Why Training Is Important & How To Do It

Why Should We Train Our Pets?

We all know that basic training for dogs is a necessity, but did you know that training is great for all types of pets? Dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, rodents, birds and horses and more can all be trained in some way. Not only can it be lots of fun, but it is also mentally stimulating, a great form of exercise and it can strengthen the bond between you and your pet. New tricks are a great way of showing off how clever your pet is to other people and also a brilliant way for children to be involved with pet care.
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Before You Commit To A New Pet – Think!

The prospect of getting a new pet can be very exciting and it is a wonderful feeling to be a proud owner. Anyone who has taken on a pet will know that within a matter of hours you are completely hooked, but there are a few things to think about before your commit to and bring home your new bundle of fun and cuteness.


piggy bank

This is not just the cost of actually buying the pet. Can you afford the costs necessary to give your chosen pet the correct care? The average annual costs of owning a pet can be quite high and have been estimated at £1000 – £2000 for a dog (depending on size), around £1200 for a cat, £400 – £500 for a ferret, £500 for a rabbit and £400 for a guinea pig. (For cats and dogs that amounts to approximately £10000 – £31000 over a lifetime!) You will need to think about the costs of providing good quality food, bedding, housing for small animals, boarding kennels or pet sitters, routine vet bills for things such as parasite control and vaccinations, as well as pet insurance for accidents and illnesses.

Looking after an animal can be very expensive, so please don’t take a pet on if you cannot afford to pay for the necessities including veterinary care.

Your Family 

Think about how the pet will fit into your family and home.

  • Are you ready for this pet? If you are due to go on holiday, start a new job, have a baby, move house or start a big project on your home, now is probably not the best time to get a pet.
  • Does everyone in the household want this pet? Believe it or not, pets have been cited as a common source of problems in relationships. Couples and families can find themselves arguing over their pets for a variety of reasons and while these arguments may seem minor, they can actually cause more major disagreements or problems over time.
  • Do you have children or do children visit your home? If the answer is yes, please make sure that you give special consideration and do your research on the breed and type of animal that you want as a pet, as not all of them will be suitable. You will need to train the children (yes I did say that!) to respect animals and not to tease them, they will also need to know not to touch them without an adult present. Remember all animals have the potential to bite, scratch or otherwise injure someone if they get scared, no matter how well trained and handled; this also includes the ‘small furries’ such as rabbits and rodents. If you are getting a dog, regardless of the breed, you must ensure that he or she is very well socialised with people of all ages from a very young age and that you understand canine body language well enough to remove the child if the dog starts to look uncomfortable with the situation it is in.
  • Does anyone have allergies and what will you do if you discover someone is allergic to your new pet? It has been shown that children that grow up with pets have less allergies and are healthier in that respect, but not everyone is that lucky.
  • Who will look after the pet? Never buy a pet for a child and expect them to take responsibility for it’s care and training. For most children the pet-owning novelty wears off very quickly once they realise its not all cuddles and walks in the sunshine! Obviously there are some exceptionally wonderful kids out there, but all too often the responsibility for the less glamorous parts of pet owning, such as cleaning up the poo and going for walkies in the rain, sleet and snow will fall back to one or both parents.

Size Of The Pet
size of pet

Do you have enough space at home and/or in the garden for your chosen pet? Even small pets like hamsters and rats require fairly big cages. Where will your pet eat, drink and sleep? The size of the pet will also affect how expensive it will be  for vet bills, insurance, food, housing and equipment. Those giant breeds of dog can look fabulous walking next to you, but have you thought about how you will travel with it if necessary? Will it fit into your car? Could you carry it in an emergency?

With regards to housing of ‘small furries’, remember that despite their small size, most will still need plenty of exercise and space to explore and play in. Rodents such as rats and hamsters often prefer habitats with multiple platforms and safe tubing. Rabbits and guinea pigs will not only need large hutches, but also a large, safe exercise area.

