Record your pet’s life in a diary

Pet Connection by Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

A Life in Words

Pet Connection
By Kim Campbell Thornton

Andrews McMeel Syndication

When you find a diary, are you tempted to read it? Do you keep a diary yourself, under lock and key? Diaries feature in some of the world’s most famous literature, social history, fiction and children’s books: Anne Frank’s “The Diary of a Young Girl.” The diary of Samuel Pepys. “Bridget Jones’s Diary.” “Harriet the Spy.” “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.”

Diaries bring history to life, store secrets, record lives. They can make for fascinating reading. But they can also make for fascinating writing, especially if they focus on your best friend: your dog, cat, bird or other pet. It’s not just in Nancy Drew mysteries that a diary is filled with clues.

Susannah Charleson is a K-9 search and rescue handler and author of “Where the Lost Dogs Go: A Story of Love, Search, and the Power of Reunion.” She spoke last month at the K-9 Sport Scent Work Conference in Palm Springs, California. While her topic was the importance of logs for search and rescue handlers, she also touched on how keeping a log can make a difference in the health, confidence and success of any dog-human team — including the partnership between people and their companion dogs. And there’s no reason to leave out cats, birds, rabbits, horses or other pets. Anyone can benefit from tracing the story of their relationship with an animal.

“I think for pet owners it’s invaluable,” she says. “If you’re doing any kind of training, even just to be a good companion animal, it’s all coming fast — the dog is new, the training is new, how the dog views the world versus how we view the world is completely different.”

When you keep a diary and document the changes you see in your pet and yourself, you are capturing the journey of your developing friendship, as well as making observations that can help you solve behavior problems and identify health issues before they become serious.

Bringing a record to your veterinarian or behaviorist of when a behavior began and how frequently it occurs can be the first step in solving a problem.

Some owners track daily blood sugar curves and insulin doses for diabetic pets, delivery of medication, occurrence of seizures, and pets’ eating habits or weight.

People who participate in dog sports log trials and practice sessions to track their progress.

“Log entries allow you to start seeing a pattern and learning about your dog,” Charleson says. “They assist in self-evaluation. You’ve got all these beautiful signals that can tell you where your strengths and weaknesses are and find areas where you can improve, where your dog can improve and where you can improve together.”

Keeping track of a pet’s life can be done with a paper journal, on computer apps or social media, or on a calendar. I have a pile of calendars that I can’t bear to throw away because they record so many of the events of my dogs’ lives. Supplement diaries with photos and videos.

At the end of a pet’s life, a diary is a way to look back at the journey you and your pet have shared. The memories can help to heal grief and establish a foundation for the next partnership.

“When a career or life ends, logs trace the journey that you and a dog have shared,” Charleson says. “Logs tell a story. They trace the arc of our understanding and our ability as separate entities and together. They’re a history of the earliest days that we might forget. Write it all down. You’ll have a wealth of information to learn from, and at the end of a life, those words may save you.”

Q&A

Do kittens need

socialization?

Q: Do kittens have the same type of socialization period as puppies?

A: They do, but it starts even earlier and doesn’t last as long. My colleague Nicholas Dodman, a veterinary behaviorist and emeritus professor at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, says the social period in kittens is between weeks 2 and 7.

During those early weeks, kittens soak up knowledge of everything around them, that clever kitty brain making new neural connections daily to generate learning and behavior. Kittens who see, hear, smell and experience many different people, animals, sights and sounds during this sensitive period grow up to be sociable, smart and curious.

Young kittens need to have many different positive experiences with children, friendly dogs and cats, people of all ages and appearances, common household sounds such as vacuum cleaners and blenders, car rides, being transported comfortably and safely in a carrier, and visiting the veterinarian. In an ideal world, they haven’t had any bad experiences with those things, and they don’t have preconceived ideas about what to expect from such experiences.

Limiting fear during this impressionable time is also important to a kitten’s development. A normal amount of fear is valuable because it helps kittens to avoid things that might hurt them, but protecting them from aversive experiences can help them to have more fulfilling lives as adult cats because they are more calm in the face of new experiences.

When young kittens encounter these things in a positive way during the socialization period, their brains store the good memories and help the kittens develop resiliency if they later have negative experiences with, say, dogs or scary noises. The neural connections their brains make during this period is how they become well-rounded, adaptable cats.

You can learn more about feline development at FearFreeHappyHomes.com. — Dr. Marty Becker

Do you have a pet question? Send it to askpetconnection@gmail.com or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.

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