Blog

Animal Body Language and Behaviours: Pet communication

What is your pet communicating to you, other humans and animals?

Learning about natural behaviours, animal body language and facial expressions is essential for good pet ownership or livestock management.  It helps both parties understand and effectively “talk” to each other.  It crucially enables you pick up early signs of health or welfare issues.  It should also reduce misunderstandings or accidental breaches of trust, thus helping prevent unwanted behaviours.

Brought up in a veterinary environment and living with animals for over 5 decades, I have always had a major interest in studying animal body language and behaviours.  Including us, each species has a range of body language, expressions and natural behaviours that indicate whether they are healthy, their age range, position or status, their breeding or non-breeding state, feelings or emotions, focus of thoughts or concentration e.g. desire for food, drink, shelter, play or fun, exercise or exploration, rest, sleep, recuperation, alone time, companionship, a mate, infant care, protection, or carrying out a task.

Terrier requesting food

Terrier at a cafe whose expression asks hopefully -“Any sausage for me?”

Last but not least, they convey personality traits and characteristics which distinguish them from other individuals.  Such knowledge  provides so many benefits, I can heartily recommend making efforts to discover as much as you can about those of your own animals. 

Two species I probably understand best are dogs and guinea pigs.  I endeavoured to discover what is natural for both in terms of animal body language, behaviours and their ideal environment. I did this through research, close observation, talking to experts, visiting others who share their worlds with one or both species e.g. vets, rescue centres, wildlife parks, reputable kennels, trainers, clubs, and other professionals who endeavour to work with their chosen species on the best, most harmonious and positive terms. 

Animal Body Language and Aggression

It was a Border Collie who taught me the consequences of disobeying a parent regarding safety and animal body language.  I can remember the scene as clearly as if it was last week. When accompanying my dad on a farm visit, aged around 5, the farmer shut his sheepdog in a stable, explaining it feared and disliked small children, having been teased and roughly pulled about and thumped by a little boy when a pup (before he got it). 

Anxious collie dog

Anxious collie

All the dogs I had encountered so far had been friendly and sociable (as were our own), elderly or gentle, or sedated from operations, so I was very keen to make friends with the pretty collie and can distinctly remember thinking all dogs loved me, so if I could make friends with her, this one would too!  Whilst backs were turned examining a sick ewe, because I was not tall enough to look over the half stable door to look at or talk to the dog, I pushed up the latch, opened the door, and ignoring instructions to leave the dog alone, went in.  Picture the dog’s expression and body language: She stood in the rear of the stable, rump to the corner, leaning slightly backwards with forelegs slightly extended and rigid, head lowered but with her muzzle tilted upwards, eyes gleaming and staring fixedly at me, lips and corners of the mouth curled back, ears back and low to the head, hair raised on her ruff, tail curved under her rump.  These are all dog fear-aggression signals.  Either at my tender age I was unable to read these, or I ignored them and tried reassuring the dog by talking to her.  Cornered with this unknown, small feared child blocking her escape route, the dog however, was not reassured at all. I remember taking one or two steps towards her but she suddenly lunged forward with open mouth uttering a couple of short, snappy barks.  As I moved, she bit the thing closest to her face, which was mine!  Hearing her and my surprised yelp, both my dad and farmer were there in an instant and pulled me out before the situation became even more serious.  My top lip had been split in two.  I remember dad telling me not to cry because he would repair it, adding I had badly frightened the dog so she was only trying to protect herself, and I had been told not to go in the stable for my own safety so never to disobey him in future or he would not take me on his rounds ever again.  He cleaned the wound, sewing it up on the spot, whilst I stood snuffling but not crying and feeling mortified. 

Since then I have tried to learn and comprehend what pets and other animals are trying to communicate, how, and why they behave the way they do in any given situation. I know it is important to not only work with their natural behaviours, but for us to treat them with understanding, taking time to build up mutual respect and trust. We should not allow arrogance or ego to affect our own behaviours, and take responsibility for our own actions too!

Relaxed border collie

Happy collie awaiting release command

Did the collie incident make me fearful of dogs?  No, because my dad explained why the collie responded to me with a bite and what she had been communicating by her body language and expressions. He advised my disobedience and actions had provoked the attack so in future to heed warnings. 

How can you gain insight?

