Category Archives: Behavior

Understanding Cat Behavior-Head Butting


After a long day at work you may come home to find your cat greets you with a strong head bunt on your knee, face, leg, or any available part of your body.

While it may seem like just a playful form of interaction it’s actually a significant gesture that’s reserved exclusively for members of a cat’s colony.

Head Bumping as Bonding Ritual

“When cats head bunt they’re creating a communal scent in a free-roaming universe. Cats recognize each other by scent first and foremost,” said Pam Johnson-Bennett, a cat behavior expert and author of seven books on cat behavior.

Head bunting, which most of us have been mistakenly referring to as head butting, is a way for cats to exchange scents so that everyone in their environment—their colony—smells the same. It’s similar to a jowl or cheek rub, which is also done to leave their scent on the things and people they have claimed, but it is not exactly the same.

Ingrid Johnson, a certified cat behavior consultant who has been featured on Animal Planet, says bunting is a form of bonding.

“They’re saying ‘I love you. You’re so wonderful but you’re also a little stinky. Let’s get you smelling like us,’” Johnson said.

Cats do that by activating the scent glands, which excrete pheromones on the area of their head just above the eye but below the ear. Johnson affectionately refers to these areas as “male pattern baldness spots” because a cat’s fur can get a bit sparse there as he ages.

Social Rank Determines Which Cat Head-Bumps

Bunting ranks higher than urine marking, which is usually done by a more subordinate cat to avoid conflict. Within a multiple cat household or environment, it’s the dominant cat, the one with the higher social rank in the household, that does the head bunting.

“It’s not the subordinate, shy, squirrely cats that bonk other cats. It’s the confident cat, the one who is everyone’s friend in the house.  His purpose is to spread the colony smell and groom everyone,” Johnson said.

I Just Bumped to Say ‘I Love You’

Cats who are bunting may stride toward you while purring or flop over on the floor a few times before they make contact with you.

Johnson-Bennett says there’s softness to a cat’s face when he’s in head bunting mode.

“Their whiskers and pupils are relaxed. Their ears are also relaxed. They’re not pricked up like they’re getting ready to hunt,” she said.

The process may also involve a bit of alternate head rubbing on a cat’s targeted person or animal and the leg or arm of the furniture. Although contact with the furniture or other objects likely incorporates more jowl rubbing along the glands in their lips.

“It’s like a mutual love session between a person and the furniture. We don’t always realize that cats live in a very scent laden world. Humans are visual. We forget that there are so many scent glands on them. It’s like they’re leaving little kitty text messages,” Johnson said.

But those messages say more than just “Fluffy was here”; they’re a universal expression of friendship and affection regardless of species.

Johnson-Bennett says her cat frequently head bunts her dog.

“My dog usually backs away. He looks like he’s thinking ‘I don’t get your behavior. It does nothing for me but you’re nice around me.’ He doesn’t get it but it works out for them anyway,” she said.

How to Respond to Your Cat’s Head Bump

While a dog may not know how to respond, there are some appropriate ways for pet parents to reciprocate. It can be an opportunity to build or enrich the bond between you and your cat.

“You should be thrilled that they’ve chosen you. Enjoy it and take it as a compliment that you’re worthy of their affection—that they’ve deemed you good enough,” Johnson said.

If you have a close relationship with your cat you can head bunt them back or simply offer your forehead, scratch their chin, pet them on their head or talk sweetly to them.

Cats head bunt when they’re happy, not when they feeling aggressive, fearful, or reclusive. But Johnson-Bennett cautions that you should know your cat’s likes and dislikes.

“Some cats may not be comfortable with a response. So wait until it head bunts you the next time. Then maybe you can reach out your hand to build trust.”

Johnson agrees that it’s important to build a bond before you reciprocate

“The more you foster a relationship with your cat the more she will want to head bunt you.”

If you don’t quite have that relationship with your feline, she says, you can nurture it along with soft brushing, giving treat rewards, or just communicating with her by simply kneeling down at her level, low to the ground, and encouraging her to come over to you.

Head Bumping vs Territory Marking

Johnson-Bennett says she sees a lot of pet owners confuse head bunting with territory marking.

“That sounds so cold. Head bunting is typically an affectionate behavior. People think in black-and-white terms with their cat’s behavior. We show affection with a hug, a kiss, or by holding hands. Cats have so many ways of being physically close. They touch noses, which is like a handshake. Head bunting is the next step. It’s like a hug.”

Head Bumping and Head Pressing: There’s a Difference

Cats head press when they’re feeling severe discomfort in their head. This could be caused by hypertension, brain tumor, or other neurological problems.

“They may walk up to a corner and push on both sides of the wall. Their face is wincing. Their head is throbbing. It’s like us pushing into our temples when we have a headache. They may express excessive vocal irritability. They may howl like they’re disoriented,” Johnson said.

If your cat has suddenly started pressing his head against walls or furniture, or if you notice any of these strange vocal behaviors, it’s a medical emergency situation and you should take your cat to the vet as soon as possible.

Johnson-Bennett says the best way to differentiate between these behaviors is to know your cat and be aware of any change in its behavior.

“It’s those little things that pet owners discover about their cat’s behavior that can make a real difference in the relationship. If you misunderstand subtle signs it can have a huge impact on whether you have a close bond or not. We misinterpret cat communication all the time. We think we know what they’re saying or we think their behavior is like a dog’s behavior. Head bunting is another piece of the puzzle to have a better relationship with your cat. That’s what we all want. We don’t want a cat who hides under the bed and doesn’t want to be near you,” Johnson-Bennett said.


