DIY Danger – Safety First When Making Small Pet Toys

Siri, Clay, and Merton in their DIY play area.

As a rat owner, I understand how difficult it is to find a toy that keeps your critter engaged for a significant amount of time. Small animals need to have interesting objects and activities to keep their brains active and boost their mental health. There are a lot of commercial toys out there for small pets that can be used inside of a cage or out in the play space, even some bird toys are suitable for certain situations, but in this age of Facebook DIY videos and Pinterest home crafting boards, rodent toy ideas are taking a dangerous turn.

When you pick up a toy at the store, you can be fairly certain that the item is made with parts that will be safe for your rat or other small animal. Of course, there have been one or two exceptions (I never recommend the Snack Shack chew toy to any rat owner, as it has caused illness and death in some animals) and you should always read the labels and follow all care instructions, but generally, a pet owner can assume that purchased toys are the safest way to play. Unfortunately, these toys can be costly, especially if your resources are limited and the pet stores in your area offer a small variety. The solution to providing a little extra fun is to repurpose something from around the house, turning it from trash into treasure.

While some of the do-it-yourself items found online are perfectly safe, many that are floating around the internet these days contain dangerous or toxic elements that should NOT be used in small animal toys. In this article, I have decided to take a look at some of the most popular DIY items floating around in your feeds.

Homemade Houses

If you see this video, keep scrolling!

It is becoming a fad these days to create houses for rats out of massive amounts of popsicle sticks or old t-shirts glued to cardboard boxes. The issue here isn’t the item you are creating these houses with, it’s the way you are holding them together.

WARNING: Do NOT, I repeat, DO NOT follow any online video instructing you to use glue or tape when you make one of these for your rat or other small animal! Tape and glue are dangerous even if you think you are putting them where your pet can’t reach. These critters are chewers and can easily chew through cardboard to get to tape or glue on the other side.

All of the houses that I have seen online contain toxic glues that are NOT safe for consumption by your furry friends, most especially the ones made with HOT GLUE. I checked with our vet on this and he emphatically agreed with me. According to Dr. Smith, who has been a reference for our small animal articles in the past, there are NO commercial glues that are completely safe for your small pet. And, of course, tape is a choking hazard.

Work Around: If you want to make a house for your rat, ask around for people to give you old boxes, cut holes in them, and connect them together WITHOUT tape or glue. Typically, our family uses tissue boxes with the plastic cut out, old packing boxes and shipping tubes, empty shoe boxes, or anything else made of paper or cardboard. When making your house, remember not to use glue or tape and to remove any plastic or tape materials from the boxes before use. It is probably possible for someone who is super crafty to find a way to tie sticks together with string or twine for a nice house, but any of the glued houses should be completely avoided.

Image taken from Friskies’ ‘How to Make a Cat Tent’ video at

Conclusion: Ignore the Facebook popsicle house video completely, and alter the t-shirt and coat hanger cat house design by simply not using the tape. It may be a little less stable, but you won’t catch your rats chewing on something dangerous. Also with the cat house, make sure to regularly check the coat hanger edges that might cause dangerous cuts if they become exposed due to chewing of the cardboard base.

Paper Tube Games

Before and after. Paper tube toys are simple to make.

There are a lot of things you can do with toilet paper tubes. If you have enough of them, you can make food-seeking mazes by providing a large number of tubes, with only a few holding a treat. You can do this by standing them on end and watching your rat bowl them all over in their search, or by leaving them flat, which takes more space. Others use the tubes as treat logs, stuffed with scrap paper and some goodies that their pet has to chew through in order to find their reward.

WARNING: Other than requiring supervision to be certain that a large rat doesn’t get stuck in these tubes, tube games are basically safe. There are three rules to follow with these home made toys, regarding adhesives and hanging. These rules apply regardless of what project you follow.

The first rule is the same as above, DO NOT use glue or tape for any reason. Your pets will be chewing on these, and that can be very dangerous.

Second in the list of rules, is the use of yarn. This is dangerous for your small pet because yarn isn’t good for your rats to chew and their nails can catch in it too easily, causing major injury to their toes.

Finally, there are many people out there who use shower curtain hooks to attach their toys to their rat cages. Some of these are safe, but most can cause deep gashes or death if they accidentally pop open and the hook catches on any part of your rat’s body.

Work Around: If you see a project claiming you have to use yarn, find string or twine and use that instead. If you want to hang your toy in the cage, you can use twine for that too, or repurpose the clip of a toy purchased from the store.

Merton sniffs out a seed ball hidden in the hanging basket.

Conclusion: These are fun and safe, as long as you think carefully about what it is you are making. Supervision is always the best policy when it comes to toys of any sort, but these are some of the easiest, most stress free things you can make. The simplest way to give your rats fun is just to fold the tube shut on both ends and let them go to town chewing and pulling at the paper you stuffed inside to get their one special reward.

Dig Boxes and Ball Pens

It is natural for your small pet to want to dig around because, in the wild, they forage for their food. Dig boxes are obviously more useful to some small pets than others, but most have a lot of fun with these types of toys. Most pet owners use a set of plastic drawers, filling the bottom one with dirt, the middle one with plastic Easter eggs and the top one is left empty to remove for water play or is used as toy storage. Before you make any type of play container like these, be sure to ask your vet if what you want to do is safe for the health of your little one.

WARNING: DO NOT use dirt or sand that has been chemically treated or could contain insects. You MUST use sterilized soils that contain NO pesticides or fertilizers. For sanitation reasons, the poop should be scooped as soon as you see it and the soil should be changed once a week. If your pet shows ANY signs of a respiratory issue, stop the use of your dirt dig box immediately and see the vet. Dirt and sand dig boxes can cause respiratory distress in any small animal that already has a breathing issue.

Some people grow edible grasses in the soil for the rats to play in. If you chose to do this, ASK YOUR VET what would be best for your pet. If you decide to scatter treats or seeds to encourage the foraging behavior, use these things sparingly, as too much can cause dietary or intestinal problems.

Lee explores an egg-ball pen.

If you are creating a ball pen, use ONLY plain plastic eggs with no glitter, paint, or other decoration. ALWAYS check the eggs for cracks that could hurt your pet and try to prevent chewing on the plastic whenever possible.

Work around: There aren’t any real work around needs with dig boxes and play pens. The most important thing to do when it comes to do it yourself play spaces is to ask your vet for advice BEFORE creating one. That way you can be certain that you are using items that are right for your pet’s specific needs. If your pet can’t have one with dirt, try the eggs instead.

Have Fun!

Playtime for the girls.

The most important thing about DIY toys is that you, the pet owner, are responsible for the safety and well being of your small fur buddy. If you find something new and exciting, but aren’t sure about the risks involved, contact your vet. They can easily tell you if your idea needs altering to suit your pet’s needs.

Play time with your pets should be as entertaining for you as it is for them and creating your own toys based on the interests of your animal can be a fun way to get involved with their training and promote natural behaviors that stimulate mental health. Have fun creating, keep safety in mind, and you and your pet should enjoy hours of entertainment together.

Dr. Jason Smith attended Rider University in New Jersey where he earned his undergraduate degree in Cellular and Molecular Biology with a minor in Chemistry. He then attended the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine, where he graduated with his Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine in 2005 with honors. He enjoys all aspects of small animal medicine and surgery and has medically and surgically treated dogs, cats, rabbits, ferrets, guinea pigs, rats, prairie dogs, chinchillas, hedgehogs, hamsters, mice, gerbils and pot bellied pigs. He currently practices at both Timberlyne and Legion Road Animal Clinics in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Mirrani Houpe, our Small Animal Editor, has had rats since she took home her first little boy once they both completed the second grade. Since that time she has owned, rescued and bred many kinds of rats, from many backgrounds. She may not be a vet, psychology major, or scientist, but her babies have her very well trained when it comes to how to care for them. She is constantly working with her family’s veterinarian to come up with new and innovative ways to love and care for the most often misunderstood rodent in the pet world. You can e-mail her at

Should I Befriend a Bird?