There are lots of images illustrating animal body language and behaviours available on the internet.  It could be worth looking these up for your own pet or livestock. You may wish to supplement this by reading some helpful, enlightened, easy to read articles or books based on current scientific studies (not the outdated and discredited alpha theories).  If you need any suggestions, do drop me an email at: info@assistyg.co.uk.  The professional body representing qualified and accredited animal trainers and behaviour therapists is: The Animal Behaviour and Training Council: http://www.abtcouncil.org.uk/

Wildlife Gardening to Create Fauna and Flora Havens

Wildlife gardening to create and maintain fauna and flora havens is such a pleasure.  Varied, natural and ‘inhabited’ gardens please the eye. But, did you know that watching and caring for wildlife also helps relieve stress?

Many species are struggling to survive. Intensive farming or sterile built environments replace their normal habitats.  An inhabitant who shares wildlife’s environment at the top of a pyramidal chain, we humans sometimes forget if too many building blocks of that pyramid are lost or destroyed, there is a negative impact on our own long term survival.  Take bees for example.  They pollinate the food plants and trees on which we depend for our own food.  We depend upon each other.

I have been wildlife gardening for at least 3 decades.  Even with tiny plots I have created food and shelter for beneficial insects, reptiles and amphibians, birds, and mammals such as hedgehogs.

wildlife pond

Small pond

A small pond with mini beach at one end, surrounded by pretty marginal plants, suitable safety shelters and protected travel offers a home, breeding area and highway to frogs and toads. Birds drink from and bathe in the shallow areas or catch insects around the pond. Insects themselves often alight on stones or plants for a quick sip of water. 

Piles and tunnels made of logs, moss covered stones, halves of ceramic pots, tiles and pipes, shaded by suitable plants protect wildlife moving round or between gardens. Suitable plants and shrubs complement these to shelter and sustain  various species. Mine includes food plants for me, e.g. thorn-less blackberry, loganberry and rhubarb.  A strip of long grass containing native flowers such as cornflower, ox eye daisy and vetches link different areas of the garden together.  

Shrubs, herbaceous borders, a compost heap, fernery, pond, herb border, fruit plot, and a woodland edge wild flower border all fit into my ‘pocket handkerchief‘ plot.  A small lawn in the centre hosts many small plants as well as different grasses. It is not mown too closely or frequently, so when the clover and daisies flower they add to the diversity. Designed to create varied havens, with feeding, resting and breeding sites, the wildlife friendly garden looks lovely. Adding artificial features will enhance the garden for animals and people. Examples include bird feeders, bug hotels, nesting boxes and bird baths.  

Wildlife gardening for fauna and flora provides colour, interest, pleasure and entertainment throughout the year. It is good for your mental and physical well-being too.  However tiny the outside space, why not do a bit of research? Search local nursery or garden centres or on-line sites for native plants, wild flowers and wildlife features. See what little enhancements YOU can achieve.

Dog Related Legislation – Are You Aware?

Are you confident your knowledge of current dog related legislation is good enough?

Hopefully you knew micro-chipping became law a year ago. This includes the need for all puppies to be chipped by 8 weeks of age, plus owner details must be kept up to date on the chip’s data base. 

Are you aware an ID tag is ALSO a legal requirement for your dog or puppy when it is in a public place? Micro-chipping has not replaced the Control of Dogs Order 1992. Your pet still needs ID on its collar or harness bearing the owner’s name and address. Include a phone number where you can usually be reached too.  Fines can be surprisingly steep if caught without one.

If you have a really obedient dog, is it Ok to walk it off lead on a pavement or country lane?                   NO!  Not unless it is a working dog herding livestock, a police or military dog in action, or an accompanied member of a hunting pack. 

Crate, car harness

Safe car travel for dogs

This piece of dog related legislation is found in the Road Traffic Act 1988. Note that failure to have the dog on a lead on a public highway (which includes pavements and verges) is a criminal offence with a high fine. 

The same act covers two other dog related issues. 1) security measures whilst a dog is in a vehicle (you might invalidate your insurance if the dog is not secure and there is a motor accident).

2) As a driver, your responsibilities if you injure or kill a dog.