  • Rat cage minimum recommended size:  for 2 rats you need at least 3 ft ( w) x 2 ft (d) and as high as possible, with an additional 2 cubic feet for each additional rat. However, the bigger the better with rats, especially if they will not be getting any exercise outside the cage. Rats are extremely active and need lots of space.
  • Hamster cage minimum recommended size: 80 cm ( w) x  50 cm (d) x 35 cm (h) would suit a single Syrian hamster or a pair of Dwarf or Chinese hamsters.
  • Guinea Pig hutch minimum recommended size: An absolute minimum of  4 ft.( w) x  2 ft (d). x  2 ft (h).  for two guinea pigs. The more guinea pigs in the hutch, the bigger it will need to be. You will also need to include a secure exercise run of at least 6 ft. ( w) X 4 ft.(d) X 2 ft. (h)
  • Rabbit hutch minimum recommended size: The Rabbit Welfare And Fund (RWAF) recommend a minimum hutch size of 10 ft ( w) x 6 ft (d) x 2 ft (h) for a pair of rabbits, to allow them room to move, stand on their hind legs and have enough space for the food, toilet and sleeping areas to be kept apart. You will also need to provide a large secure exercise area.

Breed Of Pet

Once you have settled on the type or species of pet you want, you will need to have a really good long think before you settle on a specific breed and make sure it is absolutely right for you; please make your decision based on the animal’s needs and requirements versus what you can offer it, rather than on what it looks like.

Different breeds of animals often have very different personality traits (far too many to go in depth on this blog) so you should always consider what an animal has been bred to do in the past, before making your decision. For example everyone loves the look of the stunning Dalmatian or the handsome Siberian Husky, but you might not realise that these dogs were originally bred to run for miles and have HUGE amounts of stamina so, therefore, require lots and lots of exercise and mental stimulation to keep them happy and prevent unwanted behaviours. Terriers have been bred for their ability to dispatch rodent pests quickly so don’t be surprised at their feisty and bold behaviour. In the cat world the Siamese can be very vocal, Maine Coons are known for being very affectionate and Bengals can be very destructive when they get bored. With rabbits the Dwarf-Lop is generally friendly and outgoing where as Netherland Dwarfs can be very skittish and are generally unsuitable for children.

The difference between Pedigree, Pure-Breed, Crossbreed and Mongrel (Dogs and Cats)

These words/terms are often confusing to people and can lead to unsuspecting people getting fooled or deceived by crafty breeders.

The terms Pedigree and Purebred are interchangeable for most people and are generally used when refering to a dog or cat of a certain ‘recognised’ breed or type that is recognised by the Uk and/or American Kennel Club (KC) or the Governing Council Of the Cat Fancy (GCCF) for example Labrador, Cocker spaniel, St Bernard, Burmese, British Shorthair. Persian etc. The difference between the two terms is usually in the cost of the animal and whether or not you might be intending to show and/or have your pet produce a litter yourself at a later date.

Pedigree – These animals will have a registered mum and dad of the same ‘recognised’/’pedigree’ breed; by which I mean a breed that is officially recognised by the UK or USA KC or the GCCF. The parents and offspring will have a genuine registration certificate – usually from the Kennel Club (UK or USA) or The Governing Council Of The cat Fancy (GCCF), which means that the litter has been officially registered with the club and will have an official three to five (or more) generation pedigree certificate that will show his or her ancestry and it will state whether or not you can show and/or breed from your pet and register their offspring in turn.

Please remember that having a pedigree certificate does not necessarily mean that the breeder is a good or responsible one, or that the animal is guaranteed to be healthy and well bred! It simply means that you can show the animal at official shows and potentially breed from the animal and register it’s offspring.

Purebred – These animals will have a mum & dad of the same ‘pedigree breed’ but the offspring are not registered with the KC or GCCF so cannot be shown in official competitions (Mum and dad may or may not be registered).

Crossbreed – This is usually the result of the mating between 2 different identifiable ‘pedigree’ breeds for for example Cockerpoo (Cocker spaniel x Poodle), Labradoodle (Labrador x Poodle), Cavachon (Cavalier KC Spaniel x Bichon Frise), Multipoo (Maltese Terrier x Poodle), Jug (Jack Russell x Pug), Sprocker (Springer Spaniel x Cocker Spaniel), Lurcher (Greyhound x with anything else!) etc. These crossbreeds may also come under the ‘designer breeds’ label.

