Category Archives: Behaviors

Guest post: Introducing a new baby to your dog

posted on August 02, 2018 by Dr. Jamie Hartman

This month I asked Dr. Alger to write a blog about a topic near and dear to her at the moment.  Please read on for more information about what to expect when you’re expecting and already have a fur child!


August is due date month for me and seemed fitting to write a blog to discuss introducing a new baby to your dog. My household consists of my husband, myself, and our 10 month old Bernese Mountain Dog, Walter, who currently weighs in at a whopping 100 pounds.

We adopted Walter just before Christmas and found out I was pregnant about a week later. It is natural to worry a bit about how your pet(s) will transition to your new life and I immediately wanted to know how to prepare Walter for a baby so that I could start the process as early as possible. So, the question I will focus on this blog is: What are the appropriate steps to take to prepare a dog for the new baby? I will touch on some of the important things I found and have implemented into training and preparing my own pup for the new addition to our family. 

First and foremost, determine what kind of relationship you want your dog to have with your little one. Ask yourself, is your dog calm in nature or have more fearful, excitable, or aggressive tendencies? Is your dog known to be protective, possessive, predator driven, timid, overly-friendly? Is the baby’s room going to be off limits? It is important to determine these things prior to the arrival of your baby to ensure that you are doing the proper preparation that fits your dog. Some dogs may need formal training in order to transition properly.

One of the most important steps is to take the time to implement changes and training before the baby arrives. The arrival of the baby will create a lot of changes in the household related and unrelated to your dog, and he will pick up on most, if not all of them. In order to avoid your dog feeling displaced or like it needs to compete, plan to start training them for the baby as early as you can.


If you haven’t already, teach your dog to sit or lie down on command and to stay until it is permitted to get up. I will be honest, Walter is still working on ‘staying’ when things get exciting. These commands should never be associated with punishment because they will be used a lot with the baby and it is important to avoid punishment of the dog in association with the baby. With these skills, you will have better control when it comes to initial introduction and other moments of excitement and you will be able to avoid injury to yourself, your baby, or your dog.


You can expect your schedule to change with an infant in the house, and when your schedule changes, so does your dog’s. Try to figure out a schedule that works with your pet and a new baby and implement that schedule at least a few months prior to the baby’s arrival. This includes a feeding schedule, a walk or two, individual attention that you will be giving to each pet, and any other scheduled events you may have in your day. It is important to maintain this schedule no matter what, and therefore it is important to make it a schedule that you can see fitting into your new life with an infant.


Your dog will likely be receiving or feel like it’s receiving less attention than it did before the new baby entered your life, and it will definitely recognize this and maybe even feel that the attention has been transferred to another individual, which can promote attention seeking behavior. One thing that may help avoid this is including the baby and your dog in positive things together, like exercise. This may help allow the dog to associate positive attention with the baby. The more exercise you can do with both your pet and the baby, the better everyone’s relationship will be.

The Baby’s Room

If you are not going to allow your pet into your baby’s room, you can train them to sit outside the door with the door open (assuming you’ve trained them to stay until told otherwise), or put a gate up. This way, they can still feel included and don’t feel the need to figure out what’s going on in there. If you do not need to put a gate up, be sure to shut the door when you are not using the room so they cannot enter the room when you’re not paying attention.

If you plan to allow your dog into the baby’s room, like we do with Walter, allow him in there prior to the baby’s arrival. Give him a chance to sniff around, seek out spots, and feel free to set boundaries for what your pet can and cannot do in there. For instance, we have a basket full of stuffed animals and Walter has mistaken them for his own in the past. After much training, he now knows that he has his own basket of toys and he leaves those alone.

The Introduction 

This is where you put all of your training to the test. One way that may make it slightly easier is letting your dog stay home while you are at the hospital with someone watching him instead of an unfamiliar space. This way, there aren’t too many changes or negative emotions associated with the baby. Prior to coming home, have someone bring an item that smells like the baby (a blanket, hat, clothing, etc.). When you finally come home, you will have been gone for a few days so it is a good idea to greet your dog like you normally would without the baby. It is best if you can have an extra hand can hold the baby while you greet your dog. Most dogs get pretty excited to see their owners, try to allow enough time for the excitement to settle before bringing in the baby. When you finally introduce your new bundle to the dog, it is best to have the dog controlled on a leash. The goal is to have gradual, pleasant and supervised initial exposure. If he is interested and calm enough, let your dog sniff the baby. If he gets a little too excited, take a break from the introduction and try again once he has settled down again.

Sometimes, your dog may need a little extra help, whether its in the training process of after you’ve introduced the baby. There is nothing wrong with having a professional behavioralist help you and your dog through this transition. 

Regardless of how great your dog does with the baby and the transition into a new lifestyle, accidents happen and it is not ever recommended to leave your baby and dog in a room unsupervised.

Lastly, enjoy your new life and the new relationship that is about to blossom between your baby and your fur baby!