When looking for a new companion animal, birds are always an adventurous choice. Unlike fish who are restricted to water, or dogs who keep their feet planted (mostly) on the ground, birds have the ability of flight and also have the unique adaptation of feathers instead of fur or scales. Their vibrant personalities match their unique physical appearance. This causes the members of the avian species to be very distinctive when compared to other types of pets, and it results in different types of challenges. Once we begin to consider a plumed pal, we must ask ourselves: how do we know if a bird is a right fit for our home? Fear not avian seeker, here are some tips to help you out!

Blue and Gold Macaw enjoying some playtime

Bird Care

The sky is the limit when it comes to pampering your bird, but there are a few basic items that must be considered before bringing a bird home. One important piece of equipment needed is a cage. A bird’s cage acts as a safe zone that belongs specifically to your bird(s). This is their space where they will feel comfortable and safe. Thus, it is important for the cage to be roomy enough that the bird remains comfortable while on a perch and while in flight. When picking a cage, you will need to consider the height, length, and width compared to the bird’s size, bar spacing on cage sides, and how many birds will be sharing this space. A fun way to determine the adequate length and width for a cage is to imagine the bird standing on the bottom of the cage with its wings spread to their full length, then visualize the bird turning in a full circle. The tips of the wings and the tail feathers should not touch any of the sides of the cage. Small cages produce the risk of birds getting their feathers stuck in the gaps between the bars which can damage the feathers and cause injury. When in doubt, go with a larger cage with greater total area! The vertical or horizontal bar spaces need to be sufficiently small so that a curious Polly will not fit their head through the space. When adopting multiple flock members, consider the previous cage sizing, and also make sure that there will be enough space for the birds so they can all be apart from the others while still not risking damage to their own feathers.

Have you ever heard of the term “bird brain?” This saying is typically reserved for someone who is easily scattered in their thoughts. The saying “bird brain” does have a grain of truth hidden in it. Birds can be some of the most intelligent animals on the planet, but they need to keep their mind active. The best way to sustain your bird’s entertainment is to provide the right kind of toys and perches to re-create their natural habitats. Colors, sounds, reflections, textures, and puzzles can provide all sorts of enrichment for a feathered companion. Providing an array of perches and toys and interchanging them once in a while will keep a birdie buddy happy and playful and it will keep their mind active.

Three Parakeets in a cage and their play area

As with most living things, your pet bird will also need to be fed daily and have access to water. Having their food and water separate in their cage will assist in keeping the bird’s food dry and the water clean. Luckily, most bird cages sold in stores come with both food and water dishes.

Your bird’s diet is a also very important factor to consider. Unlike wild birds who can forage for seeds, grains, and nuts, a companion bird is fully dependent on what you can offer them as their caregiver. It is important to read the nutrient information of pet bird seed and research blends that will meet your pet bird’s species requirements.

Picking the Right Type of Bird

Companion birds are commonly divided into two orders: Psittaciformes (parrots) and Passeriformes (song birds). Any pet bird in either order will make a wonderful addition to your family, so what matters is identifying a species that will meet exactly what you’re looking for in a feathered friend.

Parrots are exotic and curious creatures. Naturally intelligent, parrots are a joy to train and may even be able to repeat words and phrases. Many different species of parrots are available as companion birds, but as the bird’s size increases, the amount of money, time required to care for them, and longevity of the bird increases as well. As a first time bird owner, species such as a parakeet (budgie) or cockatiel are recommended for their personalities, size, and price. Depending on the amount of time you are able to spend with your parrot, a second bird of the same breed would make an excellent social companion.

Cockatiel, a sweet beginner pet parrot, perching on their human’s hand.

Song birds are also wonderful birds to welcome into your home. Song birds include avians such as canaries, finches, and cooing doves. The majority of these little guys don’t care for much handling or human contact, however, there are exceptions where some may enjoy human cuddles. Song birds, as their name suggests, have musical vocals and may fill your home with sweet tweets, chirps, coos, and caws! If you think you would prefer to have a little flock of birds, song bird species typically flourish in homes where they participate in companionship with two, three, or more birds of their kind to form a flock.

Two Zebra Finches, which are very popular companion songbirds.


Dedication, schedules, and plenty of patience is key to owning birds. It is going to take a bit of time and effort for your new bird to become used to your presence. Birds are prey animals and are very skittish. This may cause it to take a few days before they are used to your presence. Once you all are comfortable with each other, it will become a ritual of consistency to offer fresh food and water at least once a day. Food and water bowls should also be cleaned frequently to prevent bacteria. The cage, toys and anything else that may have come in contact with bird waste should also be cleaned at least once a week. Molted feathers, waste, seed shells, splashed water, and the remains of toys are common litter found in the bottom of a bird’s cage that must be cleaned up. Birds of all species will produce a lot of dandruff and mess and the area around the cage will most likely need cleaning as well.

Conure Parrots enjoying a meal by hulling the seeds before dropping the shells.

One major observation frequently made about birds is their unique sound. Their vocals can be sweet or very irritating. Many parrots can screech up to the volume of emergency sirens and if this occurs during sleeping hours it may be disturbing. Patience is necessary because you should not always scold the animal, but instead try to understand why they decided to start singing in the early hours. A bird’s biological clock is very strong and they may need to be “put to bed” at different times throughout the year depending on daylight hours.

In some cases, like with many parrot species, your bird buddy will need exercise time of an hour or more each day outside of their cage to truly stretch their wings. When your bird is out of the cage, a supervising eye is especially needed because of their curious nature. They may get themselves in some very challenging or destructive situations. With persistence, training, and veterinary advice, managing the effort of care for your bird will become a breeze.

Other Friends

A very important consideration to make before investing in birds is to respect other household members. Not all abodes are adequate in housing avians. If other house mates cannot handle the clamor that can possibly be made or if any other companion animals would be bothered by a frantic flutter, it may be best to reconsider. Many birds can become very sick, stressed, or destructive in homes not suited for them. Too many birds end up being surrendered due to incompatibility. Sometimes you do just need a trial period to see if Tweety and Sylvester can learn to adjust to each other, or if the situation should be reconsidered. For example, I personally cannot adopt a bird currently because I live with bird dogs who become very excited and agitated when sighting feathered fowl. I decided not to adopt currently because I fear my dogs may accidentally hurt the bird and I wish to avoid as much stress as possible for either animal. The good news is, if you currently decide it is best not to adopt today, circumstances do change and it may become possible one day!

An African Grey parrot and cat getting along and relaxing together.

Sometimes though, training and persistence can solve such a situation and if the other household members are neutral to their new feathered family member, then your birdie adventure may begin!

Ashley Gurnea, our Avian Editor, is a certified bird feeding specialist at Wild Birds Unlimited. A graduate from New Mexico State University, Ashley earned her bachelor degree in the field of Animal Science. She completed an internship at an exotic animal park, working with animals ranging from camels to porcupines and a variety of birds such as parrots and cockatoos. This love and curiosity of avians has led her to her current position at Wild Birds Unlimited in Las Cruces where she remains up to date with local wild feeder birds. Growing up in a home where animals have always been present, Ashley is now a self-proclaimed “Corgi Countess” due to her love and adoration for her tricolor Pembroke welsh corgi, Colin.  Bring up anything corgi or bird related in a conversation and Ashley will be happy to share her many photos. Feel free to ask her about pet birds, and visit Wild Birds Unlimited for questions on wild birds! Ashley can be reached at

Boarding Your Senior Dog

Owning a senior dog can be surprisingly different from owning a puppy or an adult dog. They tend to have more health issues, special needs, and they might have more trouble being away from their owners. Because of this, there are some things you should know about boarding your senior dog, and there are things that you should tell your boarding facility, as well. Senior dogs might be a little bit more complicated, but loving one makes it all worthwhile.