You don’t have a dangerous dog, so assume the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 does not apply to you. Or does it?  Your dog does not have to be off your property to be covered by this rather scary piece of dog related legislation. Quote from RSPCA factsheet:  ‘A dangerously out of control dog can be defined as a dog that has injured someone OR a dog that a person has grounds to reasonably believe that it may injure somebody. Something as simple as your dog chasing, barking at or jumping up at a person or child could result in an investigation, so ensure your dog is under control at all times.’  If you have a puppy, it is so important to socialise it carefully and follow positive training techniques to keep you both safe from an incident or allegation. If you have a ‘reactive’ adult dog, do try to address this by seeking help from a qualified and registered behaviourist. If necessary keep the dog muzzled when out walking too. Breaking this dog law is a criminal offence, with hefty fines.  It could mean a prison sentence or curfew.

Nobody likes to see, let alone have direct contact with dog ‘poo’. If your dog or puppy makes a mess clean it up straight away.  Are you aware of what legislation covers dog fouling? Answer: The Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005 and Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014.

If you plan to breed from your dog, or dogs, PLEASE do some thorough research and studying first. Check out the Kennel Club, animal and dog welfare organisations such as the RSPCA, The Dogs Trust, veterinary and other dog professional practices information. Thousands are destroyed each year. Reasons include no longer wanted, medical or behaviour issues.  Some breeders are irresponsible, lack knowledge, or fail to comply with dog relevant legislation. The key piece of dog law here is Breeding and Sale of Dogs (Welfare Act) 1999. The government is reviewing this Act. They want to tighten criteria, reduce unlicensed backstreet breeders, puppy farmers, and the illegal importation of puppies from abroad for sale, aiming to improve welfare, safety, consumer rights and cut stray dog numbers.

There are many other pieces of dog related legislation, such as Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953. This dog law obliges owners to keep dogs on the lead where livestock are grazing or kept, unless they are engaged in legitimate work under the close control of a handler.  Sheep have a higher level of protection than some other species. Your dog does not actually have to actively chase with intent, injure or kill a sheep to still be guilty of a sheep worrying offence.

Are you aware of the main contents of the key piece of legislation which covers not just dogs, but all animals in the UK? The Animal Welfare Act 2006 is summarised on the following website: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/animal-welfare-legislation-protecting-pets

My concluding advice is: Keep within the dog laws! Remember the old saying ‘Ignorance of the law is no excuse’. Many reputable bodies and organisations provide dog law summaries for anyone responsible for caring for dogs of which they should be aware. Read and download one of the guides. Help keep everyone and our pets safe, and law abiding too.   

Smallholding Sitters – Diary of a typical day

Any entry in a smallholding sitters diary would of course depend on the nature and size of the smallholding.  The one below is a composite of several small holdings I look after to illustrate what can be a typical day in the life of a smallholding sitter.

Smallholding sitter’s diary: morning entry

6.45am – 7.30am. Rise, don Crocs, greet and let the dog(s) out for wees.  Greet cats and feed.  Feed returning dogs, refresh water bowls.  Wash empty cat and dog food bowls. Feed my own 2 guinea pigs who accompany me on sits, change water, top up hay. Make a pot of tea. Whilst tea is brewing, quick wash and get dressed. 

7.30am – 8.00am. Drink 2 cups of tea, then let poultry and ducks out.  Feed poultry and fowl.  Refresh water.  Check everyone looks healthy. 

Chickens

Poultry care

8.00am – whenever finish morning round! Return to house.  Don overalls and wellies.  Head for barn(s) / feed-store.  Measure out pig / sheep / goat / equine / cattle feeds into respective buckets.  Add any extras or medication to relevant buckets, as directed.  Negotiate various gates / hurdles.  Greet and feed farm animals, checking everyone is present and looks healthy.  Collect empty buckets, wash out if required. Roll out hose or collect water buckets.  Return to respective stock and top up or refill any water containers in overnight quarters and any in fields which are not supplied with auto-fill troughs.  Roll up hose if used. Administer any medications or supplements to individuals as required.  Turn out any animals who were shut in at night.  Collect wheelbarrow, hay nets or sacks and take to barn.  Fill with hay/straw as appropriate.  Return to barns, stables, shelters or pens.  Hang hay nets or refill mangers or racks.  Collect dung wheelbarrow and implements.  Push to first stable, barn or shelter.  Muck out.  Empty wheelbarrow onto much heap. Wipe implements. Repeat for each animals’ accommodation. Check poultry and fowl. 

Piglets

Berkshire piglets

9.30 approx. Return to house. Remove overalls and wellies, have breakfast and third cuppa. Shower if necessary.  Don dog walking kit.  Either walk dog(s) from premises or pop it/them in the car and take for outing, having planned route during breakfast break.  Return between 1 and 2.5 hours later depending upon needs of dog(s), length of walk and location.