Mongrel/Moggy – This term is usually used to refer to a crossbreed of 3 or more ‘pedigree’ types or a mix of of unidentifiable breeds, but can be used to mean crossbreed too.

Be especially careful when looking at ‘designer breeds’ – which, to put it bluntly are essentially very expensive crossbreeds and mongrels! (You will often find the same or very similar ‘breeds’ in your local rescue center, in desperate need of new homes and for a fraction of the cost). These animals have usually been bred to look a specific way and to make money for breeders, rather than for a specific function.  It is true that some of them are fabulous crosses and make great pets, but others can be very bad crosses, especially if the parents had health problems or bad temperaments. Designer dog breeds are NOT pedigrees or purebreeds (no matter what the breeder tells you) Some examples of ‘designer breeds’ include

  • Labradoodles and other Poodle crosses: The Labradoodle was originally bred to create a ‘low-allergen’ guide dog and quickly became popular because you could have a low-allergen dog (thanks to the poodle’s non-shedding coat) of small, medium or large size. But, did you know that the low-shed and low-allergen only happens with the first cross of labrador to poodle? (and not all of the puppies in a litter will have this quality!) Labradoodle x Labradoodle often does not have this effect at all.  Other poodle crosses such as the CockerPoo or CaviPoo may have low allergen qualities as well, but it can never be guaranteed. Often these cross breeds make wonderful family pets, but not always as they are very active and smart dogs that need the appropriate care and stimulation.  There are literally hundreds of these types of dogs in rescue centres waiting for homes, so before you part with your money have a look at your local rescue.
  • Northern Inuit or ‘WolfDogs’: These dogs are not pedigrees. They have been bred purely to be a status symbol because they look like wolves (or what people imagine wolves to look like) and they are becoming hugely popular. The problem is that these dogs are the result of crossing many breeds together, such as the German Shepherd, Husky, Malamute, Canadian Inuit Dog, Labrador and Belgian Shepherd (to name a few!) Most of the ‘breeders’ are doing this with no regard to temperament or health of the offspring, and as a result these dogs can suffer from many conditions including epilepsy, heart problems, joint problems and endocrine problems. Not to mention the fact that these dogs are bred from VERY active and often high maintenance  breeds, so they are very active and very intelligent and therefore need a lot of exercise and mental stimulation in order to prevent behavioural problems.
  • Designer Cat Breeds: Examples include the Bengal, Ocicat, Sphynx, Tonkinese and Munchkin. On the whole these cats are quite healthy, with the exception of the Munchkin, whose short little legs can predispose them to spinal problems. Care needs to be taken with some of the breeds because of their ‘wild’ natures though.

While many crossbreeds and mongrels can be very healthy and make wonderful pets, sadly many unscrupulous breeders/farmers have jumped on the ‘designer pet’ bandwagon and are breeding animals for looks, rather than temperament and good health, for a quick profit. The brood bitches are often kept in appalling conditions  and no thought is given to their health or that of their offspring.

Please read our guide on choosing a new pet for more information on what to look out for and the questions you should be asking breeders and sellers.

breeds copy

Take time to research your breeds carefully or you might end up taking on more than you can cope with.

Coat Types and Grooming

Most pets will require grooming and/or bathing of some sort and you will need to check their coats, mouths, ears, eyes and bottoms every day to make sure they are clean and healthy.
Pets with long coats will require daily grooming to prevent matting and you will need to consider if you will have the time to do this. Some animals shed lots of fur which may not be good for allergy sufferers. Even those designer pets with little or no hair (Chinese Crested dogs, Sphynx cats, Reptiles) will still need their skin looking after.

long haired pets

Time and Exercise

Many behavioural problems in pets occur because they are bored, under exercised and under stimulated.

Do you have enough time to keep your chosen pet properly exercised and mentally stimulated? Exercise is really important for the health, fitness and well-being of your pet and you will also need to spend time with your pet so you can play with it and provide any training it might need.

Dogs:  It is not recommended that dogs are left alone for more than 4 hours a day and for some, even 4 hours is too long. All dogs need at least two 20 minute walks a day (most breeds need much, much more than this) and the opportunity to run about off the lead in a safe area and meet other dogs if they are socially inclined. Depending on the breed of dog you choose, you may need to provide activities such as agility and training classes to keep it fit and stimulated.

