posture as in Figure 2 (see chart). She’ll usually greet you with ears erect, offering a friendly greeting.

The Nervous Cat – If your cat’s ears are twitching, she’s agitated and nervous, as shown in Figure 3. This might be a cue to offer her reassurance and a safe embrace. Persistent twitching could be a sign of a medical problem.

Signs of Aggression – A cat’s ears moving from a forward posture to a backward posture indicates increased aggression. A cat’s ears moving from an upright position to a full horizontal position indicates increased fear, annoyance, or submissiveness — a warning for you to leave her alone. If you notice that your cat’s ears are maintaining a horizontal orientation on a regular basis, she could have an ear infection or ear mites, and a trip to the vet is warranted.

Attack Mode – When the ears flatten against the head in a defensive position as in Figure 4, your cat is frightened and may attack. She instinctively keeps her ears flat against her head in attack mode to protect her ears from claws and teeth during a fight. Ears that are pointing backward somewhere between the “alert” and “defensive” positions indicate an aggressive cat who may attack.

Understanding when a cat might attack can save you from injury. When the ears are back (the telltale sign of aggression), you should never try to touch or pick up a cat because you’re at high risk of being bitten or scratched.

The Ambivalent Cat – The cat’s ears are also able to move independently of one another. When they’re in different positions, the cat is ambivalent and unsure of how to respond. She’s likely to withdraw to assess the situation. As she does so, her ears may shift as they interpret stimuli and consider how to react.

Understanding Cat Body Language: The Tail

Your cat’s tail is like a big old apostrophe at the end of her body that puts a fine point on affection, aggression, fear and happiness. One of the most primal tail movements is the violent back-and-forth swish, sometimes called a Sword Tail. Whether it’s a wild cat stalking a zebra, or a house cat stalking a gopher, she’ll swish her tail to prompt the prey to move, which allows the cat to zero in for the attack. In the house, either leave her be until she relaxes, or toss her a toy to attack. It’s usually not a good idea to pick her up when she’s in “swish mode”, because the object of her attack will likely be you.

You also don’t want to interfere when her tail is in a position of defensive aggression. In this orientation, the tail is lowered, but the tip is curved upward. This indicates that something has attracted her attention, and she is very nervous, defensive, and unsure of her surroundings. If you try to pick her up, she may attack.

A happy cat holds her tail high, and if she greets you at the door with her tail quivering, she’s happy to see you. That’s the time you want to shower her with affection.

If you’re introducing a new cat into your home, reading your cats’ “tail language” can be helpful in breaking up fights before they start. You don’t want to pick up the aggressor at this point, but a few squirts with a squirt gun can persuade him to beat a retreat.

A tail is a perfect extension of feline expression. There’s poetry in the way a contented cat will artfully wrap her tail around her, or in the way a Balinese will proudly strut her tail like a flame behind her.

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Heat and preventing heat stroke

Hyperthermia is a term describing an elevation in body temperature. This increase typically occurs as a response to a trigger, such as inflammation in the body or a hot environment. When a dog is exposed to high temperatures, heat stroke or heat exhaustion can result. Heat stroke is a very serious condition that requires immediate medical attention. Once the signs of heat stroke are detected, there is precious little time before serious damage – or even death – can occur. Please call our office immediately.

Dogs do not sweat efficiently through their skin like humans – they release heat primarily by panting and they sweat through the foot pads and nose. If a dog cannot effectively expel heat, the internal body temperature begins to rise. Once the dog’s temperature reaches 106°, damage to the body’s cellular system and organs may become irreversible. Unfortunately, too many dogs succumb to heat stroke when it could have been avoided. Learn how to recognize the signs of heat stroke and prevent it from happening to your dog.

Signs of Heat Stroke

The following signs may indicate heat stroke in a dog:

1. Increased rectal temperature (over 104° requires action, over 106° is a dire emergency)

2. Vigorous panting

3. Dark red gums

4. Tacky or dry mucus membranes (specifically the gums)

5. Lying down and unwilling (or unable) to get up

6. Collapse and/or loss of consciousness

7. Thick saliva

8. Dizziness or disorientation

What to do if You Suspect Heat Stroke

If you have even the slightest suspicion that your dog is suffering from heat stoke, you must take immediate action.

1. First, move your dog out of the heat and away from the sun right away.

2. Begin cooling your dog with cool water. You may place wet rags or washcloths on the foot pads and around the head, but replace them frequently as they warm up. Avoid covering the body with wet towels, as it may trap in heat.

3. DO NOT use ice or ice water! Extreme cold can cause the blood vessels to constrict, preventing the body’s core from cooling and actually causing the internal temperature to further rise. In addition, over-cooling can cause hypothermia, introducing a host of new problems. When the body temperature reaches 103.9°F, stop cooling. At this point, your dog’s body should continue cooling on its own.

4. Offer your dog cool water, but do not force water into your dog’s mouth. Try not to let your dog drink excessive amounts at a time.

5. Call our office right away – even if your dog seems better. Internal damage might not be obvious to the naked eye, so an exam is necessary (and further testing may be recommended).

Tip: recruit others to help you – ask someone to call our office while others help you cool your dog.

Preventing Heat Stroke

There are ways you can prevent heat stroke from happening in the first place.