12 noon approx.  Do rounds to check stock.  Feed poultry and ducks again if required. Wash out and refresh any fouled water containers or bathing facilities.  Collect eggs, wipe off, record numbers and dates, then store.   Walk round to check big animals look OK. Greet and pet any which want a fuss.  Feed cats again.  Give dog(s) a treat or chew.

Smallholding sitter’s diary: afternoon entry

1.00– 2.00pm approx. Lunch and check emails and phone messages; respond. 

2.00 approx. Brief play or simple basic training session with dog(s).  Do an hour or so of studying, or Assistyg paperwork,  or some chores around the house.

4.00 approx. Take dog(s) for a shorter walk.  Groom if required.  Water any plants in pots, raised beds or poly tunnels  if necessary; pick and store produce if required and as directed.

5.00pm approx. Do round of evening feeds.  Take wheelbarrow and implements to skip fields and shelters as required.  Fill up water troughs or buckets in stables, barns or overnight accommodation if not done in morning.  Refill nets, mangers or racks with hay or straw if contents were eaten during the day.  Call in or round up any animals which have not arrived for supper, fastening any gates behind them as necessary. Greet everyone and check each animal over for changes in behaviour or any injuries or any signs of illness. Administer any medications if required. Shut in anyone who does not spend the night loose with free access to paddock or fields.  Round up any fowl or poultry and shut them up in huts, coops or pens for the night.  Check any electric fencing is live or switch batteries if required. 

Donkey

Feeding donkey

Smallholding sitter’s diary: evening entry

6.30pm approx. Let dog(s) out if it/they were shut in during stock care activities.  Feed and water.  Feed and water cats.  Clean out, feed and water my own two guinea pigs and provide with fresh hay, groom if required or give a little petting.

7.30pm – Supper.  Check Assistyg emails again, then watch TV, or read, or do some more studying.

9.00 – 10pm.  Take dog(s) out for wees etc.  Check cats have supply of dry food and fresh water to see them through the night.  Do rounds of any stock who are young, elderly, receiving medication or otherwise require pre-bedtime checks.

10.30pm.  Lock up and retire for the night.

Providing Wildlife with Assistance

Providing wildlife with assistance in times of need is the overall aim of Cuan Wildlife Rescue. This small hospital and rehabilitation centre performs a unique, life-saving function. It is based near Much Wenlock, central Shropshire. I had taken orphaned, injured or sick wildlife to its founder, plus supported its work for many years, long before it became a charity and moved to their dedicated site.

Wildlife was sometimes brought in for treatment at the mixed veterinary practice where I grew up. RobinKnowledge, equipment and medical techniques then, were not as advanced as they are now. Sadly as a result successes were correspondingly lower. Childhood memories include the following patients: a rabbit with a broken leg, a badger cub, young fox, bat, numerous hedgehogs, a kestrel with an injured wing, plus various reptiles and amphibians. There was a young deer, but sadly this died of shock soon after arrival.  A robin with a damaged and infected foot had the latter amputated. I named it Biscuit. Upon release it lived for a couple of years in the Practice garden. So tame, it would take caterpillars and grubs gleaned from the vegetable garden directly from my hand.

Whilst working in Wiltshire I joined the local Wildlife Trust and learnt a lot about wildlife. Befriending a local vet who was an avid supporter of their work, together we visited other volunteers who performed the same roles as Cuan on small, individual scales. Eunice cared for badgers; there was also a couple who specialised in looking after birds.

hedgehog

wild young hedgehog

Raised on Beatrix Potter stories, one of my favourite wildlife species was the hedgehog. Moving to Shropshire I discovered this is the home of the British Hedgehog Preservation Society.  Whilst running my own small animal (pet) rescue centre for 15 years I took in a number of hedgehogs. With the aid of information from this charity I successfully cared for and released them. Where expert medical assistance was required, I either sought support from Cuan or the Old Pound vets (now Severn Edge) of whom we were both clients.

Assistyg supporting Cuan Wildlife Rescue

Providing wildlife with assistance is something I still do on a regular basis. This includes providing suitable habitats and feeding stations in my own garden; attending to those in clients’ gardens as part of my sitting duties; picking up casualties encountered during sits or on my travels; providing first aid and taking them to Cuan; and providing wildlife with assistance indirectly through donations or collections.  If you are interested in helping around 2,500 wild creatures in need annually, please visit Cuan’s website to donate money or items http://www.cuanwildliferescue.org.uk . Alternatively if I am doing a sit for you and you have some items from their ‘wish list’ I might be able to drop them off for you on my next visit.