Responsible Pet Ownership

posted on February 01, 2018 by Dr. Jamie Hartman

February is National Responsible Pet Owners Month.  Pets are a joy to own, but they are also a commitment.  Dogs and cats can live 10-20 years, and some pets such as birds can live even longer.  They depend upon us fully to care for them, but in return they give us unconditional love.

So what are some ways to be a responsible pet owner?

  •  Spay or neuter your pet.  Unfortunately in the U.S., there is an overpopulation of companion animals, with many dogs, cats, rabbits, ferrets, and other pets living in shelters and rescues.  Spaying and neutering helps prevent further overpopulation, and has some health benefits as well.
  • Get pets from reputable sources.  On a similar note, when looking to add to your family, consider rescues and shelters.  There are many pure bred rescues if you want a pure bred, and mixed breed animals often have the benefit of fewer health issues.
  • Go to the vet annually.  While your pet may not require yearly vaccinations, the physical examination is the most important part of your visit.  Pets are very good at hiding pain and problems, and going to the vet regularly may help catch issues earlier, when they are easier to prevent or treat.
  • Microchip or otherwise identify your pet.  Tags with phone numbers are important, and having a microchip with current information can help reunite with your pet should you get separated.  Make sure to keep microchip information current if you move or get a new phone number.
  • Go to training.  Training your dog helps strengthen your bond, and can help prevent or reduce behavior issues.  Things like agility can also give you both something active to do together.
  • Provide good nutrition.  Your pet needs a well balanced, nutritious diet to have a long, healthy life.  At the same time, don’t overfeed.  Obesity is a major issue affecting our pets and can cause multiple health issues.  Talk with your veterinarian about recommended foods and amounts.
  • Provide regular grooming.  Almost all dogs need their nails trimmed periodically, and most dogs need a bath every once in awhile.  Some pets require regular brushing to keeps tangles at bay, and some dogs need professional grooming to maintain a health coat and skin.
  • Hygiene is important as well.  Ears should be cleaned periodically.  Anal glands may need to be emptied on a regular basis.  Teeth should be brushed, ideally daily, with a pet tooth paste.  Regular veterinary dental care may be required as well.
  • Be prepared for emergencies.  Have a basic first aid kit handy; there are even some made specifically for pets.  Know that certain human medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), and naproxen (Aleve) are toxic to pets.  Have emergency veterinarian contact information handy.  Keep a file of copies of bloodwork and other important health information handy in case you need to see a veterinarian other than your regular vet.
  • Have pet insurance or a savings account for your pets’ health.  There are multiple options for pet health insurance that may be able to alleviate the cost burden and financial part of making decisions in an emergency.  Having a regular savings account for your pet’s yearly care, with a buffer for emergency situations is another way to handle this.
  • Provide mental and physical stimulation.  Exercise is important for our pets, helping control weight, as well as giving a release for pent up energy that could otherwise feed unwanted behavior.  Mental stimulation such as scent training, puzzle toys, and foraging for food/treats is also important for that same reason.
  • Travel safely.  Pets should be confined when in a vehicle for their own and your safety.  There are multiple seat belt and harnesses available, as well as carriers, confinement nets, or crates.
  • Pet proof your house.  Wires and cords make tempting play toys to puppies and kittens.  Plants may pose a toxic threat.  Yards may have unforeseen escape routes or dangers.  Imagine yourself at their level and educate yourself about potential toxins to keep out of their reach.
  • Clean up after your pets.  Dogs can spread disease to other pets and humans via their feces, so if they have a bowel movement in public, be sure to clean it up.  This is also just the nice, neighborly thing to do!
  • Teach children to respect animals.  Discuss with children how to ask before going up to strange animals.  Teach them to understand basic dog and cat body language cues, and teach them how to approach and pet animals appropriately.  Supervise children and pets when they are together.  Lead by example.

Overall, there are many things that play a role into being a responsible pet owner.  These are just a few examples of things that contribute to having a healthy, happy pet for many years!

The Yellow Dog Project

posted on June 03, 2016 by Dr. Jamie Hartman

Have you ever seen a dog with a yellow ribbon tied to their leash?  Do you know what this means?

The yellow dog project is meant to provide awareness.  Dogs with yellow ribbons or other yellow items tied to their leash are dogs that require a little more space.  There are many reasons dogs may need extra space, and a yellow ribbon does not necessarily mean the pet is aggressive.

Reasons a pet might need more space include:Screen Shot 2016-05-31 at 3.42.05 PM

  • recovery from surgery or illness
  • painful dogs
  • dogs in season
  • old and tired dogs that don’t want to be bothered
  • scared dogs
  • pets that are ill
  • pets that are insecure
  • pets that are fearful
  • rescue or shelter dogs that have not fully been socialized
  • puppies or other dogs in training
  • dogs that are working


It is important to give these dogs extra time to move out of your way, and while you should always ask before petting a strange dog, it is especially important to ask before interacting with these pets.