Cats: In an ideal world a cat should be able to go outside, but if you have decided to keep your cat indoors then you must provide adequate mental stimulation for it and it will need much more of your time than an outside cat would to prevent boredom.

Rabbits, guinea pigs and ferrets: These pets will need a large outside enclosed run/exercise area or they can be exercised on harnesses in safe areas. They can also be exercised in safe areas inside your house.

Rodents: These pets will either need a home large enough to exercise in or will be need to let out in the home for exercise.


Did you know that the majority of behavioural problems in animals happen because they are bored, under exercised and under stimulated?

How To Find and Choose Your New Pet

So, you have read this article and have decided that you can afford a pet, you have the time and space and now is the right time to do it. Congratulations! But where do you start? Head on over to our next article about choosing a pet and where to get it from. We cover everything from rescue centres to pedigree pet breeders, the golden rules of buying or adopting a pet and what you need to ask and look for.

Pre-Purchase Advice Clinics

The Veterinary Nurses at Castle Vets are happy to chat with you before you buy your pet. Our FREE clinics cover

  • Breed types, personalities and traits
  • Potential costs involved in pet ownership
  • Where to look for your pet
  • Questions you should ask and what to avoid
  • How to avoid puppy and kitten farms

Please contact us at the practice for advice or to make an appointment on 0118 9574488 or you can send us an email for advice.

Easter Pet Care

Easter Pet Care

Easter is nearly here and whether we celebrate or not, most of us will enjoy spending some quality holiday time with our family and our pets. With all that time to fill it may be a good opportunity to focus on our pets and perhaps teach them something new. Dogs, cats, rabbits, rodents, ferrets and even birds can all be trained to perform simple tricks. Find a treat they really love to reward them for behaviour and they will usually repeat it.

High Five

High Five

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New Tricks

New Tricks

Why Should We Train Our Pets?

As we know, basic training for dogs is a necessity, but training is great for all types of pets. Not only can it be lots of fun, but it is also mentally stimulating, a great form of exercise and it can also strengthen the bond between you and your pet. New tricks are a great way of showing off how clever your pet is to other people and also a brilliant way for children to be involved with pet care.

The list of tricks that can be taught is probably endless, but a few of our favourites for household pets are

  • SitHop to it Rabbit showjumping enjoys rise in popularity as a spectator sport 2
  • Lie Down
  • Come here
  • Roll over
  • Paw
  • High Five
  • Beg
  • Fetch
  • Take a bow

With patience and rewards, your pet can learn to do all sorts of ‘tricks’ for you and there are certainly a wealth of ideas available on the internet if you can’t think what to learn next.

Reward Based Training – Positive Reinforcement

At Castle Vets, we only promote kind, fair, and positive reinforcement training methods and would urge you to steer clear of any training advice or indeed animal trainers or ‘behaviourists’ that use techniques that are based on you having to punish or dominate your pet in any way. The perfect relationship between a pet and its family is based on co-operation and kindness rather than the human dominance over the animal, which is central to out-dated traditional training methods and particularly in dogs, the ‘dominance theory’, which was founded from observation of captive wolves and later proved to be completely inapplicable to training modern-day pet dogs (it also bore hardly any reflection on the way wild wolves behave in packs!) For more information about dominance in dog training visit the APDT website.

The best trained animals are usually the ones that have the greatest bond with their owners and handlers, this is achieved through love, respect, reward and hard work. Not through dominance, forcing or punishment.

Modern behavioural science shows us that the best way to train any animal is by reinforcing good behaviour with rewards and that rewarding good behaviour will increase the likelihood of that behaviour being repeated. Rewards such as food, toys, play or praise are all seen as positive reinforcement by our pets and can be given any time your pet is offering a behaviour that you would like to see again, i.e.  sitting when asked, lying down quietly in his or her bed or going to the toilet in the correct place. We often think of dog training when talking about Positive reinforcement or reward-based training, but these techniques can be applied to any animal and has proved successful for pet animals such as cats, rabbits, rodents, birds and horses, as well as livestock and captive wild animals in zoos, safari parks and marine parks. Continue reading