Pet Exercising and Stimulation

When you read this blog title ‘Pet Exercising and Stimulation’ did your mind produce an image of a dog?  However, providing fundamental needs for ANY pet’s welfare include exercise and stimulation. Both are essential for physical and mental wellbeing.  We need them too, don’t we?  We share basic requirements with members of the animal kingdom.  They include: appropriate dry, clean accommodation, access to fresh clean water, suitable food, an ability to carry out normal behaviours including exercise and stimulation (which generate the mood-stabilizing neurotransmitter, serotonin), access to medical care to prevent suffering, and (excluding certain species), companionship.

Dogs

Dogs are sociable, reputed to be as intelligent as the average 2 year old human child. In natural situations, just like us, they meet up with friends at different times for various purposes.  This may be for exercise, communication exchanges, to explore the environment, look for food, search for a mate, identify suitable resting places, or just ‘hang out’ with pals for a while. Therefore, to enable them to exhibit normal behaviours as far as practicable (& within legal constraints), owners or carers must provide them with environments and opportunities to exercise, socialise and utilise their brains.  Of course this does NOT mean turning a dog out onto the street to do his or her own thing!  It is essential for pups to be carefully socialised (from 6 weeks) to ensure they become well balanced, confident and sociable adults.  Pet exercising periods should be supervised and appropriate for the age, breed and condition of the dog. The Kennel Club, RSPCA and vets can offer guidelines. Exercise should be in a secure, relatively safe area such as fenced garden, paddock, dog-friendly park, out on a lead, or under ‘close control’.  Vary their walks and outings, as well as including regular favourite routes and venues. If they live in a solo dog household, offer opportunities for them to periodically socialise with other amenable dogs under supervision.

Other Pets

Other pets including equines, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, degus, fancy rats, gerbils, hamsters, birds and reptiles all need an enriched environment. This must be of a suitable size for exercising, to graze or hunt for some of their food, explore, run, play, and carry out as much natural behaviour as practicable (excluding ones such as indiscriminate breeding, fighting, having free access to toxic substances or other serious hazards they would encounter in the wild!).  Being creative, and sharing (or observing) some of these activities is fun!

Happy, healthy, comfortable and confident pets enjoying their lives, environment, food and company to the full is one of the biggest joys of being a pet owner or pet carer / sitter.  Gaining pleasure from doing our very best to meet our pets needs is also beneficial to our health; a win-win situation all round.

Pet Sitter Scare Involving A Cat Rescue

In addition to the bull incident, another pet sitter scare was rather memorable.  The culprit was a cat. She belongs to valued clients who keep rare breeds. The cats live a luxurious life befitting their special status.  Devoted cat lovers, the couple view their felines to be their most valuable possessions. The cats share a lovely large barn conversion with their 2 adoring humans, possess every cat toy imaginable, numerous beds and litter trays, the best food and treats on the market, attention, cuddles and playtimes on demand, plus veterinary attention at the faintest sign of illness.  The cats are in peak condition, very playful and affectionate. They are a real pleasure for a pet sitter to look after.

Faye, the oldest, favourite cat appeared for breakfast as usual, used her litter tray, played with some toys, then settled for a nap in the garden room.  I went outside to do some gardening. Returning to the house midday I was met with requests for fresh food, treats and playtimes.  Faye was absent. A quick search did not reveal her current hiding place.  I spent a couple of hours playing with the cats in between household chores.  Time for the next meal arrived, but still no Faye.  Odd. She usually came when called.  A really thorough search proved fruitless. I even checked inside drawers and the laundry box in case she had crept in unnoticed (she is very tiny and slender).  Nothing! 

At this point I started to tingle all over and broke into a sweat, fearful I had let Faye slip past me when I went outside. So tiny with the colouring of a wild rabbit, any predator would have had her in a trice. Alternatively she could have just run and hidden in the grounds or adjacent woodlands, never, ever to be found. I spent 2 hours until dusk calling and searching the grounds, woods and fields.  Supper time passed, but still no Faye. My anxiety levels reached panic pitch. A sleepless night lay ahead of me.

