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  • 28 Apr 2023 10:22 AM | ICAN Admin (Administrator)

    By: ICAN Organisation Member (COAPECelia Haddon, MA, MSc, BSc

    Cattery biting cats

    Why does your cat nip you? My cat, Mr Spangles, nipped me this morning, as he often does. I don’t conclude from the nip that he is “vicious.” I merely conclude that he has given me a sharp message. He can’t use words and I was ignoring his body language until he finally gave me a sharp tactile message. So, what could he do to get through to me? A nip worked well. I withdrew the hand that had been absent-mindedly petting him for too long. Message received and understood by me.

    Most cat bites are just mild nips that do not break the skin, but even so for many owners it is not always clear why their much-loved feline turned on them. But if we look at the interaction from the cats point of view, which I have tried to do in my book, Being Your Cat,* we need to realise that a nip from a cat is a message, a message which is usually “Stop doing that.”

    When a previously relaxed cuddle cat suddenly starts biting it is often because something is wrong. Cats are skilled in concealing pain, and they do not usually cry or whimper. Hiding all signs of pain occurs because cats are prey animals for bigger carnivores like wolves, leopards and dogs. Keeping quiet about pain reduces the chance of a predator focussing on the cat as their next meal. The cat owner therefore may be completely unaware that their cat is ill or in pain.  Sudden out-of-character aggression may be due to an abscess hidden by fur, tooth ache or a strained limb.

    Elderly cats, in particular, often suffer from undiagnosed arthritis. The cuddling, stroking and picking up, which they once enjoyed, is now painful and they try to avoid human touch.  Arthritic cats rarely limp but they may start finding it difficult to jump up on or down from the bed.   

    Caption: ars swivelled back on Mr Spangles (Photo Credit: Celia Haddon)

    They may also start bunny hopping up and down the stairs. Anxious to avoid any pain, they may seem less affectionate in general and they nip to stop their owner handling them. At this point a veterinary examination is a must.

    If your cat is healthy, as my Mr Spangles is, it is worth investigating what happened before and during the nip. For this you need to ask yourself (since you can’t ask the cat) a few questions.

    What was I doing before the nip? Were my strokes were faster or perhaps even rougher than normal? Did I smell of something which might upset the cat?  Might I smell of a dog or neighbouring cat that I encountered earlier in the street.  Cats that are true loners, and hate all other cats, can be upset by the smell on your hands. Was I picking up a cat that hates being picked up?

    Caption: Cat cornered (Photo Credit: Celia Haddon)

    And what was happening in the cat’s environment? Had there been something going on which increased feline stress.  Possibilities are barking dogs nearby, the noise of a falling metal bowl, humans shouting, or even one of the other cats in your care wailing or even growling. Stressful events can make humans, as well as cats, jumpy and grumpy.

    And where was the cat? Could this be an accidental nip?  Did the cat become aggressive for a reason which had nothing to do with you, yet you happened to be nearby

    Caption: Feral cat (Photo Credit: Celia Haddon)

    This is redirected aggression. The most obvious example of this is when humans try to intervene in a cat fight and become severely bitten. Less obvious is the bite which occurs when a cat is looking out of the window growling at a feline enemy outside. If approached at this very moment, frustrated that it cannot get at the enemy cat, your cat may turn and bite you instead.

    Finally, ask yourself how serious the bite was? If the cat merely nipped you, not breaking the skin, then this is merely a message asking you to stop doing whatever it was that upset it. Indeed, the most common context for a nip or a scratch is during petting. There are many cats who will solicit a stroke but will nip if stroking goes on too long. For them two or three strokes are pleasurable, but they do not want more, and a nip will usually ensure the human hand is withdrawn. This is the so-called petting-and-biting syndrome.  Keeping an eye out for the warning body language of swishing tail and ears swivelling back will help you stop petting before getting bitten.

    A nip may also occur if a cat is being petting or touched in areas they do not like. Like humans, cats have private areas where they do not welcome an intrusive human hand. Most cats enjoy being stroked around the head and cheek areas but some cats dislike being touched around the end of their back near the tail. Many cats have a no-go area on the belly. If they roll over on their backs in front of you, they are doing the social roll which conveys a relaxed happiness. It is, however, not necessarily an invitation for a belly rub, so do not be tempted.