Diana Ruth Davidson, Chief Pet Officer and Managing Nanny, Westside Dog Nanny

We offer pet services such as:  Pet Sitting,  In-Home Dog Boarding, Dog Walking, Overnights in your home, Doggie Day Care.
310 919 9372

Dog to Dog Communication

 Dog to Dog Communication

Dog to Dog Communication

Without a sound, two properly socialized dogs meeting for the first time can size each other up in just a few moments. An exchange of glances can tell each canine if they’re going to be friends or enemies.
How can dogs do this without a sophisticated verbal language? The answer: facial expressions, body language and posturing. Although dogs signal intent by barks and growls, the message is not complete without the telegraphy of body and facial language.

Dog Body Language

Various parts of the dog’s body are involved in this form of communication.

Here is a quick primer in canine body language. Here are what canine facial expressions, head and neck positions, gestures, tail position and torso position means as to how dogs communicate.

Dog Facial Expressions

A combination of facial expressions communicate a dog’s mood and intentions that can be understood by other species, including humans. Here are a few examples of facial communication:

  • Relaxed mood: Soft eyes, lit up, looking – but not staring. Ears forward or flopped, with tips bent over (if anatomically possible). Mouth open, lips slightly back, giving the impression of smiling. Tongue hanging limply from the side of the mouth
  • Anxiety: Eyes glancing sideways or away. Ears to the side of the head or flopped. Teeth clenched, lips firmly retracted. Tongue either not evident or lip licking
  • Intimidating: Eyes staring like searchlights. Ears forward. Teeth bared
  • Fearfulness: Eyes looking forward or away, pupils dilated. Ears pressed back close to the head. Panting/breathing hard through clenched or slightly open mouth. Jaw tense so that sinews show in the cheeks
  • Stress: Yawning plus other signs of anxiety or fearfulness (as above)

    Dog Head-Neck Position

  • Head down (“hang dog”): Submission or depression
  • Head in normal mid-way position: Everything is all right
  • Head/neck turned to side: Deference
  • Head held high/neck craning forward: Interest or, depending on other signs, a challenge
  • Head resting on other dog’s back: Demonstrating dominance

    Dog Torso/Trunk/Upper Limb

  • Tensing of muscles and the raising of hackles: Threat/imminent fight

    Dog Gestures

  • Play bow – head low, rump elevated: The universal sign of canine happiness and an invitation to play
  • Paws on top of another dog’s back: Dominance
  • Looming over: Dominance
  • Rolling over: Submission/deference
  • Urinating by squatting: Deference
  • Urinating by leg lifting: Dominance/defiance
  • Humping: Dominance
  • Backing: Unsure/fearful

    Dog Tail Position

  • Tail up: Alert, confident, dominant
  • Tail wagging: Dog’s energy level is elevated (excited or agitated)
  • Tail held low or tucked: Fearful, submissive
  • Tail held horizontal and wagging slowly: Caution
  • Tail held relaxed and stationary: Contented dog

The Conclusion on How Dogs Communicate with Other Dogs

There is no one sign that gives away a dog’s feelings but if you consider all the body language signs, you can get a pretty good idea of what’s going on in the dog’s head. A dog that is staring at another dog, his ears pricked and his tail stiff, is probably conveying dominance, or at least a wish for it.

A dog that averts his gaze from another dog and hunkers down nervously as if waiting for an explosion is likely fearful and is trying to defuse the situation by acting submissive.

Sometimes body language signs can be ambivalent, however. For example, it is not uncommon to observe a dog growling at another dog while occasionally glancing to the side, backing up, and with his tail wagging. Such a dog is invariably fearful. Whenever fear signs are present, fear is in the equation. These dogs are unpredictable with other dogs and will alter their body language and behavior according to circumstances. If the opposing dog retires, they may jump around and “look happy.” If the opposing dog approaches too close the fearful one may snap or bite. Owners, if present, can help defuse their dog’s ambivalence and uncertainty by taking a strong leadership role. It’s amazing how rapidly a fearful dog’s disposition will change when an authoritative owner steps in and controls the moment. Dogs need strong leaders.

Another aspect of communication is odor. Because dogs have such an amazing sense of smell, it is likely that they learn a lot about other dogs from their smell. That’s what all the sniffing is about. It is difficult to imagine what sort of information passes between dogs via this medium. We do know that intact male dogs “smell male” (because of male sex pheromones) and that neutered males do not have this characteristic musk. By neutering males, we alter the olfactory signals they emit and thus other dog’s perception of them. It may even be that the “non-male smell” equates with a diestrus (in-between heat periods) or a neutered bitch smell.

When an intact male dog meets a neutered one, the response may not be confrontational because the other dog doesn’t perceive a rival. He may believe the neutered dog is female.

Non-verbal communications signaling “let’s play,” “leave me alone,” “who do you think you’re talking to,” “I’m not going to cause you a problem, I promise,” are going on all the time between dogs but many dog owners don’t realize it. It’s amazing what can be conveyed with the odd glance or posture. Some dogs are masters at such subtle language.

The worst canine communicators are those dogs that have been raised without the company of other dogs during a critical inter-dog socialization phase of their lives (3 to 6 weeks). Hand raised orphans provide an extreme example of what may be lacking. Many of these dogs are socially inappropriate having not learned canine communication and social etiquette. They may attack and continue to attack another dog when the psychological war is already won. They may not know how to signal defeat when they are being attacked themselves. And that’s just the (extreme) tip of their communication failures.