Loving a senior dog couldn’t be easier.

What You Should Know

Because senior dogs can be a bit more sensitive to changes in their life, it is very important to take some precautions when boarding them. A boarding facility could be a bit overwhelming for your senior dog due to of all of the different smells, sights, and sounds, especially if they’ve never been there before or if they only go once a year. This can all be quite stressful for your dog and for you. The IBPSA (International Boarding & Pet Services Association) explains that, “Stress-induced hormones have effects on various body systems such as increased blood pressure forcing the heart to work harder, a slowdown of kidney and urinary systems, and a temporary shutdown of the immune system, which fights off disease and infections. Exhibited physical signs may include vomiting, diarrhea, lack of appetite, lethargy, or increased respiration.”

This old guy seems to be handling the stress pretty well.

This might sound a bit scary, but as long as you’re prepared, your senior dog should be fine. The best way to prepare your dog for boarding is to introduce them to the facility before they stay there for a long period of time. A good way to do this is by taking your dog to daycare at the facility and maybe having them sleep over for a night so they can see what it’s like. It is important to find a facility that has an area specifically for senior dogs so they can have a break from the craziness that the younger dogs can produce. At Your Pet Space, we have a quiet area in the back with a sofa, a recliner, dog beds, lamps, and even a television that creates a homey feel for senior dogs. It is crucial for them to stay as calm and relaxed as possible so they don’t get too overwhelmed. Too much stress can even potentially make your dog sick. The IBPSA says, “Your pet care provider is responsible for providing a clean, safe, and caring environment and monitoring the health of the pets left in their care. Unfortunately, a boarding facility has no way of preventing a pet from becoming ill from the effects of stress.”

Because of this, it is very important for you to partner with your boarding facility so they can provide the best care possible for your senior dog. To avoid even more stress, you can also ask about home care. Your Pet Space provides home care for any animal (dog, cat, ferret, bird, you name it!) who may not fare as well in the facility. If you take your senior dog for a few days of daycare before your big trip and it seems too stressful for your furry friend, you can keep them at home and we can provide care for them there where they will be relaxed, comfortable, and stress-free.

Completely happy and resting at home.

What You Should Tell Your Provider

So, you’ve laid down the groundwork for boarding your senior dog and you are booking their stay at the facility or home care will be provided. Since caring for senior dogs can be much more complicated than caring for younger dogs, there is some information that you should always tell your provider. You should also keep them updated on your dog’s health and well-being for any future stays. Having this information before the stay will help your boarding provider give your dog the best care possible.

Health Issues

Please let your boarding facility know if your senior dog has any health issues and how they are being treated. Even if your dog has something as small as a cough, drippy eyes, or a recurring limp, it is good to know. Otherwise you might get a concerned call saying your dog might have kennel cough or may have hurt their leg while playing when it’s actually a minor, recurring issue. It is also very important to tell your boarding facility if your dog has any allergies to any foods or any airborne allergens. If your dog is very stressed and not eating, the facility may try feeding them a different type of food so it is good for them to know if that would cause an allergic reaction. Also, the facility might offer some natural, calming supplements to your dog if they seem overly stressed. If your dog has known food allergies, they could react poorly to that, as well.

Calm and healthy is the best way to live.


If your senior dog takes any medications, please let your boarding facility know and provide detailed instructions on how to give them. It is also good to know exactly what health issue the medication is for. Let them know what time of day, how much they should be getting, how often, and if it needs to be paired with food or put in something like a pill pocket or peanut butter. Also let them know if your dog ever has difficulty taking their medication and what to do if they will not take it on their own. The IBPSA asks, “If your dog is on several medications or a complicated dosage schedule, a small chart or calendar showing the medication schedule may help staff to keep the treatments on time. Bring your insulin needles or other measuring devices for liquid medications to ensure that all measurements are the same as at home.”

This old guy deserves to be taken care of properly.

Considering the Worst

Even with all of these precautions, sometimes the worst can still happen while you’re out of town. Your boarding facility will provide the best care possible for all dogs, including your senior dog, but they can’t work miracles. If your dog gets severely ill or even passes away, it is important for your boarding facility to know what you’d like them to do. Your Pet Space has a section in our boarding contract that explains, “if the pet becomes ill or if the state of the pet’s health otherwise requires professional attention, the Kennel may contact the client’s veterinarian and/or administer First Aid, medicine, Canine CPR, or give other requisite attention to the pet, and the expenses thereof shall be paid by Owner. In the event the Owner’s vet cannot be reached or time is of the essence in saving the pet’s life, the Owner agrees that the Kennel may take the pet to the nearest veterinary facility for emergency treatment.”

This being said, special arrangements can also be put in place. If requested, Your Pet Space can take your dog only to your vet, can ask for specific tests to be done, or they can forego doing any treatment whatsoever, allowing your dog to pass on naturally when they see fit. While it is a terrible thing to have to consider, it is the best for you, your senior dog, and your boarding facility to have a personalized plan developed if the circumstances become dire.

Providing the best love and care that a senior dog truly deserves.

The Positive Side

Once you have gone through the detailed work of preparing your senior dog, yourself, and your facility for boarding or home care, it is equally important to remember that with all of the work and communication involved, things will probably go off without a hitch. There is always a chance that something could go wrong, even with younger dogs, but your boarding facility will take your advice to heart and they will do everything they can to ensure that your dog has the most relaxing, stress-free stay possible.

Jessica Smith

Jessica Smith, Associate Editor, having been raised in a household full of dogs, guinea pigs, hamsters, and all things furry, Jessica’s love of animals has only grown over the years. She is currently volunteering for Safe Haven Animal Sanctuary in her free time when she isn’t out and about with her ridiculous pit bull mix, Annabel Lee, or taking care of her two goldfish, Carrot Cake and Winchester. She is also putting her literature degree to use by working as an editor for a local online magazine, Independent Noise. While she has no plans for the future, she knows that it will be filled with fur and fiction galore. You can e-mail Jessica at

What To Know Before Getting a New Dog: Part I

When you’re considering getting a new dog, there’s probably a few things that will cross your mind. Will this new dog get along with my family? Will they be able to make friends with my current pets? How do I find the right dog for my situation? Do I have enough time to devote to a new dog? While these are very important questions to ask yourself, you should also know how much adding a new dog to your life is going to cost, and how to find the right dog breed for you.

Keep in mind: this article is not meant to dissuade you from getting a new dog, it is simply meant to inform you so you are properly prepared to take care of your dog in the best way possible. It may seem a bit overwhelming at first, but being as prepared as possible for your new family member will benefit you and your dog significantly.

This puppy is curious about the information!

Initial Cost

Before we get into selecting the right pooch for you, it is important that we go over the basics. Supplies for bigger dogs will cost slightly more than smaller breeds, but the following information will be the average amount spent on a new dog. The majority of this information will be coming from the amazing 2017 Pet Cost Guide developed by The Simple Dollar.

The initial cost of a new dog consists of breeder/adoption fee, vaccinations, training classes, and necessary dog equipment. Most breeders will charge anywhere between $2,000-$9,000 for your new friend depending on the dog breed. Shelters, rescues, and sanctuaries often charge less than $100. They also tend to include spaying/neutering, vaccinations, and microchipping in this price. Basically, you get all of the initial vet costs waived. This will bring down the overall amount you spend on your dog drastically.

Pound puppies need fur-ever homes, too.

In regards to necessary initial equipment for your dog, the Pet Cost Guide explains that, “There are only a few pieces of equipment that dogs absolutely need: a food and water bowl, a leash, and a crate. Beyond that, much of the equipment available for dogs is a luxury. However, this cost can increase drastically if you need to make changes to your home.” For example, do you have a yard with a fence at least four feet tall? If not, you may need to spend upwards of $1,000 upgrading your yard so your dog can play safely unsupervised.