    Nips that do not break the skin need not be a worry for the cat-human relationship but serious cat bites should taken seriously. A frightened cat may bite, particularly if it feels cornered and cannot run away. Cornered cats will fight and bite when they feel there is no other way to repel a human. There are also a few cats that will bite because they have got into hunting mode. This can be a deep bite. A bite like this occasionally happens when a cat has got really overexcited playing with their human.  Their enjoyment of the game mounts to a level where they may decide that the hand that throws the toy is their real prey. If a cat is getting too excited with a cat toy, stop the game.

    Caption: Cats staring at outside cat enemy. (Photo Credit: Celia Haddon)

    Deep cat bites merely leave small puncture marks on the skin but can be dangerous. Wash the wound in salt and water immediately. Prophylactic antibiotics may also be a good idea. There are bacteria on the feline teeth which can cause infection and because cat bites are not open wounds, these bacteria stay in the body. Anybody handling feral or stray cats, or breaking up a cat fight, should wear protective gear such as gardening gloves and thick clothing.

    If your cat has bitten you severely, you should call in a behaviourist, one that is qualified to deal with cats as well as dogs and (this is crucial) one that works with a vet’s referral. They can help you discover what is going on with the cat and what you can do to keep yourself safe from future bites.

    What do you do about a cat that merely nips? Respect your cat’s private body areas and keep your hands off. Do not pet your cat too long. Learn the body language. When Mr Spangles swivels his ears back, swishes its tail or lifts a paw to strike, I withdraw my hand swiftly, thus avoiding being nipped!   


    Celia Haddon is co-author with Professor Daniel Mills of  Being Your Cat: What’s really going on in your feline’s mind, Cassell, pp 248, available at https://www.amazon.co.uk/Being-Your-Cat-Inside-Felines/dp/178840405X

    Celia’s website: https://www.catexpert.co.uk/

    Celia's Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CeliaHaddonBooks 

    Celia’s Youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/Celia388/videos

    Celia on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=celia+haddon&ref=nb_sb_noss

  • 26 Nov 2022 12:20 PM | ICAN Admin (Administrator)

    What to look for in dog sitters or dog walkers when you have a dog with separation anxiety issues. Written by: Rosee Riggs

    Check out the original blog post on her website (shared with permission) here

    The first challenge facing carers of dogs with separation-related issues is ‘management’.

    This means putting measures in place to ensure our dogs don’t experience further fear episodes and will no longer be practising the behaviours we associate with separation distress, e.g. shaking, pacing, panting, drooling, urinating, destroying things, trying to escape, injuring themselves.

    With these behaviours, the dog is trying to seek some relief from fear.

    It is not only unethical to leave a dog in distress, but also totally counter-productive to our training efforts. In practice, this means creating a support network of people the dog feels safe with during our absences, until they learn to cope with staying at home alone.

    We call this ‘spreading the love’ and one option is to find trusted dog sitters.

    This is not the work of a genius scientist unlocking the secrets of the entire universe. These are my instructions for the dog sitter.

    Our instructions may be on a blackboard or written on ticker-tape-length lists, but the reasoning behind both is the same. Our dogs are individuals, they have their needs, likes and dislikes, vulnerabilities, routine and special rituals. Intolerances, medication, safety protocols. No wonder we worry about whether they’ll cope without us.

    If you google ‘instructions for dog sitter’ you will find hundreds of instruction templates. I kid you not. So it’s not just me; this really is a thing! It is a huge thing to entrust our dog to someone else.

    If I could wave a magic wand and find the perfect dog sitter/walker, these are the qualities I’d look for in a good sitter:

    (Some fine professionals out there might not tick quite all the boxes, but you can choose which are priorities for you and your individual dog.)

    – They should like dogs.

    You’d think this was a no-brainer, wouldn’t you, but you’d be surprised! Not one but several of my clients have told me they have interviewed people along the way who don’t really feel comfortable with dogs at all.