Most dogs are not this “dyslexic” and can communicate what they need – as with humans – but the good communicators usually have the edge. Fully functional body language is a beautiful thing that can help resolve uncertainties at a glance. Humans communicate in body language too. We’re just not so good at it and some of us are positively stiff. If dogs could talk they’d probably categorize us as “dumb animals.”

Diana Ruth Davidson, Chief Pet Officer and Managing Nanny, Westside Dog Nanny

We offer pet services such as:  Pet Sitting,  In-Home Dog Boarding, Dog Walking, Overnights in your home, Doggie Day Care.
310 919 9372

Dogs at Play – How Dogs Play

 How Dogs Play


How and Why Dogs Play

Play, by definition, is fun. When play stops being fun it stops being play. Play is a pleasurable activity during which animals engage in behaviors that are not part of the immediate business of life, but rather are performed in mimicry, rehearsal or display. During play, dogs behave without real seriousness – running, jumping, chasing, mouthing, chewing, wrestling, biting, hiding and even humping. In play, all behaviors are a game to the players and are performed for fun. There is no hidden agenda.

Dogs have a unique gesture, the play bow, that signals “play mode.” The signal involves dogs going down on their elbows with their rear end elevated, tail raised and wagging. During such posturing, they have on their “play face,” with mouth open and ears pricked. They may bark to signal their wish to solicit another’s involvement, and may approach or withdraw from a potential play partner while pouncing and leaping about.

Play is usually, but not always, between two or more individuals. Sometimes dogs without partners will play by themselves. Solitary play is a rather sad event and may even have unwanted long-term repercussions.

Why Do Dogs Play?

It has been suggested that play is a necessary part of growing up for all young social animals and that without it they may not develop to their full potential. This does not appear to be the case, as animals deprived of play for reasons of sickness or ill health grow up to be behaviorally indistinguishable from their play-satiated peers. This is not to say that “players” may not develop more rapidly than their play-deprived peers, just that the end result often turns out to be more or less the same.

If play is not absolutely imperative for normal development to develop, what good is it? Well, play is a role-playing rehearsal for adult behaviors and as such will prepare a youngster for what lies ahead. During play, pups exercise their bodies and minds, making them healthier and smarter for it. In nature, this may give players the edge over their unrehearsed counterparts who may be still struggling to learn the Ps and Qs of canine etiquette or the rudiments of the chase. Note that different types of play unfold in parallel with sensitive periods of learning, so that play learning is most efficient. Mouthiness is first seen at 3 weeks of age, right after the transitional period. Then come play solicitation, play fighting, scruff holding, deference, and finally sexual play.

All these forms of play start in the socialization period between 3 and 6 weeks of age and they intensify as the pup approaches adolescence. Object play, chewing and chasing objects, occurs a little later, becoming most intense after about 16 to 20 weeks of age.

Types of Ways Dogs Play

Social Dog Play

Social skills are honed by playful interactions between individuals. One pup may jump on another pup, pin him, and then mouth him around the head and neck. If the pressure of the pup’s bite exceeds tolerable limits, the temporary underdog will roll over, yelp or run away. Both parties learn an important lesson. The biter learns to inhibit his bite if he wishes the fun to continue, and the pup that is bitten learns that deference or escape will cause the unpleasant experience to come to an end. Of course, sudden role reversal is also a feature of play, with provisional subordinates suddenly becoming pursuers and “attackers.” A happy medium is reached when truly dominant dogs learn their gift for mastery, and subordinates learn how to avoid or deter unpleasant exchanges. This dynamic may explain why dominant dogs are less successful than their subordinates in soliciting play. Aloof pups that don’t play much, and orphaned pups, often grow up to be socially inappropriate. In repelling borders, they may send a message that is too profound, failing to inhibit their bite – and they may not be able to deliver convincing messages of deference.

Sexual Dog Play

This mostly takes the form of mounting, clasping and pelvic thrusting (“humping”). The lack of seriousness is indicated by the somewhat haphazard orientation of this behavior, initially. Male and female pups are equally likely to be targeted, or in their absence, peoples’ legs and cushions may have to suffice. Dogs that have had no humping experience will not be as immediately successful in mating as previously rehearsed counterparts. Also, dogs without playmates may imprint on inanimate objects or human appendages as substrates for humping behavior, and become an embarrassment to own if not neutered. In addition, the relationship between humping and dominance must be born in mind if the correct human-companion animal relationship is to be preserved.

Oral Dog Play

Young puppies have a biological need to mouth and chew malleable objects. It seems to give them almost undue pleasure. Unlike social and sexual play, this type of play does not require a partner, though socially-testing tug-of-war games sometimes evolve as a spin off. Of course, by teething time, at around 6 to 8 months of age, object chewing becomes an extremely useful adjuvant to assist with tooth loosening and dental eruption, and may even provide some relief from gingival discomfort.

Predatory Dog Play

Chasing moving objects is a sure way of fine-tuning predatory skills. Ball chasing, stick chasing, and leaf chasing, are all ways in which this play form is expressed. With appropriate opportunity and guidance, pups will learn the ins and outs of the chase – how to accelerate, turn on a dime, brake suddenly, and how to pounce with accuracy and alacrity. If deprived of play predatory opportunities, dogs may resort to vacuum chasing of imaginary creatures, maypace, circle, or chase their own tails. This is a sad state of affairs.

