That Amazing Pumpkin

This is another piece expanded from Northern Virginia Today that published easrly Oct 2018.


Did you know there are over 40 kinds of pumpkins?  They range in size from the tiny Jack Be Little to the huge Atlantic Giant.  Pumpkins come in a variety of colors including the orange, blueish, white, and multicolored. Botanically speaking, pumpkins are members of the squash family. Considered vegetables for culinary purposes, pumpkins are fruits because they are the seed-bearing fruits of flowering plants.

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Uhura – (c) West Wind Dog Training

Some of you may be thinking “Karen, why are you talking about pumpkins in a pet column?” Simple, pumpkins are a great thing for many of our pets! Why not cover the Great Pumpkin (see what I did there) at this time of year?

Pumpkins are high in fiber, low in fat and cholesterol, and loaded with various vitamins and minerals.  The seeds contain Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids. Pumpkin can help prevent hairballs in cats.  Pumpkin is often recommended to help with diarrhea and constipation in pets. However, this does not mean you should go self-treating issues. You need to know what is causing the problem and if pumpkin will help. Being high in fiber and lower in fat and cholesterol, pumpkin can be used as part of a weight loss program. When working on weight loss with my dogs, I often replace part of one meal with a blend of rice and vegetables with a good canned dog food. Even my dogs not watching weight love getting a scoop of this in their food.  If you do not want to go through the hassle of cleaning and cooking pumpkin, buy canned puree.  Do not buy the premade pie filling as it is sweetened.

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Foster – (c) West Wind Dog Training

Pumpkins and their seeds make great treats for various rodents.  My daughter’s rat and chinchilla love them. Many of our small pets have loved chewing on pumpkin chunks. However, since dietary needs vary species to species, make certain this is an appropriate treat for your specific pet.

Pumpkins are great for enrichment.  At the end of the Halloween season, many zoos ask for pumpkins to be donated for enrichment activities.  Holes are great for climbing through.  Other foods can be hidden inside the fruit. You can make bird feeders out of them. Pumpkins can be hung for more challenging activities.  Many things good zoos do for habitat enrichment can be adapted for our pets.  You can hang pumpkins from tree branches and fill them with seeds and dried mealworms and make a temporary bird feeder. However, I would not use pumpkins that have been used with fog machines, painted, or left out and beginning to mold. Be careful however, these may also attract bear and other wild life you may not want hanging around.

Mix together pureed pumpkin, plain yogurt and peanut butter (make sure there is no xylitol in the yogurt or peanut butter) and fill a Kong or similar toy meant to hold things to be licked out.  Freeze for a longer lasting treat.

Finally, you can use pumpkin in a variety of dog cookie recipes (rats, mice and other small pets may like these too).

1 can pureed pumpkin

½ cup peanut butter

½ cup rolled oats,

enough rice flour to make a stiff dough you can roll. 

Preheat oven to 350F.  Roll dough to ¼” thick.  Cut with cookie cutter and bake 8 – 10 minutes on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or lightly oiled. Variations on this include omitting peanut butter and using a baked, mashed apple or a large, shredded carrot.  If making treats for small pets, use a bottle cap as a cookie cutter.

Next time you go shopping, get some pumpkin. It is a great food for many pets and can add a healthier form of enrichment to their lives.

– Karen Peak – West Wind Dog Traning

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He Refuses to Come Inside!

This is an expanded version of a piece that ran in Northern Virginia Today, Fall 2018


Every morning when the Smiths needed to get out of the house, something was making them late. His name was Sparky.

medium coated tan dog running on dirt road between green grass near trees

Photo by Country4k on

Sparky was a young dog the Smith had not owned long.  Each morning as the Smiths tried to get kids to school/daycare and then the adults off to work, Sparky refused to come inside so the humans could leave. Obviously, the Smiths needed this fixed, so they sought training advice. Even with “training,” Sparky became increasingly difficult to get inside. Finally after working with other trainers and things getting worse, I was contacted.  During my initial consult, this is what I discovered.

(1) Each morning Sparky was put outside as the chaos of getting people ready for work, school and daycare began.  Just before humans dashed out, Sparky was rushed inside and immediately crated. Coming inside meant boring things. This was why Sparky initially began refusing to come inside during the morning routine.