Training should also be seen as a necessity. If your dog is not properly trained, you are risking their safety and the safety of the dogs and people around them. This could cause your bills (and stress-levels) to sky-rocket. Most group training classes range between $80-$150 for a six-eight week course, with private classes costing between $40-$100 per session. As long as you practice DAILY at home, most classes will be beneficial to you and your dog.

The initial cost of getting a new dog come to about $500 if you don’t purchase your dog from a breeder. If you do purchase your dog from a breeder, this cost can rise to $2,500-$9,500. Thankfully all of these things should be just a one-time fee, but the rest of the list will be things that you’ll have to continuously think about during your dog’s lifetime.

Better start saving!

Medical Care

Now that you have your new dog, you have to keep them as healthy as possible. If it hasn’t already been done, you need to think about spaying or neutering your dog, and you have to get heartworm protection, flea and tick protection, and ear and dental care. If you keep an eye on these preventative measures, you will save a lot of money in the long run. Letting any one of these conditions get too out of hand will cause major financial down-falls, and the health of your pet will suffer. Without treatment, most of these issues can be life-threatening. It is crucial that you focus on controlling these issues at least once a month. If you brush your dog’s teeth on a regular basis at home, the need to take your dog to get their teeth cleaned decreases dramatically. You can also check your dog’s ears for any dirt, grime, discharge, or strange smells before taking them to the vet.

The “cone of shame” is a sure sign that this puppy just got fixed!

There are also breed specific health issues to keep in mind. The Pet Ownership Costs Guide explains that, “Certain breeds of dogs are more prone to medical problems than others. Some are almost infamous for them; for example, pugs and bulldogs. Most flat-faced dog breeds have chronic respiratory issues and are known for loud snoring. While that may be an endearing quality to many people, the snoring is a result of the animal struggling to breathe. German Shepherds are also prone to a number of problems like eczema and hip dysplasia. A good rule to remember is that any animal bred to look a specific way likely has a health issue as a result. King Charles Cavalier Spaniels are prone to brain injury because their skulls have been bred almost too small for their brains, while English Bulldogs face a number of joint issues as well as skin issues.” The vet bills for these issues could be astronomical, let alone the pain and suffering that your dog may be feeling.


Feeding your dog may seem like one of the easiest steps in the process of becoming a new dog owner, but it may end up being more complicated than you expect. If you truly want to give your dog a long, healthy life, you should be feeding them medium to high quality food. This does not necessarily mean that you need to be spending $80 a month on dog food. There are some reasonably priced, good quality foods available. The absolute best place to go with any dog food questions is Better Life Natural Pet Foods. They will help you find the best food for your dog in your price range.

Low quality food is like candy for dogs. Do you feed your kids candy for dinner?

My dog, Annie, is the perfect example of the surprisingly difficult nature of feeding. As I’ve discussed in some previous articles, Annie is severely allergic to grass, grain, and potato. This may not seem like that big of a problem, but it is. If she gets a bowl of the wrong food, she will have a rash and hives the next day. It has been a real learning process to get her on the right food, but over the past year of trial and error, she now eats Zignature brand food. This is the only brand I’ve been able to find that consistently helps her skin stay clear. Unfortunately, this brand ranges between $60-$90 for a large bag. Annie’s health is definitely worth the price, but it goes to show that expenses for your dog can arise where you least expect.

Further Thoughts

This is a lot of information, yet it is only the beginning! In the next segment of this series, we will be discussing the possible total cost of a new dog and how to pick the right dog for you. Stay tuned for more! Also, check out this previously published article about adopting and raising a puppy.

Jessica Smith

Jessica Smith, Associate Editor, having been raised in a household full of dogs, guinea pigs, hamsters, and all things furry, Jessica’s love of animals has only grown over the years. She is currently volunteering for Safe Haven Animal Sanctuary in her free time when she isn’t out and about with her ridiculous pit bull mix, Annabel Lee, or taking care of her two goldfish, Carrot Cake and Winchester. She is also putting her literature degree to use by working as an editor for a local online magazine, Independent Noise. While she has no plans for the future, she knows that it will be filled with fur and fiction galore. You can e-mail Jessica at – See more at:

Six Ways to Keep a Kitty Mind Active

Have you ever watched your furry feline run across the room, pounce onto a chair and stare at you with their big eyes? How about, walking around a corner and seeing them jump into mid-air because they didn’t expect to be noticed as they followed you? I’m sure the answer is yes. Cats are curious, active and playful, whether they are only indoor or outdoor pets. If you have ever tried to leave the house and your kitty tries to sneak out, it’s not to run away, it’s to explore! Ever heard of cats carpooling? Some cats love to go on car rides with their owners and watch the scenery! Cats have long lifespans; some can even live up to twenty years. And it’s important to keep their minds bright and quick as they age. It doesn’t happen immediately; it is a slow and gradual effect that you will start noticing after a few years. Just like us, our feline friends can’t always stay young.

Beautiful Missus, sitting like a “lady”.

Your Aging Cat

As a cat becomes elderly, mental and physical changes take place. Brain cells can diminish and the brain size can decrease, particularly in the frontal cortex. Dopamine levels decline as well, and synapses and receptors are reduced. Symptoms of aging can include: a change in waking and sleeping cycles; defecation or urination outside their litter box; less interplay with other pets and their owners; less of a desire to eat; confusion about their surroundings; and very loud crying.

One of my best friends is a cat; her name is Missus. She was first given to me when I was eight years old, and almost fourteen years later, she is still around and is one of the best cats I have ever owned. As a kitten, Missus was very intelligent! She would open kitchen cabinet doors and drag knit hats and toys into the corner of the cabinets to make a bed for herself. My mother and I would search the house for her, only to find that she had made herself a comfortable hiding spot. She was trained to walk on a leash at a young age, and with a bit more training she learned the hand signals for stop and walk. When she was angry, she would kindly let me know by walking past me, growl, look sternly into my eyes, and be on her way. And when Missus was hungry for a snack, she would jump on her back legs and pat me with her soft paws.

Missus’ brother, Baby Kitty, enjoying a lovely walk.

As she aged, some of these behaviors changed, and others have disappeared entirely. I first noticed a difference in her behavior when she became disorientated during the day. Missus also become extremely irritable and disregarded me when I would tell her “no”. It was not until she began regularly urinating on our kitchen countertops that her Dad and I decided to take her to the veterinarian. I initially thought she may have had a kidney infection, but that was not the case. At eleven years old, she was diagnosed with Dementia, and though it was heartbreaking, her Dad and I decided to try to keep her comfortable and happy. Missus prefers to be carried on walks now rather than walking herself, sometimes she pees on the countertops, and at times she is confused or anxious of her whereabouts even though she’s lived in the same house with me for years. It is difficult to accept when your furry loved one is aging, but it’s not hard to adjust your cat’s life to keep them happy, safe, and loved.

Here are six practices to keep your cat witty and fast, even in their older years:

Keep a Scheduled Routine of Playtime

Kittens love to play, and so do cats, especially when it is with their owner(s). It does not matter if you have bought a new Chewbacca Mouse cat toy, or if you run from them and hide behind corners, or drag string around on the ground. No matter what, your cat is going to have a blast playing with you!

Teach them Tricks

You can teach a cat tricks the same way you can teach a dog. You can teach them how to give high-fives, to sit, to climb, and much more. Just remember to practice, reward your kitty with a special treat, and move on to a new trick when they’ve successfully learned one.

Cats thrive on being stimulated visually.

Looking for Dinner? Make it a Scavenger Hunt!

Get your cat’s hunter instincts activated by placing clues (treats) along the way to your cat’s dinner. If you place treats from the floor, to the couch and their cat trees, and they’ll be more energetic and curious as to where they’re being led. Make it a fun puzzle for them! It is safer than to allow your cat to hunt for mice or birds; this way you can avoid your cat catching any diseases or parasites. And you can take this opportunity to teach your cat some tricks, and reward them with a scrumptious dinner afterwards.