The yellow dog project is not an excuse to be used instead of proper training, and it is not a waiver of responsibility.  It should be used along with a professional trainer using positive reinforcement methods to help overcome any fears or socialization issues.  If you are using a yellow ribbon for your pet, do not assume that everyone knows what it means, and remain vigilant.  However, it can be a great tool to help dogs recover from illness or become better socialized.  Be aware, and spread the word about what the yellow ribbon means.  For more information, please see:

The yellow dog project

Dogs in need of space


Screen Shot 2016-05-31 at 4.05.53 PM

Spaying and Neutering-What is it and Why do it?

posted on July 03, 2012 by Dr. Jamie Hartman

A neuter, or castration, is a surgical procedure in male pets where both testicles are removed.
A spay, or ovariohysterectomy (OHE), is a surgical procedure in female pets where both ovaries and the uterus are removed.

There are many benefits to having your pet spayed or neutered including both health and behavior benefits.  These include:

  • Neutered and spayed pets are less territorial and are less likely to roam.  Research indicates that 80% of dogs hit by cars are non-neutered males.
  • Spayed females typically stay healthier and live longer.  They have a lower incidence of mammary tumors (breast cancer) and no uterine or ovarian cancers.
  • Neutered pets can’t develop testicular tumors, which are the second most common cancer in males, and they also have a lower incidence of prostate cancer.
  • Dogs spayed before their first heat cycle have a less than 1% risk of developing mammary tumors, dogs spayed after 1 heat cycle have an 8% risk (or about 1 in 10 will develop a tumor), and dogs spayed after 2 heat cycles have a 26% risk of developing mammary tumors (or about 1 in 4).
  • Unspayed females have a 7 times higher risk of developing mammary tumors than their spayed counterparts.  Mammary tumors are the most common tumors in female dogs, and are the third most common type of cancer in female cats, and in cats more than 90% of them are malignant, or likely to spread.
  • One quarter of unsprayed females will develop an infection of the uterus, called a pyometra, and spaying greatly decreases the potential for this sometimes fatal illness.
  • Neutered and spayed pets are less aggressive, less likely to fight, and less likely to bite, as documented in multiple studies.
  • Neutered pets such as dogs, cats, and rabbits are less likely to mark furniture, walls, and rugs.
  • Female rabbits over the age of 4 have a 1 in 2 up to 90% chance of developing uterine cancer.
  • Female guinea pigs that get pregnant after 6 months of age will likely require a C-section to give birth, as their hips bones mature after this age and make the birth canal too narrow.
  • Female ferrets that go into heat can develop a fatal problem where the hormone estrogen causes the bone marrow to stop producing red blood cells, leading to a severe anemia that is not reversible.
  • Sometimes we may tell you that your male pet is cryptorchid.  During development, testicles are formed near the kidneys, and gradually make their way into the scrotum.  If for some reason this does not occur, the patient is called cryptorchid.  The testicle(s) can be anywhere from inside the abdomen to almost in the scrotum.  This is a heredity problem, so these animals should be neutered to prevent passing this trait on.  Internal testicles could also render the pet infertile.  Lastly, testicles that are retained inside the abdomen are 13 times more likely to develop cancer.

Due to these factors, we recommend spaying and neutering all pets.   We generally recommend performing these surgeries when your dog or cat is 4-6 months old, although health and behavior benefits may be seen at any age.  For other pets, we recommend spaying or neutering before they reach sexual maturity (see table below).
pet                 age at sexual maturity
dog                  4-12 months
cat                   4-12 months
rabbit               4-8 months
ferret                4-8 months
rat                    6-8 weeks
mouse              6-8 weeks
guinea pig        2-3 months
chinchilla          2-14 months
sugar glider      8-15 months
gerbil                9-18 weeks
hamster            6-8 weeks
hedgehog         2-8 months

Don’t leave your pet at risk, ask us today about getting them fixed!

Posted in: Behaviors Surgery

Travel, and Fireworks, and Storms, Oh My!

posted on June 04, 2012 by Dr. Jamie Hartman

Summer may mean warmth, sunshine, and spending more time outdoors, but it can also bring more things that can cause anxiety in our pets. Things such as car rides or airplane flights for family vacations, fireworks, or thunderstorms may all cause our pet to become stressed.

Signs of anxiety can include:

  • Hiding
  • Drooling
  • Shaking
  • Barking, whining, howling or other vocalizations
  • Licking excessively
  • Urinating or defecating inappropriately
  • Scratching/digging, chewing, or other destructive behavior

Pets can pick up on our anxiety as well, so even if you aren’t currently traveling, if you are stressing over travel plans, your pet may be more anxious. Also, pets can sense things such as change in atmospheric pressure and may know a storm is coming long before you do!  Lastly, our pet’s sense of hearing is much better than ours, so they may notice fireworks or thunder that we just cannot hear.

If your pet has anxiety in any of these situations, we can help. There is a medication we are using in dogs to help with situational anxiety. Also, if your pet is an overall anxious animal, there are medications we can use on a daily basis to help alleviate their anxiety. Calls us today to set up an appointment to discuss if this is right for your pet and your situation. Lastly, we may refer you to meet with Linda Brodzik, our behavioralist, to discuss anxiety or destructive behaviors more in depth after a consult with us. Together we can come up with a treatment plan that works well for you and your pet.

Posted in: Behaviors