(2) Sparky did not really understand his name.  The Smiths assumed when Sparky did not respond that he was being defiant. This assumption led to them becoming frustrated and wanting to stop this defiance.  If Sparky did not know he was supposed to respond to his name, how could he learn to come when called? Not only that, the Smiths called him in a frantic and not pleasant manner.  Dogs try to avoid things like that are scary and not fun.  Sparky was not defiant, he was avoiding a negative and he was confused.

(3) The early training advice they were given was outdated and not science-based. It included leash corrections when Sparky did not respond to “come.“ Various levels of pain and dragging Sparky through the door were recommended.  This would continue until Sparky figured out when he came inside when called, the yanking would stop. When Sparky was not on leash there was nothing to force him inside, so he ran to the back corner of the yard and cowered.  Why?  The word “come” for Sparky meant bad things would happen.  When not leashed, Sparky could avoid the bad things by running.

My game plan was: enrich the inside of the house so Sparky would find it as fun as outside; rebuild the relationship between dog and humans; teach Sparky coming when called was a good thing; address the hectic morning routine that was overwhelming Sparky.

I used food and different food releasing toys, indoor appropriate activities and such to make inside as fun as outside.  We worked on name games and bonding exercises.  The more Sparky wanted to be inside and with his humans, the easier it would be to change the situation the Smiths were in.  You see, outside Sparky could chase fuzzy tree rats, hunt bugs, dig, the kids played with him there and left their toys outside which were great fun.  Inside it was all “Quiet dog!  Go lie down!” or Sparky was shoved in his crate and humans raced out the door. Why SHOULD Sparky want to be inside?

The Smiths were gaining a better understanding of what Sparky needed as a dog and how their tone and actions were what led to how Sparky behaved. Next I taught them how to make coming in the door an awesomely good thing. Since the word “come” meant bad things would follow, it was easier to train a totally new word than risk the chance Sparky would remember the pain and corrections with “Come” and suddenly refuse to respond.

Finally, I tweaked the morning routine, so Sparky was not being brought inside and immediately crated.  This, combined with the other work, would help change Sparky’s emotions towards coming inside. Once inside there were fun things to do and some relaxing.  Then into his crate with some food releasing toys.

What is the takeaway from this?  Dogs are not defiant.  They respond to their environment.  What we do with them increases or decreases the chance of what we need for various behaviors.  Sparky was simply a dog who responded to what was going on around him.  He was not defiant Sparky was confused and afraid.

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Doctor Google – issues with internet medical advice

It is common for pet owners to seek internet medical help long before calling a vet.  There are two things we must realize about internet advice.  First, no one can accurately diagnose issues without seeing the animal in person.  Second, there is a reason why many people recommend seeking medical care.  Why?  See the first reason.  Here are a few things I have seen online to help show the importance of seeking medical advice to get a correct diagnosis:

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Photo by on

A dog owner asked a grooming group about his dog’s skin condition. The dog was not scratching but was developing flakes and an odor. Now he was digging at his ears and acting off.  People instantly “diagnosed” the issue and recommend various treatments including: feed a different kibble, feed raw, injectable ivermectin from the feed store, bathe the dog in cider vinegar, add coconut oil to the food , homemade ear flushes, etc.  Other people suggested seeking medical advice instead of only treating symptoms.  These people explained there were various things that could cause the symptoms and the dog may have several things going on.  If one or more were the cause and not addressed, the dog would not improve. There was no way anyone could tell what was causing the issue without seeing the dog and possibly running tests.

Another owner was concerned her dog was refusing food.  The suggestions get the dog to eat were many: he will eat when he is hungry, feed raw, add broth, add cooked meat, feed a better food stop feeding kibble, feed canned only, try baby food, etc.  Some people suggested a vet visit and listed a bunch of things that could cause a refusal to eat. The owner chose the non-vet route. Over the next weeks the dog began losing weight and condition.  Finally, the owner went to the vet.  The dog had abscesses in his mouth. He was not eating because it hurt.

