My Critter Camp Experience

by Duncan (As told to Iris Katz)

This past July I had the enjoyable experience of serving as an “Instructional Assistant” to help my female human as we presented educational information to the young humans who attended the Humane Society’s Critter Camp! I am a seven year old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel who has earned titles for my performance in several dog activities: conformation, the AKC’s Canine Good Citizen Test, Rally, Obedience, and Scent Detection.  My human equates these titles with college degrees!

We arrived at camp on Monday morning for each of the 3 camp sessions and were impressed with how well-behaved and polite the campers were.

Our presentation started with information about a very serious topic: Bite Prevention  Every year almost 5 million people are bitten by dogs and about 800,000 people require medical treatment for their injuries. Sadly 31 people are killed by dogs each year and the majority of those victims are children under 10 years old. Cat bites and scratches can cause serious infections and send over, 60,000 people to hospital emergency rooms annually. Many biting injuries could be prevented if pet owners provided secure fencing and also by learning to understand animal behavior accurately. When animals feel threatened they have two ways they protect themselves. It is called the “Flight/ Fight” response. Most animals will try to escape (Flight) from threats if they can, but if unable to escape (like a cornered cat or tethered dog) they may defend themselves by biting (Fight). Frightened animals bite out of fear!

Humans may cause animal attacks when they invade an animal’s space, by:

  • Hugging a pet or putting their face close to a pet’s face
  • Sticking fingers into a pet’s cage or crate,
  • Petting the top of a dog’s head (a sensitive part of our body because whiskers grow above our eyes).
  • Petting a dog through a fence, or approaching a chained dog.
  • Disturbing a sleeping pet (especially deaf or older pets) that may trigger a startled bite response.
  • Taking away a pet’s food or toys.
  • Forcing shy animals to be petted.

Humans seem to be more focused on animals’ voice warnings and often ignore our body language signals. People also make the mistake of thinking that when dogs wag their tails, they are always happy. Animals usually give body language signals before they attack so  humans need to “listen with their eyes” by examining each body part and then look at the whole animal to figure out what message the animal is trying to say!  Examples include:


Angry Dog Body Language Signals: Eyes: fixed stare; Ears: pricked up or pointed forward.

Mouth: lips curled with teeth showing, Body: stiff, tense to make the dog look bigger (hair raised on

neck and spine), Tail: held upward, still or wagging rapidly.


           Angry Cat Body Language: Fur: puffed out to make the cat look larger; Ears” flicking or pinned

back, Tail: lashing or twitching; Eyes: pupils enlarged; Body: muscles tense.

           Frightened Animals: make themselves look smaller, often avoid eye contact with people and may bite

to protect themselves.


The campers also learned that people also need to learn how to safely approach and interact with animals.

appropriately and NEVER:

  • Stare into a dog’s eyes.
  • Run up to or approach pets in slow motion because these actions are threatening.
  • Approach or pet animal from the rear because it can trigger a bite response from sleeping, deaf or older pets.
  • Play rough games with pets like tug-of-war or hand wrestling with cats and dogs because these games encourage biting.
  • Approach a loose dog or cat because it might not have its rabies shot or is not comfortable with children.

The campers were told not to run and scream if a dog tries to chase them but should “freeze, stand like a tree,” be silent if the dog approaches, and try to take a quick look at the dog to be able to describe it so an adult could report the incident to the Humane Society because the dog could be a danger to the neighborhood. . The campers were asked to describe me when we pretended that I was a loose dog who scared them.  They provided descriptive information like the name of my breed, size, colors and markings, eye color, tail, ear and coat length, and if I was wearing anything (a collar with tags). The campers from all 3 camp sessions did a terrific job with this difficult task!


Our next topic was the Importance of Grooming Pets. The campers learned that when pets aren’t groomed, serious health and safety problems can develop. Grooming is a job for an adult and requires time, patience, steady hands, and the correct tools and equipment. For pet owners who are unable to groom their pets, professional groomers can do the job on a regular basis.

Nail and Foot Care: Long nails can be very painful especially for overweight dogs.  Long hair that grows between dogs’ or cats’ paw pads can cause them to fall on slippery floors so that long hair may need to be trimmed periodically. Owners should check the condition of the paw pads for cracks, cuts and lumps that may need to be checked by a vet.

