Are We “Treating” Our Pets to Death?

Treats Don’t Always Equal Love

Positive interactions are the basis of strong relationships and can take many forms. To the extent that we can separate snack feeding from healthy forms of interaction that won’t promote begging or obesity, we can sustain both a healthy relationship and a healthy weight in our pets.

Dogs seem to enjoy interacting with us regardless of the form of the interaction, so we have many options. For example, dogs love being students, so we can teach them to do a vast range of behaviors other than begging. If you are still not convinced, just type "dog tricks" into any Internet search engine. Are food rewards necessary to teach tricks? Not at all. In addition to food rewards, verbal praise, physical contact, toys and games all can be rewarding to dogs. Our challenge is to find out what our dogs find individually satisfying.

In addition to learning, dogs like to play with us. Regardless of age – ours or our dog's – physical activity increases health and well-being, so walking is always welcome. And as our pet ages and stops bringing the leash to us, that is our cue to take the leash to her. Studies have shown that, while spontaneous activity declines with age, stimulated activity does not. Walks also can be opportunities to socialize if they include visits to parks and other areas where dogs and people congregate. Who knows, they might even lead to a “pet play date.”

More active dogs love to play games with us like tug-of-war, fetch, hide and seek, and chase. Some dogs and their owners enjoy participating in sportssuch as flyball, agility, dancing (really!) and hunting.

For cats, play is like hunting. In the wild, cats hunt small birds, mammals, reptiles and insects. Owners can learn about their cat’s “prey” preferences by offering toys that mimic those prey animals. A piece of paper tied to a string can mimic bird behavior for most cats, whilenumerous toyscan imitate mice. A piece of dry food rolled across a floor can seem like a bug and stimulate some cats to give chase. While certain felines may like all three types of toys, others have definite preferences and getting them what they enjoy will get them moving. Cats like movement, which means they will be more likely to enjoy a toy that you manipulate rather than one that just lies inert (dead to them) on the floor.

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