A cat owner was worried about litter box refusals. The first thing to do is rule out medical causes while addressing environment.  She chose the “cheaper” route of addressing environment only.  The situation worsened. Finally, the cat stopped urinating all together.  He started with urinary crystals, which would have been easier to address, and now had a full-blown urethral blockage.  Her medical bills were significantly higher now that the cat needed surgery to remove the blockage.  

The sooner you seek medical advice the better for your pet.  Also, it could be better for your wallet.  I spoke to a vet who was having a rough week.  He had euthanized several animals.  What upset him the most was most animals had been exhibiting symptoms for some time.  The owners went online to seek advice before calling him. They were told to give recommended treatments several days to weeks as some can take time to show any effect. Instead the conditions worsened, the vet bills were going to be much higher because treatment would be more involved.  Some of the pets were too far gone to save while for others the choice to euthanize was financial.

Another concern is internet advice is designed to treat symptoms only.  If someone says they have a dog who has developed an infrequent cough some would say early kennel cough, others would say allergies (depending on season). Well in the case of one of my senior dogs her cough was a symptom of developing heart issues.  Discovered how?  By a vet.  Why?  People cannot diagnose things without seeing the pet. I knew that cough could be a host of things from simple to the beginning of something life threatening.  

As a trainer I am often asked to diagnose a medical condition or say what I think may be going on.  First, I am not a vet. No one but a trained vet can legally diagnose a medical problem.  What can I do? I can encourage you to seek medical advice.  I can explain why to see medical advice. After that, depending on the diagnosis, I can adapt my work to the needs of your pet.

-Karen Peak, West Wind Dog Training

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A Few Sports for Spot

Over thousands of years man has developed different breeds of dogs to perform needed jobs. Even in modern times there are jobs dogs do more effectively than man or robots. For example, livestock guarding is a job a few purposefully bred dogs (with the right guidance of their inherteited behaviors) can do far more effectively than a few humans.  Dogs are more effective at moving livestock.  Dogs who are working are getting physical and mental activity. However, The average pet is not going to be protecting sheep from coyotes, sniffing out accelerants at an arson scene, or helping people in the frozen north transport things.  Yet many undesired behaviors dog owners report can be a symptom of needs not being adequately met.  One way to address physical and mental needs is through sports.

The nice thing about many sports is they can be worked informally at home. Your dog never has to compete either for these sports to help meet your dog’s needs. I do recommend for some activities that you take a few classes to learn how to train in a safer manner.  Let’s look at a few sports to consider:

Rally – Sometimes called Rally-O or Rally Obedience, you and your dog follow a numbered course with various stations.  Each station has a task to perform before moving to the next.  The tasks may include stays, sits, downs, turns, spirals and figure eights.

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Ryker 2006 in Rally (c) West Wind Dog Training

Agility – Dogs and handlers run through a numbered course with obstacles such as jumps, tunnels, weave poles, A-frames, dog walks (raised plank they go across). Though some breeds seem to excel at this sport, all dogs can do this if they are physically capable.

Connor and Foster

Connor and Foster – learning on a rock board (c) West Wind Dog Training

Tracking and Nose Work – Dogs are expected to follow a scent trail (tracking) or find a hidden scent (nose work). Tracking and Nose Work are based on something dogs love and need to do – sniff.

Lure Coursing – Dogs follow a lure pulled through a course.  Dogs are scored based on how they follow the lure and time. Some tests are open only to sign hounds (think Whippets, Borzois, etc.). Coursing Ability Tests are open to all dogs and are a pass/fail. Fast CATs are hundred-yard dashes after a lure and is also open to all dogs.

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Uhura – lure coursing fun day – she does Fast CATs now and is working towards her second title. (c) West Wind Dog Training

Herding – Tests a dog’s ability to work sheep, ducks and other livestock.  There are herding instinct trials which tests the dog’s natural ability for this job.  From there training is done to hone the instinct for working, competition, or both.

Uhura earned her Herding Instinct certificate June 2018.

Mushing – This is not just for huskies anymore nor do you need snow!  Check out urban mushing, skijoring, and similar sports.