Go on Walks

Physical exercise is just as important for kitty minds as it is for ours. Your cat will be thinking more and will be engaged with their surrounding environment in different ways. If your cat is an indoor pet, they will love the opportunity to chew on grass, watch birds fly in the sky, smell new things, and watch bugs crawl across the ground! Their confidence will also increase as they become used to routine walks.

Get or Make a Cat Tree

Your kitty will love the ability to climb and see their world at a higher view. Not only will the exercise of jumping help your cat, it will also give them a place of safety where they can relieve stress by stretching on the tree and by building their territory.

The perfect example of a good cat tree.

Visual Stimulants

Place your cat on the inside of your window ledge, and let her/him watch the outside world. It is their version of television! If you have a screen you can open the window and let them press their faces against it as they watch the leaves flutter in the breeze. You could even purchase a bird feeder to pace near the window so your feline can watch and imagine hunting sparrows or humming birds!

When to Take Further Steps

If you noticed inappropriate spraying outside the little box(es), a difference in your cat’s sleep schedule, hostile behavior while in a familiar environment, or extreme confusion for your cat, it’s definitely time to take them to the veterinarian. According to the American Association of Feline Practitioners, about fifty percent of cats at fifteen years old start showing signs of brain aging. Keep in mind that it’s important to take your senior kitty to the veterinarian once a year, or more, to make sure their overall health is doing well.

Fish oil can be a wonderful asset for your aging cat.

Remember to keep your cat comfortable, and have a stable routine for him or her. If you are interested in medications for your aging kitty, there’s Anipryl (also goes under the name of L-Deprenyl and Selegiline). It is approved by the FDA to treat cats with Cognitive Dysfunction. Antidepressant could be prescribed to lower serotonin in your kitty’s brain. If you prefer a holistic method, you could buy supplements such as: antioxidants; Vitamin C and E; Fish Oils with Omega 3; Beta Carotene; and L-Carnitine to improve your cat’s cognitive abilities. Talk to your vet if you are interested in any of these medications and supplements.

For myself, I have chosen to keep a steady routine and use a natural approach toward Missus and her aging. She has her personal space, sleeps with a crystal salt lamp nearby, and when she comes to socialize with her Dad or I, we give her lots of love. Missus is also on a steady dose of Nature Made Fish Oil with Omega 3 that is mixed into her meals, with Spectrum Organic Coconut Oil, and Spring Valley Vitamin E. From all the tips above, it is most important to have a routine for your aging cat. Need an example? Try something like this:

Breakfast: 8:00 a.m.                                                          Playtime: 10:30 a.m.

Lunch: 12:30 p.m.                                               Walk/Outside Time: 2:30 p.m.

Training with Treats: 4:30 p.m.                                               Dinner: 6:00 p.m.

         Bedtime: 9:00 p.m.

It will feel like a lot of work, but your kitty will benefit from a routine that they will become comfortable with and can be familiar with. I bet you’re wondering if all of this works. I guarantee, from a lover of cats and as the Mamma of Missus, I have seen big improvements from when she was first diagnosed three years ago with Dementia. Sometimes are not as easy, but she is happy, and so are we.

She may be old, but Missus is still living her best life.

Keep a routine, play with them, and of course, always include lots of snuggles and love for your kitty.

Make sure to check out my cat’s Instagram page for updates on Missus, Baby Kitty, and Fredrick Douglass!

Elanda-Isabella Atencio, our Feline Editor, is on her road to being a “crazy” cat lady. She has three cats; a moody Missus, a wild Baby Kitty, and notorious Fredrick Douglass. She was raised with cats, chickens, dogs, and geese. From cleaning coops, morning dog runs, picking eggs, to growing catnip, Elanda enjoys pampering her pets. Elanda is a student at New Mexico State University, earning her BA in Creative Writing and is Editor-in-Chief of the online arts journal, Independent Noise and reader for Puerto del Sol. She plans to move to Oregon, where she hopes to take her cats on daily walks when it’s overcast and cool. If you’d like to contact Elanda, email her at

Alternative Therapies for Horses: Part II

In my previous article, we looked at the three most common alternative therapies for horses: acupuncture, chiropractic and equine sports massage. Here we look at two more very different types of treatments, Equine Reiki and Equine Hydrotherapy, what they are, and how they could benefit your horse.

A happily bonded horse and owner.

Equine Reiki

What is Reiki?

Reiki originated in Japan over 2000 years ago. It means “universal life energy” in Japanese. It is a holistic method of energy healing and can be used for the treatment of physical, emotional and mental conditions.

While it is used mainly on humans, it is fast becoming a highly recommended and useful alternative therapy for horses, complementing traditional veterinary care and treatment.

Equine reiki is a treatment carried out by using specific hand positions, transferring healing energy to certain energy points in the body, known as chakras. It is a gentle and non-intrusive therapy and is very safe to use. 

When to use Equine Reiki

When a horse is healthy, his energy flows through his body like an electric current. When a chakra becomes blocked, it interferes with that flow. A variety of reasons can cause these blockages such as injuries, illness, trauma, training issues, emotional problems and dietary changes.

When there is an imbalance in the horse’s energy, he shows signs of pain, stress, anxiety, listlessness, or too much energy, along with problems in behavior.

Lovely horse possibly interested in receiving some reiki.

Horses are very sensitive and react much more quickly than humans do to the Reiki energy, thus, they respond very effectively to treatment.

The benefits of Reiki for your horse are:

  • Health – Reiki can help keep your horse healthy, speed up the healing process for illnesses and injuries and even helps when your horse is dying, making the transition between life and death a peaceful one.
  • Emotional Problems – When a horse has suffered from abuse, neglect or a major accident, Reiki helps to release and heal those emotions.
  • Behavioural Issues – Reiki can contribute to reducing stress and anxiety levels with horses that are nervous or have stable or ridden vices.
  • Improves movement – Reiki can assist in improving the horse’s suppleness and enhance the action of the gaits.

Horses often mirror the emotions of their owner. It is, therefore, a good idea for both horse and owner to have Reiki sessions together, building a better relationship and partnership.

Who should carry out Reiki?

Many holistic veterinarians use Reiki to help their patients. You can also find a Reiki Equine Practitioner in your area. Level Three, Equine Master, is the highest qualification.

Practitioners are not regulated or licensed. It is a useful skill that you can also learn yourself either by attending training classes or completing a home study course. Always remember, though, that Equine Reiki is not a replacement for traditional veterinary treatment.

A calm horse is best for reiki therapy.

Reiki should always be carried out on the horse in a peaceful and quiet environment. It is different from other therapies as it relies on the horse being a willing partner if it is to be successful.

The practitioner will always “offer” Reiki to the horse before commencing treatment. Horses will often offer the parts of their bodies that need healing.

Treatment consists of applying the hands on or above each chakra for 5 to 10 minutes. Sometimes the horse will decide that the treatment for that area is finished by moving away and then return for more a few moments later.

When the horse is happy with the treatment, you will see him relax and look sleepy. A session usually takes between 30 and 60 minutes or when the horse moves away, indicating he has had enough.

Results tend to be noticeable after about three sessions.

Equine Hydrotherapy

What is equine hydrotherapy?

Water has long been used on horses for centuries due to its multitude of healing properties.

Cold sea water especially, due to the high amounts of salt content, has an anti-inflammatory effect which enhances healing and protects against injury. Three time Grand National Winner, Red Rum, who had a lingering foot problem, regularly benefited from training on the beach.

Equine Hydrotherapy, therefore, is the appliance of water to promote healing following an injury and can also aid and maintain the fitness of the horse.