Playtime as Dogs Age

In many species, like wolves, play is pretty much restricted to juveniles and adolescents. Adults do not normally have the time or energy to waste in such trivial pursuits. Domestic dogs, however, seem to be enduringly suspended in a juvenile frame of mind. Thus play is not something they outgrow but rather an activity they keenly pursue throughout their lives. Unhealthy and unhappy dogs do not play, so play serves as a barometer of well being, indicating that a dog is well fed, in good health, and content. Dogs, like humans, do not play when they’re sad or distressed. Dogs that do not seem to enjoy playing should be carefully scrutinized to make sure all is well in their lives.                     Dr. Nicholas Dodman

Diana Ruth Davidson, Chief Pet Officer and Managing Nanny, Westside Dog Nanny

We offer pet services such as:  Pet Sitting,  In-Home Dog Boarding, Dog Walking, Overnights in your home, Doggie Day Care.
310 919 9372

How Cat Ears Help Them Communicate and Survive

Cat’s ears are little masterpieces of delicate engineering. With 32 muscles in each, they’re multifunctional and do more than catch sounds. Ears, in conjunction with other subtle and overt body language, communicate the individual’s moods and intentions. Even the colors and patterns of ears have a function — some felines have markings on the backs of their ears that help increase their odds of escaping predators.

Facts about cats’ ears

Ears are like little radar dishes. Each moves independently of the other. They can swivel 180 degrees, and they move up and down. Watch your kitty while she sleeps. You’ll note that even while napping, her ears move, tracking noises. Her hearing is so acute she can easily pick up the slight rustling of a treat bag being opened at the other end of the house.

Cats’ range of hearing far surpasses that of humans. Although both species have a similar range for the low sounds, kitties can hear much higher-pitched noises — necessary for little hunters who rely on their ears to find squeaking rodents. Additionally, cats are much better at discriminating between tones and pitches than humans. Because their ears swivel, they are able to pinpoint the sources and locations of the subtlest of sounds. Their hearing is ideal for hunting as well as for identifying threats and friends.

Markings that mimic

Some species of wild cats have markings, called ocelli, on the backs of their ears. The contrasting colors and patterns resemble eyes, helping the felines survive in a rough environment. Mimicking eyes of larger animals, they often deceive predators into thinking the cats are large and threatening and should be avoided. Seen from behind, ocelli are also like little flags, signaling the feline’s intentions to other animals. Wild cats aren’t the only ones who have them. Although not as intense and showy as wild cats, some domestic cats, such as Savannahsand Bengals, have ocelli on their ears.

Some cats such as Brodie Lee, a Savannah have ocelli on their ears

Some cats such as Brodie Lee, a Savannah, have ocelli on their ears. Photo by Laura Lawson

Moods and intentions

Ears are perfect little communication devices — their positions and movements are reliable indicators of how felines are feeling as well as their intentions. Although obvious to cats, their meanings are often not understood by people.

Here are five ear positions, along with their meanings, that will help you understand how your cat feels:

1. Curious
Kitties who are curious about something or someone will hold their ears up and focused forward.

2. Neutral and relaxed
Next time your special kitty is relaxing check out her ears. Most likely, they are pointed up and slightly angled out from the sides of her head. Often they will swivel independently in order to identify and pinpoint the origin of a compelling noise.

3. Nervous, anxious, and fearful
When cats become nervous, they swivel each ear to help identify and determine the seriousness of the threat. Their ears will also move backward and, depending on the degree of anxiety, start to flatten toward the back of the head. Anxiety can escalate into fear. Fearful kitties will lower and flatten their ears.

4. On the offensive
Cat fights are terrible to see and hear. One way to recognize the aggressor is by the positions of the ears — they are twisted so that the backs of the ears are seen from the front. Depending on the intensity of the aggression, they sometimes angle out at varying degrees from the sides of the head.

5. On the defensive
Cats who are facing an offensively aggressive feline sometimes flatten their ears while holding them to the sides of the head. Another defensive position is to lay them flat against the back of the head. This flattened position minimizes ears from being damaged from the opponent’s teeth and claws. Kitties who display their ears folded sideways and down would rather avoid the situation but, if cornered and out of options, will fight.

Although ears are strong mood barometers, they don’t work alone — the whole cat tells the story. Ears along with whiskers, eyes, fur, vocalizations, and body positions help you understand your cat’s feelings and intentions.

Cats use their ears to tell us — and other cats — about their moods and intentions. Here’s how.                               Marilyn Krieger

Diana Ruth Davidson, Chief Pet Officer and Managing Nanny, Westside Dog Nanny

We offer pet services such as:  Pet Sitting,  In-Home Dog Boarding, Dog Walking, Overnights in your home, Doggie Day Care.
310 919 9372


Why Do Cats Knead

Cat Kneading Behavior

1. Because it’s Instinctual

Cats Kneading
Kittens knead instinctively, doing so stimulates their mother’s milk production. Photo credit: SINGTO2/iStock

The most logical answer is that kneading is an instinctual behavior that at one time helped your cat meet her most base instinct: Survival.

In order for kittens to nurse from the mama cat, they must knead their mother’s mammary glands to stimulate the flow of milk. The kitten is immediately “rewarded” with milk for this behavior. Since we all know that great positive training lasts a lifetime, it’s quite possible your cat remembers she must “knead” in exchange for a reward. That reward might be your warm lap or a reminder that it’s time to put the book down and feed your cat.