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My husband and Hunter in 2003 preparing to skijour the neighborhood in the first major blizzard after we moved to VA. (c) West Wind Dog Training

Weight Pulling – Dogs are asked to pull weighted carts or sleds on ground, rails, or snow.  This is not a big dog only sport. I have watched Papillons, Chinese Cresteds and other small dogs compete and love it.  The key here is asked to pull.  Dogs who want to do this will be most successful.

Dock Diving – Dogs run across a “dock” and leap in to a long pool.  Often, they are encouraged to do so by chasing a tossed toy or retrieving dummy.  If your dog likes to swim and is good at it, you may wish to check out Dock Diving.

Over the years I have done various sports including competitive obedience, Rally, Agility, Skijoring, packing (dog carries a back pack), conformation showing and lure coursing with my dogs. Currently my daughter and I are involved with conformation, junior handling and Fast CATs.  Even my senior dogs enjoy formal activities. The big thing with sports is to train positively and respect it if your dog is not keen on a sport. Just because you want to do something does not mean your dog does.

Finally, should you want to try competing, both the American and United Kennel Clubs have provisions for dogs who are not purebred or who are purebred but do not have papers to take part in a variety of competitions.  No matter what you have for a dog, there is a sport out there for you.

  • Karen Peak – West Wind Dog Training
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Should He Stay or Should He Go?

There are times where pet owners will consider rehoming pets. Before you make the decision to give up your pet, seek professional advice.  A professional can advise how to increase the chance of a good resolution. This may include a full veterinary check to rule out medical causes, environmental changes, training and management protocols, enrichment ideas, and different services to help meet the pet’s needs. Education will help you make the best decision for you and the critter. Let’s briefly look at two situations and the decisions made with the help of a professional.

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The two dogs at the top both came to me when their owners could no longer keep them.  (c) West Wind Dog Training

When Fred was a puppy his owners were told he would stay around 50 pounds and be lower energy.  He was a known cross.  One parent was a breed that can be moderately active (though many assume they are low energy) and over 130 lbs.  The other was a much smaller breed that can be quite active.  At barely a year old he was 100 pounds and very active.  Fred’s owners were overwhelmed and considering rehoming him.  Their vet recommended calling a trainer first.  With my help, the owners realized though Fred was much larger and more active than they hoped that he was still a dog they could live with now that they knew what he needed.  Some changes in environment, lessening his confusion, better utilization of the large yard made a lot of difference.

Maggie was owned by knowledgeable people who did everything they could to increase the chance of success.  As Maggie matured, she began developing aggressive behaviors towards older dogs in the house – dogs she grew up with – and any dog seen while on walks. Professionals were consulted, and work begun.  Eventually, Maggie tolerated dogs on walks but would not tolerate dogs in the house. Maggie began attacking the dogs. No amount of work or management alleviated the issues in the house. She had to be separated from them always. After many tears and long talks with different professionals, it was decided Maggie would be better off as an only dog.

The decision to rehome a pet can be gut-wrenching for owners.  However, sometimes it truly is in the best interest of the animal. In her new home, without the stress of other resident dogs, Maggie flourished. Once an owner decides for whatever reason a pet cannot stay in the home, what next?

If you acquired your pet through a good breeder or rescue there will be a return clause in the contract. Your first call should be to them. This site (click here) has some good information regarding rehoming dogs that can be applied to many species.  It also explains why to avoid sites like Craigslist for advertising.

If you are considering releasing your unwanted pet into the wild, DON’T. First, it is illegal. Second, it can be a death sentence.  Third, it can negatively impact local ecosystems. Goldfish have caused significant damage to lakes and rivers. Released domestic rabbits have caused issues in many areas such as Australia, Las Vegas, and Calgary, Canada.  Never turn an unwanted pet loose.

Make decisions based on education and understanding what is safe, sane and humane for you and the pet. In the end, Fred’s owners realized things were not as bad as they though.  Maggie’s owners realized she could not live with other dogs and decided to seek a better life for her.

Now what are things you can do to try and keep your pet in your home?

First keeping a pet in the house begins long before you acquire the pet. Do not do anything on impulse. Think and research. Can you safely manage the animal you want? What will it need for environment and enrichment?  Can you meet its daily needs for the next 2 – 70+ years? Are you able and willing to appropriately meet dietary requirements? Are you going to be a good fit for the animal and vice versa? Is a new pet going to mesh well with current pets? Will you be raising the pet or expecting a home health aide, nanny, or your children to do the work? Will you bring in help to meet the critter’s needs? What will happen if you move, start a family, bring an ailing relative in to your house?