Types used include:

  • Cold hosing
  • Swimming
  • Water treadmills
  • Equine spas

When to use equine hydrotherapy

Equine hydrotherapy benefits many injuries and ailments in horses which include:

  • Tendon injuries
  • Ligament damage
  • Concussion
  • Sore shins
  • Fractures and splints
  • Infection of legs
  • Bruising
  • Swellings
  • Desmitis
  • Arthritis
  • Hoof injuries
  • Open wounds and skin infections
  • Windgall
  • Laminitis
  • Stiffness and soreness
  • Post-race/competition strain

Cold hosing

One of the oldest methods used, cold hosing is a very basic form of equine hydrotherapy treatment but it is one of the effective methods.

When a horse acquires an injury, cold hosing the afflicted area tends to draw heat out of the tissues and reduces increased blood flow, swelling, and bleeding. It also offers a temporary pain relief. The hose can be used on any part of the horse’s body since it is long and mobile.

You should allow the water to run over the injured point for twenty minutes. This should be the first course of action if your horse obtains an injury from a kick, cut, bump or bruise. How often you continue to cold hose depends on the injury and the advice of your veterinarian.


Swimming involves using all parts of the body without putting pressure on the back or the limbs and is an excellent form of exercise, improving the strength of the cardiovascular system.

Other benefits include:

  • Treatment for horses with tendon, ligament and joint injuries
  • Improved respiration
  • Improved circulation
  • Increased flexibility of the horse’s range of movement
  • Improved balance of horse teaching them to swim in a straight line
  • Does not cause concussion to limbs
  • Is a change to horses as part of their training program

However, despite the advantages, there are times when a horse shouldn’t swim. Too much swimming can cause sore backs and problems in stifle area due to the way the horse carries itself i.e. head raised and back hollow. These times include:

  • Horses with stifle or hock injuries should not swim because movement of the joints in water could cause further damage
  • If your horse has a skin conditions
  • Horses that have respiratory conditions or are heavy bleeders should not swim

Water treadmill

Water treadmills provide less risk to a horse than swimming does, as they provide a variation of both the water height and speed. They are, therefore, much more adaptable for different injuries, including horses with back or stifle issues. Horses with open wounds or stitches, shouldn’t use them.

A horse is worked on a water treadmill in walk or trot, providing an excellent cardiovascular workout, building up muscle without imposing stress on the feet and legs. The water treadmill also helps the horse to drive with his back end, encouraging the horse to take a longer stride than when working on land, making the hind-quarters stronger.

Equine Spa

The equine spa combines the two effects of seawater and cold hosing by maintaining a low temperature of between 2°and 4°C (35°and 40°F) with a high amount of salt.

The cold temperature helps to reduce heat and inflammation of the legs, with water levels varied depending on the type of injury.

The salt water assists in drawing out infections, speeding up the healing process.

The spa is ideal for injuries to:

  • Tendons
  • Ligaments
  • Hooves
  • Wounds
  • Cuts
  • Bruises

Horses suffering from conditions such as arthritis and laminitis can also benefit from spa treatment as well as a prevention against stiffness and lameness in competition or race horses when used regularly.

Jacuzzi jets can also be added for use around the joints, acting as a massage and reducing swelling and puffiness.

Other Alternative Therapies

As you can see, there are many different forms of therapy that can be used to give your horse a longer, healthier, more comfortable life. Remember to always consult with your vet before performing any of therapies as there are dangers that must be avoided.

Make sure to read my other article on alternative therapies for horses which discusses the possibilities of acupuncture, sports massage, and chiropractic care.

Alison O’Callaghan, our Equine Editor, is a professional horse riding instructor and has owned many types of pets. When she is not riding horses or walking her dog, she loves to write about animals. If you’d like to contact Alison, you can email her at 

Book Review- Walter: The Story of a Rat

Walter: The Story of a Rat

This is a book that I have seen many times, but have never picked up. Typically I jump at the chance to read about rats who aren’t portrayed as nasty vermin, but for whatever reason, I have waited years to pick up this book and dive in. This month, at my local library, I found a copy next to one of the books I had come to check out. I fell for the dramatic and beautiful illustration on the cover, depicting a rat looking at words on a wall. This was different from the unimpressive image I was used to seeing on this book: that of a rat standing awkwardly while holding some kind of food to his nose. While the cover art of the latter copy had turned me away, the more realistic looking image of the rat had pulled me in. I reasoned that any book willing to visually portray rats this way must be worth the read.

The lovely, updated cover of Walter

How It All Began

Finding a decent work of fiction that shines a good light on rats is often quite difficult. Many people who write about rats this way are doing so because they are desperate to change the opinions of the readers. You have to use some persuasion, really, since most of the people out there in the world are told that rats are filthy, disgusting creatures that are something to be fearful of. We watch them squeak through wet sewers and terrorize humans at every turn in most of our media encounters with them, and we are constantly being reminded that rats bring disease. Mice? Though they live in mostly the same conditions in the same parts of the world, we seem less bothered by their image as cute little heroes. Why do we humans connect with mice and not rats? They look similar, behave in a similar manner, and are both considered pests. This preponderance is actually a large topic within this book. I wouldn’t say that I enjoyed the way it was handled, but we can come back to that later.

Basking in the sunshine.

Walter, a highly unusual rat, realized one day that he could read and named himself after Walter Scott, a Scottish historical novelist. He finds himself in the home of author Amanda Pomeroy and lives with her, sharing space but not companionship. They are both loners who enjoy a quiet life that has come with age. Walter knows this human is an author, but only stumbles into her collection of published works after many years of browsing her bookshelves at night. He is shocked to discover that her books are all about mice. At first this is unsetting to him, since he has lived with her all of this time and takes offense at the notion that mice, yet again, are the heroes of the day when rats could just as easily have been in that role, but over time his attitude softens and he decides to confront the author about her choices. The two begin communicating through a series of notes left in the author’s study.

A hairless rat aspiring to be like Walter.


The Negative Side

The target audience for this book is readers aged 9 to 11-years-old, and, for anyone in that category, the rapidly-developing, oddball mash up of the character that is Walter must be something mysterious or entertaining. As an adult reading the book, I found it to be completely frustrating. This is basically a fantasy short story, not giving time to develop the history of any one specific character with any type of depth, but that doesn’t excuse the author from creating one large befuddling mystery. Did Walter’s parents escape from NIMH? All we know is that suddenly he realized that he could read, which certainly sounds familiar enough to fans of that rodent epic. Was there some kind of magic involved? The off-handed way in which Walter’s ability to read was tossed out at the audience was very poorly managed and off-putting to say the least, but I trudged on through all of it and through the multiple and frankly unnecessary references to various authors along the way. Okay, we get it, this is probably a list of the author’s favorite authors. Moving on…

Lovely rat relaxing in a cozy hammock.

Most of our introduction to Walter beyond his reading genius falls into what I mentioned before about authors having to convince readers that a rat is worthy of being the sweet, loving hero of a book. Rats are clean, intelligent animals, even without magical reading ability and there is no way that a reader can forget that as they trudge through the first few pages, which were more of a lecture on rats than they should have been. More time should have been taken to plot out Walter’s backstory than to explain to readers how rats live. And for goodness sake, if you are going to be telling truths about rats to encourage readers to like them, why would you make Walter a cannibal, introducing him as a rat who ate his own siblings? I can not tell you how out of place that felt in among all of the other “rats are good” statements that I was bombarded with while I should have been enjoying a story. Rats fight with one another, yes, but I have never had a single rat eat their own child or sibling, and I have had well over a hundred pet rats in my lifetime. This isn’t to say that it does not happen, but is it worth pointing it out to young readers? How did this statement develop his character? These are things I could never figure out.

The Moral of the Story

I am, admittedly, being overly critical here. I do appreciate any author who puts rats out there in a way that is supportive or kind, and rather than put the book down I continued reading to discover that once you push past the first pages, this is actually a very touching story. Where I had grumbled in frustration at the beginning, I swooned at the end, remembering all of the rats I’d had as pets in the past and wondering if they could ever have seen me in the same light that Walter saw Amanda. The fantastical notion of Walter’s ability to read faded into a more realistic feeling as he communicated with his new friend and we discover things about her that we might not have known or expected before.