    One said that when her dog sniffed the prospective dog sitter’s leg, she shrank back. She didn’t really like being touched by dogs. She really would be better suited to another sort of job!!

    Some people have unreasonable theories about dogs: the dog is not allowed to do this, that or the other while they’re around.

    An absolute no-no are people propagating out-dated dominance theories and claiming they have to be the alpha. This will invariably lead to demonstrations of power which your dog can not understand and may even find threatening.

    One woman introduced herself to a client of mine and offered the dogs treats. So far so good – but one dog actively avoided her and didn’t take the treats. Later, this dog sitter admitted she didn’t really like dogs at all. Dogs have good noses, also for authenticity.

    A good sitter will be willing and able to accept and like the dog just as they are. They are willing and able to be patient and also 100% reliable. They care about the dog’s needs and do their best to cater for them. They need to understand that dogs with separation related issues can not be left alone.

    – They should be able to read canine body language and communication.

    It is always important for a dog’s communication to be understood, but particularly so in multi-dog households or if the dog will be meeting other dogs on walks.

    – They should have good handling skills.

    In addition to good lead skills, they should have an awareness of how dogs use the natural environment to orientate and communicate, and how to facilitate successful communication between dogs.

    If a dog has particular challenges on the lead, such being fearful of strange people, reacting to other dogs, reacting to things in the environment such as cars etc, then they should be willing to take dogs for walks singly.

    – A qualification in canine First Aid is a huge plus.

    It is a great bonus if your sitter can deal with small injuries, like cuts and scrapes when they need disinfecting and bandaging. People trained in first aid are qualified to recognise symptoms which indicate a visit to the vet is crucial. It can be life-saving if they have learnt to dislodge something stuck in a dog’s throat or administer CPR in an emergency.

    *Do preempt avoidable tragedies by discussing with your vet about signing paper work to allow them to administer vet care in your absence, if necessary. They may lose valuable time helping your dog in an emergency, if you are at work or on holiday and can’t be reached.

    – Professional infrastructure:

    Your sitter/walker will have access to your home and your house keys, so a background check is vital. They will have professional insurance and be acquainted with the local laws and by-laws regarding dogs in your area.

    – Ideally, they will have a car and a driving licence. This enables them to vary the location for walks, if appropriate, and is important if the dog needs to go to the vet.

    ‘There is Light at the End of the Tunnel’  is the name of my free ebook. I invite you to download it from here as you’ll find some important information about separation-related disorders to get you started with helping your dog.

    If you are an accredited organization, certified force-free professional, or a force-free charity who puts WELFARE FIRST- contact ICAN co-coordinators Taryn and Ruby at ican.coordinators@gmail.com or go to CONTACT US at our website


  • 20 Nov 2022 12:10 PM | ICAN Admin (Administrator)

    Written by: ICAN Patron Freya Locke of Locke's Dogs Behaviourist & Trainer Fun Not Fear

    I first came across ICAN back in 2017 while studying with an ICAN organisation.

    As someone who was relatively new to canine behaviour, I needed all the knowledge and support I could get, and being part of the ICAN family helped me to not only find knowledge and resources that helped me to get through my studies, but also provided me with a group of knowledgeable peers with whom I could discuss my work cases once I was ready to take on clients.

    Freya Locke of Locke's Dogs and one of ICAN's Patrons!

    ICAN not only welcomed me into the fold, but also my family. As a single mother with children (now adults) who have SEN (special education needs), on the verge of a new career path, it was vital to me to have people around me who supported me. When my son chose to do his work experience with me, the team at ICAN even organised for him to write and then have his own webinar, which was an amazing experience for him to tell his teachers about back at school.

    Some of my very best friends have materialised through my involvement with ICAN, and many opportunities have also come my way that taught me the kind of dog professional I want to be.

    ICAN is very strict on who is allowed to join the organisation and display the ICAN badge. Only those who have proven themselves force-free and reward based in their methods and ethics can have the honour of being an ICAN member. It is a logo you can trust.