  • NEVER leave your dog alone in the car on a warm day, regardless of whether the windows are open. Even if the weather outside is not extremely hot, the inside of the car acts like an oven – temperatures can rise to dangerously high levels in a matter of minutes.
  • Avoid vigorous exercise on warm days. When outside, opt for shady areas.
  • Keep fresh cool water available at all times.
  • Certain types of dogs are more sensitive to heat – especially obese dogs and brachycephalic (short-nosed) breeds, like Pugs and Bulldogs. Use extreme caution when these dogs are exposed to heat.

Some dogs can recover fully from heat stroke if it is caught early enough. Others suffer permanent organ damage and require lifelong treatment. Sadly, many dogs do not survive heat stroke. Prevention is the key!

Stay safe while having fun in the sun this summer.

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Holiday Safety

Like many Americans, you may be planning to have a festive Fourth of July. Along with barbeques and day at the beach, no July holiday celebration would be complete without enjoying the fireworks that celebrate the birth of our nation.

Perhaps you are considering staying at home and planning a get-together with friends and family. Or, you may want to go check out your local professional fireworks display. While putting the finishing touches on your planned celebration, take a moment to consider your pets.

Unlike people, pets don’t associate the noise, flashes, and burning smell of pyrotechnics with celebrations. Many pets are terrified of fireworks, and often panic at the loud whizzes and bangs they produce.

Because of this, the American Humane Association reports that July 5 is the busiest day of the year for animal shelters. Why? In a 2005 press release the Indiana Proactive Animal Welfare, Inc. (PAW) stated that animal shelters the day after Fourth of July are “inundated with pets that panicked at the noise of firecrackers and fled into the night, winding up lost, injured or killed.”

Both the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and PAW have listed ways you can prevent your holiday celebration from turning into a tragedy. Here are 10 tips on how to keep your pet from panicking this Fourth of July weekend:

10. Keep your Pet Indoors at All Times! – It may seem obvious, but even if your pet is used to being outside, the resulting panic caused by fireworks or other loud noises may make them break their restraint or jump a fence in a terrified attempt to find safety.

9. Don’t Put Insect Repellant on Your Pet that isn’t Specifically for Pet Use – The same tip applies to applying “people” sunscreen on your pet. What isn’t toxic to humans can be toxic to animals. The ASPCA lists the poisonous effects of sunscreen on your pet as, “…drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, excessive thirst and lethargy.” DEET, a common insecticide, may cause neurological issues.

8. Alcoholic Drinks Poison Pets – If your pet drinks alcohol, they can become dangerously intoxicated, go into a coma, or in severe cases, die from respiratory failure. Yes, even beer is toxic; fermented hops and ethanol are poisonous to dogs and cats.

7. Going to a Fireworks Display? Leave Your Pet at Home – The safest place for your pet is at home, not in a crowded, unfamiliar and noisy place. The combination of too many people and loud fireworks will make your beloved pet freak out and desperately seek shelter. Locking them in the car is also not an option; your pet may suffer brain damage and heat stroke.

6. Have Your Pet Properly Identified – If your pet manages to break loose and become lost, without proper identification it will be that much harder to get them back. Consider fitting your pet with microchip identification, ID tags with their name and your phone number, or both. It is also a good idea to have a recent picture of your pets in case you have to put up signs.

5. Keep Your Pet Away from Glow Jewelry – It might look cute, but your pet could chew up and swallow the plastic adornments. The ASPCA states that while not highly toxic, “excessive drooling and gastrointestinal irritation could still result from ingestion, and intestinal blockage could occur from swallowing large pieces of the plastic containers.”

4. NEVER Use Fireworks Around Pets – While lit fireworks can pose a danger to curious pets and potentially result in severe burns and/or trauma to the face and paws, even unused fireworks can be hazardous. Some fireworks contain potentially toxic substances such as arsenic, potassium nitrate, and other heavy metals.

3. Don’t Give Your Pet “Table Food” – If you are having a backyard barbeque, you may be tempted to slip some snacks to your pet. But like beer and chocolate, there are other festive foods that could harm your pet. Onions, coffee, avocado, grapes & raisins, salt and yeast dough are all possible hazards for dogs and cats. Of course, bones and fatty meats are very bad for your pet’s digestive system. Ingestion of holiday party food could result in a trip to the vet!

2. Lighter Fluid and Matches Are Harmful to Pets. – The ASPCA lists chlorates as a harmful chemical substance found in some matches that, if ingested, can cause your pet difficulty in breathing, damage blood cells or even cause kidney disease. If exposed to lighter fluid, your pet may sustain skin irritation on contact, respiratory problems if inhaled, and gastric problems if ingested.

1. Citronella Insect Control Products Harm Pets, Too. – Oils, candles, insect coils and other citronella-based repellants are irritating toxins to pets, according to the ASPCA. The result of inhalation can cause severe respiratory illnesses such as pneumonia, and ingestion can harm your pet’s nervous system.

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The safest and best bet for celebrating this Fourth of July with your pets is to exclude them from holiday festivities, at least this time around. Instead, find a safe, secure spot in the home for your pets while you go out and enjoy the loud bangs, bright lights and spectator fun. Your pets will appreciate the quiet a lot more than you’ll enjoy the noise.

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