Faye

Cat Rescue

At bedtime one of the other cats ran upstairs ahead of me.  Instead of following me into the bathroom, she paused on the gallery overlooking the lounge, jumped onto the laundry box and stared up into the barn rafters.  Following her gaze, I saw a silent, huddled cat-shaped body perched high up on a main cross beam. Faye – alive and well, but equally as scared as I had been. 

Pet sitter to the rescue! It took me an hour. I covered the lounge floor with bed mattresses, settee bases, cushions and pillows in case of a fall (hers or mine), fetched an extending ladder from the garage, then performed a ‘fireman’s’ lift to safety. The owners, bless them, were both amused and grateful.  Apparently a similar scare had befallen them soon after they moved in!

Field of Cows – With Alarming Addition

Moving a field of cows to fresh pasture on a smallholding is usually an uneventful task. The herd gathered close to the gate, with just a few scattered in more distant parts of the pasture. I opened the gate and called them over. Most of the cows bunched together and slowly began their approach. Entering the field to round up the stragglers near the far boundary, I was about 100 yards from the gate when the rest of the herd parted.

Alarming Addition to the Herd

bull

Revealed in the gap was a bull, who had turned round and was staring at me. Ah, yikes, eek!  Somebody had forgotten to mention him! He walked slowly forwards, watched with interest by his female partners.  About 50 yards from me he paused and glared at me with considerable suspicion. It seemed the young bull was working out how he ought to deal with this intruder and potential threat? Whilst he was making his decision I quickly scanned the nearest field boundary. This was a tall, thick, mixed species hedge, fronted by posts and a single strand of wire. I spotted a smallish gap between stems and vegetation; big enough for a spaniel or collie to push through. It had escape route potential.

Escaping a Goring

Meanwhile the bull had chosen his action plan. He pawed the ground and growled. Not a bellow, but a deep throated, low growl -like a serious dog warning. He walked forward purposefully, head slightly lowered. If I had run he would have matched my pace thus rapidly closing the gap before I could reach the hedge. So I walked backwards, steadily decreasing the gap between me and the hedge without risking a fall. Removing my jacket I held it by the shoulders before me. By the time the distance between the bull and myself was reduced to 2 feet I had reversed close to the hedge. He growled deeper with definite menace and lowered his head as he came up to me. I read this body language as a precursor to either tossing me, or knocking me to the ground so that he could grind me into it. Reaching forward so his face was against my jacket and stomach, I simultaneously hooked my jacket’s arms over his stubby horns, thus creating a blindfold. (Thank goodness he was not polled!).  Plunging him into darkness and confusion gave me precious seconds. I used them to turn and dive under the rather flimsy strand of wire and scrabble frantically into the rather small, narrow, prickly gap in the hawthorn. Fuelled by adrenaline and desperation I forced my rather stocky body through to the far side.  Risking a minute to peer through the gap I saw my adversary dislodge my jacket and grind it into the earth.  With no time to lose I sped to the gate and hastily fastened it.

Safety

Most of the cows had passed through and were scattering across the new field.  The bull soon spotted me at the gate and cantered towards it, but noting its firm metal construction pulled up before it, rather than trying to barge thorough. He paced up and down in a very agitated fashion, tossing his head and tearing bits out of the hedge corner with his short, stocky horns. To remove my tempting body from his sight, I ducked behind a thick part of the hedge and took a more circuitous route down to the farmyard. Relating my experience to a farm contractor I informed him that a few cows and the bull were still shut in the original field. When he went up, the bull was quietly grazing with the remaining cows. However, it was decided to leave them in situ for the time being.

Risk Assessing Smallholding Sits

Consequently I am now much more thorough with my initial questions and risk assessments when accepting smallholding sits!

Photo reproduced with kind permission of ‘The Accidental Smallholder’

Birth and death: providing that extra special care

Being present with animals during birth and death is a special experience. I have recently provided palliative care for very old dog just days before his death. It brought back many memories. I was born into a mixed veterinary practice on the edge of Exmoor. It also had kennels attached. These mainly housed large sick or injured farm and pet dogs. Occasionally we had sheep or wild animal staying during treatment. Sometimes we boarded dogs with permanent or contagious medical conditions or behaviour issues, which regular kennels could not or would not accept.  We also had indoor kennels next to the operating theatre.  Both birth and death were naturally part of our daily lives.