Kneading provides sustenance, comfort and security; which means that in this simple action, three base needs in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs are met.  That’s a lot of reward for only a little work.

2.  Cat Kneading: To Show the Love

Cats have a number of scent glands near the base of their claws (which is just one more reason it’s cruel to declaw). These scent glands emit pheromones that are as individual as a fingerprint and act as a marker, which helps your cat indicate what is and isn’t her property. This act of kneading might be a way for your cat to claim you as her own. What a privilege.

It’s also one of the reasons cats have such a fine tuned sense of direction: they can quite literally follow their own scent home.

3. To Help You Have a Better Day

Kneading is never done in times of stress, fear or anger. If your cat becomes suddenly threatened, angry or fearful, the kneading will come to an abrupt stop. Since cats only knead when they are happy, it’s fairly easy to conclude that your cat is kneading because she wants to show you that she’s happy and maybe, just maybe, she wants you to be happy ,too.

4. To Stretch Their Claws

Your cat’s claws are complex tools that perform many different functions. Since cats naturally shed the outer sheath of their claws every so often to allow new, sharper claws to come in, it’s important for a cat to stretch out her claws and help release that outer sheath.

Other times, the new claws have just come in and it might be that she’s giving one or two of them a test run.

5. Cats Kneading: To Claim You

Just before entering estrus (going into heat), female cats will often knead the ground or a male cat to show she is ready to mate. Your cat might be transferring this behavior onto you to show that she’s officially your cat and happy to be your (platonic) partner in life.

Stacy Mantle

Diana Ruth Davidson, Chief Pet Officer and Managing Nanny, Westside Dog Nanny

We offer pet services such as:  Pet Sitting,  In-Home Dog Boarding, Dog Walking, Overnights in your home, Doggie Day Care.
310 919 9372

How Stop a Dog From Chewing On The Wrong Things

Stop Dog Chewing:  Chew on this, not that!

Dogs love to chew; the trick is to get them to only gnaw on designated items--not your shoes! Photo credit: BorisJovanovic19/istock
Dogs love to chew; the trick is to get them to only gnaw on designated items–and not your shoes! Photo credit: BorisJovanovic19/istock

Dog Chewing; Puppy Chewing

If there’s one thing dogs really like to do, it’s chew. Puppies in particular are known for their penchant for gnawing on just about everything they can get their teeth on. And pups aren’t the only ones; some adult dogs never outgrow the desire to chew.

Chewing is natural for dogs. Puppies explore their environment with their mouth, and are quick to sample everything by biting down first and asking questions later. Teething also makes puppies want to chew, since chewing helps relieve some of the pain caused by erupting teeth.

While older dogs don’t have the same intense drive to chew as puppies do, they still enjoy gnawing as a way to expend excess energy and satisfy their need to bite down on something hard.

All this chewing can be tough on your house and yard if you don’t find a way to channel it. Puppies are notorious for chewing up shoes, socks, kids’ toys, remote controls, patio furniture and just about anything else within reach. Adult dogs sometimes find something that strikes their fancy—like a hardcover book or your cellphone—and will make short work of it with their sharp teeth and powerful jaws.

It’s not difficult to control your dog’s chewing if you follow these guidelines:  how to stop a puppy from chewing.

Chew Toys

Make sure you give your dog the kind of toys he prefers and then switch them out every now and then to prevent boredom. Photo credit: Merrimon/iStock
Make sure you give your dog the kind of toys he prefers and then switch them out every now and then to prevent boredom. Photo credit: Merrimon/iStock

You can’t change your dog’s natural desire to chew, but you can dictate what he chews on. The pet products industry offers a huge array of chew toys for dogs, and includes everything from stuffed animals to rubber balls. Pay a trip to your local pet supply store or visit an online pet supply retailer and survey the chew toys. Look for well-made products that are nontoxic and durable. Figure out which types of toys your dog likes the best, and provide him with new ones every so often so he doesn’t get bored.

Edible Chews

A favorite of many dogs are edible chews. This category includes everything from deer antlers to sticks made from Himalayan yak milk. These hard, natural products are particularly appealing to dogs because they mimic the kinds of materials your dog’s wolf ancestors might find in the wild. Although dogs shouldn’t be left unsupervised with these types of chews, these products can keep your dog occupied for long periods of time and satisfy his need to gnaw.


Adding edible dog chews into the mix of appropriate things your dog can chew is a good idea, too. Just make sure you keep a close eye on him whenever he's gnawing on an edible chew. Photo credit: Chalabala/iStock
Adding edible dog chews into the mix of appropriate things your dog can chew is a good idea, too. Just make sure you keep a close eye on him whenever he’s gnawing on an edible chew. Photo credit: Chalabala/iStock

Puppies learn what is okay to chew and what is not, so it’s your job to teach your baby dog the ropes. The best way to do this is to prevent him from developing the habit of chewing the wrong things. This means supervising him when he’s in the house or yard, and confining him when you can’t watch him. An exercise pen or crate with his favorite chew toys will help him learn to chew only what you have given him.


If your dog has picked out something he wants to chew on and no matter how much you tempt him with chew toys and edible chews, he won’t leave it alone, it’s time to break out a deterrent. Bitter apple spray, available from pet supply retailers, is a very effective product for keeping dogs’ teeth away from delicate surfaces. It’s especially good for protecting wood from puppy jaws. Spray it liberally anywhere your dog inappropriately chews.