Know state and local laws, HOA covenants and lease restrictions.  For example, hedgehogs are not legal in all Virginia counties. You need a permit to own a ferret in Washington, DC.  Pit Bulls, as of last check, are banned in PG Co, MD. I consulted with a dog owner who adopted a dog 100lbs over the 50lbs weight limit for his rental.  He admittedly knew the weight restrictions before adopting yet was shocked when he was told by management to move or get rid of the dog.  No amount of training or behavior modification I could do would keep the dog in the house.  To make matters worse the dog had gone after several other residents and their dogs. The dog was very human and canine aggressive. The owner assumed he could fix the dog. The property managers had to think of the safety of the residents. Even if the dog was within the size requirements for rental, the dog’s behaviors were risky and there were multiple complaints on file from other residents.

Be proactive. Confusion, boredom, lack of training, lack of resources (too few litter boxes, toys, etc.), can lead to undesired behaviors. Working to reduce the chance of something starting goes a long way to keeping a pet in the house. Even with proactive owners, things will crop up.  Proactive owners address concerns fast.  Waiting can worsen things to the point where some owners decide or are forced to give up a pet (think animal control complaints, legal issues, insurance).

No matter how much we prepare for things, life can throw us a curve ball. When my husband was in a serious accident, we had two young kids and he needed a lot of home care.  I sucked it up and did two things: I hired a poop scoop service and did grocery delivery for a few weeks.  Just having two tasks taken care of for a few weeks helped. When I was dealing with cancer not that long ago my husband and kids took over a lot of the critter care.  It is OK to ask for help or hire it.

Other life changes include moves. In 1997 we moved from Massachusetts to Virginia with two dogs, four cat, some rabbits and a couple guinea pigs.  It took two cars and planning, but we did it.  We had a great real estate agent who hooked us up with a vet for boarding. The moment you know a move is a possibility you need to begin planning for your pets. Rarely do people have to move at the drop of a hat.  Even evictions take time.  As pet owners we need to do all we can to ensure our pets can move with us.

Being prepared and proactive can go a long way towards keeping a pet in the home.

This was originally two parts of a series done for Inside NoVA.  Since I do not get paid for my writing I am able to expand and blog my writings later.  (c) West Wind Dog Training – Karen Peak

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Are Your Walks Meaningful?

I do two types of walks with my dogs. First is “We Must Get From Point A to Point B while ignoring things like trash, other animals, things in a hotel lobby or hall, pedestrians, etc.,” walk. Then there is the “It’s OK To Be A Dog and Sniff” walk. Many of our walks are a combination of the two.  Why do I do this when for decades trainers have pushed teaching walks where dogs are next to you, not sniffing, and being perfect?  Simple, what many dog owners and some trainers think is a good walk or run with their dogs can be frustrating for the dog.



Yeah, this sniff walk ended up becoming a sniff wade (c) West Wind Dog Training

I worked with a dog belonging to a runner. The dog was a high energy, working breed. The owner was giving him more than ample exercise.  However, he could not understand why the dog was developing undesired behaviors especially when on walks.  They had no yard, so the dog had to be walked or run.  The owner’s idea of exercise was a deliberate walk or run with no stopping unless the dog had to potty.  It was fast and deliberate and long.  The dog was never allowed to poke or sniff as dogs need to do.  Several times a week they would run for several miles.  Again, no ability for the dog to be a dog. No ability for the dog to meet certain needs he had as a dog.  There were social and behavioral aspects to walks the dog was not getting.  The dog was developing undesired behaviors based out of frustration.

What do I mean by social and behavioral aspects?  I am not referring to expecting the dog to meet and greet every human and dog he passes.  For me, having a dog who demands to meet and greet everyone without permission is risky. I am talking about allowing a dog to sniff and poke and gather information about his environment.