The original cover of “Walter: The Story of a Rat”

In the end, though it feels literacy and rat knowledge are somewhat forced upon the reader, this is a story about being alone and finding companionship where you may or may not expect it. It is a good lesson for young readers and a respectful book to rats themselves. I am glad that I didn’t let the awkward nature of the writing impede my completion of the story, or I would have missed out on something sweet indeed. I wouldn’t say it was one of my favorite rat books of all time, but anyone looking for a decent book that highlights the best part of a rat’s nature should pick this one up and enjoy it.

Story by Barbara Wersba

Illustrations by Donna Diamond

Genre & Topics: Fiction, Reading & Writing, Rats

Published in 2012 by Boyds Mills Press

64 pages, Illustrated with drawings

Mirrani Houpe, our Small Animal Editor, has had rats since she took home her first little boy once they both completed the second grade. Since that time she has owned, rescued and bred many kinds of rats, from many backgrounds. She may not be a vet, psychology major, or scientist, but her babies have her very well trained when it comes to how to care for them. She is constantly working with her family’s veterinarian to come up with new and innovative ways to love and care for the most often misunderstood rodent in the pet world. You can e-mail her at

The Importance of Socializing Your Dog

The definition of socialization is “a continuing process whereby an individual acquires a personal identity and learns the norms, values, behavior, and social skills appropriate to his or her social position.” This applies to children learning how to be productive, kind adults, but it also applies to dogs learning how to behave appropriately around other animals and in unfamiliar environments. Basically, a dog needs to learn appropriate doggy manners at a young age so they can grow up to be a good member of their K-9 community. If they don’t learn these skills while they’re still young, they might be too frightened to interact positively with other dogs, they might become fear-aggressive as an attempt to protect themselves from the unknown, or they can trigger an aggressive response from another dog due to their rude behavior or their nervous energy. In other words, socializing your dog at as young an age as possible is crucial to their well-being.

Four properly socialized best friends.

When It Should be Started

You can start socializing your dog as soon as they have received their appropriate vaccinations. If you have a young puppy, make sure all of their shots are up to date before taking them to new places. If you got your dog from a shelter, check with your vet to make sure their shot records are up to date. These vaccinations must be done to keep your dog safe in the outside world.

Ideally, socializing should begin when your dog is a puppy. Puppyhood is defined as a dog from birth to 6 months old, adolescent is 6 to 18 months old, and adulthood is 18 months old and up. Their experiences from birth until they are about four months old have a major effect on their outlooks of life into their adult years. They begin to decide which things are scary or threatening during this time, so having as many positive encounters with humans, dogs, vacuums, stores, cars, and other animals as young as possible can help them grow to be very confident and happy. They will probably be nervous encountering these new situations at first, but as long as they are enjoying themselves at the end of the experience, it should help them in the long run. If your puppy is scared the whole way through, it is important that you take a step back and develop a slightly different plan. If your dog is not enjoying the experience, it could cause more harm than good.

While puppyhood is the best time to start socializing your dog, it isn’t the only time that it can begin. If you get your dog from an animal shelter, the odds are pretty good that it may not be a puppy. Because of their age, they will have already formed memories of things that will effect them for the rest of their lives. Growing up in a shelter isn’t easy, so your new dog might have some difficulty adjusting in their first few months with you. They’ll be remembering all of their bad experiences with other dogs, humans, and new environments, so it will be crucial to re-introduce them to these experiences gently yet effectively.

A puppy politely meeting a kitten for the first time.

Older dogs can make a change and realize that they are safe in new environments, but more often than not, if your dog is past the age of three, they will stay fairly firm in their ways. This is especially true if they didn’t receive any socialization as a puppy or if they were raised in a shelter. Some dogs have naturally good manners and are resilient at heart, so their upbringing may not affect them too much in adulthood. Other dogs, however, can be fearful or rude without proper socialization. This can cause some major dysfunction if they’re put with a group of dogs. Both fear and rude behavior can trigger aggressive responses from the dogs around them, even if those other dogs are polite and properly socialized.

Knowing Your Dog’s Limits

It is good to try to get your dog reasonably out of their comfort zone, but there also comes a time when they will stop improving, particularly if they’re past the age of three. If/when this happens, attempting to socialize your dog further could make them even more fearful and stressed. I believe that this is the time to accept your dog for who they are and to encourage them in the things they are already more comfortable with, without pushing them too far out of their comfort zone. This doesn’t mean that you should give up on socializing your dog, but you should look for different methods that involve activities that are more suited to your dog’s personality. Each dog is a unique individual and it is important to see them for who they are and to not push them too far. If your dog doesn’t achieve the things you’d like them to in a reasonable time frame, try something new and develop some new goals that your dog is more likely to achieve.

My Experiences

I got my precious little Staffordshire Terrier mix, Annie, when she was about eight months old. She was still quite young, but she clearly had some bad experiences before we met. We had two dogs at home when I got her, a Shiba Inu named Keiko and a Pit Bull/Lab mix named Halley. Annie formed a very good relationship with Halley who chose to become a mother-like figure for Annie, but Keiko wanted nothing to do with a wildly energetic puppy, and Annie could tell. Keiko began snarling and snapping at Annie whenever she came near her. Halley would always put her body in-between them to defuse these tense moments.

Halley and Keiko enjoying the snow a few years back.

On October 20, 2015, just five months after I rescued Annie, the dynamic changed forever. Our sweet Halley passed away at just ten years old due to liver failure and an infection in her lymph nodes. She was a complete angel of a dog and she passed much too soon, breaking the hearts of everyone in our family, including Annie and Keiko. Because Halley was no longer there to keep Annie and Keiko apart, their relationship got much worse. Annie realized that she’s a much bigger and stronger dog than Keiko, so she began to take a stand against Keiko’s snarling and snapping. They began to fight.

It started off happening very infrequently, but it got worse and worse as the months wore on, leading to us keeping Annie and Keiko separate 24/7. Because of this, I began to believe that Annie was aggressive towards other dogs and that I needed to keep her away from them as much as I could. This was not necessarily the right decision.

While it is true that I should have been cautious with her around other dogs, it was still the time to try to help her make positive memories with dogs that actually liked her and wanted to be around her. She was between the ages of 1-2 1/2 years old during this time. I stopped taking her to the dog park because I didn’t trust her to not start a fight. I took her to several different training classes for obedience and agility and walked her around stores so she would get some interaction with the outside world. She would often bark and lunge at other dogs during these interactions, and I learned how to pull her away and get her to re-focus on me. She improved greatly out in the world, but still continued to be aggressive towards Keiko by fence fighting through the door that separated them. If we didn’t choose to keep them separated constantly, I’m sure more fights would occur. Annie and I moved into our own apartment when she turned two.

My silly Annie, relaxing since Keiko is elsewhere.

What I didn’t realize is that she was behaving this way mostly out of fear. While I do think it’s true that her relationship with Keiko and the loss of Halley had a major affect on her behavior, I should have also known that, with her experiences in the shelter and with a sudden change in her routine, she didn’t know what was going to happen anytime we went somewhere unfamiliar. She was also probably unsure if every dog would be a threat to her like Keiko was. Her experiences with Halley took place in such a short period of time that Annie could have been led to believe that Halley was the only kind dog out there. She may have begun to believe that she had to protect herself from other dogs because she didn’t get a chance to meet and play with any friendly dogs after Halley passed away.

Because we lived on our own and she got relatively little interaction with the outside world, she became more fearful, and more attached to me. She believed that she had to protect me, and that she was only safe when I was there with her. If we were somewhere that we went frequently where she felt safe, she would do amazing and have a great time! I take her to PetSmart, Better Life Pet Foods, Andele’s Dog House, and Pet Co. on a regular basis and, when we’re there, she no longer acts aggressively towards other dogs, she doesn’t show as much fearful body language, and she doesn’t try to protect me. She knows what she likes and where she feels safe.