Diana Ruth Davidson, Chief Pet Officer and Managing Nanny, Westside Dog Nanny

We offer pet services such as:  Pet Sitting,  In-Home Dog Boarding, Dog Walking, Overnights in your home, Doggie Day Care.
310 919 9372

How to Stop a Dog from Jumping

I don’t like it when dogs jump on me. I can’t tell you why it bothers me so much, it just does. Interestingly, nuisance jumping is a common complaint from owners as well.

Most often, dogs are jumping for attention. Dogs who are overly anxious, such as those with separation anxiety, may also jump even when the owner is ignoring them.

Don’t make jumping more than it is. It is not an effort to dominate you or lead your pack. First, domestic dogs don’t form packs, so you are not a pack member. Second, dogs generally don’t want to run the world. Nope, no visions of grandeur. They simply want attention from you. That is it, plain and simple. The dog is trying to get you to give her attention. If you are a dog, it’s natural to want to be up near the hands or face of someone who may pet you. Third, dogs don’t try to dominate each other by jumping up to lick each other’s faces.

Unfortunately, owners generally do pet dogs when they jump up. This reinforces (rewards) the behavior, making it more likely to occur again. To the dog, any type of attention can be considered reinforcement. This includes pushing her away and yelling at her. Through basic positive reinforcement (there’s the science of learning again), we have trained our dogs to jump on us starting in puppyhood. Once again, it is not the dog’s fault.  To stop dogs from jumping, try this.

Take the following, common example: When first adopted, the puppy jumps on you. You bend down to pet her. While this is fine when the puppy is 10 pounds, it’s not nearly as enjoyable when she’s 100 pounds. Then, when the puppy gets a bit larger and is in adolescence, the jumping becomes annoying. You try different methods, such as ignoring her, kneeing her or yelling at her. She continues to jump. Making it even more difficult for your dog to learn what is appropriate, there are inconsistencies within the family regarding how they interact with the puppy. Some people pet her when she jumps up and some yell at her. Finally, there are invariably inconsistencies between what family members and visitors do.

This is very confusing to the puppy. She can’t be sure what type of behavior is appropriate. The scientific term for these types of interactions is variable reinforcement. Variable reinforcement means sometimes the pup is rewarded and sometimes she is not. Believe it or not, this kind of reinforcement is the most powerful kind you can apply to a behavior. You read that right. You are actually making the behavior stronger by sometimes punishing and sometimes reinforcing. What results is a very persistent jumper.

To understand variable reinforcement better, consider the example of a person at a casino. This person might leave the roulette table after losing 2 or 3 times, but will sit at a slot machine for eight hours. Why do they do that? Because the slot machine employs variable reinforcement. The slot machine delivers small rewards intermittently throughout the day. There are enough rewards, statistically, to keep the person playing all day. There’s even the promise of a possible huge jackpot at some point during the day.

Teaching pups not to jump is pretty simple — ignore the pup when she is jumping and teach her an alternate way to get attention.

Follow these simple tips and your dog will be asking for attention politely in no time.

  1. Do not knee, kick, or yell at her when she jumps on you.
  2. Ask your puppy to sit for every bit of attention she gets. All of the time.
  3. If she’s jumping on you, walk away from her and completely ignore her. Don’t even make eye contact. When she stops jumping on you, ask her to sit. Then, reward her with petting, praise and/or a treat.
  4. When you praise your pup for sitting for attention, make sure to keep your praise calm and cool. It’s not fair to the pup if you get extremely excited praising her while asking her to stay under control.
  5. Like any other behavior, you will see the most improvement if everyone in your pup’s world follows the same plan.
  6. Until you can get your pup’s jumping under control, you can try distraction techniques like tossing small treats off to the side, or tossing a toy when you come through the front door.

Dr. Lisa Radosta

Diana Ruth Davidson, Chief Pet Officer and Managing Nanny, Westside Dog Nanny

We offer pet services such as:  Pet Sitting,  In-Home Dog Boarding, Dog Walking, Overnights in your home, Doggie Day Care.
310 919 9372


Understanding Dog Behavior; Understanding Cat Behavior

  • Is a wagging tail always the sign of a friendly dog? If your cat rolls on her back, does she really want you to rub her tummy? If your dog is“smiling” does that mean he is happy? As a veterinary behaviorist, I have to tell you, the answers to these questions might surprise you.  Here are some issues with understanding dog behavior and understanding cat behavior.

    There are some common behaviors that our dogs and cats exhibit that many people often misinterpret. Let’s review some canine and feline body language in order to help you determine what your pet is really trying to tell you.

    Weigh the Wag

    For example, tail wagging is not necessarily a sign of friendliness. In dogs, a wagging tail is an indication that the dog is willing to interact, but that interaction can be either aggressive or friendly. In order to determine what the dog is “saying,” you need to look at the rest of the dog’s body posture to figure out if he is approachable or not. Are the dog’s ears pinned back and flat against the head, sort of like a seal’s? Is his body and/or head lowered? Is he avoiding direct eye contact? Is he holding his body still or is he perhaps leaning away from you? These are all signs that the dog is uncomfortable and wants to avoid further interactions. Also keep in mind that a dog may not always choose to leave your vicinity in order to avoid a confrontation. Just as some people might just turn away from someone to avoid a conversation rather than move all the way across the room, a dog might try to stand, turn his head or hold his body away from you if he is uncomfortable. On the other hand, if the dog is being friendly, you might observe that he comes over to you and presents his side or hindquarters to be petted or scratched. He may nudge your hand for attention or press his body up against you. Or, when you look at the dog or speak to it, he may move closer to you for more attention and not bark or growl as he approaches.