Coat and Skin Care: Pet owners are advised to run their fingertips gently through their pet’s body to feel for lumps, damp oily, or crusty areas, then separate the hair to look for redness, flaking skin, oozing sores, bleeding, bald patches, flea “dirt,” and ticks. Strange odors may be signs of fungal infections (common in dogs with deep skin folds like pugs and bulldogs) or bacterial infections. All of these symptoms require an examination by a veterinarian. A pet’s coat and skin can be damaged from things in their environment like dry heat that may cause flaking skin during the colder months, frostbite, sunburn, rough-textured bedding, sleeping on concrete that causes calluses on large dogs, and wearing tight or choke chain collars that damage neck hair. Excessive scratching, paw licking, and leg chewing, and hot spots could be symptoms of stress, boredom or reaction to pollutants, gardening products,  pollen, household cleaners, human  shampoos, frequent bathing, hot hair dryers, and flea and tick products. Poor and damaged pet coats can be caused by internal parasites (worms), external parasites ((ticks and fleas), and unbalanced or inadequate nutrition like pets fed only table scraps or homemade diets.  Health problems like hypothyroidism, fungal infections (like ringworm), and bacterial infections also affect the condition and quality of a pet’s coat. An examination by a veterinarian is advised for such conditions .The most common coat problems are shedding, matting, and hairballs. Almost all dogs and cats shed with the exception of hairless breeds like Chinese crested dogs and Sphinx cats. Curly-coated dogs like poodles, poodle mixes, and curly-coated terriers do shed but that hair becomes entangled with the existing coat and may cause matting and body sores. Shedding is usually seasonal.   Female dogs and cats shed heavily due to hormonal conditions after they give birth to their litters or after they have been “in season.” Animals that are stressed or sick also tend to shed more. Mats are caused by loose hair, twigs, and burrs imbedded in pets’ coats causing pets to scratch themselves or when knots become wet and mesh in with the surrounding hair. Mats are common in long-coated pets and are a special problem for over-weight, elderly and arthritic cats because they have trouble turning their bodies to groom themselves.  Mats may prevent air from reaching a pet’s skin and cause skin infections. Mats often occur under and on the ears, in the “armpits,” and the belly area of dogs and cats. Heavily matted animals may cry out in pain when trying to stretch or move! Hairballs are messy wads of digested food, saliva and stomach secretions that develop when cats lick themselves because their rough tongues catch loose hair that is swallowed. Usually the swallowed hair passes through the digestive system with no problems, but heavy-coated and shedding cats may swallow large amounts of hair that irritates the lining of the stomach and affects digestion and may cause deadly obstructions requiring surgical removal.

Eye Care:  Pet owners need to watch for tear staining, redness, discharge, and eye rubbing because

they may be signs of eye problems, and an exam by the vet is recommended. Do not allow a dog to ride

in a vehicle with his head out the window because gusts of wind and debris in the air can cause eye

injuries and even blindness.


Ear Care: Sniff your pet’s ears every week and take a peek inside. If they have an unpleasant odor or look dirty inside your pet might have an infection or ear mites. Please don’t clean your pet’s ears with cotton swabs because ear debris could be pushed deeper into the ear canal and damage the delicate skin that lines it. Other signs of ear problems include excessive ear scratching and rubbing the ears against carpeting and flooring. Let the vet examine and treat your pet.

Dental Care: Bad breath, loose teeth, bloody gums, slowness when eating, and dropping food are all signs that pets may have dental disease which may cause damage to the heart, liver and kidneys and may

shorten a pet’s lifespan! Adults are advised to learn to brush your pet’s teeth and use only toothpaste

made for pets (never use human toothpaste that may contain xylitol that is poisonous to animals).  The

vet may need to clean your pet’s teeth at least once a year even if you try to brush your pet’s teeth



Our program concluded with the importance of teaching dogs good manners from learning basic obedience skills, and providing pets with enriching activities. I demonstrated heeling (walking on leash without pulling or lagging behind) the sit, down, stand, and stay positions, and promptly responded to the “come” command (which could save a dog’s life).  To wrap up our presentation I got to perform my very favorite enrichment activity: Scent Detection that lets me use my sense of smell as I sniffed, searched, and “alerted” on odors that were hidden, and I was rewarded with treats! This fun activity can be done in your home with your dog or cat by hiding yummy healthy treats around the house and keep your pet busy!


Critter Camp gets a FOUR PAWS UP rating and I highly recommend it to all young animal lovers!