    I was lucky enough to be involved on a professional level with some other canine behaviour organisations along the way and was honoured to be asked to become a co-coordinator of ICAN once ICAN began to evolve into the organisation that it is today.

    My own non-profit,The Dog Welfare Alliance, which was gifted to me by its founder Lisa Tenzin-Dolma remains very proud of being one of the original ICAN organisations and is now an ICAN Charity Member. ICAN has now branched out into accepting individual members too.

    With the help and support of ICAN co-coordinators Taryn and Ruby, I stayed in that role for two years and learned a lot about the goings on behind the scenes, and the work involved in running such an enormous organisation.

    As with all things, my position as co-coordinator came to an end, when I had to put some personal things in my own life first and create a better work/life balance, however I remain on very close terms with my dear friends Taryn and Ruby and was extremely honoured to be asked to become a Patron of ICAN.

    Being a Patron means that I can still be a part of an organisation that I hold very dear and give back to ICAN some of the support and love the ICAN family have shown me and my family.

    Freya's very happy and much loved Springador, Twyla!

    If you are an accredited organization, certified force-free professional, or a force-free charity who puts WELFARE FIRST- contact ICAN co-coordinators Taryn and Ruby at ican.coordinators@gmail.com or go to CONTACT US at our website

  • 13 Nov 2022 1:19 PM | ICAN Admin (Administrator)

    Written by: ICAN co-coorindator and member Taryn Blyth

    When I was asked to become one of the Co-Coordinator’s for ICAN in early 2020, I was a little daunted at the prospect of helping to manage an international organisation from my humble home in Cape Town South Africa! However, despite the challenges I knew it would present, I felt it was an opportunity I could not miss, because I knew that ICAN’s motto “Welfare First” was the core of everything I believe as an animal behaviour professional and trainer, and I wanted to help to spread this message far and wide.

    I have been involved with the world of dog training and animal behaviour for over 20 years. In that time, I have seen many changes and much progress towards more ethical and humane interactions with companion animals. However, the reality is that there are so many different schools of thought and our understanding of the brain, emotions and how learning takes place keeps evolving, with the result that I have come to the increasing realisation that, as important as “science” and research is for our understanding and the correct application of techniques which change behaviour, efficacy and expediency cannot be the only driving force in our interactions with animals and the interventions we employ to change behaviour “for the better”.

    If we are honest, there are many ways to get results when it comes to behaviour change and plenty of evidence for the efficacy of a wide range of protocols. Many of us who are skilled trainers can effect behaviour change fairly easily using our knowledge of learning theory. But for those of us who really love animals, the question is surely not just what WORKS best to get results, but what IS best for the individual animal whose life we are intervening in.

    This is where WELFARE FIRST comes in. I firmly believe that every decision we make about every interaction with every animal we come across, has to be made in the context of our core aim being to improve that animal’s welfare or, at the very least, to avoid negatively impacting on welfare – the First Do No Harm principle, if you like.

    Taryn and her dogs in Cape Town

    Instead of being guided by what works quickly, what protocol is easiest, what requires less effort or what looks impressive, we should be guided by which interventions would fulfil the animal’s needs, create positive emotional states, improve the bond between animals and the people they share their lives with and help them to live as full, stress-free and rich lives as possible.

    These may seem lofty ideals and it may not always be easy to identify the perfect course of action – however, if we keep WELFARE FIRST as our core philosophy, I believe we will be a force for positive change, not only in the lives of the animals and people we assist directly, but also in the broader companion animal industry, with all its complexity and variation. WELFARE FIRST does not depend on the latest trends or fads in the world of training and behaviour – no new information can shake this guiding principle and no matter what we learn going forward, it is an unshakeable foundation on which to build our mission as animal care professionals, whether we are trainers, behaviour counsellors, groomers, vets, dog walkers, cattery owners, farriers, livery owners and any other animal-related professional. I feel privileged to be part of a wide community around the world, who believe in this vision.

    If you are an accredited organization, certified professional, or force-free charity who puts WELFARE FIRST- contact ICAN co-coordinators Taryn and Ruby at ican.coordinators@gmail.com or go to CONTACT US at our website

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