    In cats, a “wagging” tail is definitely a sign of agitation. Cats don’t really wag their tails like dogs do. When relaxed, they tend to hold their tails quietly with minimal movement in comparison to a dog. So if a cat is moving her tail back and forth quickly two or three times in a motion I describe more as “whipping,” this might indicate agitation. It means something has caused the cat to be aroused, and it is best to give her some space and not interact with her until she has calmed down.


    Just because a cat is lying on his back doesn’t mean he’s giving you an invitation to give him a belly rub.

    Tummy Troubles

    Another behavior that we as humans often misread is when an animal rolls over onto its back. This is not always a sign that he or she wants a tummy rub. When a dog lies on his back, he is showing a sign of utter submission and appeasement in the dog world. People have chosen to interpret it as a sign the dog wants abelly rub. Many dogs may simply like attention, will take it any way they can get it and have learned to love their belly rubs. Other dogs, however, may feel really threatened by someone leaning over them while they are showing their most ultimate form of appeasement. Submissive behavior is deferential behavior used to tell the other dog that he wants to avoid conflict or a confrontation and that he needs space. When a dog rolls over onto his back, I typically ask him to sit up first before I give him attention to avoid this potential problem. Some people are really surprised when they try to pet a dog’s belly and he growls or snaps. While some dogs have been conditioned to receive attention in this manner and maybe even have learned to like it, always keep in mind that in the natural order of things, this is actually a signal saying, “give me space” or “do not hurt me.”

    In cats, this is even more true. When a cat rolls over to show you her abdomen, it is a sign that she feels really comfortable with you. It is not, however, an invitation to rub her belly. Many people are surprised when they try to do so and the kitty grabs their hands and bites them or kicks out at their hands with their back legs. Like a dog, a cat who rolls over on her side is often indicating comfort and deference (a submissive behavior). She is indicating that she is not aggressive and is trying to appease you or another cat. Despite how we may like to interpret the behavior, however, it is important to keep in mind, especially with cats, that she does not necessarily want you to follow up with physical contact!


    We usually recognize a dog as smiling when he’s panting with his mouth open and has a relaxed expression on his face.

    Smile vs. Snarl

    What is a smile in a dog? For many people, it is a dog panting with an open mouth and a relaxed expression on his face. For other people, it is when a dog approaches them and shows them their teeth prior to receiving attention or getting a treat. In these situations, the dog’s lips are pulled back toward the rear of the jaw exposing some of their pearly white incisors and canines. This is different from a snarl, in which the lips are lifted up vertically and the nose becomes wrinkled to show you the canines. This is usually accompanied by a stiff facial expression and body postures. What some people consider to be a smile, however, is not necessarily an indication of a happy dog. In the first described scenario, that might be the case. But dogs express their emotions in different manners compared to humans and it’s best to be very cautious. Keep in mind, we are the only species known to bare our teeth in order to show happiness. In other animal societies, baring teeth is a sign of threat!


    Dogs usually raise their hackles when they are wary or cautious, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are going to attack.

    Hair-Raising Experiences

    Hackles being raised in a dog (veterinarians call this “piloerection”) is not always an indication that the dog is about to attack another dog. Dogs often raise their hackles when they are being wary and cautious but not always before they attack. A dog may approach another dog slowly with his hackles raised, then greet the other dog with a play bow! When a cat has his tail “puffed” out, that is a sign of high arousal as well. It also does not always mean the cat is about to attack. The puffed tail can occur due to the sight of another cat or animal or upon hearing a certain sound. My cats, for example, have exhibited “piloerection” when they see stray cats on our deck or hear strange noises coming from my husband’s laptop. However, in both species, I would recommend monitoring the animals carefully and limiting interactions with them until they have calmed down. If a dog or cat is in a state of high emotional arousal, give him or her space to relax to avoid setting off an undesirable reaction.

    I hope these comments have been useful and given you some helpful insight into your pet’s behaviors. Knowing what your pet’s behavior really means can only help build a stronger relationship between you and your four-footed companion — and that is the goal of every veterinary behaviorist.

    Diana Ruth Davidson, Chief Pet Officer and Managing Nanny, Westside Dog Nanny

    We offer pet services such as:  Pet Sitting,  In-Home Dog Boarding, Dog Walking, Overnights in your home, Doggie Day Care.
    310 919 9372

Why Do Cats Purr?

Cats purring is fun to listen to.  Let’s read why they do it.

Every cat owner has experienced the calming pleasure of having a purring cat curled up in her lap. A soothing, relaxing sound and sensation that can be felt as well as heard. Most people assume a purring cat is a contented cat, but the reasons cats purr are much more complicated than that.

Newborn kittens are blind and deaf, so purring is the first form of communication between mother and kitten. Kittens purr while nursing, and mom purrs back. Adult cats purr when they are happy, of course, but also when they want something from their humans, like food or attention. Humans respond to the sound because cats can modulate their purrs to a frequency similar to a baby’s cries.

Cats also purr to soothe themselves when they are frightened or injured; dying cats have been known to purr. Studies show that purring releases endorphins and accelerates healing. This aspect of purring arises from feline hunting patterns. Cats purr with a frequency between 25 and 150 Hertz, and sounds within this range can improve bone density and promote healing. Since wild cats spend long periods sleeping or being inactive between bursts of exertion to catch prey, the purr serves as a means to keep bones, tendons and muscles strong without exerting much energy. Scientists are looking into using devices that emit a purr-like sound frequency on humans who require bone-density maintenance therapy, such as astronauts who must remain weightless for long periods.