“Sniff, sniff, sniff. Hmmm, Sparky may be developing a urinary tract infection. Sniffy sniff-sniff… Oh, I do not know that dog smell, he must be new here. Sniff. What did Buster eat for dinner last night?  Ok let’s sniff over here! Wow, a coyote walked past here last night!  Deer! And what’s over here? Whoops, Billy dropped his ice cream here and rats cleaned it up.  Hey human I want to sniff over here now!  I think I smelled the Jacobson’s cat out again!”  Being able to sniff is a way dogs gather information. When we deny dogs this chance we are removing something important for them to do.  Imagine being cut off from an important part of your world.  Imagine no ability to check on what is going on around you.  Dogs need to have sniffing time while on walks.



After a nice walk across the parking lot to the trail, we can allow our dogs to sniff and poke. (c) West Wind Dog Training


Does this mean I allow my dogs to haul me all over on walks while they sniff?  No.  This means I walk them to places where it is OK for them to sniff. I check the area for things that may be a problem like trash. If the area looks good they are told they can go sniff. During sniffing I follow them. After a good sniff they are cued again to return to the walk and we move on to the next sniff.  In some areas I may use a long line, so the dogs can range out but still be leashed to me.


Quiet country road. Uhura is on a long line giving her the ability to roam and sniff while not being loose. (c) West Wind Dog Training

While on walks, make sure your dog has ample time to stop and smell the roses and other things.  He will be happier for it.

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Trigger Stacking – It Adds Up

Your alarm never went off.  You are running late so decide to grab breakfast on the road.  You spill coffee on your new suit.  You get to work and see someone has parked in your reserved spot and the rest of the lot is full.  You have to park at the pay garage two blocks away.  At work, you find the two people working on a project did not complete their parts over the weekend.  The project is due the next day. You work through lunch and stay late to complete their part of the project while your coworkers go out for an extended lunch with a friend and sneak out early.  As you are heading home, your vehicle’s “check engine” light starts to flash.  You get home to see toys scattered all over the drive way and side walk.  Your Home Owners’ Association person greets you with a warning that the toys were left out too long today.  You are at the end of your rope.  Now your child comes dashing, naked, out of the front door.  You scream for her to get back in the house. Your stress level is extremely high and you just lost it.

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Photo by Pixabay on

Normally each of these events, if confronted with individually or with sufficient recovery time between, would cause stress but you would be able to cope.  What if you did not get a chance to recover from these triggers and they kept, building, stacking, your blood boils and…

This is often called “Trigger Stacking.”  Even if the individual stressors do not elicit (trigger) a reaction, they are still building emotional stress.  Stress is stacking and tolerance levels drop and each stress builds until…  Let’s apply this to a common pet: the cat. (And the same happens to dogs).

You go to the shelter and adopt a new cat.  The cat is supposed to be good with dogs and children.  However, within hours of being home, the cat badly scratches your youngest on the face.   Were you paying attention to what was going on or happening?  What stresses were stacking?  Let’s look at Kitty.

Kitty has gone from a home into a shelter (big stress).  While at the shelter, there were sights, sounds and loads of things she was not used to (lots of stress with no ability to escape the stress in the environment).   You adopt the cat and shove her in a box for a car ride (stress).  At home, you dump her in the middle of the living room where your puppy barks at her (stress).   You older child brings over friends to see the new cat (stress).  They spend the afternoon playing loudly in the house (stress).  Your mother-in-law comes for dinner and fusses all over kitty as the poor thing tries to eat and rest (stress).   Just before bed, your younger child races up to kitty to give a good-night kiss (stress).  Cat hisses and smacks the child, claws extended, in the face.  Next day, stressed kitty is back at the shelter.  Step back and look at all the stress stacked upon the poor animal and it is no wonder kitty scratched the child.

Stress stacking up and triggering a reaction happens to us and our pets.

Learn to understand subtle signs your pet is stressing.  Pets rarely scratch or bite without warning.  Often there are early signals that stress is adding up long before we hear a growl or a hiss. Watch for stressors stacking up and intervene before an undesired response is triggered.


Karen Peak is owner/operator of West Wind Dog Training in Prince William County, founder of The Safe Kids/Safe Dogs Project, a published author, wife, mother and the manager of a multi-dog, multi-species household.

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