Annie just turned three on Halloween of this year. Because of this, I am pushing her out of her comfort zone even more to try to help her to continue to improve. To do this, I am taking her to doggie daycare about once a week (at Your Pet Space, of course). This gives her a chance to be somewhere new without me and hopefully figure out that she is safe. She has already made improvements with trusting Joy and Dave, and she has met a few laidback, senior dogs. She may never feel comfortable enough to play with the higher energy dogs, but that is completely fine. I want her to improve as much as she can, and if all she can do is relax with calm, old dogs all day, that’s perfect to me. If I keep taking her weekly for several months and she doesn’t continue to improve, it’s time to re-evaluate and come up with a new plan. Since she just turned three, this year is the time to figure out as much as I can with her, so she can be as happy, healthy, and well-adjusted as possible in her adult years.

Dave gave her treats, so Annie is repaying him with hugs and kisses.

What You Can Do For Your Dog

If you are just beginning to socialize your dog, it is best to start off slowly to introduce them to the outside world. A great place to start is obedience training classes, especially if you have a puppy. Training gives dogs confidence, it helps them form trust in you, and it helps them begin to understand the concept of “good behavior”. Obedience training will also help once you move further along in socializing your dog, and you need to know that your dog will listen to you and trust your commands. Claren Wilson at Cloud K-9 is one of the best trainers out there, so don’t hesitate to get in touch with her!

Once your dog has good obedience skills, you can begin taking them on walks in stores, at the farmers market, and along the street. This website recommends developing a regular walking group with a variety of dogs and people so your pup can get used to being in a group of dogs without throwing them into the cacophony that the dog park tends to create. Even doggie day care might be too much excitement when you’re just beginning.

A calm, one-on-one meeting between two young dogs.

While the goal is to get your dog socialized, the ultimate focus should be your dog’s safety. This trainer provides an excellent perspective on taking socializing slowly and focusing on your dog’s reactions to their new environments and their safety. She explains that you should “match the scenario to the dog’s current skill set. Has the dog ever been to a public event? If not, starting at the street fair with new asphalt substrates, a thousand people, several dozen food vendors, other (possibly stressed) dogs, music from the dance troupes, and the roar of engines from the car show is probably not a good choice for an outing. How about starting with the neighbor’s cookout, where you can introduce your dog to fewer people and then pop him back home after he’s had a good time?” In other words, baby steps are key.

Last, but certainly not least, here is a wonderful weekly checklist and report card that you can use to help you figure out what situations your dog is sensitive to, and to track their improvements as their socialization moves forward. I would focus on one item on the checklist at a time before moving on to the next item, then rotating back through so your dog doesn’t forget what they’ve learned. You may even need to print a few of these lists if you want to track your dog’s daily exposure. While this checklist is targeted toward puppies, it can certainly be used for adolescent and adult dogs as well. Just keep in mind, if your dog isn’t a puppy or is over or near the age of three, the process will be much longer and possibly less successful. As long as you work on socializing your dog with patience, kindness, and mountains love, both you and your dog will change for the better.

Jessica Smith, Associate Editor, having been raised in a household full of dogs, guinea pigs, hamsters, and all things furry, Jessica’s love of animals has only grown over the years. She is currently volunteering for Safe Haven Animal Sanctuary in her free time when she isn’t out and about with her ridiculous pit bull mix, Annabel Lee, or taking care of her two goldfish, Carrot Cake and Winchester. She is also putting her literature degree to use by working as an editor for a local online magazine, Independent Noise. While she has no plans for the future, she knows that it will be filled with fur and fiction galore. You can e-mail Jessica at

Partnering With Your Pet Care Provider

dog with leash

Have you ever wondered if your pet care provider has a wish list?  Ok, probably not.  That’s ok, we promise not to get our feelings hurt. 🙂  Ideally, we are here to serve you.  If we’re doing things right, you shouldn’t worry about anything but having a great time yourselves or getting through your family emergency or business trip while your pets are having an out of this world time with us.

But, since we’re on the subject…  🙂  We actually, we have two lists.



We must have you inform us if:

Your dog has been coughing or sneezing. (This can be symptomatic of Bordetella bronchiseptica m.) Depending on how long this has been happening, we may need to offer home care to your dog for a few days even if coughing has stopped so that it doesn’t spread to other guests in our care.  Please note that if your dog commonly exhibits a stress cough (as opposed to a cough being treated with medication for another condition) we will also instigate home care, since it’s the best way to reduce the stress for your dog.  It is commonly assumed that the Bordetella vaccine, nasal mist or oral medication makes dogs completely safe from contracting this condition.  However, much like the human flu vaccines, it actually does every little.  Your dog’s own immune system is usually quite adequate to fight the virus without it.  But any dog with these symptoms should be closely monitored and taken to the vet if they worsen.  Especially senior dogs and puppies may require an anti-biotic to recover.

Your dog has had mites, mange, worms, ticks or fleas.  Dogs can contract many of these types of parasites, and many can be easily spread to other guests or our staff.  If your dog has had any of these conditions in the last 30 days, we will require a note from your vet that they are safe to return to us for daycare or boarding.

Note:  Dogs can pick up viruses and bacteria right in their own back yard without ever having attended a dog park or facility.

dog symptoms

Your dog has other unusual symptoms.  These might indicate something else contagious happening: vomiting, diarrhea or blood in the stool, scratching, hot spots, trouble breathing.

Your dog takes any medications and why they need them, as well as proper dosage instructions, times of day they need to be dispensed, and drug interactions/side effects to watch for.

Your dog has allergies, and to what.

There are any changes in feeding instructions—you’d be surprised how often it happens that people change what or how they’re feeding and don’t tell us.  Please ask us to read to you what we have on file, so we can double check if it is correct.

There are any changes in contact info, vet info or to the list of people allowed to pick up your dog.

tell us your story


We wish clients would tell us more about their dog’s home life—everything from what kinds of toys they like to play with to how much time they spend outside, in their crate, playing with dog friends, etc.

We wish clients would tell us if their dog has had a recent altercation with another dog, has been attacked by a dog, or has had any negative incident at another facility.

We wish clients would tell us if their dog has a high prey drive (they like to chase small animals).

We wish clients would tell us if their dog routinely jumps fences or digs to escape—we have a special no jump area and can easily supervise diggers, when known.

We wish clients would tell us if their dog gets along better with dogs than people—will their dog follow us when asked to go outside?  Do they need some special treat?

We wish clients would tell us not only what commands their dog knows (sit, stay, down, off etc.) but what hand gestures they use with commands (these can be very different, client to client).

questionsWe wish clients would ask us things such as:

Why are facility staff certifications important?

How can I find the best pet food?

Can you send me pictures during my dog’s stay?

Where can I find the best trainer?

How can I choose the best home care for my pet?

Where can I find the best groomer?

Do you offer transport?

What are some holistic health options for my pet?

Should I get a puppy?

What’s the safest way to re-home my pet?

How do I choose the right breed of dog or cat for me?

What does it mean when my dog:

o   Barks too much

o   Snaps at other dogs on leash

o   Sits on my foot or stands in front of me and puts his paw across my leg

o   Wags his tail

If you ever wanted to ask something but thought we were too busy, it wasn’t important or it seemed silly, please know–we wish you would!  Long before we were pet care providers we were pet parents, just like you.  We love answering questions, pointing clients in the right direction on these subjects—and we love getting pics of your dogs when they’re at home, too.

In short, we value our relationship with both you and your pets.  It’s a partnership! Thanks for giving us your trust, time after time.

Joy Jones

Joy Jones, Publisher, is also the Vice President of Your Pet Space, a cage free dog boarding facility serving the greater Las Cruces, NM area. Her urban fiction book Indigo was recently published. When not working at Your Pet Space, she writes a metaphysical column, as well as humor. You can e-mail her at or follow Your Pet Space on Facebook.