Tony Buffington, a cat expert and veterinarian at Ohio State University, is quoted on the Wired magazine website on the topic: “It’s naive to think that cats can only purr for one reason—it’s like thinking that people can only laugh for one reason.”

Every cat’s purr sounds different, just as people’s laughs do. I have three cats, and their purrs are very distinctive. My youngest cat, an active and intrepid shorthaired male named Mao, has a dainty purr you can only hear if you are very near him. Bootsie, a slightly plump ginger female of a certain age, has a purr of average volume. My small and timid Himalayan Persian, Thumper, sounds like a chainsaw. You can hear her across the room when she gets going.

Cats use the muscles in their larynxes and diaphragms to purr; the hyoid bone in the throat might also be involved. Scientists used to believe that cats who could roar couldn’t purr, but recent evidence shows that cheetahs, ocelots, cougars, and some other wild cats purr as well as roar. The biggest cats—tigers, lions, and leopards—roar but do not purr. Domestic cats are the only ones who can purr continuously, while both inhaling and exhaling.

Most cat owners already suspect that purring is good for people, too. Scientists agree. Cat ownership reduces stress and blood pressure, and studies have shown that people who live with cats have a significantly lower risk of heart attacks than people without cats. Since purring is a major factor in the pleasure cats give their owners, it is logical to assume purring contributes to better heart health for cat lovers. As St. Francis of Assisi, a well-known animal lover, remarked, “A cat purring on your lap is more healing than any drug in the world, as the vibrations you are receiving are of pure love and contentment.”

We offer pet services such as:  Pet Sitting,  In-Home Dog Boarding, Dog Walking, Overnights in your home, Doggie Day Care.
Diana Ruth Davidson, Chief Pet Officer and Managing Nanny, Westside Dog Nanny
310 919 9372



The Best Ways to Introduce Your Cat to a New Pet

Cats can be temperamental and so care should be used when bringing them into your home where there is a dog or cat.  Read on…

You Brought Home What?!?!


One of the biggest mistakes well-meaning pet lovers make is the way in which they introduce a new pet into the household. Whether it’s a same species or a cross species introduction, it’s not a matter of simply bringing the new pet into the home and leaving them to bond on their own.

It’s just not going to happen.

Incumbent pets can be territorial and there is absolutely no guarantee they will tolerate a newcomer. You need to take their individual personalities into account, too. Moreover, other factors come into play, such as a dog’s prey drive in a cat-dog introduction.

Nevertheless, you certainly stand a much better chance of them getting along if you strategize and supervise the introductions.

Introductions to the Family Cat


In the beginning, it’s a good idea to sequester a new cat or kitten in one room and make the initial introductions by smell. One way to do this is with a pair of socks. Rub one sock with the smell of the newcomer and the other with the smell of your incumbent cat or cats. Then swap out the socks by placing the newcomer’s sock in an area of the house where other animals are and vice versa. Do this daily for a couple of days.

When you ready for formal introductions, place the newcomer in another room of the home and allow your incumbent cat or cats to go inside the room the newcomer just vacated and sniff around. Again, do this several times before taking it up a notch and allowing them to sniff each other.

Next, place the newcomer in a carrier so that she feels secure and allow your other cat(s) to sniff around it. It’s important to gauge how it’s proceeding before actually letting them meet face to face—with no barrier between them. Plan the initial meet-up for when you have a fair amount of time, such as on a weekend or when you’ve scheduled a few days off from work.

Rubbing vanilla essence on their shoulder blades and at the base of the tail on all cats involved in the introduction also is helpful with the initial meet-up because when they sniff each other, they will smell the same.

Feline introductions can take a long time—sometimes up to six months before they tolerate one another.

Introductions to the Family Dog

Once again, the sniffing game is a good place to start. Don’t ever let a dog rush at your cat or kitten, even in play. After giving the animals time to get used to the smell of each other with the room-sniffing routine, move on to the next step: a face-to-face meeting—with precautions. For this meeting, keep the cat in a carrier and your dog on a leash. In this way, you can control your dog and can pull him away if necessary. Make sure you have treats handy and reward your dog, along with lots of praise.

When you finally let your cat out of the carrier, continue to keep your dog on a leash so that you can separate them quickly if necessary. At all times, make sure there is an easy escape route for the cat. It’s a good idea to do initial introductions close to a cat condo or tree so that the cat can easily—and quickly—get out of reach of the dog.

Introductions to Birds and Small Critters

It’s important to bear in mind that cats are natural predators,and small critters, such as hamsters, birds and fish, need to be kept out of harm’s way at all times. Both birdcages and small animal cages should have a box inside them so that these pets can escape completely out of sight, too.

Different animals can live harmoniously in a household. However, never leave a cat alone in a room with a small critter or a fish bowl. Natural instincts might just kick in when you are not there.  They can get along; however, remember that from a feline perspective, a small critter or a bird is first and foremost lunch.

We offer pet services such as:  Pet Sitting,  In-Home Dog Boarding, Dog Walking, Overnights in your home, Doggie Day Care.
Diana Ruth Davidson, Chief Pet Officer and Managing Nanny, Westside Dog Nanny
310 919 9372