Birth

My favourite task was to provide assistance with cesareans. This involved watching the medical team operate. I then took the newborn, drained fluid from their lungs, rubbed them down and keept them warm until the dam could take over. I was sometimes tasked with giving newborns their first vital feed. A special pleasure was assisting with the mother and baby bonding process, once the dam had recovered from the aneasthetic or a difficult labour. Occasionally if there was a mal-presentation and the birth canal was narrow I was instructed to turn a head or reposition legs. This enabled labour to proceed naturally. Having small slender hands meant if I was successful, the need for more drastic intervention was prevented. A truly magical experience.

Birth and deathI have hand reared several babies of different species. I assisted during births of alpaca crias, lambs, calves, once a foal too, and checked on newly farrowed sows. But birth and death are not regular sitter experiences. Two sows once appointed me as trusted babysitter to their piglets over a 3 week period. They left me in charge whilst exercising in the paddock or grazing on fresh grass.  Sitting in the straw filled barn with 11 new piglets, then 2 weeks later in a sunny corner of the paddock whilst both litters played with me and each other, produced a deep sense of wellbeing and contentment.

Death

An equally valuable service I am more often called upon to provide is caring for sick, infirm or geriatric animals on medication when their owners are unavoidably absent. Most poignant are the ‘near-the-end-of life’ cases. To date only a single animal  has actually died during one of my sits. The death of an elderly chicken occurred as she trotted across a paddock, possibly from a heart attack?

Birth and deathIt is inevitable that at some point a beloved pet or larger animal will die during my watch. A recent client’s parting comment as he left for a business event was that he felt reassured that whatever happened his ancient, dying dog was in capable hands. He knew I was  competent to administer the medicines whilst constantly assessing the situation, and to judge whether the vet’s last visit was required.

 

My problem is that I become quite attached to some of my regular clients’ pets or larger animals and genuinely feel the loss of those special individuals when they die.  I really do ‘care’.

Pet play and activity toys: essential for bonding and training

Pet play and activity toys

Pet play and activity toys keep them fit. They help them learn and develop skills. Entertainment keeps minds stimulated.  It is essential for psychological welfare. Animals get bored, depressed, overweight and lethargic if not kept active and motivated – just like us!  Animals of higher intelligence welcome owner involvement.  Your interaction can replace that from their parents, siblings or group members.  Play is an essential part of bonding and training.

I invented an easy indoor game: Ball Wrap. You might like to try it?

Allow your dog to watch the process, but not interfere.

  1. Take a small dog blanket or old bath towel.
  2. Place the dog’s or a tennis ball in the centre.
  3. Take 2 diagonally opposite corners and tie them in a single knot.
  4. Repeat with the other 2 diagonally opposite corners.
  5. Holding the 4 end flaps of the 2 knots throw the wrapped ball, telling your dog to “Fetch”.
  6. Once he has picked up the ball wrap, command him to “Find the ball”.

dscn1761dscn1763The 3 dogs I have played this with (a Staffordshire terrier, mongrel, and Labrador) flung the ball wrap around by the end flaps, then picked it up by the centre and shook it. If the ball flew out of a loosened corner I praised them for successfully completing the task.  If it didn’t, I simply repeated “Find the ball”.  All 3 then pulled at the end flaps, finally using their paws to pull at the material.  Once they had opened the wrap and revealed the ball, I warmly praised them for problem solving.

Small animals

Small animals like activity toys which imitate objects they would encounter in the wild, or support natural behaviours. Therefore, understanding what makes each species “tick” is key to choosing suitable items.  You can find many stimulating items on the market. You could also make your own from safe materials or everyday items.  Remember, each animal is an individual, so adapt your offerings to what makes them happiest.  My guinea pigs like playing ‘tents’ with the patio curtains, or a throw draped over a dining chair seat.  They also love cardboard boxes with doors and windows cut out.  They have an indoor 1 x 1 m square playpen. (This is a large garden gravel tray). In it I place a selection of toys, including edible ones for dental health. Water and high quality hay are always available too because they need to eat frequently. Especially enjoyed are: low wooden huts with sitting platforms just above rump height; woven grassy huts; tunnels, some with branch extensions; plastic igloos lined with paper towels; wooden ‘railway’ type tunnels; occasional chewy sticks hung on the side of their adjacent dining quarters. These keep them entertained in the winter months when they cannot go outside grazing.

Finally, be inventive! You will all benefit enormously from the pet play experiences.

To discuss your needs contact me on 07969 802258 or click the button to email
Email Yvette

Professional Profiles

Links

Follow Us

Facebook